Most people that decide to start a new family will do so the conventional way. One of the couples will allow herself to get pregnant, and then nine months later, gives birth to a child, and a new family begins their life together. Unfortunately, this traditional approach is either too risky or no longer possible at all for other couples. A woman with a heart condition may endanger herself and a baby if she tries to undertake a pregnancy. Other women may no longer have a uterus present to carry a baby to term because surgical procedures like hysterectomies were required to combat a severe disease like ovarian cancer.
This doesn’t mean that these couples can’t have children, but it does mean they must pursue other alternatives. Adoption is one, while surrogacy, which involves another woman agreeing to become pregnant and then letting that newborn join with new, hopeful parents, is another. In some cases, however, an egg donor may be the preferred alternative. But why?
The “old-fashioned” method of surrogacy hasn’t changed much in concept, although some of the methodologies have evolved. This mod of surrogacy uses the egg of the surrogate mother and the sperm donated from the intended father of the hopeful family. In the past centuries, this would have required the surrogate mother and the hopeful father to have actual sexual intercourse with each other, something documented even in ancient texts such as the Bible.
Today, of course, the hopeful father donates sperm, and that is implanted via an artificial insemination technique. However, it’s still the egg of the surrogate mother and the sperm of the father from the hopeful family, as it has been for millennia with conventional surrogacy.
However, today, there are other options for which egg is to be used. In Vitro Fertilization, or IVF, is a technique where eggs from another person are collected and sent to a lab. Once the eggs have been inspected and confirmed to be viable, they are introduced to sperm from a donor to fertilize. There are options in these circumstances for genetic screening to occur. If there are is a history for either the egg or sperm donor’s family of congenital diseases such as cystic fibrosis, which is an inherited lung disease, or Tay-Sachs, which is a fatal neural degenerative disorder, procedures like pre-implantation genetic diagnosis can be carried out to ensure these disorders are not present in the fertilized egg.
At this point, one of the fertilized eggs, usually the one that passes all screening, is selected and then implanted into the surrogate mother. Normal pregnancy carries on from this point, and nine months later, the baby is born, with no differences from a naturally conceived child.
Why Go The Donor Route?
One of the most common reasons for hopeful families to choose an egg other than that of the surrogate mother herself is the wish to have a child that is, genetically, “traditional.” In other words, if the hopeful mother donates her egg, and the hopeful father donates his sperm, then despite the fact that the baby gestated in a surrogate mother’s womb, any genetic tests conducted would confirm the child has 50% of the DNA of the hopeful mother and 50% DNA from the hopeful father. In other words, a “true” child of the hopeful parents.
This is sometimes the circumstance some women find themselves in if they have a hysterectomy that involves the surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries. They may have taken the precaution of having their eggs removed and cryogenically stored, so it is still possible to have a child with a direct genetic connection to themselves, but they require a surrogate mother for the actual pregnancy.
There are other cases where a woman may not have her eggs available for use in IVF, but there is a close relative, such as a sister with DNA that is still very close. The sister may not be willing to act as a surrogate mother, but she is ready to donate her egg so that the baby born will still have a genetic connection to the mother’s side of the family.
There are also circumstances where the hopeful parents want to cultivate specific genetic traits that neither they nor the surrogate mother possesses. In these instances, both the egg and sperm for donors picked for their genetic characteristics are selected in the hopes of having an “ideal mix” when the baby is born.
If you’re thinking of using a donor egg for a surrogate pregnancy rather than the surrogate mother’s egg herself, think about expanding your options abroad. Countries like Georgia in Eastern Europe have access to experienced surrogacy agencies that coordinate with world-class IVF labs to ensure a successful surrogate mother search and implantation. At the same time, the medical expenses are lower than they would be in an American facility.