Egg Bank 101: All About Using Egg Banks for Pregnancy

two fathers with infant

What Is an Egg Bank? 

An egg bank is a specialized facility where human eggs (oocytes) are collected, frozen, and stored for use in assisted reproductive technologies (ART). Much like a sperm bank, an egg bank can help during fertility treatment by providing a valuable resource for individuals and couples who face challenges in conceiving naturally. Egg banks not only provide a critical resource for those unable to conceive using their own eggs, but also offer hope by making the dream of parenthood possible. We spoke to the team at Pinnacle Egg Bank to learn more.

Egg banks store eggs that are donated by healthy, fertile donors who have been meticulously screened for a variety of health criteria. These eggs are then preserved through a process called vitrification, a rapid freezing technique that helps protect the egg’s integrity and viability. After the eggs are collected and vitrified, they are stored in cryogenic tanks filled with liquid nitrogen, which keeps them at -196 degrees Celsius. This ultra-cold environment maintains the eggs’ viability until you are ready to use them. When these eggs are needed for fertility treatments, they are carefully thawed in a controlled process, fertilized with sperm, and the resulting embryos are transferred to the uterus of the person carrying the pregnancy.

Through sophisticated processes and adherence to high standards, egg banks significantly enhance the chances of conception for many who face infertility challenges. By understanding the meticulous care and advanced technology involved in egg banking, potential parents can feel more assured and informed as they embark on their journey toward parenthood. 

Who Benefits from Egg Banks?

  • Couples with Infertility Issues: Couples where the female partner may have low ovarian reserve or poor egg quality can benefit from using donor eggs to achieve pregnancy.
  • Older Individuals Seeking Parenthood: Age can significantly affect fertility, particularly in women. Egg banks provide an opportunity for older individuals or couples to use younger, healthier eggs to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy. 
  • LGBTQ+ Couples and Individuals: Egg banks enable those who might not otherwise be able to have a child to pursue biological parenthood, including LGBTQ+ couples and individuals planning to use a gestational surrogate.

Benefits of Using Frozen Donor Eggs From An Egg Bank

Using frozen eggs, as compared to fresh donor eggs, can reduce the overall cost and duration of fertility treatment. It eliminates the need for the donor to undergo synchronization and egg retrieval concurrently with the recipient’s treatment cycle. This flexibility significantly eases the planning and stress associated with fertility treatments. Because the eggs are already collected and stored, recipients can choose from a broad and diverse pool of donors.

The freezing process also allows time for more extensive testing of the eggs, improving safety and success rates. Additionally, using frozen eggs means that intended parents are not limited by immediate availability or geographic location.

Frozen eggs are also beneficial as they allow for:

  • Convenience: The ability to store eggs indefinitely and use them as needed makes frozen eggs extremely convenient for both fertility clinics and recipients.
  • Expanded Choice: Recipients can select from a wide range of donor profiles, including detailed medical histories and personal attributes, enhancing the likelihood of finding a match that meets their specific desires.
  • Predictability and Success Rates: Advances in freezing technology, particularly vitrification, have improved the success rates of frozen eggs, making them nearly comparable to fresh eggs in terms of viability and pregnancy outcomes.
  • Accessibility: Frozen eggs can be shipped to different locations worldwide, making donor eggs accessible to international patients or those in regions with fewer donors.

Overall, the shift towards using frozen donor eggs in fertility treatments offers individuals and couples greater autonomy, convenience, and success in their pursuit of parenthood.

How Do Egg Banks Work?

Many egg banks provide extensive profiles that include medical history, physical characteristics, educational background, and even hobbies and personal interests of the donors. Once a suitable donor is selected, the frozen eggs are thawed and fertilized with sperm from a partner or a donor. The resulting embryos are then implanted in the uterus of the prospective mother or a gestational carrier. 

