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Having a baby doesn’t always happen the way we think it will. For some of us, no amount of effort will result in the pregnancy we dream of, and we’re left to consider alternative options. The good news is that there are LOTS of fantastic alternative options, including egg and sperm donation!
While using donor eggs or sperm isn’t a familiar topic to many, the process is more common than you think. Research shows that tens of thousands of babies are conceived annually using third-party reproduction.
Despite this frequency, the overall donation process is still a mystery to most.
Whether you’re starting a donor journey or considering options, it’s not uncommon to experience a whirlwind of questions…
How much does it cost?
Who are the donors?
Is the quality of the donated materials good?
Will your donor have any rights to your child?
Don’t let the unknown scare you. Sperm and egg donation are reliable options when seeking alternative paths to parenthood.
If you’re interested in learning the ins and outs of the donation process, you’ve come to the right place! We’re breaking down the who, what, when, where, and why to help you feel confident when making your family planning decision.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about using sperm or egg donation to conceive!
What Are Sperm and Egg Donation?
Sperm and egg donation, also known as third-party reproduction, is a process where a hopeful parent or couple uses specimens from another person to get pregnant. Often, this allows the recipient to conceive and carry a baby. Other times, donor eggs or sperm are used in conjunction with surrogacy to start a family.
How Do You Get Donor Sperm or Eggs?
So here’s the big question – how does one “get” donor sperm or eggs to start a family?
While it might be funny to imagine a black market sperm dealer lurking in the shadows, the reality is much more trustworthy and respectable.
Most often, hopeful parents will use a reputable egg or sperm bank for their donation process. Some top-rated options include:
Donor Sperm Banks
Donor Egg Banks
Some people prefer a personal connection to their donor. It’s not uncommon to see hopeful parents receive donations from a relative or close friend, although this can be a more involved process as the “known donor” will have to go through various genetic tests and processes before donation (while receiving donor sperm or eggs from a reputable bank means that the donor has already been through this process).
Are Frozen Donor Eggs or Sperm Worse Than Fresh?
In decades past, fresh donor eggs and sperm seemed like the way to go. More recently, however, interest in frozen donations has grown.
But are they good options for successful outcomes?
The short answer is yes!
Not only are frozen sperm and eggs more affordable than fresh, but they’re also easier to get, given the vast number of cryobanks in the country.
But what about the quality?
Thanks to a revolutionary flash-freezing process called vitrification, the quality of frozen sperm and eggs are much better than it used to be.
With previous slow-freeze technologies, there was a significant risk of ice crystal formation that caused a breakdown in the overall condition of the specimens.
However, vitrified samples are protected from this effect, making them similarly successful to fresh alternatives regarding pregnancy rates.
Who Should Use a Third-Party Reproduction Donor?
The whole point of understanding egg and sperm donation is to help you determine whether it’s a good option for your family-building goals.
However, the first question is: how do I know if I need a donor?
While there can be many reasons to use an egg or sperm donor, one of the most common is infertility. Some common fertility problems that lead to third-party reproduction include:
- Insufficient Sperm Quality and/or Motility
- PCOS Infertility
- Poor Egg Quality
- Low Sperm or Egg Count
- Presence of Genetic Conditions
- Unexplained Infertility
- Low Ovarian Reserve
- Early Onset Menopause
In addition to conditions like these, there are other reasons a family might need reproductive medicine and donations to conceive. For instance, it’s common for same-sex couples to utilize sperm and egg donation services to have babies.
How Much Does it Cost to Use a Sperm or Egg Donor?
The cost difference between donor sperm and donor eggs is significant. This is because the egg retrieval process is much more in-depth than sperm collection.
After all, sperm donors just need a quick visit to a clinic to offer a sample if they pass various screenings and are considered good donors.
Egg donors, however, must undergo an intense protocol that includes various fertility medications and outpatient surgery. Egg donors also go through several days or weeks of blood work and ultrasound monitoring.
Do Potential Egg and Sperm Donors Go Through Screening?
Absolutely! Before a donor enters an egg or sperm donation program, they undergo an intense screening process. You can expect similar evaluation requirements regardless of the sample type you need. These include:
- Psychological Evaluations
- Drug Testing
- STD Screenings for Various Diseases, i.e., Hepatitis B, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, or HIV
- General Health Examinations
- Background Checks
- Interviews Regarding Family History, Education, and Career
- Genetic Testing for Conditions like Cystic Fibrosis or Sickle Cell Disease
Once a donor is approved, they’ll begin their donation process.
Cryobanks and donation clinics will set up donor profiles for each individual, including much of the information gathered during the application process, except identifying information like name and address.
Do Donors Have Any Rights to Your Children?
In understanding egg and sperm donation, it’s important to note that donors who provide a sample are also relinquishing their legal rights to any child born from it.
That said, some donor facilities allow for “known donor” situations.
This means a donor can elect to have their information released to parents and children IF they want it. Most of the time in “known donor” situations, this information is released when the child turns 18, and no recipient must get in contact or build a relationship with their donor.
How Does the Sperm and Egg Donation Process Work?
So, you’ve chosen a donor and received a sample–what happens next?
After you pick a donor, the storage facility or clinic managing the sample will ship it to your fertility clinic.
If you require a sperm donation, the next step will include intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF). An IUI consists of placing sperm directly into the uterus of either the intended parent or a surrogate with a small catheter.
During the IVF process, however, things are a little more complicated.
Whether you’re using a gestational carrier or hoping to get pregnant, the first step is collecting eggs for fertilization. Using a protocol of ovarian stimulation drugs and monitoring through bloodwork and ultrasounds, your doctor will try to help you produce as many eggs as possible during a single cycle.
Once ovulation is near, you or your surrogate undergo an outpatient egg retrieval surgery. From there, the eggs gathered will be mixed with the donor sperm for fertilization.
As the egg grows and your embryos begin to develop, the next stage is preparing your body for an embryo transfer. This happens by taking fertility medications, such as progesterone and estrogen, which will ready your uterine lining to help ensure the embryo will implant.
If you use donor eggs instead of sperm, your IVF protocol will begin with this embryo transfer stage, as the eggs will already be available for fertilization.
Can Mothers Pass Their DNA Onto Donor Eggs?
If you’re using an egg donor to conceive, giving up a genetic connection to your child might be a hard pill to swallow. But what if I told you there’s a possibility you wouldn’t be?
This isn’t the same thing as passing on DNA, but it does mean that the environment you’re providing inside the womb affects who your child will become in the future.
The Alternative Path to Pregnancy Many Families Need
Using an egg or sperm donor to conceive might not be the fertility path you imagined for yourself. Despite that, third-party reproduction is an exciting opportunity for many parents and couples to have the family of their dreams when traditional family building isn’t going the way you had hoped or isn’t an option.
Whether you require donor eggs or sperm to get pregnant, there’s a whole world of support out there for you, including many, many families who have done so!
Is understanding egg and sperm donation something that’s confused you in the past? What else would you like to know?
Kristen Bergeron is a freelance writer from Florida. In addition to writing, she is a wife, mother of two beautiful girls, Hadley and Scarlett, and a part-time photographer. After overcoming infertility and having two successful IVF cycles, she’s made it a personal goal to help educate men and women on the realities of fertility struggles. She is passionate about supporting fellow women who are trying to navigate the complicated world of conception, pregnancy, and learning to be the best mothers we can be.