Your eggs or donor eggs?

So you want a baby but you’re not sure if your eggs are good enough? Even the emotional pain of infertility won’t persuade some couples to use donor eggs, but are they missing out?

Wanting to use your own eggs for IVF is a powerful, natural feeling, whatever your age. There could be a host of reasons why you shouldn’t use them though – the eggs are low quality or too few, you’ve tried to conceive and failed before using fertility drugs or IVF, or you’ve experienced recurrent miscarriages. Despite these issues, it’s hugely tempting to “try one more time” – even with all the risks attached.

Egg donation has a stigma attached

One of the main reasons for hesitation in using egg donation has been the slight stigma attached to using donor eggs. People have tended to think of having babies on a sliding scale of acceptance – natural, then IVF with your own eggs, surrogacy, adoption and, some way behind has been egg donation. This is now changing on a significantly increasing scale year on year.

Women often talk about the grief they feel because they cannot pass their genes on to a child. There’s a belief that if they’re not using their own eggs, then they should look at adoption, even though it’s notoriously hard to adopt. And it doesn’t offer a biological connection. A fertilised donor egg does have half the parents’ genes and is carried by the mother.

Mother’s DNA will pass to baby – even with donor egg

New evidence is also emerging that women do pass on their own DNA to their child, even though the egg is from another woman. It has been hailed as ‘an amazing discovery’ by Nick Macklon, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Southampton.

Professor Macklon told the Sunday Express: “This research shows in principle the baby will have some DNA from her [birth mother] even though the egg is from another woman. This DNA seems to influence the way the baby develops.

“There is something about knowing that you played a part, even small part, in the genetics of inheritance. That you have passed something of yourself to the baby. Even if it wasn’t your egg.”

 “Women who have a baby through egg donation are often told their baby resembles them. This could explain why.”

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Feelings of inadequacy

Women who have gone down the donor route do say that the feelings of inadequacy about carrying another woman’s baby are often overcome once the pregnancy starts and maternal feelings kick in.

It’s possible to experience deeply entrenched fears about using an egg from a stranger, so find out as much as possible about the donor. Clinics in the UK can be reticent to share much on this, but countries such as Spain, for example, will provide much more information (although not details about the donor’s identity).

Meet your donor

The US is a different story. You can select a woman’s eggs based on appearance, education, social background and see their childhood photos. Some clinics even allow you to meet to see if you are right for each other. One US couple said they were looking for a donor who is:

  • Caucasian
  • Slim
  • Between 5’7 and 5’8″
  • Natural blonde hair and green eyes
  • Some Swedish background in her family
  • Master’s degree and minimum IQ of 120
  • Has participated in athletics at college

That may be extreme, but it shows how some couples are desperate for a virtual exact match of themselves.

Using donor eggs is not cheap, but one way to reduce the price is to go for egg sharing. Clinics in the UK and abroad will try to match you with a donor who looks similar. Some clinics will stop at that, others will give you more choice. Waiting lists in clinics that operate egg sharing tend to be shorter.

Who will you tell?

One of the biggest questions to deal with is who you tell that you’re using donor eggs. If you decide to keep it secret, make sure you and your partner completely agree and will stick by it. Once word is out, there is nothing you can do. You can’t ‘un-tell’. The risk is that if you tell someone you trust, how can you be sure years later that your child won’t find out from someone other than you. The impact could be devastating.

What if the child finds out?

And what if your child finds out and then wants to trace their donor mother? In some countries, donors are anonymous. In the UK, any woman who donated an egg after 1 April 2005 is identifiable and once a child is 18 they have the right to know the donor’s name and last known address.

Using donated eggs is a major decision and needs careful thought. You may want to discuss your feelings a professional counsellor first. The HFEA has more information about this on where to go.

Before embarking on using donated eggs you may find it helpful to join the Donor Conception Network, a support group for donor egg families.

 

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