We clear up a few myths around egg donation.
It sounds like something straight out of a small screen plot, and in fact it has been many times. Embryos were swapped in Days of our Lives, and more recently, in local soapie Generations, Khetiwe was impregnated with the wrong man's child when her eggs were not fertilised by the anonymous donor whom she had selected. Dealing with infertility, without the fictitious stories, can be incredibly difficult to come to terms with, but with advances in technology such as IVF (In vitro fertilisation) treatment and egg donor programmes, many women are able to fall pregnant successfully.
Mbali Lechler is one woman who has gone through the IVF process, and although her attempts were unsuccessful, she was inspired to found FertilityCareSA, an egg donation programme based in Cape Town.
"There are so many courageous women who want to donate their eggs, and women who desperately need this help, but it's important to separate the facts from fiction to make the process less scary," said Mbali, Managing Director at the agency.
However, television dramas can make it difficult to sort out that truth and for these women to make informed decisions. Fertility expert Dr. Femi Olarogun, an OB/GYN with a subspecialty qualification in Reproductive Medicine, which includes management of infertility, agrees.
"Mainstream media certainly has a role in forming opinions on such a controversial topic, and therefore it follows there should be a certain amount of responsibility in their story telling. Accidents do happen, but they are extremely rare," warned Dr.Olarogun.
In response, Lechler and Dr.Olarogun tackle some of the most widely believed myths when it comes to IVF treatment and egg donation, in order help women who are faced with this dilemma.
It will feel as though I'm carrying another woman's child, I won't bond with someone else's baby.
Mbali: By the time a woman has decided to use an egg donor she has already accepted that this is the only way for her to have a child, and most of our recipients see it as they will be carrying their husband's/partner's child and because they have been involved in the entire process, they see it as giving birth to their child.
Dr.Olarogun: The mother most certainly does bond with the child - first, through the nine months the child is in the womb. But bonding is a natural process which continues through the birth, and then breastfeeding - bonding happens continuously through each phase.
My egg donor may decide to keep the baby after he/she is born.
Mbali: Egg donation in South Africa is completely anonymous by law; an egg donor will never know who has received her egg. And recipients/parents have no information on the egg donor, other than what is on her profile. This is the reason that we do NOT share adult photos with egg donor recipients. Confidentiality is paramount and maintained at all times.
Dr.Olarogun: This can be a concern, but this is different from surrogacy where the donor CARRIES the pregnancy. In this case the recipient does and the donor has no idea with whom this is happening.
Donors are required to undergo psychological assessment at least once a year to ensure they fully understand their role in the process, and at that time potential donors discuss why they want to become involved.
If there are red flags - and by this stage the donor is usually quite committed - but if there are red flags, a donor will not be accepted. It is possible for close friends or sisters to donate their eggs, removing the anonymity factor, but in that case I strongly recommend having legal documents drawn up ahead of time.
Donor profiles are probably made up and just say what they think I want to hear.
Mbali: We share the profiles of a chosen donor with the clinic. When the doctor or nursing sister sees the donor for the first time, they will also go through the information on the profile with the donor, and the donor is asked to supply the same information to the clinic as they have supplied to us as an agency, so the treating doctor can verify that the information given on your donor's profile is actually the correct information.
Dr.Olarogun: Potential donors are screened by both the donor agency and a physician, so physical characteristics can be confirmed immediately. Additional information should be verified by the doctor, but bear in mind that chronic illness and disease doesn't necessarily carry to the offspring.
I've selected the donor, but how can I be sure that is the egg that I will receive?
Dr Olarogun: This is one that is perpetuated by television and movie dramas, but can be a real concern to a woman facing an IVF treatment. If, for some reason, the donor you've selected is unavailable, the potential recipient will be informed. The chance of a swap happening accidentally is extremely rare. Labelling happens right through the process, from beginning to end, and strict control procedures must be followed throughout.
There is no guarantee I'll receive healthy eggs.
Dr.Olarogun: This one is true, but since the chances of eggs with chromosomal abnormalities increases with age, there is a significantly reduced risk of these abnormalities with eggs from a younger donor.
There is a long waiting list for an egg donor.
Mbali: There is no waiting list at FertilityCareSA, most of our donors are available immediately.
Dr.Olarogun: While this may be true in other countries, there isn't so much demand here, and a waiting list is rare. Although, for a variety of reasons, there may be a wait for a specific donor.
The process of harvesting eggs is painful.
Mbali: No the process of harvesting is not painful, at worst some donors may feel like a menstrual pain, after the eggs have been harvested.
If I donate my eggs when I'm young, I'll run out by the time I'm ready to start a family.
Mbali: No, you will not run out of eggs. A woman releases more than 400 healthy eggs in her lifetime, and the eggs that you do not use are lost through a period every month. So when you donate your eggs you donate the ones that wouldn't have been used.
Dr. Olarogun: Falling pregnant has more to do with the quality of the eggs than the quantity, and there is no evidence to suggest a decrease in production of eggs due to donation.
Although mistakes do happen, they are extremely rare, less than a handful recorded globally in the past 20 years. The procedure is relatively new in South Africa; most egg donation agencies were established less than five years ago. To ensure an agency is right for you, look at their track record and success rate, ask as many questions as need, and get referrals from others who have undergone the same procedure.
For more information please visit http://www.fertilitycaresa.com