Donor Conception

What We’ve Learned From Choosing an Egg Donor for Fertility Treatment

Eloise Edington  |   25 Apr 2022

Many in our fertility community understand how a fertility journey is littered with curveballs and hurdles.

Here, Rachel Honeyman shares her and her husband’s story of infertility, the discovery that their fertility problems could be female-factor, in addition to the male-factor issues they knew existed, and finally, find out what they learned when choosing donor eggs for fertility treatment. Rachel is a writer, editor, martial artist, and habitual spreadsheet-maker, living in New York with her husband and their two bunnies, Tonks and Lupin. She’s written extensively about her experience dealing with infertility, in the hopes that her vulnerability will help others feel less alone.

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Over to Rachel

Here’s somewhere I never pictured myself: sitting with my MacBook propped up on my lap, dissecting dozens of women’s smiles through pictures on the Internet. Does that crinkle on her forehead connote kindness? Do I detect a hint of silliness? Or is that dread and desperation seeping through my screen?

Choosing an egg donor is a kind of weird and twisted way of being my husband’s wing-woman. “Come on, this one is super pretty,” I say to Tzvi, as he shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “Don’t you want to combine your genes with hers?” He stays committed to his oft-stated position that this is my call. All of this is my call. Because this woman, whoever we choose, could be my biological proxy in creating our child.

But none of this makes sense. None of this is how it was “supposed” to be. I mean, sure, I came to terms long ago that the “usual” way of getting pregnant isn’t in the cards for us; that baby-making ship has sailed so far away, it’s not even a blip on the horizon. Needing an egg donor for fertility treatment, though? This feels impossible.

A little over four years ago, we found out definitively that we had a serious problem with the sperm side of things—in that, Tzvi wasn’t making any. I’m no fertility specialist, but even I know that’s kind of an important piece of the puzzle.

Without getting into the gory details, a fertility doctor was able to extract sperm—miraculously and surgically—from Tzvi (yes, that’s probably as uncomfortable as it sounds), which left us feeling sure this was just an unfortunate hiccup on our road to parenthood. I was young (only 30 when we started this fertility journey), with an abundance of eggs, so we presumed we’d have a round of IVF and we’d be done. 

It wasn’t so simple.

Four rounds of IVF later, we have yet to create a healthy embryo. All those hormones, tears, money, time and false hope—and here I am, looking for the donor whose egg will hopefully make up 50% of a healthy embryo. 

Because, after over four years of assuming we had a sperm issue, our fertility doctor broke the news: He suspects our inability to create a healthy embryo is likely an issue with my eggs. My bountiful, young, and healthy-looking eggs that none of us ever suspected could be the cause of our fertility problems.

You never really think about your eggs (or at least I didn’t) until forced to. We’re born with a finite number of eggs—approximately a million of them—and we use these up at a relatively rapid clip.

Most women don’t think about that dreaded question, “How many eggs might I have left?” until they hit their mid-30s and they start to (metaphorically) feel their uterine wells running dry. I didn’t think about my eggs at all during my first three rounds of IVF. Even with all those hormones forcing my body to cause more eggs to mature than it ever would in a normal month of ovulation, followed by a painful procedure to carefully extract those eggs from my body—there was never a question about the quantity or quality of my eggs.

It wasn’t until our fourth and final round of IVF that I started to think about my age and how it might play a role in the caliber of my oocytes. At 34, I suddenly heard those first incessant ticks of my biological clock.

Of course, any possible issues with my eggs would have nothing to do with my age. In our fourth cycle, the fertility specialists retrieved roughly the same number of mature eggs as in previous IVF cycles—10, a respectable number. But not one of the 48 eggs that have been plucked from my body over the past four years has successfully merged with Tzvi’s limited supply of cryopreserved sperm to create a healthy embryo. Medical science, as incredible as it is, can only tell us so much, and we don’t really know why this keeps happening. What we do know is it’s time to try something different. Enter: donor eggs.

Choosing an egg donor

After scouring multiple egg bank websites, I narrowed it down to eight candidates, neatly compiled in a spreadsheet. They’re all beautiful and educated, with unremarkable medical histories.

