Are egg donors for everyone? Psychological criteria for recipients

Giuliana Baccino, PhD
Psychologist and PhD in Health Sciences, Vice-chairman of The European Fertility Society, NewLifeBank

Donor Eggs, Emotions and Support

Egg donors and are they for everyone?
From this video you will find out:
  • Is egg donation for everyone?
  • What are your reasons to become a mother through egg donation?
  • What are the risks and benefits for women who become mothers at an advanced age?
  • What are the risks and benefits of a future child?
  • Is egg donation treatment suitable for a woman at any age?




Psychological criteria for recipients who consider egg donation treatment. Are egg donors for everyone?

In this webinar, Giuliana Baccino, Psychologist and PhD in Health Sciences has been discussing psychological criteria for recipients, and she has addressed a very important, and difficult question on egg donation treatment and if it is for everyone.

Nowadays, we are used to seeing different types of families in day-to-day life. Some of them are created through egg donation treatments, but are donor eggs for everyone? This is a question that is often asked. What should be looked at when egg donation is recommended to a couple or a woman? The first thing could be mental and physical illnesses, but there is no scientific evidence that tells us whether these kinds of illnesses can harm the relationship or the woman and the child or not. There is no scientific evidence regarding socioeconomic status or the motivation for being a mother. However, there is clinical evidence regarding age. There is evidence of when it is better to have kids and when there might be some issues regarding age.

The motivation for being a mother

During the first consultation with a woman who wants to undergo egg donation, there is always a question: Why do you want to become a mother? Possible answers:

  • every woman has to be a mother
  • I always wanted to share my genes with my child
  • my partner wants to have children
  • I want to be a mother, no matter what
  • I always wanted to have someone to love unconditionally
  • motherhood is more than genes

The next question always follows: Why do you want to become a mother through an egg donation treatment? Possible answers:

  • my doctor says that in spite I cannot share my genes with my baby, I will love him anyway
  • I don’t want to lose my relationship with my partner
  • I promised my parents that they will have a grandson
  • I always wanted to share my love with the baby, raise him, teach him, guide him
  • I don’t mind if my baby shares my genes or not
  • having a child is our family project, despite the way this child will come into our lives

There are different types of answers, so do you think that these 3 first scenarios or answers are the same when we are talking about a future mother-child relationship? Do you think that it will be the same for this future mother-child relationship if this mother went through the treatment because her doctor says so?

Maternal age

The second thing that should be looked at is age. We should be looking at risks and benefits for the woman and the future child. There are medical risks related to older age, for example, low birth weight, and premature birth significantly increase when the maternal age is over 40. When a woman is over or equal to 43, there is an increased risk of preeclampsia, intrauterine growth retardation, stillbirth, and placenta abruption. Other risks include gestational diabetes, hypertension, premature rupture of the membranes, etc., all these risks are needed to be clear and explained to the patients before they go ahead with the treatment.

There are also benefits for women of an older age to have children. Medical benefits are, for example, non-transmission of their genetic illnesses, and endometrial preparation is easier than ovarian stimulation. Psychosocial benefits involve greater financial and economic security in older ages and more nurturing child-rearing.

There might also be some risks and benefits for the future child. The medical risks include pre-term, lower birth weight, transfer to the neonatal ICU, neonatal death as well as 5 minutes Apgar score less or equal to 7 or intrauterine growth restrictions. It has also been demonstrated that daughters born to mothers aged between 40 and 49 years old lived almost 9 years less than daughters born to mothers aged 20-29, while sons born to older mothers lived almost 6 years less than sons born to younger mothers. Some data on the child’s expected age at the time of the mother’s death showed that a woman at 35 years old at the child’s birth is expected to live 81 years, so she will share with her son 46 years of her life. The mother’s probability of death by the child at age 5 is 0.54, but looking at a mother who is 55 years old at the child’s birth, she will share approximately only 28 years of the child’s life and the probability of death by the child at age 5, is 2.70

This kind of information also needs to be taken into account when you’re deciding to go for egg donation treatment. You have to be informed not only because of you but also because of your offspring.

Risks and benefits for future children

Regarding psychosocial risks, all children report feelings of embarrassment and experience testing on their parent’s age, they have increased difficulty relating to parents who are so much older, and they engage in less active play with their parents because of the older age of the parents, the children feel they grow up earlier than their peers, for example, they also have a constant fear of the risk of parental death and when this loss is in childhood, that the child is at risk for emotional and behavioural problems as psychiatric disorders including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, etc.

It has been reported that they have also lowered self-esteem and they are put in a caregiver role to take care of their parents to help them more and so they have less time for school, work, extracurricular activities and friends.

