Donor Conception

Everything to know right now about using donor eggs, plus freezing updates

Jessie Day, in partnership with TFP Fertility  |   22 Feb 2024

Of all the searches across Insta, Google and more, using donor eggs can get pretty real – and complex – fast. The same goes for fertility preservation. With varying legislation and process from country to country, and frequent updates here in the UK, it can be tricky to keep track of what to know. 

Our go-to network for clarity, TFP Fertility have covered a set of chunky topics for us over the last year – dip into any of these for more info: 

Eating for fertility, unlocked – the nutritionist-approved toolkit

Handling tricky celebrations and dates, when TTC

Male infertility questions answered, from the experts

Secondary infertility info and updates

Expert mental health support with a clinical psychologist

How does BMI affect fertility?

Plus, so much more. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter so you never miss a beat, with TFP Fertility in partnership with The Ribbon Box.

Donor eggs and the latest on fertility preservation, in 2024

Today, The Ribbon Box founder – and donor mum of five – Eloise, sits down with TFP Thames Valley Fertility Embryology Manager Danielle Breen and TFP Oxford Fertility Donation & Surrogacy Lead Stacey Rohling, to chat through using donor eggs, and the latest on fertility preservation in 2024. 

Scan for your question below, and if you don’t see it, pop us a query or thought on Insta and we’ll put it top of the list for next time. Whether it’s on a podcast, video chat or in-person at one of their UK-wide clinic locations, the team at TFP Fertility are built to help you find answers, via a world of expertise and care.

Danielle, can you tell us about your role at TFP Fertility?

Sure! Having worked at TFP Oxford Fertility for nearly seven years, when we opened our Thames Valley clinic, I moved across to join the new team, and have been here since we opened back in 2017. My role involves overseeing all of the embryology and andrology procedures for families and patients at that clinic. It’s a really lovely team.

And Stacey, what about your work in Oxford?

Yes – alongside my role as senior fertility nurse, I undertook the role of donation and surrogacy lead about two years ago. It’s an amazing part of my job, supporting embryo and egg donors and recipients, shared motherhood journeys, surrogacy pathways and more. I feel really privileged to – hopefully – help create families, and support everyone on their journey.

fertility preservation

How do patients get started with fertility preservation – what’s the process?

Stacey – 

The first step is often the most pivotal – and that’s getting in contact to start the ball rolling. 

Generally, patients will self-refer and I think due to the media attention these days, more and more people are looking into freezing their eggs. Often, this is to have a sort-of back-up plan for the future, for when they potentially might want to start their families. 

So they’ll come and see one of our consultants in their chosen clinic, usually have their AMH (Anti-Müllerian hormone) tested, and have a scan to look at the follicles on their ovaries. Then, alongside the consultant, they’ll work out if this is the right course of action for them. 

Danielle – 

Yes, and I’d like to add a little about eggs versus embryo preservation

When looking at preservation, you may be weighing up the options of egg freezing versus embryo freezing. And that’s because there’s a difference in your future treatment options, depending on which you go for. 

Breaking it down

When freezing an egg, you’re working at the very beginning of the lab cycle. If, for example, you have 10 eggs frozen, it’s hard to quantify how many attempts or transfers that will equate to. 

I always say to patients to envision your week in the lab like a hurdle race – every day is a different hurdle or a different checkpoint. And your starting number of eggs will very rarely equal the number that cross the finish line, at the end of the hurdles race. 

With egg freezing, it’s very hard to quantify how many future IVF cycle attempts you will get from your frozen eggs. Whereas when we freeze embryos, we’ve already been through some of that hurdles race. 

Back to our example, those 10 frozen eggs might equate to one or two transfers. Whereas, if you have five embryos frozen, that could work out as a maximum of five transfers. So it’s quite a big difference, in terms of your future treatment options. 

It depends on your reasons for preserving

This is why – at the consultation stage – we’ll be looking at the reasons for preservation. If you’re freezing your eggs because you’re not at the right point, for you, to start a family, but think you may want to in the future, then egg freezing is often the route. 

On the other hand, a patient might be in a long-term relationship and ready to start a family – they may even already have children together – and be keen to look at embryo preservation. 

Very sadly, we do also treat people who are undergoing, for example, cancer treatment. In this case, a patient may already be in a relationship, but knowing they’re about to start chemotherapy or radiotherapy which could irreversibly damage their fertility, they’re coming to us for embryo preservation. 

Clearly really different scenarios, with lots to consider. 

If we’re freezing alongside cancer treatment, does the plan change?

Danielle – 

With cancer treatment, often we’re on a time scale. So understandably we want to try and preserve your fertility, but we don’t want to delay oncology treatment. 

We’ll adjust the treatment according to the type of cancer, or the type of treatment or hormone therapy that’s about to be undertaken. This is a very difficult scenario, and a patient who’s just had a diagnosis of cancer will be processing a lot, alongside fertility preservation choices.

