The link between cigarettes and infertility

Being exposed to cigarette smoke as a baby or foetus could reduce a female’s fertility, new Australian research has found.

The three-year study examined the effect that three chemicals found in cigarettes had on ovarian development and egg fertilisation.

It found females who were exposed to the toxins through cigarette smoke during the early stages of life could experience a reduction in the quality and number of their eggs, Professor Eileen McLaughlin from the University of Newcastle said.

“We believe that exposure to these toxins as a foetus dramatically reduces egg quality and quantity before birth and that this reduced fertility may be passed on to the next generation,” Prof McLaughlin said in a statement.

“It means that if your grandmother smoked – either while pregnant with your mother or near her when she was a baby – you and possibly your children may be at risk of reduced fertility.”

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, more than one-third of pregnant Australian women under the age of 25 continue to smoke during pregnancy and premature ovarian failure continues to be a major cause of female infertility before the age of 40.

Prof McLaughlin’s research has been published in the Journal of Toxicological Sciences and the Journal of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, and was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Source: www.theaustralian.com.au

The 10 things you need to know about infertility

Tertia shares 10 things everyone should know about infertility. This post first appeared on the parenting blog Rattle and Mum.

1. Infertility is not your fault!: You are not struggling to have a baby because of something you did wrong in your past. Stop blaming yourself!

2. Infertility is medical condition: It is not part of “God’s plan” that you don’t have a child. It is not that you “weren’t meant to be a mother”. Don’t listen to that stuff. You wouldn’t say “oh, maybe it is part of God’s plan that I am a diabetic, I should just accept it and not seek help”.

3. Infertility is painful: They say that infertility patients are second only to cancer patients in what they will endure to find a cure. That shows you how deep the pain can be. Know that what you are feeling is real. Also know that there is hope!

4. Infertility can break up relationships, if you allow it to: Infertility is can sometimes wreak havoc on relationships. Between you and your husband, between you and your best friend. Be open about what you are feeling. Talk. Communicate. It is so important.

5. Infertility is indiscriminate: Infertility doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, tall or short, black or white. One in 10 couples struggle to conceive. Fact.

6. Infertility is age dependant: I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but you need to know that your eggs have an expiry date. It doesn’t matter how young you look on the outside, your fertility declines after 35. After 40 your fertility declines rapidly. Don’t leave it too long.

7. Infertility is lonely, but it doesn’t have to be: Being infertile in a fertile world is a lonely place to be, but you don’t need to do this alone. There are so many people who are in the same boat as you and who get how you feel. Join a support group like Fertilicare – you can even join anonymously.

8. Infertility needn’t be a life sentence: There is hope out there. There are amazing doctors and fertility specialists who have access to the latest medical technology to help you conceive. You can have a baby, but just don’t wait too long (see point 6!)

9. Infertility is not the end of the road: If you are struggling to conceive, there are many options open to you. Families are built in all different ways and thank goodness we have things like egg donation, sperm donation, surrogacy, adoption and foster care. If you are open to it, there are many ways to have children.

10. Infertility is hard, but getting it ‘right’ is worth everything and more: Doing 10 IVFs and having so many pregnancy losses was harrowing. My journey was a long, tough one but I would do it all again a million times over in order to be a mother. Being my children’s mother is an honour and a privilege and I am reminded every day how incredibly lucky I am that I eventually succeeded. I hope you get your ‘happily ever after’ too.

Women over age 50 not at increased risk during pregnancy via egg donation compared to younger women

Although women over age 50 who become pregnant via egg donation are at an elevated risk for developing obstetrical complications, their complication rates are similar to those of younger recipients, according to a study by Columbia University Medical Centre researchers to be published in the February 2012 issue of the American Journal of Perinatology. This is contrary to epidemiological data suggesting that these women are at greater risk of certain complications of pregnancy, including hypertension, gestational diabetes, premature birth, and placenta abnormalities.

In the largest single-centre study of older women who became pregnant from egg donation, Mark V. Sauer, MD; Daniel H. Kort, MD; and colleagues studied 101 women age 50 and over. They compared their pregnancy results with those of egg-donation recipients age 42 and younger. The two groups were evaluated for significant differences in perinatal complications, gestational age at delivery, baby’s birth weight, and mode of delivery. Although the women all received their fertility treatment at Columbia University Center for Reproductive Care, their prenatal care and delivery often took place elsewhere.

