The decision to work with an egg donor does not always come easily. It often requires time and consideration to embrace this means of family building; what helps many people is the fact that it has the highest success rate of any assisted reproductive technology. But once the decision has been made, intended parents are faced with the next question – a fresh or frozen donor egg cycle?
In an IVF cycle with fresh donor eggs, the retrieved eggs are immediately fertilized with sperm from the intended father or a sperm donor. These embryos are then either transferred to the intended mother or a surrogate, or frozen for future use. Frozen donor eggs, on the other hand are retrieved and then immediately cryopreserved before fertilization. They can later be thawed and fertilized with the intended father or selected donor’s sperm to create embryos for transfer.
As far back as 2013, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) reported that 20% of all donor egg cycles used frozen eggs. That number has only continued to grow as technology for the procedure improves. And while the success rates for a live birth from a frozen embryo transfer are now comparable to that of a fresh transfer, frozen eggs are still catching up.
Though the use of frozen donor eggs has become more common, there’s a reason fresh donor egg cycles are still the rule: the success rates remain higher. The results of a 2017 study reviewed the most recently available statistics and found that a fertility cycle was 19% more likely to result in a live birth if the egg used had never been frozen.
In a fresh donor cycle, intended parents are entitled to all eggs retrieved. And because recent research shows that fresh eggs are more likely to result in viable embryos, intended parents are more likely to have a greater number of embryos to work with. While that’s not an automatic guarantee of a live birth, it provides options. Not only does it give multiple shots at a successful embryo transfer, it also means you’re more likely to have embryos to freeze and use later for a full genetic sibling.
For some, the unknowns can be the scariest part of utilizing an egg donor. When participating in a fresh egg donor cycle, there are certain aspects of the process that simply can’t be predicted. Like any medical procedure, there can be unforeseen circumstances that may delay or prevent a cycle from happening. The donor may not react to the medication as expected, requiring a restart or cancellation. Rest assured that this is what a rigorous screening process and regular monitoring during stim injections are for; your agency and fertility clinic will do everything they can to mitigate these circumstances and keep you on track.
What might be perceived as a con really becomes a non-issue when working with a reputable agency and clinic. A fresh donor cycle means that you’re cycling in real time with a real person with whom you typically don’t have any contact. That type of relationship requires some serious coordination! Your egg donor agency will manage all of the details, from connecting her with the clinic and legal representation to travel arrangements if applicable.
While a fresh donor egg cycle typically takes about 3 months to complete – not including match time – a cycle with frozen eggs can get started as soon as you select your donor. There’s no need to sync cycles like you would in a fresh cycle, so the clinic can base all medical protocol off the intended mother and get to transfer faster.
IVF cycles with frozen donor eggs are typically less expensive than fresh donor eggs. Depending on the fertility clinic’s success rates with frozen eggs, however, the cost per birth may not actually be any lower. If you’re planning to use frozen donor eggs it is especially important to research and choose your clinic carefully.
While this is not a hard and fast rule, intended parents are typically more limited in the number of embryos they can expect as the result of a frozen egg donor cycle. You will receive what is called a “cohort,” or group, of about 6 to 8 eggs with which to create embryos. To help reduce cost, some people choose to share the cohort with another intended parent. This further limits the number of eggs to work with and can make it difficult to proceed in the event of a failed cycle or desire for genetically-related siblings.
For many, selecting an egg donor is among one of the most challenging decisions they will ever make. Moving forward with an egg donor means relinquishing a genetic connection of at least one parent; finding a donor who feels like the best possible match can give back a sense of control. A bank of donated eggs inevitably offer a smaller selection of donors; thus a smaller selection of qualities to choose from. Many intended parents don’t want to feel limited in their options and prefer the variety and personalized matching that a fresh cycle offers.
Utilizing a frozen donor egg is undeniably the less expensive option at the outset. A cohort, typically of about 6 to 8 mature eggs, can range anywhere from $13,000 to $16,000 and up. This does not include any IVF-related fees. The cost of a fresh cycle typically starts at about $20,000 before transfer costs and includes compensation, psychosocial evaluation and legal fees.
Frozen donor eggs are a wonderful option for those who are risk averse and would like to proceed with a fresh transfer as soon as possible.
At ConceiveAbilities, we have more than 200 donors available on our database for a fresh cycle for a reason – intended parents enjoy the benefits of a fresh cycle more. Not only is there a wider selection of donors, but also more eggs – that means more embryos to work with. There could be backup if the first transfer is not successful, or for future family building to add a sibling. There is also more possibility for contact with the donor in the event of a medical emergency or if the child wants to know more about his or her genetic background in the future.
Ultimately, the decision to have a fresh or frozen donor egg cycle is as personal as the decision to work with a donor period. Our team is ready to answer your questions and support you along this unique journey to family building.
All Things Conceivable is a blog dedicated to sharing the knowledge and expert opinions of the dedicated team at ConceiveAbilities, a Chicago-based egg donation and surrogacy agency.