Choosing a Donor

Intended parents start their journey by selecting a suitable donor from the egg bank’s database. Detailed donor profiles, including medical history, physical characteristics, and personal interests, help parents make an informed choice. Intended parents can also consult with fertility specialists to choose the best match. 

Thawing and Fertilization

Once a donor is chosen, the process of using the donor eggs begins. The frozen eggs are carefully thawed using precise protocols to ensure their viability. The thawed eggs are then fertilized with sperm from the intended parent or a sperm donor in a lab setting, using techniques such as IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) or ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection). The resulting embryos are observed for several days to ensure they are developing properly. Finally, the best quality embryo is identified and transferred into the uterus of the person carrying the pregnancy. 

Your fertility clinic will help coordinate the entire process and provide support for your journey, including coordination, logistics, medical procedures, monitoring, and counseling. By working closely with donors and intended parents, fertility clinics facilitate a smooth and supportive journey toward achieving successful pregnancies through egg donation. 

Choosing the Right Egg Bank

Several factors should guide your decision to ensure you choose a facility that meets your needs and upholds high standards.

Success Rates

Firstly, consider the success rates of the egg bank. These rates, which reflect the number of successful pregnancies and live births achieved through their donor eggs, are a strong indicator of the bank’s effectiveness. Comparing these rates to national averages and those of other egg banks can give you a clearer picture of where a particular facility stands.

Large & Diverse Donor Pools

The diversity of the donor pool is another important factor. A broad and varied selection of donors, encompassing different ethnicities, physical characteristics, educational backgrounds, and personal interests, increases the likelihood of finding a donor who meets your specific criteria. Comprehensive donor profiles, including detailed medical and personal information, are essential for making an informed choice.

Transparent Cost Structure

You should also be able to see a complete cost structure of using donor eggs from the egg bank you are considering using. This includes not only the price of the donor eggs themselves, but also any additional fees for storage, thawing, shipping, and related services. Some egg banks offer financing options or payment plans, which can help manage the financial aspect of fertility treatments. Progyny’s list of in-network tissue banks for purchase of donor eggs (or sperm) can be found here.

Thorough Donor Screening

Look for egg banks that conduct extensive medical, genetic, and psychological evaluations to ensure the health and suitability of their donors. Frequent updates and re-screening of donors are also important to maintain high standards. 

By carefully considering these factors and asking the right questions, you can select an egg bank that not only meets your needs but also significantly enhances your chances of achieving a successful pregnancy and fulfilling your dream of parenthood. 

Ethics and Legal Considerations in Egg Donation

Egg donation is governed by a detailed legal framework that protects the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved: the donor, intended parents, and the resulting child.

Legally binding agreements outline the terms of donation, such as donor compensation, medical procedures, confidentiality, and parental rights. These contracts ensure that donors relinquish all parental rights, granting intended parents full legal custody of the resulting embryos and children.

There can also be ethical considerations in egg donation, especially when it comes to anonymous vs. open donations and the rights of donor-conceived children. Traditionally, many donations are anonymous, but there is a growing trend towards open donations where donors and recipients can choose to exchange information. This shift addresses the increasing desire for transparency and genetic knowledge.

The rights of donor-conceived children to access information about their genetic origins raise important ethical questions. Considerations include their sense of identity, psychological impact, and the dynamics of relationships with both biological and social parents.

Getting Started with an Egg Bank on Your Path to Parenthood

Understanding the process of selecting a donor, the intricacies of thawing and fertilization, and the legal and ethical considerations involved can empower intended parents to make informed decisions. By choosing an egg bank with high success rates, diverse donor profiles, and rigorous screening protocols, intended parents can enhance their chances of a successful pregnancy. 

As the field of assisted reproductive technology continues to evolve, egg banks offer a path to parenthood for many who might otherwise find it out of reach. By carefully navigating these considerations, intended parents can embark on their journey with confidence and optimism, supported by the expertise and dedication of their chosen fertility clinic and egg bank.