November 2, 2016
When a family is first diagnosed with infertility, the next few weeks can be filled with what seems like information overload. What next step should be taken? Which treatment is best? How much will it cost? How long will it take? Will it work? Further research to answer these questions often includes unfamiliar medical terminology, as well. There is an entirely different vocabulary in the world of fertility treatments, and you will need to learn quickly if you want to keep up.
If the cause of infertility has been diagnosed as a problem with egg production or egg quality, using a frozen donor egg is often recommended. But is it as simple as searching an egg donation facility for a suitable candidate and bringing home a baby nine months later?
Not quite, but the process of using a frozen donor egg is probably less complicated than you would think, and thanks to new technologies like vitrification – a flash-freezing technique – your chances of a successful pregnancy are greater than ever before.
There are many reasons why a woman may not be able to get pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term using her own eggs. They include advanced maternal age, low ovarian reserves, prior medical treatments, or a family history of genetic conditions. In these cases, the use of a donor egg is a common recommendation to treat infertility.
One way of doing this is to use a fresh donor egg, which involves two parties – the donor and the recipient – using medication to sync up their menstrual cycles so that the egg is retrieved from the donor when the recipient is ready for implantation. If illness or an emergency affects either party, however, the cycle must be canceled and put off for another time.
IVF using fresh donor eggs is a great option when all goes as planned, but it is easily affected by unforeseen life events. Common fresh donor obstacles include unexpected changes in either parties’ schedules, the donor incorrectly administering injections, and the donor not producing enough eggs during a cycle. These delays result in a 10% cancellation rate in fresh donor cycles compared to using frozen donor egg cycles.
Thankfully, the flash-freezing vitrification process has allowed for greater success in the use of frozen donor eggs. Before the introduction of vitrification, donated eggs were frozen through a slow freeze methodology with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, the cell structure of the eggs often became too damaged by ice crystal formations to remain viable. By lowering the chance of ice crystal formation during freezing using vitrification, the eggs are much more likely to survive the thaw process without damage. Until 2012, frozen donor egg IVF was classified as experimental, but it is now recognized as a viable treatment option, the success rates of which are quickly approaching those achieved through a fresh donor egg cycle.
In many ways, an IVF cycle using a frozen egg works in much the same way as a “traditional,” or fresh, donor egg cycle. The donor undergoes a rigorous screening process to ensure good physical and mental health before undergoing any hormonal treatment. Once she has been given a clean bill of health, she will take fertility medication to boost the number of eggs produced during a monthly cycle. These eggs are retrieved through a quick outpatient procedure once they are mature.
The fundamental difference lies in what comes next. In the traditional IVF process, the eggs are extracted from the donor for immediate fertilization and implantation when the cycles of both the donor and the recipient are in alignment. If anything goes wrong, the cycle is postponed for at least another month, possibly even longer.
When using a frozen donor egg, it is not necessary to sync up the cycles. The mature eggs are extracted and flash-frozen (vitrified) to preserve them for future use. At that point, the donor’s work is done. The recipient then selects a lot of available frozen eggs from her preferred donor, usually from an egg bank’s online database, and the frozen eggs are shipped to the recipient’s reproductive specialist for thawing, fertilization, and implantation at the appropriate time.
There is no right or wrong path when it comes to growing a family. Only you can decide which treatment is best for you and your family. The highly individualized needs of each family undergoing fertility treatments are the most important consideration. Your doctor can help you understand the pros and cons of each available option, but you can take comfort in knowing that advanced fertility technology is providing you with more choices than ever before.