Q: What fertility issues are women encountering that created a need for egg donors?
A: There are a lot of women, who for many reasons, their egg quality is not as it should be. Age is a major factor when it comes to egg quality so women when they reach their late thirties or early forties, their egg quality is decreasing so they are usually the ones who need egg donors. Another reason is that there are a lot of women who are menopausal, women who are young but are going through premature ovarian failure and who want to have children but can’t due to these problems.
Q: What does it take to become an egg donor and describe the process one must go through?
To be a donor, the woman must be under 34 years of age, their Body Mass Index ratio has to be within normal ranges and have normal regular periods. Ideally we would like a woman who has had a pregnancy previously or even completed her family but this is not an exclusion criteria. We will check your hormone levels to make sure that they are within normal ranges before adding you to the program.
Before we extract the eggs, we first ensure that the donor is a suitable match for the recipient. The donor is placed on birth control for one month, followed by a hormone treatment that is given via injections. That process takes about three weeks, after which, we fly them to Barbados to have the eggs extracted. The donor needs to be in Barbados for eight to nine days.
You mentioned that a low hormone level is a criteria to being an donor, but what about being pregnant, does being an egg donor mean that you would have had to give birth previously?
No you’re not required to have given birth or have children in order to be a donor because we have many donors who have come to us and they were never pregnant. Once your hormone levels are normal to give the best result we can take it from there.
Describe the process of getting the eggs from the donor.
During the process, the donor is not put to sleep fully (i.e. like a general anaesthetic), but they are just put in a light sleeping state where they don’t feel any pain. The extraction takes about 15 minutes. The eggs are extracted from the vagina by using an ultrasound probe and a needle attached to the probe goes into the vagina walls, into the ovaries and into the follicles, which is then drained. There are no cuts or wounds on the stomach. In the fluid drained from the follicles are the eggs. The more follicles we produce for the donor the more eggs we get and the better the chances are for the recipient because not all eggs are fertilized and become embryos. There’s a growing process for the eggs so each day we give the recipient an update on the eggs and how the embryos are growing and when the transfer would be. Not all eggs grow after you fertilise them, some don’t make it to the stage that we need them to be at to do the transfer. Ideally we like to aim for 10 – 15 eggs from the donor.
Can eggs from an egg donor be used for more than one recipient?
Yes, sometimes a sharing option is offered to recipients because it’s an expensive process. We do sharing cycles regularly where it’s the same process for the donor with the same amount of eggs but then the eggs are then divided evenly between two recipients to help reduce the cost. Basically they share the eggs and share the cost..
What is a common misconception egg donors or persons interested in being a donor have?
Some people believe that once you’ve become an egg donor you have no more eggs, and that is so not true. A woman produces eggs every month within her cycle, approximately 1-2 million eggs and as you get older and times goes by those eggs will decrease in numbers but we have had donors donate and get pregnant afterwards so it’s a huge misconception.
Do donors receive counselling?
Both recipient and donors are counseled. This is a very important step as there are psychological implications for both parties. Egg donors need to know that once they relinquished the eggs they cannot come back later and say ‘I want them back’. The recipients need to be counseled that this child will be biologically their child but not genetically theirs and the implications of this.
Are donors paid or is it voluntary?
Egg donors are compensated for their time and effort for going to the appointments and taking treatment. If they are coming from Trinidad, all their travelling and accommodations are paid for by the recipient, they get US$500.00 and a daily stipend for meals while they are at the centre. We don’t pay per egg or for eggs but compensation is given for your time and for going through the actual process because it is a time consuming one for the donor.
Would you say egg donating is considered ‘taboo’ in the Caribbean?
Yes and no, because there are a lot of persons open to it but it’s important to have a family or friend to support you when you’re doing it and that’s the hard part. Women will want to donate their eggs but if their partner does not agree or their mother doesn’t agree either, it would be hard on them to go through the process. It can be an emotional time for some donors from the hormones that they take and the can need that support system through the process.