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REAL-LIFE PREGNANCY / Jan ‘2017

The donation of life

REAL-LIFE PREGNANCY / JAN ‘2017

The donation of life

Hundreds of years ago, pregnancy was as straightforward as sperm meets egg and a baby may or may not be conceived. If you couldn’t conceive naturally, that was the end of the pregnancy journey. Things have evolved since then – we now have IVF, surrogacy and gamete donation – where either sperm, eggs, or both are donated.

Words MELANIE HEARSE

"I'm a single mum by choice and used a sperm donor." Alison Ewington (40), and three and a half year old twin boys

“I ended up as a single woman in my 30’s and have always wanted to be a mum. My last partner was driven by career and money and had little interest in starting a family, and when our relationship ended, I was worried I would miss out on being a mother. I had already been diagnosed with polycystic ovaries and I knew that could complicate things.

I got a referral to Fertility First when I was 35 to start the donor process. I recall the first appointment feeling so ‘clinical’ – sitting in a medical chair with syringe after syringe of blood being taken, thinking ‘this is not how I grew up believing I would have a baby’.

The next 17 months were planned around early morning visits to the fertility centre before work for bloods, scans and hope. After three intrauterine inseminations and seven rounds of IVF; injecting the drugs into myself and riding the emotional roller coaster; I finally conceived my beautiful, healthy twin boys. Now I cannot imagine life without them.

"I clearly remember thinking 'this is not how I grew up believing I would have a baby'." Alison Ewington (40), and three and a half year old twin boys"

The boys will be asked questions about their father as they grow up, and I am role modelling a confident, open approach to talking about their story so they never feel uncomfortable with these questions. Ever since the boys asked me at age two ‘why don’t we have a Dad in our family?’ I have answered their questions honestly at a developmentally and age appropriate way for them. The boys have a photo of the donor and refer to him as “our donor Dad”, and happily tell people about their donor Dad, who lives in America.

We often talk about the many different types of families we know and who their friends live with. All families are different, and I believe as long as everyone is loved, nurtured, safe and secure you can’t go wrong.”

"I am a mother of two and an egg donor"

Michelle (35) and Glenn (43) Fenwick, with kids Samuel (10) and Ashley (6).

“My husband and I only over wanted to have two children. We were incredibly fortunate to conceive fairly easily and I had no complications with either pregnancy or birth.

When our youngest child was 14 weeks old, my husband had a vasectomy, making our family of four permanent.

Five years later, the topic of egg donation randomly came up and sparked an earlier interest I had in becoming an egg donor. I couldn’t help but feel like my perfectly good eggs were being wasted, and that surely there was someone who could benefit from them. I researched and discovered there was certainly no shortage of people seeking donor eggs. With the full support of my husband and family, I began searching for my first intending parents (IP’s).

Fast forward to now, almost two years later, and I have donated eggs to four couples, resulting (so far) in one beautiful baby boy, two current pregnancies and a total of almost 80 eggs donated.

As far as our children are concerned, they have been involved in the donation process right from the very beginning, even to the point of being included in (some) counselling sessions. To them, they have gained some new ‘aunties and uncles’ and they have one new ‘special cousin’, with a couple more on the way. They think it’s awesome!

My husband and I are pretty much on the same page with how we feel about having donor-conceived children out there, in that it’s not really something we think about

We are certainly conscious of the fact, but these children are not ours to raise and nurture. We have ongoing contact with our recipient families and while only one couple has had a baby so far, it’s not at all awkward or weird to see that child. I don’t see these children as being anything other than the beautiful babies of some new and very special people that we now call friends.

While each couple has a slightly different story, they all have a common desire, and that is to have a child of their own to love and to raise. If I can help them to achieve that goal by offering my eggs, then that’s what I’ll do.”

"We used an overseas egg donor"
Sharon and Graham Richards (both 44) and daughter Sofia (32 months).

“I thought having a baby would be easy because the women in our family were pretty fertile, but after Graham and I tried to conceive naturally for about eight months with no luck, we went to a fertility clinic for help. We began fertility treatments when they explained we’d have trouble conceiving naturally, but it was only after 15 IVF cycles, five years of hormones, blood tests and doctors’ appointments that we really got to the bottom of the problem. After failing to conceive after so many attempts, (we went to another fertility clinic, and finally got answers to our infertility problems) we told the new clinic my sister in law was willing to be a surrogate for us. The fertility specialist at the new clinic explained it wouldn’t make a difference – the issue was the quality of my eggs and the fact they started breaking up after three days.

At this point we started looking into any possibility to get pregnant, and egg donation from looked like a viable option – egg donation was suggested from the new clinic, we heard some great success stories and I spoke to a women who ended up with twins from egg donation. We also did a lot of research and discovered the success rates are very good in South Africa. Aussies are not as keen to donate eggs, and there is a lot of stigma attached to it here, which was also part of our decision to go overseas; we were on a wait list for egg donors in Perth but it seemed unlikely to happen because few women are willing to give eggs up for donation. The fertility clinic offered counselling before we made the arrangements to go, which was a fantastic.

We chose an anonymous egg donor from South Africa based on certain health criteria that were important to us. We chose a woman in her early 20s who was a non-smoker, and we wanted to be sure she had good support networks, so we chose someone with support of their family and had been in a relationship, also the clinic gives the egg donors counselling in South Africa. The donor does know about our little miracle daughter, and I would like her to be in touch, but at this stage it isn’t something she wants to do.

We found the overall process more positive in South Africa – our experience in Australia was very clinical and we felt it was more focused on solving a problem than it was on creating a life. South African reproductive clinics are medically advanced and professional, but we definitely felt like less of a number to the people involved. When they transferred the embryo, the second cycle in South Africa, the nurse kissed my belly and said ‘this one is going to work’. It bought joy and hope to a physically and mentally demanding situation.

The donor egg experience wasn’t all smooth sailing for us; we had an early miscarriage with our first pregnancy and had to travel to South Africa a second time and go through the process again, and obviously the hormone treatments put a strain on your body. The financial cost was strained but we were very lucky we could afford to go through the process again. It is very demanding mentally and shutting off from what was happening was a coping mechanism that worked for us at the time.

We were very lucky we were able to afford our dream and complete our family, due to the support of our relationship Graham and I was able to handle the emotional and financial burden of achieving our little family, egg donors are a very special part of the fertility treatment and I hope they know how special these women are.

 

More information

www.smcaustralia.org.au – (for women thinking about or who have become sole parents)

www.eggdonationaustralia.com.au – (for everything egg donation related, recipients and donors, and also has content for those involved in embryo donation)

www.australiandonorconceptionnetwork.org – Donor Children Australia – a closed Facebook group for anyone based in Australia that is involved in donor conception or is donor conceived themselves

 

Want to become a donor?

In Australia it is against the law for someone to profit from the donation of eggs or sperm – though a fee may be paid to cover some travel expenses for sperm and egg donors. You’ll be required to undergo blood tests and other medical examinations – and a complete health history will also be taken to ensure that the person that uses your sample (otherwise known as the recipient) is not exposed to any infectious diseases or cystic fibrosis.

Donors have no legal responsibilities or rights to any offspring conceived through the use of donated sperm or eggs. However, once a child reaches the age of 18 the offspring can request access to your identity. As a donor you therefore must be open to (potential) contact once they reach the age of 18.

Donors can withdraw their consent to be a donor at any time as long as embryos have not been created. (Before insemination or fertilisation takes place)

Journalist and mother of two boys, has worked on a range of local and national publications, focusing on parenting, health and lifestyle articles. She worked for 10 years in the public health sector before deciding to follow her passion to be a writer when her first son Max was born.