Do You Need to Consider an Egg Donor to Get Pregnant?

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The decision to conceive with donor eggs (oocytes) is a very personal decision. Often, it’s a decision a patient reaches only after many other considerations. While some patients—including women with a prior history of ovarian failure after chemotherapy, radiation, menopause, or surgical ovarian removal—need to use donor eggs to conceive, others who know they carry specific genetic abnormalities that they do not want to pass on to their offspring can also benefit from donor eggs.

Who uses donor eggs?

It is our experience that most women who choose to use donor eggs actually do so for other reasons. Specifically, most patients choose to use donor eggs after carefully considering the chances of conceiving if they use their own eggs, given their age, hormonal profiles, and prior response to fertility treatments.

The most common reason for egg donation is maternal age and the failure of a patient to conceive with her own eggs—even with advanced fertility treatments such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Despite all of the medical breakthroughs and despite how much we’ve learned about the effects of maternal age on fertility, no one has yet developed an effective treatment to actually reverse the biological clock. While magazine covers show celebrities delivering babies in their late 40s, the vast majority of women of advancing age cannot conceive a healthy pregnancy using their own oocytes. In fact, we are seeing an increase in the number of patients using donor eggs as an increasing number of women understand the impact of age on fertility.

How do donor eggs help?

According to the most recent national statistics from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), donor eggs or embryos (fertilized eggs) were used in approximately 12% of all IVF cycles in the U.S. in 2008 (www.cdc.gov/ART). For women age 40–42, over 20% of IVF cycles were from donor eggs. For women 44 years and older, the figure rises to higher than 40%. Women age 46 or older use donor eggs in almost 80% of all IVF cycles.

The reason for the use of donor eggs is generally based on the dramatically increased chance of pregnancy. The likelihood for women over age 42 years conceiving with their own eggs is about 12%, and it decreases by age 44 years to less than 5%. In contrast, the chance of a live birth for women using donor eggs is over 50% regardless of the age of the woman, even for women in their late 40s.

How do you know when to use donor eggs?

Patients often ask if there is a test to determine egg quality and the chances of getting pregnant with their own eggs. Unfortunately, there are no blood tests that directly determine egg quality. There are some medical tests that indirectly evaluate egg quantity, but age is the best predictor we have of egg quality. Part of a consultation with a fertility specialist includes a discussion of the overall likelihood of a healthy pregnancy given an individual’s or couple’s specific fertility factors and age.

For some patients, egg donation can be the best option to conceive and carry a healthy pregnancy. Other patients, however, may never feel comfortable using donor eggs and instead may elect to pursue other options, such as adopting, receiving an embryo donation, or continuing to try to conceive using their own eggs. Part of our responsibility at Fertility Specialists Medical Group (FSMG) is to advise patients honestly not only about the advantages and disadvantages of different treatments, but also the likelihoods of success. At FSMG, we also work with our patients to help achieve their goals using only the treatments that they have chosen to pursue. Our goal is to help our patients have a family, and we are fortunate to be able to offer several different options to achieve their goals.