Both older and younger women had similar rates of gestational hypertension, diabetes, cesarean delivery, and premature birth. Two women in the older group experienced a serious adverse effect. A 56-year-old woman developed heavy vaginal bleeding at 29 weeks of pregnancy and had to deliver by emergency cesarean hysterectomy 2 weeks later. She recovered with no further complications. A 49-year-old woman (who would have been age 50 at term) died following acute cardiac arrest in her first trimester. The researchers believe that her death was unrelated to her pregnancy and more likely attributable to her heavy smoking habit, which she had not disclosed to her doctors.

The study concluded that all women who use egg donation to become pregnant are at an elevated risk for obstetrical complications, particularly hypertensive disorders and cesarean section; but women over age 50 do not appear to face any greater risk than their younger counterparts.

“It is imperative that all older women undergo thorough medical screening before attempting pregnancy to ensure the best possible outcome,” said Mark Sauer, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). “But, really, that should apply to younger women, as well.”

“Although many social and ethical questions surround the use of assisted reproductive technology by this age group, the current study confirms the high success rate and relative safety of such pregnancies in well-cared-for women,” said Daniel H. Kort, a postdoctoral fellow in obstetrics and gynaecology.

Via www.medicalnewstoday.com

Why South Africa is a top fertility destination

When people hear or think about South Africa, they usually conjure up Hemingwayesque images of a sun-drenched land where majestic big game roams through unspoiled and breathtaking scenery.

They’re spot on, of course. But that is just a small part of what the country has to offer. For an increasing amount of people, South Africa is fast becoming more than just a destination where their sun-and-safari dreams will come true. These days, many people are also travelling here from all over the world in an attempt to fulfill an ultimate personal dream and desire: Parenthood.

Over the last few years, South Africa has emerged as one of the foremost fertility treatment destinations in the world, with outstanding clinics and the latest technology allowing for state-of-the-art treatment. In addition, South Africa offers a large database of first class eggs donors from all races and ethnicities. Unlike other foreign egg donor programs, future parents are able to view full information about prospective donors including family history, education history, medical information etc as well as photos of the donor as a child.

That all sounds fair enough, but why should European nationals take on the expense and time to travel halfway across the world for treatment that they could undergo much closer to home?

Why? Because not only is the treatment reasonable priced, but it is also highly successful. South African fertility clinics are rated among the best in the world. But the main motivating factor is access to the large database of donors – there is no waiting list! The wait for a donor is only as long as it takes to choose a donor that meets all your requirements. Within three months of choosing a donor, future parents could be back home, with a baby on the way.
The favourable exchange rate also enables many patients who travel to South Africa from Europe and elsewhere for fertility treatment to combine the trip with a vacation. Such medical tourism, sometimes also called ‘IVF/Egg safaris’, is becoming increasingly popular in South Africa as more patients and their partners decide to go on that dream safari while here for their IVF treatment.

The clear legislation and ethics surrounding egg donation are additional factors that set South Africa apart as a favourite fertility destination, ensuring that not only are the rights of the future parents and their prospective children taken care of, but the well-being and safety of the donor always remains paramount.

Current legislation allows egg donors in South Africa to remain anonymous. Local donors are healthy young female volunteers between the ages of 21 and 34 years of age. Although they do receive reimbursement for their donation, it essentially only covers incidentals they may have incurred while participating in the donor programme, such travelling to and from the clinic. The amount has been carefully regulated to ensure that donors donate for altruistic reasons only.. The egg donors in South Africa are therefore not motivated by money, but are really doing this as an act of extreme kindness to make a genuine difference in someone else’s life.

Excellent medical care, a wide range of available donors, similar cultures, the same language and time zone plus a very favourable exchange rate make South Africa is an ideal destination to pursue donor egg IVF for the European fertility patient. The opportunity to combine all of this with a fantastic vacation? Just what the doctor ordered.

