What does it take to be an egg donor?

The requirements for egg donors are different everywhere, so I can only talk about what it takes at the hospital where we’re being treated in Belgium. After a bit of research, some of the criteria seem to be more-or-less universal (e.g., no family history of severe hereditary diseases), while others (e.g., age limit) will depend on the specific country/clinic.

The first thing to know is that there are two types of donation:

  1. Direct: where you donate eggs directly to someone you know, or
  2. Anonymous: where you donate eggs to an ‘egg bank’.

Here in Belgium, the egg bank is only available to Belgian citizens (due to a shortage of donors). For us, that meant that we had to find our own donor. However, that donor could choose to either donate directly to us, or they could donate anonymously to the egg bank, which would then give us ‘credit’ to use the egg bank anonymously.

Both options appeal to different people for different reasons. Some donors may find it psychologically difficult to see their genes being raised in another family, and they may then prefer anonymous donation. On the other hand, some donors may prefer to donate directly to their friends/family. We left it up to our donor, Marie, who has chosen the latter (direct donation). Obviously we’re still sad we can’t just use my own eggs (as we both happen to think I’m a pretty neat person), but given the circumstances, we would have been happy with either choice. And since we also think Marie is a pretty neat person, we feel we’ve won the egg donation lottery (if it all works, of course).

Before the donation can occur, however, the prospective donor must meet a number of criteria and test negative for about a dozen diseases. Though these are not strict rules for direct donation, the clinic strongly advises that the donor be under 37 years old, that they have had children, and that they not desire more (so they won’t regret handing over some of their potentially fertile eggs). Maybe it’s because of the circles we run in (academics and/or other expats), but finding a donor that met all of these criteria was extremely difficult for us. Before Marie volunteered, we had basically given up hope!

If the prospective donor meets these first criteria, then the next hurdle is a hormone test. There’s a pretty cool blood test they can do nowadays (‘AMH’) that tells you about your ovarian reserve. Obviously, there’s no point in going through the whole process if the donor is also low on eggs. Luckily, Marie already passed this with flying colors.

Then come the dozen-or-so tests for STDs and genetic diseases, including a chromosome analysis, as we’re apparently attempting to create a genetically perfect, award-winning being. These tests can be quite pricey for the hopeful couple, and do not seem to be covered by our Dutch insurance (still a lot cheaper than in the US, though!) They can also take up to three months to get the results back, and should thus be done as early as possible.

Next are the in-person screenings with a geneticist, a psychologist, and the coordinating nurse. Here, they create a detailed family tree for the donor, attempting to suss out any hereditary illnesses, and to assess the psychological fitness of the donor. Only if the donor passes ALL of these hurdles can the donation itself proceed (which itself is a multi-week process including hormone injections, and ending with a surgery — more on all this later).

I list all of these steps not to scare away potential donors, but rather to highlight how difficult it can be to find someone who is both willing and able. Particularly in countries where donors aren’t allowed to be paid (like here in Belgium), this can lead to a shortage of donors, making anyone who is willing/able that much more valuable. We’re grateful that Marie is willing to go through all this for us. She had her blood test yesterday for the STDs and chromosome analysis, so now we sit back and wait for the lab results!

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