There are also some benefits for the future child, for example, lower risk of exposure to physical punishment and abuse and financial and economic security. The research has demonstrated that once they are parenting, older parents begin to acknowledge that they are worried about how their age and death may impact their child.

Taking it all into account, do you think that a woman is suitable for an egg donation treatment at any age?

Take home messages

  • if you have doubts regarding being a mother through egg donation treatment before making the decision, you should consult with a psychologist or a counsellor about your fears and doubts
  • don’t rush, take into account your age and all the risk and benefits
  • make your own decisions, although not everyone likes them
- Questions and Answers

I have no menstruation since September, and I’m afraid to be in premenopause. My AMH is 0,28. Is it still possible to stimulate my menstruation and use my own eggs? Or, do you suggest egg donation as my age is 47?

I’m not a medical doctor, so I would prefer for a medical doctor to answer your question but what I have to say is that at 47 years old, it’s very, very difficult to have a child with your own eggs. It’s really difficult, but you should consult a medical doctor, and he or she will indicate what’s better for you. I would suggest not to wait too long to consult as well.

What are the maximum age to undergo IVF with donor eggs in Spain and other countries?

It depends on the country, for example, in Spain, there is a consensus that we do not do treatment to a woman that is over 49 years old. Some clinics don’t start the treatment when the woman is 48, others start it when a woman is 49-50 maximum but not more. In some other countries the age limit is even 42 years old, and in others like the USA more than than 53 years old, so it depends on the country.

Can a donor be known, or only an anonymous donor is possible?

Not in Spain, but in other countries it is possible. The European Parliament is trying to unify the legislation regarding egg donation, but until today, it depends on the country. In Spain, you cannot have the identity of the donor. In other countries, it is possible.

I’ve read and heard of successful stories of women who are 50, and they’ve managed to get pregnant, and they’ve done IVF using their own eggs. What are the chances does a woman who wants to try at 48?

I would prefer that a medical doctor answers this question because it’s not exactly my field, as I am a psychologist, but it’s very difficult to find a woman of 50 years old having a child with her own eggs unless she has been having children in the last 15 years. Sometimes, we hear stories about our grandmothers that had their last baby at 49 or 50 years old, but they have been having one child after another, and this is different than having the first child at 50 years old. The chances that the woman who wants to try at 48 is almost the same as 50, those are very, very low chances, but I prefer that a medical doctor can explain it to you. Sometimes we hear that women remain pregnant when they are 50 years old, and they are not telling us that they used a donor egg treatment because not every woman is telling everyone that they are undergoing an egg donation treatment. They always say I got pregnant, I am lucky, and that’s it, but almost always, they were lucky because there was a donor behind it, and they are not saying these things.

Does psychology have a space in fertility institutions? Is it compulsory to start a medical treatment and psychological treatment at the same time?

Psychologists do have space in fertility institutions. If they work as a team with the fertility institutions as they respect doctors and medical doctors respect them, but I don’t know if it is compulsory to start a medical treatment and the psychological treatment at the same time. I don’t know if that should be so strict. There has to be a recommendation of the psychological unit or psychological department for you to attend as a patient if you want it and that the medical doctors can encourage patients to equate their doubts, their fears with the psychologist. But to make it compulsory, I don’t know because it may harm the psychologist-patient relationship.

Do you know if a psychological session is always mandatory before people undergo IVF with donor gametes in the UK?

In some countries, yes, it is mandatory before people undergo an egg donation treatment. In Spain, it is not mandatory, it’s recommended, but it’s not mandatory. I think that making it mandatory would work because when something is mandatory, we go to the session, and we may say whatever the psychologists want to hear because we don’t want to be there. I can tell you whatever you want to hear, so you sign the paper, and I go out. Maybe, it’ll better if it is your choice and only your choice to come with me and talk about the situation.

I’m struggling with the idea of a donor egg because I’m not sure if I’ll be able to accept the baby as my own. Are there cases where women who got pregnant with donor eggs regret their decision?

Yes, there are because they do not give themselves enough time to process the idea of not having a child with their genes. This is not a decision that you can take from one day to the other, this is a process, and when you do not go through this process well yes, some women regret their decision, and sometimes they provoke a miscarriage to themselves. These are situations, very difficult situations for professionals and the patients, but sometimes there are consequences if you are rushing with egg donation first, they want to do it, and then they will think about it, and this is the beginning of a project, and having a baby is not the end of a project. At the beginning of a project, you have to think a little bit more and consult with specialists.