Contact Details for Nurture Egg Donor Program
Contact Person: Tertia Albertyn
Contact Number Local: 0824418639
Contact Number International: (+27824418639)
Website: www.nurture.co.za
E-mail: info@nurture.co.za

Make sure your man’s fertility isn’t overlooked

The Daily Mail reported that when Mark Griffiths and his girlfriend Jeanette Parker still hadn’t conceived after a year of trying, they went to their GP.

He referred them to a gynaecologist and, after a series of scans and tests, it was suggested that Jeanette, 38, might have a blocked fallopian tube.
She underwent four minor procedures which cleared the blockage, at least partially.

‘A number of doctors have given us very poor advice and failed to pick up on my problem,’ said Mark Griffiths, pictured with girlfriend Jeanette Parker. Tests on Mark also revealed that while his sperm count was reasonable, the volume of semen was small and the sperm itself ‘acidic’.

However, the gynaecologist dismissed this as nothing serious. ‘He made a joke about making sure you hit the pot and nothing more was said about it,’ recalls Mark, 42, from Portsmouth.

It was only after Jeanette, a personal assistant, had undergone three unsuccessful IVF cycles — costing £15,000 — plus the removal of one of her two fallopian tubes, which had to be removed after an ectopic pregnancy, that doctors suggested that, in fact, the problem might be with Mark’s sperm. He was referred to a specialist male fertility doctor who diagnosed a blocked ejaculatory duct. This was preventing the normal volume of semen being released.
The condition, which causes up to 5 per cent of cases of male infertility, may be triggered by a cyst or scarring due to prostate infections.

Jeanette and Mark now believe if his problem of a blocked ejaculatory duct had been spotted earlier, it could have made a real difference. Babies can also be born with it. Acidic sperm is another sign of a blockage (it also contributes to infertility by making sperm attack the eggs, rather than fertilise them).

Last July — three years after being sent to the gynaecologist — Mark had an operation to clear the blockage.
Research shows up to 30  per cent of those with this condition go on to conceive naturally, suggesting the three IVF attempts Mark and Jeanette endured might not have been necessary. IVF conceptions are twice as likely to end in an ectopic pregnancy (a potentially life-threatening condition where the embryo implants outside the womb).

By costing her a fallopian tube, IVF has actually made it more difficult for Jeanette to conceive — and even if she does, she is at increased risk of another ectopic pregnancy.
‘It has been a very traumatic and costly few years which may all have been unnecessary,’ says Mark, a fire sprinkler installer.

‘A number of doctors have given us very poor advice and failed to pick up on my problem, which is very disappointing.’ In fact, the couple had previously managed to conceive naturally and have a six-year-old son — they now believe if Mark’s problem had been spotted earlier, it could have made a real difference. ‘If I’d had the procedure at the beginning, Jeanette would have most definitely had a greater chance of a natural conception,’ he says.
Mark is just one of thousands of men whose fertility problems are going undiagnosed and untreated, according to some of the country’s leading male health doctors.

Jeanette and Mark had previously managed to conceive naturally and have a six-year-old son
They blame the fact that IVF clinics tend to focus on women’s fertility issues, with little attention paid to men’s problems. Most clinics don’t even employ a male fertility specialist, they say. As a result, some women are going through expensive, and often gruelling, IVF unnecessarily.
As Rowland Rees, a urological surgeon at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, Winchester, explains: ‘The majority of fertility clinics are gynaecology-led, where the emphasis is on investigating the female partner and carrying out assisted conception.

‘The investigation and treatment of male-related fertility problems is often not done thoroughly enough, and sometimes not at all. In half of cases male problems are partly responsible and, in 20  per cent, it is purely a male issue. Around 50 per cent of male fertility problems are treatable, but unfortunately this is commonly overlooked.
‘Therefore, couples are undergoing IVF — with all the inherent costs and emotional turmoil it can cause as well as the risks to women from conditions such as ovarian hyperstimulation — when they could have conceived naturally had the man been treated. Treating male infertility may also be cheaper, more successful, and less invasive.’

Fertility problems, defined as a failure to conceive after a year of regular, unprotected intercourse, affect around one in six couples. Male infertility can be caused by various factors. One of the most common is low sperm count. A very low sperm count of less than five million sperm per millilitre may be caused by rare genetic conditions such as Klinefelter’s syndrome, Kallmann’s syndrome or Kartagener’s syndrome.

