Why do women need donor eggs, and what are the processes and legalities involved?
Without donor eggs, *Mari Connor would not have become pregnant and given birth to her “miracle daughter”. After four years of trying to become pregnant that included five IVFs, Mari was advised by her fertility clinic that her only viable route to having a baby was through egg donation. “After countless rounds of Clomid and inseminations and five IVFs, my fertility specialist suspected poor egg quality and advised the donor egg route,” says Mari.
“After years of disappointment, and so many emotional, mental and physical breakdowns, I was prepared for the next step, even though it was a difficult one”. Mari contacted a top egg donation agency, Nurture, who guided her on the process, and helped her find a suitable egg donor, based on genetics, religion and character traits.
“It seemed so weird and impersonal at first, and I was worried I wouldn’t be a ‘real mother’ by bringing up a baby conceived through someone else’s eggs, but I realised that being a mom is more than just biology – it’s choice, it’s love and it’s a connection that has nothing to do with genes. And when I became a mom through donor eggs, I knew this child was mine – nothing could change that”.
Mari is one of hundreds of women who have opted for donor eggs, for reasons that include premature ovarian failure, infertility owing to poor egg quality or age, severe endometriosis, early menopause, and genetic disorders. And as infertility and the need for donor eggs rises, so too does the need for healthy donors between the ages of 20 and 33 with a body mass index of between 19 and 28 to donate their eggs.
According to The World Health Organisation, there are about 60 to 80 million infertility cases around the world. Tertia Albertyn, founder of Nurture, one of South Africa’s top egg donation and surrogacy agencies, shares the following legal and egg donor facts.
The donor and recipient process
Egg donation is a process through which a young woman voluntarily donates some of her eggs (ova) to be used during third party fertility treatments. These donated eggs are eggs that would normally be discarded as part of a woman’s monthly cycle.
Instead of being ‘flushed away’ each month, in an egg donation cycle these eggs are retrieved by a fertility specialist, fertilised in a laboratory with the intended father’s sperm (or donor sperm) and placed into the womb of the intended mother (or surrogate) a few days later.
While prices differ from clinic to clinic, it costs between R40 000 and R60 000 for donor egg IVF treatment, and while the treatment is very successful, unfortunately there is no guarantee that the treatment will always work. The donor does not pay for any of the medical procedures or scans that she has to go through relating to the donation – it is all funded by the recipients.
Once approved and given the go-ahead based on health and psychological assessments, donors need to go on the Pill for a month, followed by two weeks of hormonal treatment, which culminates in the egg retrieval process.
Being a mom is more than just biology– it’s a choice, it’s love, it’s a connection. Just like with all medical procedures, there is a risk with donation. The primary risk is a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), caused by the ovary producing too many eggs as a result of drug stimulation.
However, this is extremely rare and occurs in less than one percent of all donations. Donors are closely monitored to check that everything is in order throughout the donation process and to prevent OHSS from happening.
The biggest misconception that abounds is that by donating eggs, the donors are somehow “using up” their supply of eggs, which means they will run out by the time they themselves want to have a child –not true! Each month the ovaries produce eggs, whether you donate them or not.
Many donors admit to a mild amount of discomfort during the entire procedure (similar to PMS), but most donate again (up to six times, and five times if they are viable pregnancies) for altruistic reasons.
The legalities and ethics
Egg donation in South Africa is 100 percent legal and strictly regulated by the Policy Committee of the South African Society of Reproductive Science and Surgery. Suitable donors are healthy, young women over the age of 21 from any ethnicity and background.
Unlike many other countries, donors in South Africa remain anonymous, with merely her medical history, education, and description of physical features, characteristics, her interests, etc. being revealed to prospective recipients. She never meets or makes contact with the recipients.
Only baby photographs of the donor are submitted. Although most recipient couples choose a donor that somewhat resembles the future mother, recipient couples make their final selection based on various criteria, which could include a physical match, a personality match, an academic match or a combination of these.
Egg donors receive R6 000 for their time and effort. Although the money certainly helps, it is definitely not the motivating factor, and egg donors donate out of sheer kindness and to make a genuine difference in someone else’s life.
Find a reputable agency
Whether you’re donating or receiving, ensure that you find an agency who will not only provide you with above-board facts, but who can offer support and guidance.
Speak to your fertility specialist, or chat to people you know who’ve been through it, or trawl websites carefully looking for testimonials. Egg donor agencies are primarily located in the major cities such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban.
Many couples travel to South Africa from overseas as it’s considered one of the best fertility treatment destinations in the world. South Africa boasts outstanding clinics and the latest technologies.
For info on egg donor clinics go to www.nurture.co.za; www.giftovlife.co.za, and www.baby2mom.co.za
*name has been changed