Why Does IVF Feel Worse Than Donating Eggs? New Research Explains

Closing this gap is not as simple as giving women trying to get pregnant cash

Women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) have significantly less pleasant and more intense experiences than women undergoing the exact same medical procedure when donating their eggs in exchange for money, a new study suggests. “This idea that the same medical technology and medical regimen could be experienced differently by people who were doing it for different reason might be new,” study coauthor Rene Almeling of Yale University told Fatherly.

“Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but we went and looked and couldn’t find any.”

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READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to IVF

Although women who donate their eggs for cash sit through exactly the same medical procedure as women who have their eggs removed so that they can have children via in vitro fertilization, separate studies of each population have shown that there are emotional differences at hand. While women doing it for IVF describe the procedure as painful and depersonalizing, egg donors looking for cash tend to describe it as painless and easy.

But Almeling and her team are the first to analyze these two populations side by side. Early on, she anticipated that measuring pain alone would not be accurate “because their physical experience is shaded by their psychological and cognitive experiences” Almeling says. “You’re missing the story because it really is about how those things affect each other.” So to paint a fuller picture, Almeling and her colleagues used an analytical tool to cumulatively measure and compare the emotional, physical, and cognitive experiences of a small sample of 50 IVF patients and 62 egg donors.

When Almeling and her team looked at pain as the sole factor, the women all gave nearly identical responses—which makes sense, because they all underwent the same procedure. But when they threw in emotional scores, which looked at how stressed and sad the women were, along with cognitive scores, the two cohorts’ experiences varied consistently and dramatically. IVF patients reported more intense experiences overall, while donors got off easy, emotionally speaking. Almeling suspects that this effect comes down to very distinct differences between the two groups.

IVF patients are usually women in their late 30s and early 40s who have been trying to get pregnant for some time and have already thrown a lot of money into the bottomless pit of fertility medicine. The stress and cost of yet another procedure likely contributes to their higher levels of stress and sadness. Egg donors, on the other hand, tend to be in their mid-20s, and they’re not in it for the babies. “They’re doing this because someone is giving them $8,000 and are less invested in the process,” Almeling says. “And that’s what’s showing up in these less intense bodily experiences.”

While the sample size was for this initial study was small, the differences were stark enough that Almeling believes they could be duplicated in larger trials. Another possible limitation was that the study did not look at baseline pain scores to indicate whether women with higher pain tolerances may be more prone to donating eggs in the first place.

Nonetheless, Almeling thinks her preliminary findings could inform medical practice. She suggests that physicians provide women who are about to try IVF with information that prepares them for greater levels of sadness, stress, and distraction than that of women who are undergoing the same procedure for other reasons.

“Having that knowledge,” she says. “Can often be quite calming in it of itself.”

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