For some men, simply changing their lifestyle is all that is needed to rectify a low sperm count For some men, simply changing their lifestyle — stopping smoking, eating healthily, exercising and cutting down their alcohol and caffeine consumption — is all that is needed to rectify the problem.
Antidepressant drugs, certain types of medication such as chemotherapy, injury to the testes and infections such as chlamydia or mumps, can also affect a man’s fertility.
In 40 per cent of cases, problems are caused by varicose veins in the testes, a condition known as varicoceles.
With many of these conditions, a microscope-assisted procedure, carried out as a day case, can help rectify the problem. For example, a simple procedure to tie off veins containing a faulty valve causing a varicocele may significantly improve pregnancy rates.

But too many men are never offered treatment, says David Ralph, a urological surgeon at University College Hospital London. ‘If a couple goes to an IVF unit, they generally get IVF,’ he says. ‘In many fertility clinics, if a man’s sperm sample comes back as low, the solution is often immediately to have a type of in vitro fertilisation treatment called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) — where sperm is surgically removed from the man then injected into an egg to fertilise it.

But there have been major advances in male fertility treatment since IVF and ICSI were introduced some 20 years ago. ‘These now allow successful treatment of many male fertility problems, allowing the couple to conceive naturally. What’s more, corrective procedures are about half the price of ICSI.’

Furthermore, going straight to sperm injection means couples will encounter the same problems conceiving if they want another baby, because the underlying condition has not been treated. And if the problem is a hereditary condition and has not been diagnosed, the man may unknowingly pass it on to his child.

The reason why men are being overlooked is the way fertility care is set up in Britain, say the doctors. Couples with fertility problems tend to be sent by their GP to a gynaecologist for tests or bypass their GP altogether and refer themselves directly to an IVF clinic. But most fertility clinics do not have a urologist who specialises in male infertility — an andrologist — on their team.

Furthermore, if sperm does need to be surgically extracted for IVF, the operation is often carried out by a gynaecologist, says Mr Rees. ‘Andrological problems, such as testicular lumps, low testosterone, erectile dysfunction or ejaculatory problems, may not be picked up on or dealt with,’ he says.
‘Many men are going along their partners to a clinic, are being asked to produce semen and, in some cases are having it surgically extracted without looking at the reasons for a low sperm count or treating it.

‘If men do require surgery to find sperm, this is bizarrely done by gynaecologists — women’s health specialists — as opposed to men’s health specialists. ‘This is not the case in most other countries, where things have been set up differently.’

Yet fertility clinics are not solely to blame. For years male infertility has been neglected as a medical speciality, with urologists focusing on other areas such as cancer and prostate disease, adds Mr Rees. ‘This is now changing and andrology is expanding as a distinct sub-speciality.
‘It’s probably ten years overdue, but if we can treat the cause of male infertility we could prevent many couples having to go through IVF.

‘However, fertility is big business and clinics do not want to give up patients.’ As with all medical problems, the best way to ensure you are seen by a male fertility specialist is to go through your GP, who can refer you to a urologist specialising in fertility, adds Mr Rees.

‘Most regions in the UK now have a male fertility specialist,’ he says. ‘The thing to avoid is self-referral to IVF units before you know what the problem is.’
Meanwhile, although Mark Griffiths’s sperm count and volume are now normal, he and Jeanette have not yet conceived and are planning IVF again because they are ‘getting older’. Mark is urging men who think they may have a fertility problem to seek help from a specialist sooner rather than later. ‘It could prevent a whole lot of heartache and hopefully lead to the baby you are wishing for,’ he says.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2090765/Women-suffer-needless-IVF-clinics-ignore-mens-fertility.html#ixzz1l7G0qxzg

How Nurture is giving life, plus saving the world! Yeah!

The very name of our company, Nurture, embodies caring, caretaking and cherishing. We proudly live up to our name, not only in the myriad of ways that we care about the well-being of our clients, but also in the proactive steps we take to extend that same kindness to the environment.

Although we are a small company, consisting of only six women, we strive to make an enormous difference in the world. That is why we also try to be as eco-conscious as possible.

