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The Truth About Egg Donation

Why you should consider it, if you need to use it.

Source: istock/bluebeat76

​​​​Egg donation is a concept many of us may not understand, and our high school biology class may not have been thorough. Let’s review the facts from fiction with a little help from Lissa Kline, LCSW and Director of Member Services at Progyny.

Fiction #1: Receiving genetic material from someone else to have a baby is not natural.
The Fact:
Every single woman who was ever pregnant received genetic material donated by someone else – a male! If a woman uses donor egg, it’s a "double donation." According to Kline, “I’ve worked with women and men for years who explored the use of donor tissue to build or complete their families. So many couples end up utilizing donor eggs or sperm for various reasons and while it may seem ‘unnatural’ before you start exploring it yourself, you’ll quickly learn how common it really is.”

Fiction #2: A donated egg is carrying the donor’s own characteristics.
The Fact: Every egg, like every sperm, carries genetic material from the donor’s entire gene pool (parents, grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and relatives they never met or have even heard about). People tend to worry that if they use donor egg or sperm, the child won’t resemble the parents. In fact, the chances of the child resembling the partner in the relationship (not the donor), will be the same chances of the child resembling the donor. While this may worry some, Kline said, “From all the partners I’ve worked with, they all say people tell them how much their child looks like them – and never mentions the donor. Some people find it helpful to talk about the donor as a contributor to their family building and I’ve had patients tell me it helped them to think of the donor as someone who was assisting them, just as their doctors and nurses were.” Kline added, “The whole nature versus nurture idea also helps here to remind us that biology is not destiny – so much of who we become as people are shaped by our environments. Remember, to some extent, you will have control over what your children are exposed to in terms of their education and family upbringing.”

Fiction #3: The donor’s fertilized egg is immediately placed in the recipient’s uterus.
The Fact:
Although the procedure is called “egg donation”, the recipient does not receive someone’s egg in her uterus. The egg and sperm meld their genetic material in the petri dish during ovum donation (instead of the fallopian tube) and the combined material duplicates itself and creates two new cells with the same genetic instructions. The material duplicates again, and now there are four cells, and so forth. Soon there will be a ball of many cells — the beginning of an embryo. When the ball, called a blastocyst, is big enough for implantation, it’s placed in the uterus, just as if it traveled from the fallopian tube to the uterus. “I think it’s really great to point out that all patients have an embryo, not a 'donor egg' placed in the uterus! In vivo fertilization (in the body via intercourse or IUI) and in vitro fertilization (including ovum donation) really have the same outcome,” explained Kline.

Fiction #4: The pregnant recipient is mainly an incubator, or good environment, for the baby.
The Fact:
Not even close! As the embryo grows, every cell in the baby’s body is being developed by pregnant mother’s body. The fetus will use the pregnant woman’s protein, sugars, calcium, vitamins, minerals, and fluids to build muscles, bones, nerve cells, and organs. The shape of the baby’s earlobe may have been genetically programmed by the donor’s great, great, grandfather, or the male partner’s (or even sperm donor’s) grandmother’s aunt, but the earlobe itself, and the rest of the baby, grew from the pregnant woman’s body. She may not be a genetic donor but carrying the child makes her the child’s biological mother. Kline said, “I love this explanation so much, because I think a lot of the initial uncertainty around choosing donor tissue stems from the feeling that you aren’t involved in the development and growth of the baby. You are! You will deliver the baby and your body will nourish the baby. Ultimately, being a parent isn’t defined by genetics and egg donation is no different.”

Again, there is no wrong way to have a child – whether you need donor tissue such as egg or sperm, a surrogate, IVF, or adoption. In the end, it’s your child and you just might need some help to get there. How you raise the child will ultimately be up to you.

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