How do I choose an egg donor? Do I look for someone with similar interests and talents to mine? Or is this an opportunity to give my child the best shot at talents I likely couldn’t with my own egg? Do I look for someone with similar physical characteristics to me so there are fewer questions down the road? Or do I add a little diversity to Tzvi’s Ashkenazi-Jewish-through-and-through gene pool and think of this as adopting and carrying another woman’s child?

What I know now is that finding an egg donor is a lot more like Tinder than eHarmony.”

Leaning on a support network

I consult what I call my “besties council,” my four closest friends who help me make just about every important decision in my life. They’re usually split down the middle—two pairs of vastly different opinions, at which point Tzvi becomes the tie-breaker. It’s a reliable dance I expected to go through again. Except, this time, every one of my besties has a different vote. Any of their choices would be good, but having four options in front of me doesn’t make my choice any easier than the original eight.

Back to my spreadsheet I go, this time with Tzvi by my side. I show him each of the eight egg donor profiles and we discuss the pros and cons of each. After much back and forth, we settle on our top three favorites (his top two choices align with two of my besties’ picks, a boon to their highly competitive egos). 

The next morning, I open up my spreadsheet, go to the website of the egg bank holding our top choice’s donated eggs, and type in the donor ID number.

No longer available. 

What?! How is this possible? She was available a mere 12 hours earlier! 

A wave of panic rushes through me. Suddenly, options two and three don’t seem like good fits at all. This was the one; a pre-med student with a 4.00 GPA. A pianist and Taekwondo champ. A funny and outgoing balance to Tzvi’s serious demeanor. She’s perfect. And she’s gone. I call Tzvi in tears. 

After four rounds of IVF, I’m pretty much an expert at it. I know all the necessary steps. I could tell you everything you (n)ever wanted to know about all the IVF medications required. I could draw diagrams about how the follicles form in the ovaries, how an embryo is created in a petri dish, and the difference between a mosaic and an aneuploidy embryo. Ask me anything about IVF, and you’ll wish you’d stuck to more rudimentary small talk about the weather because I will talk your ear off.

Rachel’s advice to others using an egg donor for fertility treatment

The process of choosing an egg donor is completely out of my wheelhouse—and, in case you couldn’t tell by my type-A spreadsheet making, I really don’t like being bad at things. Finding out our “perfect” match was no longer available felt like defeat. The hours I’d spent falling in love with the woman I assumed would be the biological mother of my child were gone in an instant. 

What I now know is that finding the right egg donor is a lot more like Tinder than eHarmony. Find someone who looks like they might fit the bill, and you’d better swipe right quick before someone better slides into their DMs. As painful as this is for my type-A self to admit, there’s simply no time to build a spreadsheet and analyze how each candidate compares to the next. Overanalyze the crinkle in someone’s forehead or think too deeply about her mother’s slightly elevated blood pressure, and before you know it, you blink and your chosen egg donor has been snatched up. 

Tzvi, ever the grounding force in my life, lays out a plan. We’ll check the bank’s website every Monday and Friday (when they add new donors) for the next six weeks. If we see someone we think could be a good fit, we’ll pounce right away. No more overanalyzing. No more looking for “perfection.” We just need to move forward and hope this next step will bring us closer to becoming parents.

Because hope is all we can hope for. There are no guarantees here. Even after we secure an egg donor (whether she’s our “perfect” candidate or not), that doesn’t mean the embryologists will be able to create any healthy embryos from those eggs and Tzvi’s frozen sperm. And even if they do create visibly healthy embryos, they may not pass the genetic tests. And even if they do, transferring that embryo into my uterus won’t necessarily lead to a healthy pregnancy, or a pregnancy at all. 

As odd as it sounds, there’s some comfort in all this uncertainty. If there’s anything that reminds me this isn’t so different from IVF after all, it’s that every step of our fertility journey has its own hurdle. We’ll get over this hurdle—that much I know. And we’ll be ready for the next one.

Thank you, Rachel, for sharing your story.

If you have a fertility story you wish to share, reach out to our Editor, Holly, on Instagram. We can’t promise to publish all the shared stories we receive, but would still love to hear from you.

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