Being ‘green’ is the new black nowadays, but our eco-conscious efforts are not about trying to be trendy or politically correct. It turns out the issue hits close to all of our hearts. In recent years, various studies conducted by researchers around the world have come to the disturbing conclusion that a range of environmental toxins, including traffic pollution, are responsible for an increase in male infertility.

In an effort to minimise our own carbon footprint, all of us at Nurture work from home. Apart from the obvious perks this entail – such as being able to spend more precious time with our families and not having to deal with maddening traffic jams during a daily commute – it also means that we are polluting less, since minimal driving translates into less harmful carbon fumes being released. Not to mention less personal fuming due to road rage! Those are just as harmful to everyone’s general health and well-being.

By telecommuting, we also save money on fuel (score!) and we save paper (and by extension, trees) too, since we handle most of our correspondence online. All of our donor applications, consent forms, recipient applications and agreements, and proof of payment notifications are conveniently done online. We print documents only when absolutely necessary, such as when a recipient requests a fully signed agreement, in which case the document is printed, signed and scanned, before once again being sent back as an online attachment.

By doing our part, we hope to preserve the planet for all of our and your children – present and future.

Contact Details for Nurture Egg Donor Program
Contact Person: Tertia Albertyn
Contact Number Local: 0824418639
Contact Number International: (+27824418639)
Website: www.nurture.co.za

A great egg donation agency is like a doctor with a good bedside manner. Here’s why…

When you’ve made the important decision to start or expand your family through egg donation, the next vital step you need to take is to select a reputable egg donation agency.

A great egg donation agency is a bit like a doctor with a great bedside manner. An understanding best friend who is always willing to listen and an attentive counsellor, who can guide you through challenging times all rolled into one! Infertility is a tough, lonely place – you need all the help you can get, to keep your sanity and your sense of humour intact.

Not only will a good agency provide you with a large database of wonderful and carefully pre-screened egg donors to choose from, but it will ensure that you receive excellent service from them as well as from the fertility clinic where you will be treated, every step of the way. This means that there will be constant interaction and intervention between the agency, the fertility clinic and the egg donor, and that you will be kept well informed at all times during the process.

An egg donor program that is managed and facilitated by a really good egg donation agency, will help donor recipients to better understand the process, answer any and all questions with patience and clarity. This will save prospective recipients from the trouble of having to wade through and trying to comprehend any medical or legal issues that they would like to clarify.

In South Africa, egg donor agencies are primarily located in the major cities such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban. In some instances, donor agencies have donors who are willing to travel to other cities to participate in the program.

When choosing a donor agency, prospective donor egg recipients need to explore important criteria such as the agency’s reputation, its affordability, efficiency, availability of egg donors, professionalism, the period of time it has been in existence, its association with top fertility clinics in the area and the quality of its service.

Another aspect that makes an egg donation agency excellent is its commitment to continuously expand and keep fresh its database of profiled egg donors by recruiting new donors. A great agency will also offer immediate feedback to any queries pertaining to egg donation fertility treatment.

A good egg donor agency doesn’t over promise and under-deliver. A good egg donor agency makes sure that all their donors that are listed as available, ARE available and meet the prescribed criteria. A good egg donor agency knows that by the time a recipient couple has reached the point of egg donation, they are tired, heartbroken and financially and emotionally depleted. A good egg donor agency does their utmost to ensure that this is the last chapter of the journey that ends with the words “….and they all lived happily ever after”.

Fertility tourism becoming trendy and more affordable

In the world of assisted fertility, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is nothing new, according to a recent story on voxxi.com

And for women 40 and over, donor egg IVF – where eggs from a younger, more fertile donor are fertilized with the partner’s sperm, cultivated and then transferred to the prospective mom’s uterus – is often the only hope for achieving pregnancy.

But for US couples whose health insurance doesn’t cover infertility, the costs of these treatments can be prohibitively expensive; IVF with an egg donor costs an average of $30,000. That’s per try, pregnant or not pregnant at the outcome.

So increasingly, in a trend labeled fertility tourism, more and more couples are looking outside the US in their quest for a baby, to countries where the medical technology is on par with the States and the costs are significantly less.