One of the things we do have to really support with counselling, is that relationships can change. 

So if a relationship was to change, or break down – for any reason – if you’ve only frozen embryos, rather than eggs too, then you’ll never get to use those embryos without joint consent. This is something patients have to process alongside their cancer diagnosis, which is incredibly tough. 

As your team, we’re not asking you to question your relationship, but we may suggest freezing some eggs and some embryos, so that you’re protecting future scenarios. We can freeze for up to 55 years, and, of course, a lot can change in that time. 

Our work covers supporting patients with the options, and thinking through every eventuality.

how do I preserve my fertility

How long can we keep eggs, sperm, embryos and tissue frozen for?

Danielle – 

Good question – this has recently been overhauled! 

Historically, UK patients who were going to have their fertility impacted either by treatments or hormonal therapies could store for the maximum of 55 years. Whereas, every other patient – unless they were going to be rendered infertile – could only store for a maximum of 10 years. 

In just the last year, this has all been overhauled, following petition to the government and the HFEA. People are understandably learning more and looking at preserving their fertility earlier. And, that 10 year limit is often too short. If someone is pre-emptively freezing their eggs in their twenties or thirties, they might not be ready to actually thaw those eggs and have fertility treatment.

And, why should they have to do it in the 10 year limit? 

So, following the change in the law, every single patient has the ability to freeze for up to 55 years, which is great. 

From an embryological perspective, once you freeze something, the clock stops. This is particularly important when we’re talking about the ageing process – such a big aspect of fertility, especially for women. 

Our policy at TFP Fertility is to only perform IVF transfers up to a female patient’s 51st birthday, because there may be more obstetric risk beyond that point. We’ll contact you annually to check in on your storage decisions and intentions, and answer any questions you have.

What is the best age to freeze your eggs?

Danielle – 

This is somewhat the million dollar question, and I don’t think there’s any ‘golden age’. Hindsight is a wonderful thing – we may think,  ‘I could’ve done it earlier’ –  and that’s always going to be an element. You can argue that the younger you do it, the better – or the sooner you do it, the better – but you may not be ready, for a number of very good reasons. 

The ageing process is not a fair process – if we’re comparing men and women – and the female biological clock is far more significant. So ultimately, if you’re freezing eggs, the younger you can do that, the better.

When might a consultant recommend egg donation? 

Stacey – 

This is really at the point where patient(s) have reached the end of their journey, if using their own eggs for conception. You may have had multiple IVF cycles, potentially experienced miscarriage or biochemical pregnancies, implantation failure or been diagnosed with premature ovarian failure. 

All of this can clearly take so much of a toll on patients. And approaching the subject of egg donation requires expert care, because this is a very big decision. If it is the only way forward, it’s never a case of ‘just do egg donation’. 

Part of my job is supporting patients on this very unique journey, with everything from counselling to information on getting started, or trying again. 

processing donor conception

Do you have any advice for patients struggling with the emotional barrier of egg donation, or bonding with their baby and pregnancy?

Stacey – 

At TFP Fertility, our counsellors are absolutely amazing – we work with patients across multiple sessions, to get the support they need. You can do this individually or as a couple, depending on what works for you and your situation.

The genetic link to a child can be very difficult to navigate past, and patients do ask a lot about nature versus nurture. And that’s a big topic.

Often when talking about it, we’ll discuss genes and the hereditary factors – things like your characteristics, personality, appearance – as your ‘nature’. But actually the ‘nurture’ side of things – maybe childhood experience, how we’re raised, social cultures and relationships – are pivotal.

For patients I support and work with, who’ve carried their baby during pregnancy, given birth and then hold their baby in their arms, just months later, this is all part of bonding. And, that moment when their baby arrives, is a treasured moment. 

Danielle – 

One of the things I say to patients as well, when considering egg donation, is to strip it all back. 

Often someone may say that they feel almost like they’re ‘redundant’, or that somehow they’re not contributing to the pregnancy in the same way, because it’s not their egg. But, let’s strip it back. 

An egg is one cell. It’s a single cell, and a baby takes a lot more than a single cell to grow and develop. It may start with a single cell, but as an embryologist we rely on incubators to try and mimic the home that a mother provides, for that egg to grow. Without you, as the mother who’s providing that nurturing environment, no baby would exist.

So yes, a donated egg has been used to start that pregnancy, but the pregnancy wouldn’t be, without the mother. So in terms of bonding, the role that you play in carrying and nurturing that pregnancy, enabling that baby to get to term and then birth into this world should not be underplayed, by any feat. 

And, one cell was used at the beginning from a donor, but that baby exists because you have homed it, grown it, nurtured it, protected it, and birthed it. So your role in becoming that baby’s mum is completely justified, and very well-earned.

What an amazing way to look at it. If you need more support – or to get started with fertility preservation, donor egg conception, or any of the topics we’ve covered today, touch base with the amazing team at TFP Fertility.

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