Can you imagine a more selfless act than donating your eggs to help other families who are having problems conceiving? Two local women are doing just that to help others. For some couples facing infertility, egg donation provides their only hope of having a child.

The Procedure

In Australia, donation is altruistic meaning that that donors cannot paid for this service. (However, recipients otherwise known as Intended Parents (IPs) pay for all the donor’s medical expenses, time off work and travel). Because of this, there is a limited number of donors available and recipients have to search for someone who is willing to donate. Ideal donors are under 35 and have completed their families, but other donors are acceptable.

Egg donation isn’t as simple as sperm donation. It actually involves the egg donor undergoing IVF to harvest the eggs. IVF cycles involve nasal spray or injections and can vary between two and four weeks once drugs commence. The procedure of egg collection requires a day in hospital. Embryos are created in the fertility clinic lab by using sperm from the male partner and the donated egg. These are then implanted into the female recipient with hope that it a positive pregnancy result.

Legal Issues 

The eggs collected are the legal property of the recipients and donors have no rights or responsibilities towards the child. Donors can be known to recipients or anonymous. Australian law requires information must be put on a register, so donor children are able to know the identity of their donor at age 18. Research seems to suggest known donation is better and a lot of egg recipients maintain Facebook, email or personal contact with their donors.

The Donors

It’s hard to imagine a more noble gift than donating an egg to another family. A single women who tried unsuccessfully to fall pregnant with donor sperm to have her own child, Jennifer* made the decision to assist other families.

As Jennifer mentions “I give the gift of hope. Hope that each egg in turn will grow into a gorgeous little bub. I can’t promise a baby, but I can promise to do my best to help their dreams come true.”  She has undergone six cycles for six different families resulting in three children.  She outlines the different contact she has with the families she has tried to assist which range from exchanging gifts and cards with anonymous families to developing a friendship with the known recipients.

When asked how she chooses recipient families, she explains that honesty and transparency is key. Jennifer explains “It is very important to me that my recipients are people that I would want in my life forever. The level of contact is negotiable but it’s important to me. Essentially, because honesty is very important to me, I want my recipient’s children to know who I am, therefore I need to be available if they have any questions, or want to meet me.” Jennifer watches their stories on Egg Donation Australia and then chats with them to find out if their compatible in their expectations.

Since I first contacted Jennifer, she has met her first donor baby. She explained her emotions about that meeting. “She is the most amazing little gorgeous thing I’ve ever laid eyes on. I cannot explain the love I now feel for my IP (purely in a friendship way) and for this little baby, I’m proud to be the Aunt of.  I, in no way felt any maternal instinct towards this child. It was just as if my close friend had a baby… It feels awesome to be able to give this gift to someone, and be a part of their lives.”

Another donor Angie* made the decision to become an egg donor after completing her own family. She was advised at a young age that with her endometriosis, she wouldn’t be able to conceive. However, this wasn’t the case and she easily fell pregnant. However understanding the emotional rollercoaster of infertile couples, Angie decided to help other couples complete or start their families. She has completed a couple of cycles and have others planned. At this time, there have been no live births but she remains hopeful that her eggs will eventually lead to babies.

Angie’s husband and her 2 daughters aged 8 and 10 are very supportive of her efforts to assist other families. They accompany Angie to a monthly meetup of Egg Donation Australia bonding with other donors and recipients. In a speech for school, one of her daughter’s describes her mother’s efforts. One of her daughter’s wrote “In some countries, people get paid to donate their eggs. In Australia, this is illegal. My mum does it to give hope”.

I asked Jennifer and Angie for their advice for others who may be considering egg donation. They mentioned to research it fully by visiting Egg Donation Australia or joining the  Egg Donation Australia Facebook page and talking to other donors.

Jennifer admits “Egg donation isn’t for everyone. some do one cycle, and help one family, and then there’s others that can’t help enough. I would never push anyone into donating, but I do encourage everyone to educate themselves on egg donation. It’s amazing! Until I saw the smile on my IP’s face when she got that very much wanted positive pregnancy or the joy in her voice when she called me after the first ultrasound, or at the baby shower with family and friends, or when I saw her parents smile, and cry all at the same time, I didn’t truly understand the impact my donation had. It’s amazing. Its the best feeling to be able to give someone hope.”