Take a vacation, come home pregnant

In Europe, clinics in the Czech Republic and clinics in Spain currently vie for English-speaking patients; those seeking blond-haired, blue eyed donors head east, while those seeking dark haired donors with brown or green eyes head for the Mediterranean.

Donors are mostly young college students looking for extra money to pay tuition. Clinics have English-speaking staff and are located, not by accident, in desirable tourist locales – in major cities like Barcelona, Madrid and Seville, and in coastal resorts such as Valencia, Alicante and even the Canary Islands.

So, foreign couples can mix purpose with pleasure by making the required clinic visits, taking time for some sightseeing and relaxation, and hopefully, flying home with a proverbial bun in the oven. And even with a week to 10 days’ travel costs and the US $ to euro conversion factored in, a fertility vacation can still shake out a lot cheaper than treatment in the US.

In Spain, IVF with donor eggs costs between €7,000 and €10,000 per cycle. Even at the worst currency exchange rate and peak season travel, a couple can save at least $10,000 by traveling to Spain for treatment.

Some clinics, like URVistaHermosa in Alicante, offer a refund program, where clients pay for three donor egg cycles up front (at a discounted rate). If no pregnancy is achieved after the third cycle, 30% of that money is refunded.

And the clinic claims it has never had to give a refund.

No Octomoms allowed!

In Spain, as in the US and other countries, current practice at most clinics is to transfer blastocysts, embryos that have been grown outside the uterus for 5 days. Though fewer fertilized eggs arrive at blastocyst stage, those that survive the 5-day growth period have a very good chance of implanting in the uterus and turning into viable pregnancies.

To reduce the incidence of multiple births (twins, triplets or more), Spanish law prohibits the transfer of more than three embryos, and most clinics strongly urge patients to transfer just two.

Virtually every Spanish clinic boasts a first-time success rate of 60-70% with donor egg IVF, so if those numbers are to be believed, couples opting for fertility tourism have a very good chance of bringing back an extra special souvenir.

Four fertility trends to watch in 2012

The advances in reproductive medicine have been many. As the New Year begins, here are FertilityAuthority’s four trends you should watch.

1 Genetic screening of embryos for aneuploidy. A normal embryo has 23 pairs of chromosomes, including an XX or an XY to determine sex. Aneuploidy is the term used to describe an abnormal number of chromosomes, and majority of embryos with aneuploidy will not implant in the uterus or will result in a miscarriage. Many fertility clinics are now offering preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) for aneuploidy. One method that is gaining much attention is called comprehensive chromosomal analysis (CCS) tests a Day 5 or 6 embryo that is subsequently frozen and transferred during a frozen cycle. Women who have experienced recurrent miscarriages or recurrent IVF failure, or those who are of advanced maternal age, may want to ask their fertility doctors about PGS or CCS for aneuploidy screening.

2 Single embryo transfer (SET) as a safer and equally effective option in IVF. After examining a variety of studies to compare single vs. double embryo transfers, the Practice Committees of the ASRM and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) issued a report in 2011 recommending an increase in the use of elective single embryo transfer (SET) in patients undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) that had a good prognosis. The conclusion was that SET could significantly reduce the rate of multiple births without affecting pregnancy rates. Fertility patients under 35, those with more than one high-quality embryo available for transfer, women in their first or second IVF cycle, women who have had prior successful IVF cycles and women who are using donor eggs may want to ask their fertility doctor about SET.

3 Egg freezing as a choice for preserving fertility. Information about egg freezing (oocyte cryopreservation) for fertility preservation is a must for women who are undergoing cancer treatment. And many fertility clinics are offering this option to women who are have not found the right partner or who have delayed childbirth for other reasons. Successful freezing and thawing of eggs is improving rapidly, and the methods will continue to grow and improve in the future.

4 Big advancement in male infertility research. Just as 2011 ended, German and Israeli researchers published a study in the journal Nature that they were able to create mouse sperm in a laboratory. The researchers used “germ cells,” which are cells in testicles responsible for semen production, and they grew the sperm by surrounding the germ cells in a compound called “agar jelly,” which created an environment similar to that found in testicles. This could be a a major breakthrough that would lead the way to producing artificial human semen that could help infertile men father their own children.

