For years, Erika Napoletano produced eggs but didn't use them. Instead, she opted to donate them, hoping to aid another woman trying to conceive a child.
“I still think it’s amazing that someone you’ve never met can donate an egg and then people you’ve never met can start a family of their own,” she told Healthline.
Napoletano, a co-author of the book The Insider’s Guide to Egg Donation, is one of thousands of women who've donated eggs. Now age 40 and without a partner, she says she would use in-vitro fertilization (IVF) if she wanted have a baby of her own.
New research shows that women like Napoletano are giving and receiving eggs at a growing rate, and that with new technology they have a better chance than ever of giving birth to a healthy baby with a donated egg.
IVF Increasing in Popularity, Effectiveness
New data collected by Dr. Jennifer Kawwass of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and colleagues shows that IVF is becoming increasingly popular with women in their 40s.
The number of donor egg cycles performed each year at 443 fertility clinics—93 percent of all such facilities in the U.S.—increased from 10,801 in 2000 to 18,306 in 2010. Good outcomes from those donations—which researchers defined as a baby delivered at 37 weeks or later weighing 5.5 pounds or more—increased from 18.5 percent to 24.4 percent.
The average age of donors and recipients remained stable at 28 and 41, respectively.
While they are becoming more popular, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates the average IVF cycle costs $12,400.
Changing Mentalities About IVF
For a long time, in many societies, being an infertile woman carried a stigma, including rejection, anxiety, or even divorce. Now, thanks to IVF, more women are able to conceive a child, and social views regarding IVF are changing.
“When the doctor says you’re pregnant, you don’t care where it came from,” Napoletano said. “Everyone’s in pursuit of the same thing—a family.”
Worldwide, laws regarding IVF are mixed. China passed a ban on IVF for single women and couples with certain infectious diseases, while Australia lifted its ban on IVF for single women in 2002. Costa Rica bans all use of IVF, and numerous countries have strict standards about when it can be used.
This has led to an increase in so-called "IVF tourism" to the U.S., Napoletano said.
“America kicks ass at fertility,” she said. “The reproductive technology in the U.S. is hands down amazing.”
The first baby was conceived via IVF in 1978, and artificial reproduction now accounts for one percent of all U.S. births.
While working at a fertility clinic, Napoletano met Wendie Wilson-Miller, who now runs Gifted Journeys, an egg donation and surrogacy clinic in Toluca Lake, Calif. The two wrote The Insiders Guide to Egg Donation after realizing there was little information available about the growing practice.
Napoletano said Wilson-Miller offers this statement to those harboring concerns about the potential stigma of artificial insemination: “It’s not biology that makes a family. It’s love.”