“After years of not being able to fall pregnant more South African women are turning to egg donation IVF to become mothers. Dominique Oosthuizen explores how through egg donation women struggling to fall pregnant can have children.
Receiving the gift of life
Slowly the eggs (oocytes) are extracted through the vagina of the donor with a small needle. These eggs are her hope for a family. These eggs carry her dream to become a mother.
They are carefully fertilised in an in vitro fertilisation (IVF) laboratory with her husband’s sperm. The embryos are then cultured and grown over the next few days until the doctor cautiously transfer the embryos into her womb.
From these two cells all the babies’ organs and body parts will develop. From these two layers of cells a little miracle will form.
“When I saw their heartbeats for the first time it was surreal,” tells a donor egg recipient. “I cried and I cried and I cried. Finally! Finally it was my turn to become a mother.”
As she had only disclosed to her close family and friends of her journey with egg donation IVF the recipient decided to remain anonymous.
“There was no black or white explanation on why I could not conceive children, but I was determined to be a mother.
“Through the donation someone was able to give me such a selfless gift,” she says with great thankfulness to the anonymous donor.
She lightly laughs and adds, “The donor actually gave me twice the gift — she gave me twins. She helped me reach a dream that I once thought was unreachable.”
Donating agencies: collectors of apples
“The process of donating eggs can be compared to the collection of fruit,” says Jenny Curry, the owner of Baby2mom, a company that facilitates the egg donation process by co-ordinating the donor and the recipient.
“Every month a woman loses a certain amount of eggs — just as an apple tree will lose apples,” she explains.
“But, if you stand there with a basket to collect the apples it just means that they are going to good use. Those who are not collected will fall to the earth and rot.”
She says that instead of losing your eggs through menstruation they can rather be collected and put into good use.
“Egg donation is an extraordinary life-changing gift. It is a gift that offers hope to women who previously thought they could never have children.”
According to Curry, women who are in good health and who do not have any genetic illnesses or concerns can donate their eggs.
Companies such as Baby2mom, Nurture, and Gift ov Life have online databases where possible recipients can look at a profile of all the possible donors.
“The donor’s profile will among others provide a recipient with information about the donor’s physical profile, education/occupation, and behavioural traits,” she explains. Adding that the donor’s identity will remain anonymous.
“When a donor commits to donating her eggs she has the ethical responsibility to participate in the process as instructed,” says Curry.
“When the donor completes the process and does what is expected of her, she will receive a donation of R 6000 as approved by the South African Health Department.”
She emphasises that it is a donation and not a payment. “It is a gift for the donor’s effort, the incurred medical cost and the time the donor had put into someone else’s dream.”
According to Curry the donor has no rights towards a child that is conceived through egg donation.
“South African law says that the birth mother holds all the rights and responsibility when it comes to the child. Legally the child is the recipient’s child.”
Donating the ultimate gift
“We are born with over 2 million eggs and we lose them during our lifetime,” says Jamaine Krige, an egg donor who has donated eggs twice. “If they are going to be lost why not give them to someone that can benefit from it?
“We all know someone that is struggling to have a baby. While having children is not a priority for me right now — I know the importance that it carries to a lot of women,” she says.
“For the recipient it means the world. You are helping them get the family they have always wanted.”
Krige explains that egg donation is an important process. “Unlike adoption or surrogacy it actually affords the women a chance to play a part in the process of giving birth to her baby.
“The donor might provide the genetic material for conception, but the recipient still carries the baby. She still nurtures the baby in her womb.
“She plays a vital part in bringing the baby in to this life.”
Dr Paul le Roux, a reproductive medicine specialist at Cape Fertility Clinic, says that infertility exists when a women is unable to conceive after 12 months of unprotected intercourse.
“Ovarian failure may be due to previous chemotherapy, radiotherapy and/or prior surgery,” he says. Adding that infertility can also be due to poor egg quality because of age related deterioration or due to inherited genetic conditions.
According to Le Roux one in every three women, above the age of 40, will not be able to conceive naturally and will need fertility treatment in order to get pregnant.
Le Roux explains that once an egg-recipient has found a donor, either through a donor agency or through someone they know, both the donor and the recipient will see a fertility specialist for treatment.
“The recipient will have medication to prepare her womb lining for the embryo transfer, while the donor will have medication to grow the eggs. The donor will have to take daily injections of Follicle-stimulating Hormone (FSH) for approximately 10 days,” he expands.
“The donor will then be monitored with trans-vaginal ultrasound every couple of days until the eggs are ready to be extracted.”
According to Le Roux the IVF success rate in South Africa is approximately 35% per embryo transfer.
The reproductive specialist says egg donors should preferably between the age of 21 and 34 as “any eggs of a donor, older than 34, might decrease the success rate of the IVF”.
He also says for health reason the South African Society of Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecological Endoscopy (SASREG) suggest that oocyte donors should be limited to 6 donations.
“Medical risks for the egg donor are generally small, but risks may include ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, pelvic infection, ovarian torsion, intra-abdominal bleeding, loss of future fertility and anaesthetic complications,” says Le Roux.
A mother’s words
“A mother is a woman who will love her children unconditionally until her last breath,” says the egg donor recipient.
“As a mother you choose to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own. As a mother you will have your patience tested to the ends of the earth.
“You will learn about your personal strengths you did not know you had and you will deal with fears you did not know existed. No greater privilege exists. Everybody deserves to be a mother.”
With thanks to journalism student, Dominique Oosthuizen for sharing her investigation into the Egg Donation industry with us!