There are many reasons why you might decide to grow your family with donor eggs, sperm, or embryos. People who might use a donor include single parents by choice, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people of advanced age, cancer survivors, people experiencing infertility, people with low sperm production or low ovarian reserve, and many more. If a donor might be a part of your journey to parenthood, preparing for finding a donor and your potential role in in vitro fertilization (IVF) will help you feel confident as you enter the process.
One way to find a donor is to ask someone you know. If you are looking for a sperm or egg donor (for example, if you or your partner are unable to produce sperm or eggs) and it is important to you to be genetically related to your child, using a family member as a donor can help you achieve that goal. You may also ask a friend or acquaintance to donate their sperm or eggs. In any of these cases, choosing a known donor may lower some costs, but also require legal contracts, extensive conversations, and consideration about the role the known donor will have in the child’s life.
Egg, sperm, and embryo banks are another option. You may choose a bank that allows for an open donor, in which the donor agrees to some form of contact, or you may decide to go with an anonymous donor. If you would prefer an anonymous donor, it is important to research what is legal where you live. For example, in many European countries and Australia, anonymous donation is not allowed. As of January 1, 2025, the same will be the case in Colorado, which recently passed the “Donor-Conceived Persons and and Families of Donor-Conceived Persons Protection Act.” Figuring out what your priority is in selecting a donor – whether it will be anonymous or open, and how much information you want about the donor – will help you select a bank and a donor.
Banks will often screen for genetic diseases, STIs, traits, education, family history, medical history, and more. However, you should do extensive research on the bank you’re considering. The donation industry is not well regulated, and legislation regulating donors varies from state to state.
In an egg donation, eggs are retrieved from one person, then fertilized and implanted into another person’s uterus. Sometimes the donated eggs are frozen and thawed before fertilization, and other times you may choose a “fresh” donation in which the donor undergoes the egg retrieval cycle and the eggs are fertilized immediately after retrieval. While using a fresh egg donor will be more expensive at the outset than using frozen eggs, your success rates will be higher and you will most likely have more remaining embryos.
In either case, the donor will undergo or have undergone an egg retrieval procedure. Egg retrieval is a lengthy process involving ovarian stimulation, frequent doctor visits to monitor hormone levels and follicle growth, and a retrieval procedure. Because the egg retrieval process is intensive and generally results in ~8-14 mature eggs (or oocytes) being retrieved, using an egg donor is costly and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. If you are exploring this option, loans and financing options can help you manage the cost.
Once the fertilized eggs have developed into embryos, they can be transferred into your uterus or – if you are pursuing surrogacy – a gestational carrier’s uterus to complete the IVF process. To improve your chances of a successful implantation, you or your gestational carrier will likely take medication. Since most embryo transfers are done one at a time, you can freeze any extra embryos to try again if the first implantation is unsuccessful.
After selecting a sperm donor, you will likely receive frozen sperm. It may reassure you to know that using cryopreserved frozen sperm does not affect live birth rates (1)! If you have a uterus and are using your own eggs, fertility treatment options include intracervical insemination (ICI) in which donor sperm is placed close to the cervix during ovulation, intrauterine insemination (IUI), and in vitro fertilization (IVF). If you are using donor eggs or a surrogate, IVF treatment is your only choice.
Interestingly, recent studies have shown that there’s little difference between ICI and IUI in a natural menstrual cycle when using cryopreserved frozen sperm (2) . Since ICI is a much less invasive, less expensive procedure and may be done at home, it may be a strong option if you do not need other medical intervention to conceive.
People who have embryos remaining after completing their families may choose to donate them. If experiencing pregnancy is important to you or you want more information about the child you are bringing into your life, embryo donation might be right for you. In that case, IVF for yourself or a surrogate will be part of your path toward parenthood.
Using donor sperm as part of the assisted reproductive technology you use has similar rates of success as non-donor sperm (3). And according to a 2019 report by the CDC, embryos created from donor eggs that result in live births only slightly decrease in success with the age of the gestational carrier, whereas live births resulting from embryos created from a patient’s eggs decrease each year after age 35 (4).
*People willing and able to donate sperm, eggs, and embryos have made it possible for people to grow their families in new ways. Knowing the costs (financial, physical, and emotional) and success rates will keep you informed as you enter the process. Since there are many specific factors that go into how successful you will be when using a donor, it is important to talk with your clinician as you consider this option. *
Torra, M., Tutusaus, M., Garcia, D., Vassena, R., & Rodríguez, A. (2021). P–013 Sperm freezing does not affect live birth rates: results from 6,594 cycles in normozoospermic patients. Human Reproduction, 36(Supplement_1). https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deab130.012
Kop, P. a. L., van Wely, M., Mol, B. W., de Melker, A. A., Janssens, P. M. W., Arends, B., Curfs, M. H. J. M., Kortman, M., Nap, A., Rijnders, E., Roovers, J. P. W. R., Ruis, H., Simons, A. H. M., Repping, S., van der Veen, F., & Mochtar, M. H. (2015). Intrauterine insemination or intracervical insemination with cryopreserved donor sperm in the natural cycle: a cohort study. Human Reproduction, 30(3), 603–607. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dev004
Gerkowicz, S. A., Crawford, S. B., Hipp, H. S., Boulet, S. L., Kissin, D. M., & Kawwass, J. F. (2018). Assisted reproductive technology with donor sperm: national trends and perinatal outcomes. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 218(4), 421.e1–421.e10. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2017.12.224
Assisted Reproductive Technology Fertility Clinic and National Summary Report. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/art/reports/2019/pdf/2019-Report-ART-Fertility-Clinic-National-Summary-h.pdf
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