Angie adds “I think it is wonderful for people to consider giving such a gift.I absolutely understand that it is not for everyone and there are many many reasons why people decide that they can’t or won’t donate eggs. But for those who choose to investigate it further, my advice would be to do your research. Don’t assume that just because you are under a certain age, or have had children, that you are guaranteed a great result. And on the other hand, don’t assume that because you are over a certain age or haven’t had children, that you are not eligible to donate. I am 36 and have great results from both of my donations this year. Jump onto the website or the Facebook page and get to know other donors. We are all more than happy to chat, share our stories, and offer advice. Go into it with an open heart and an open mind and remember that you are not promising a baby, you are promising hope.”

 The Couple Seeking Hope 

A reader contacted me recently about her struggle to fall pregnant with a second child. Louise* is now seeking a donor egg to complete her family. A veteran of IVF, it took Louise and her husband two years, five egg collections and 15 IVF attempts. She finally gave birth to her daughter at the age of 41. She now admits her chances of conceiving using her own eggs are slim to none and is seeking a donor egg.

“I would like to have another baby, a sibling for my daughter, and using an egg donor gives us the best possible chance, very likely the only possible chance to make this happen. The doctors would definitely say only chance, but I believe in miracles!”

Louise advises younger women to start now if they want a family using her own example as a cautionary tale. “I always thought that if I had children I would at least have two. We started trying to conceive at an older age than we should have (I was 38) but of course we didn’t think there would be a problem and we would have had our 2 kids by the time I was 40.”

She advise women not to pay too much attention to media reports of women having kids in their 40s. Louise cites statistics showing that the odds of success for a 44 or 45 year old woman doing IVF with her own eggs is less than 1% chance of success. “So the older women you see in the media having their babies in their 40s have used donor eggs, whether they disclose this or not.”

I asked Louise if she was concerned that she might not feel connected to a child that isn’t genetically related to her. Louise admitted that’s not a concern as they have always been open to the idea of adoption as well as raising other children who are not genetically related to them. However, she cites the challenges in adopting kids from overseas as one of the reasons they have chosen to search for a donor.

Louise has tried various forms of advertising for a donor including advertising in local newspapers and parenting magazines and online boards including Egg Donation Australia. She has also told friends and family as well as acquaintances who may know of someone who may wish to help.

Anecdotally, she was advised by her IVF counsellor that Newcastle women find their donors more quickly than other cities.  Louise wonders if this is due to long-time Newcastle residents having a large network of family and friends to assist in locating a donor. She admits that not being originally from Newcastle, she is finding it difficult to locate a donor. “On the EDA website, most of the donors seem to be from the larger cities and I haven’t noticed many donors from Newcastle on the site. This is one reason I think this blog is important – to make more Newcastle women aware of egg donation and to consider egg donation.”

I enquire if she has a list of criteria for egg donors as I’m curious to find out what she has in mind. Her list is pretty standard:

  1. 35 or under and eligible to donate meaning a good family medical history without genetic diseases and a non-smoker.
  2. She would prefer a donor who wishes to have an open donation so that the child can meet and keep in contact with the donor. An anonymous donor is also acceptable as well.
  3. Donor has completed her own family or someone who would like to donate eggs rather than have their own children.
  4. A donor in Newcastle or willing to have their eggs collected in Newcastle.

Louise is hopeful that she will find someone to donate an egg. “Using a donor egg also allows the baby to be genetically related to my husband which is a bonus. I see no reason why the baby would be any different to our daughter in being part of our family. They will have a special auntie who helped them come into being, but I support open donation and would hope this special auntie becomes one to my daughter as well.”

To learn more about egg donation, visit the Egg Donation Australia website.

*All names changed to protect the identity of families.

October 2015 Update:

Through my article on egg donation, Louise has found a local donor (another NwK reader). Louise recently contacted me to let me know with the help of this wonderful donor, she is pregnant and expecting a baby early next year.