Rigors & Rewards
Be prepared for questions, tests,
shots and surgery.
by Stacy Herlihy
Egg Donor Needed. $8,000 compensation. Caucasian, 5”6+, 21-27 yrs old,” read a recent post on a cyberspace message board.
It seems tempting if you’re young, fertile and perhaps in need of cash. The rewards can be psychological too, when you’re helping a couple fulfill their dream of having a baby. However, becoming an egg donor is a complicated and lengthy process.
Many potential donors want to know how to judge whether ads seeking egg donors are legitimate. Most ads are placed by agencies or clinics. Frederick Liccardi, MD, director of the New York University Program for In-Vitro Fertilization, suggests consulting the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (SART) website before you answer an egg donation ad. (See sidebar.)
SART represents 95 percent of the nation’s in-vitro fertilizaiton clinics. The society has “just recently assembled a list of agencies who comply with recommendations regarding donor eggs,” says Dr. Liccardi.
Once You Apply
Egg donor applicants are often asked to fill out questionnaires that can include detailed medical, sexual and genetic histories. Expect to be asked personal questions such as the texture of your hair, your favorite sport or even your SAT scores.
Clinics’ requirements and procedures vary. Eileen Davies, clinical study program coordinator at the Cooper Institute for In-Vitro Fer-tilization in Marlton, NJ, says a potential donor must be screened by a physician and tested for any infectious disease such as HIV or hepatitis. A gynecological exam is also performed.
Candidates are not given a psychological evaluation nor are they necessarily required to have had higher education.
Pennsylvania Reproductive Associates, a Philadelphia infertility treatment center that launched one of the first in vitro fertilization (IVF) programs in the country, requires extensive psychological testing and medical information.
Applicants must undergo a clinical interview and meet with an IVF nurse, clinical psychologist and a financial counselor, says Dana Tillotson, the center’s director of assisted reproductive technologies clinical services.
Although the program is anonymous, recipients often have high expectations of their egg donors, such as an Ivy League diploma. “Sometimes that’s not even enough,” Tillotson says, laughing.
Kelly DeVanne, president of Families Through Surrogacy, a Florida service that matches donors and prospective parents, says that couples seeking eggs prefer donors with college degrees and good grades. Many programs have donor age limits, typically 21 to the early 30s.
Cooper Institute for In-Vitro Fertilization, 8002-E Greentree Commons, Marlton, NJ, 856-751-5575, www.ccivf.com
Pennsylvania Reproductive Associations,
815 Locust St., Phila., PA and 521 Militia Hill Rd., Plymouth Meeting, PA, 866-391-9992,
Society of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (SART), www.sart.org, 205-978-5000.
Once a clinic accepts a donor’s application, the process is still not easy, especially if she’s afraid of needles.
The preparation for donation takes about two months. According to Davies, donors are expected to self-administer several injections in addition to physical monitoring that includes blood tests and ultrasounds. Five to ten office visits are required, mainly during the two weeks prior to egg retrieval surgery.
Two ovarian cycles before retrieval, donors are given birth control pills for 21 days. Lupron, a hormone suppressant, is given for ten days. “The Lupron levels the hormones and quiets the ovaries,” Davies says. In the cycle before donation, drugs that stimulate the ovaries are given for 10 to 12 days.
The 20-30 minute surgical procedure to remove the eggs occurs under intravenous sedation. Once the donor is asleep, the surgical team withdraws fluid from both ovaries.
“The embryologist will later sift through the fluid to look for the eggs,” explains Debra Walls, a nurse at the Reproductive Medical Associates of New York.
The main risk in donation, says Davies, is hyperstimulation of the ovaries, known as OHSS or ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Mild effects of OHSS include bloating and nausea, while moderate and severe effects include vomiting and shortness of breath.
OHSS is rare, according to Davies, who has been in the field for 24 years and has yet to see a donor experience the condition.
A more common problem, Tillotson, says, is that would-be donors stop going to appointments.
If all goes well, the compensation can be as high as $10,000 on the west coast, Davies says, though in the Delaware Valley, payment typically ranges from $5,000 to $7,000.
Stacy Herlihy is a freelance writer.