Aspiring egg donors ask us many questions about the compensation, time commitment, and process of donating eggs. The question we hear most often is: is the egg donation process painful?
The honest answer is that it depends. There’s no short, yes or no answer because every woman is different and there are multiple steps in the egg donation process that can affect donors in various ways. Instead, let’s break down the steps involved in the actual donation process and see how they could affect you as a potential egg donor.
Once you’re accepted into our program — meaning you’ve passed our medical testing and psychological evaluation — you’d be cleared to begin cycling. In an egg donation cycle, you’ll be given carefully prescribed doses of hormone-based medications for about 8-12 days. These hormones help you develop all of the eggs naturally produced in a typical cycle (see side note below). These medications are administered through shots that you must give yourself. In addition to the hormone shots, you’ll receive occasional blood tests, both during the initial screening and during your egg donation cycle. These are the same medications used for IVF patients.
So, are the hormone shots painful? Sure, as with many types of injections, they can cause some stinging or achiness.
For most egg donors, the pinch of your skin you give yourself in order to administer the medication is worse than the actual injection. We won’t set you free to give your own shots until you have gone through a hands-on injection lesson. The first shot is always the worst one, because you have no idea what to expect. Once you get through that first injection, each subsequent one will get easier and easier.
Ultimately, the amount of pain depends on your tolerance level for needles. If you faint at the sight of needles, perhaps egg donation is not for you. However, if you can brave through shots with just a bit of wincing, then you should be able to tolerate the shots just fine.
Bloating, moodiness, cramping, aching, headaches, nausea, hot flashes, and breast tenderness are potential side effects of the medications. Some donors experience side effects while others experience none — again, everyone is different, though even if a woman experiences symptoms, know they’re only temporary.
There are also serious, but extremely rare, medical complications that can arise.
In ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), excess fluid from the ovaries transfers into the abdominal cavity, causing moderate to severe bloating. Between 1% and 2% of women taking these medications experience significant OHSS. Our doctors may give you different medications or change the protocol to help eliminate or decrease the risk of OHSS.
Another rare side effect, occurring in 1% of cases, is ovarian torsion. The ovary can twist on itself and cause severe pain on one or both sides. To decrease the risk, we recommend donors refrain from strenuous activity such as running, moderate- to high-impact aerobics, horseback riding, and heavy lifting for a period of time during and after the egg retrieval process.
Of course, we will make every concerted effort to mitigate the risk of you developing any of these rare side effects. We will monitor you frequently to ensure your health, safety, and comfort.
The actual egg retrieval is an outpatient procedure that takes place with the use of IV sedation administered by an anesthesiologist at our clinic locations. The retrieval is accomplished by vaginal needle aspiration under ultrasound guidance. The procedure lasts about 20 minutes and because you’re unconscious, you won’t feel a thing. Afterward, you will most likely experience temporary grogginess as you lift out of the IV sedation.
For the rest of the day, you would take it easy and rest — just like you would after any outpatient medical procedure. You may experience some cramping and bloating similar to PMS symptoms, but again, the level of discomfort differs from donor to donor. Over the counter pain relievers are typically sufficient to quell any discomfort.
Most donors are able to return to work or school the very next day, which gives you the indicator of how painless and simple the actual procedure can be. Of course, we monitor your recovery to ensure you’re ready to resume normal activity and are not feeling any unusual pain.
A long answer to a simple question? Maybe, but the truth of the matter is that every woman —whether an IVF patient or an egg donor — is different and can have a different experience when it comes to pain or discomfort during egg retrieval. Egg donation requires real commitment, and that’s why we compensate our egg donors fairly for their time and effort. After all, our egg donors are special people who make family dreams come true for our recipients.
Side note: In a typical cycle, a woman typically produces 15-20 eggs. However, usually only one egg is released for ovulation and the body discards the rest. So, contrary to what some think, as an egg donor you wouldn’t be depleting your eggs at a higher rate than normal.