Via FertilityAuthority

Donating eggs has no effect on your fertility, and other important facts you need to know

The case for egg donation: why it should be seen in a good light. By Tertia Albertyn

Some say it is tantamount to exploitation of women’s bodies. The uninformed accuse those who participate of ‘selling their bodies’. The activity that is evoking such harsh and often over emotional reactions has nothing to do with hooking, taking a life, pornography, posing naked, stripping, or even – believe it or not – beauty pageants.

Surprisingly and rather ironically, those old staples of dubious morality have temporarily been swept aside by critics in favour of what many regard to be one of the ultimate acts of compassion and kindness: Egg donation. And just so we’re clear; we’re not talking about giving your breakfast grub to a hungrier person here.

But just in case you were thinking that, here’s a quick primer: 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 which 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, fertilized 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.  Recipients of these donated eggs are women who have lost their ovaries to cancer or who have suffered premature ovarian failure. Or same-sex male couples who obviously need an egg donor in order to have their family.  The amount of women out there who need help to conceive is staggering. The World Health Organisation estimates that there are currently approximately 60-80 million infertility cases around the world.

Egg donation in South Africa is 100% 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[T1] any ethnicity and background. Unlike in 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 donor egg 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 factors.  In South Africa, egg donors receive some money for their time and effort. This is often the cause for the stigma and misconceptions that surround egg donation. This is where the critics cry ‘exploitation!’ However, what the detractors fail to realise is that the amount paid (which is R5 000) has been carefully assessed and determined to essentially cover the incidentals that the donor will incur, such as getting to and from the clinic during her participation in the donor programme. 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.  R5,000 is not exploitation, it is reasonable compensation for the time, effort and expense involved in this selfless act of generosity.

This is exactly what inspired Janet (not her real name) to become an egg donor. After she had filled out an application with Cape Town-based egg donor agency Nurture (www.nurture.co.za), she was accepted and registered to the agency and placed on their donor list. Two months later, she was thrilled by the news that she had been selected by recipients to be their donor: “I really, really wanted to be able to help someone achieve their most yearned for dream, and they chose ME.”

Donating eggs has no effect on a donor’s future ability to conceive, since those eggs would have gone to waste anyway during her menstrual cycle. This was another factor that prompted Janet to donate: “I am not using my eggs, they are literally flushed down the toilet now… I don’t see or think of them as babies, but as potentials. They are part of the ingredients needed to make a baby, but on their own, they are nothing.”

And what about the donor process itself? All the medical stuff? First off, the donor does not pay for any of the medical procedures or scans that the she has to go through relating to the donation. It is all funded by the recipients. The actual process of donation involves going on the pill for a month, followed by two weeks of hormonal treatment which culminates in the egg retrieval process.

One question that prospective donors always ask is whether there are any risks involved in egg donation. According to Nurture’s website, it carries some risk, just like all medical procedures do. The primary risk is a condition called Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS), but it is extremely rare and occurs in less than 1% of all donations. It is caused by the ovary producing too many eggs as a result of the drug stimulation. OHSS can vary from mild to severe. Donors are closely monitored to check that everything is in order throughout the donation process and to prevent OHSS from happening.

The other misconception that abounds is that by donating eggs, these young woman 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.

As for possible pain and discomfort: During the egg extraction procedure, the egg donor is placed under conscious sedation, which feels like a deep sleep. Janet said afterwards, when she woke up in recovery, she felt okay. “I was a bit dozy but otherwise felt pretty okay. After a while I felt some period type cramping, but nothing really more than that. It was most likely from the mirena anyway.” (Janet had used a mirena as birth control beforehand and had to have it removed during the donation process. Right after the extraction, while she was still under anaesthetics, it was replaced free of charge.)

“All in all, the experience has been far easier than I expected and not bad at all.”

Two weeks later, Nurture informed Janet that her donation had resulted in the ultimate gift, and that her donor recipient was pregnant. “I feel so honoured and privileged to have been allowed to be part of something so very special and important and life changing.”

For more information about becoming an egg donor, visit the Nurture website www.nurture.co.za


[T1]21 and over. Not over 21