History was made in 1978 when Lesley Brown became the first woman to give birth to a baby conceived through an in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure. Today, the use of IVF procedures
is one of the most common assisted reproductive technologies used by would-be parents for whom more traditional conception methods are not an option.
The quality of your eggs is one of the most important factors in determining whether an egg donor agency will accept you for participation in their egg donation process. Egg quality depends on factors like your age, your nutritional status and your lifestyle choices.
Collecting Human Eggs
In IVF, mature human eggs that have been harvested from a donor’s ovaries are fertilized under laboratory conditions. The egg retrieval process itself is minimally invasive in most instances, but preparing your body for the egg donation process can be an intense experience. If you are accepted as an egg donor, you can expect to spend as many as 60 hours undergoing egg donation screening processes as well as other tests and procedures at the fertility physician’s office.
IVF specialists prefer to harvest as many eggs as possible during a single procedure, so you’ll first be given drugs that will stimulate your ovaries. These drugs may include:
- Gonadotropin-releasing hormones: Gonadotropin-releasing hormones delay ovulation so that more mature eggs can be released at a single time. Gonadotropin-releasing hormones are administered through subcutaneous injections.
- Follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH): FSH promotes the maturation of multiple eggs. If you apply to be an egg donor and are chosen, you will be asked to refrain from sexual intercourse while you are receiving FSH injections since FSH will make you much more likely to conceive. Physicians will monitor the maturation of your eggs while you’re undergoing these injections through frequent blood tests and ultrasounds.
- Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG): HCG stimulates ovulation and is administered through a one-time injection. Approximately 36 hours after the HCG injection, your eggs will be ready for harvesting.
What Determines Egg Quality?
Egg quality is one of the most important factors determining the viability of the embryo that results from fertilization. Poor-quality eggs often have chromosomal abnormalities that can cause birth defects and may more frequently precipitate miscarriages. Here are some of the factors that determine the quality of eggs:
The egg donation screening process focuses upon age because the age of a prospective egg donor is the primary factor in determining whether or not her eggs will be viable in an IVF procedure. Most egg donor agencies will only accept prospective donors who are between 21 and 30 years of age.
Human eggs are created during fetal development. While a female fetus is developing, that fetus may contain as many as 7 million eggs. That number decreases to 1 million by the time a baby is born and to 300,000 by the time puberty arrives. During a woman’s reproductive years, however, only 300 to 400 of these eggs will ever mature and be released from the ovaries, and they decline in quality as a woman grows older. This is primarily due to the fact that DNA repair mechanisms become less efficient as a woman ages.
Lifestyle choices may also have a significant effect on egg viability. Nicotine, alcohol and many drugs that are used recreationally may be linked with chromosomal abnormalities. That’s why most egg donor agencies will not accept donors who smoke or who have a history of taking illegal drugs. They will also shy away from accepting donors who have a history of excessive alcohol use.
Certain foods like leafy greens and other fresh vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins may be able to help eggs stay healthy even as women approach their late 20s when egg quality typically begins to decline. Conversely, foods like processed sugar and trans fats may have a negative effect on fertility.
One of the ways that egg donor agencies evaluate prospective donors’ diets is by evaluating the proportion of their height to their weight. Most agencies will not accept donors who have a BMI that is greater than 33. Obesity can also have a profound effect on hormonal balance, which can diminish egg quality.
Like all parts of your body, the ovaries that contain your eggs will stay healthiest if they receive an ample supply of oxygenated blood on a regular basis. Exercise promotes the flow of blood to every organ in your body, including your ovaries.
Stress promotes the release of hormones such as cortisol, which can have a deleterious effect on the release of healthy eggs.
Other Egg Donor Qualifications Considered
In addition to evaluating prospective donors to make sure they are capable of ovulating healthy eggs, egg donor agencies often impose other requirements.
Most agencies will not work with prospective donors who aren’t residents of the U.S. or Canada. Prospective donors do not necessarily have to be citizens, but they do have to have documentation attesting to legal residence.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
The FDA requires agencies to screen prospective donors for sexual diseases, including Chlamydia, hepatitis B and C, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV. Some agencies may reconsider a prospective egg donor once a sexually transmitted disease has been treated and cured, but some may not.
Agencies typically require all prospective donors to undergo a rigorous psychological assessment before they will work with these donors. They need to know that you are psychologically stable enough to see the arduous egg donation process through to its conclusion. The individuals whose journey to parenthood you are hoping to assist have invested a lot of time and money in this process, and the agency must be certain that you are as committed to the process as they are.