When patients have to sign a consent at the clinic. Does a psychologist explain the legal and psychological responsibilities (identity, origins, etc.) that involve the parents and donors?

Yes, of course, in Spain, the consent forms inform the patient, for example, the legal responsibilities that they have with the child, and they explain that the child will never know the identity of the donor as well as the recipients. I think that in the rest of the countries, they may do the same, but I really don’t know because I don’t know the consent forms in every country. In the fertility field, we always try to explain very well to patients what they may expect and whatnot.

How do older parents raise issues with their children when any might arise regarding age? What type of steps and considerations might be made to deal with the matter in a caring and sensitive way to make the child feel wanted. On another note, I don’t care what friends or strangers think, but what is a polite way of telling them about this?

The first thing that the child needs to know that she was very, very wanted, very desired and that you did this all and you have gone through this to have him or her in their lives because you love them no matter what, if you are genetically related to them or not. We usually recommend starting telling the children when they are 3 until they are 8, not after because in adolescence, it will be a little bit difficult for them if they have found out that they are from egg donation treatment. We recommend starting telling them when they are very little with a little story, simple story, and then it will come more complex when they grow up. This is not a recommendation only for older parents, this is a recommendation also for young parents that do an egg donation or a sperm donation treatment. The first one to know has to be the child, not your parents or your neighbors or whatever, first the child and then if you want to tell the others. You may tell the truth to others, or you may leave it open. There’s no need to tell others if by others you mean your neighbors or your cousins, I don’t know if there is a need to explain to every single person what kind of treatment you did because it’s the same as you don’t explain what you ate yesterday or whatever. Who definitely needs to know is your child, and if you want to tell afterward the others, you can tell in a polite way that we had him or her through an IVF treatment with donor eggs. I don’t think that people need to know everything about our lives, our children need to know it, I’m not sure about the others. You may tell the truth to others, or you may leave it open. There’s no need to say this to others if by others you mean your neighbors or your cousins, I don’t know if there is a need to explain to every single person what kind of treatment you did because it’s the same as you don’t explain what you ate yesterday or whatever. Who needs to know is your child, and if you want to tell the others afterward, you can tell in a polite way that we had him or her through an IVF treatment with donor eggs. I don’t think that people need to know everything about our lives, our children need to know it, I’m not sure about the others.

Are there any children’s books that you use as a resource to help children understand that they were conceived by egg donation?

There are a lot of such books. I personally have a few that I can share with you after, but there are a lot of them. The most important thing is that different books are depending on the age because it’s not the same if you want to tell him or her at 3 or 4 years old and if you want to tell him or her at 7 or 8. In my case, 3 little books that go together, and you can read them between 3 and 5, or 6-8 and 9-11 because it’s not the same as what we are telling them when they are 5 or 11.

Do you think that the child actually needs to know about IVF/egg donation treatment?

Everyone needs to know about their origins if it was through adoption, through an IVF treatment or an egg donation treatment, or a spontaneous conception because children ask, so it’s better always to tell the truth of how they are here and why. I think they need to know everything.

Is it recommended to raise children from donor eggs and teach them about the culture of the donor, so that they keep something from their origin?

If you know about the culture of the donor, you may tell them, but you don’t always know. We have to take into account that we do not mix ethnicities, we don’t give an Asian egg donor to a Caucasian recipient or an Afro-descendant donor to an Asian patient, so the ethnicity sometimes will be the same as yours because it’s not legal to mix it. I think that nothing has to be forced, you have to raise him with love, patience, with all the good that you have despite the culture, etc.
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Giuliana Baccino, PhD

Giuliana Baccino, PhD

Giuliana Baccino, Psychologist and PhD in Health Sciences, a leading expert in health and fertility field with more than 15 years of experience. She is an international advisor for Europe and Latin America in the public and private sectors. Also, Giuliana is a lecturer in several Universities and Coordinator of the Psychology and Counselling group of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE). Previously, she worked as head of private fertility clinics. Currently, she is Managing Director of NewLifeBank, the first gamete bank in Latin America, Vice-chairman in The European Fertility Society.
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Caroline Kulczycka

Caroline Kulczycka

Caroline Kulczycka is managing MyIVFAnswers.com and has been hosting IVFWEBINARS dedicated to patients struggling with infertility since 2020. She's highly motivated and believes that educating patients so that they can make informed decisions is essential in their IVF journey. In the past, she has been working as an International Patient Coordinator, where she was helping and directing patients on their right path. She also worked in the tourism industry, and dealt with international customers on a daily basis, including working abroad. In her free time, you’ll find her travelling, biking, learning new things, or spending time outdoors.