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The Most Amazing Gift - Surrogacy

Surrogacy - Egg Donor ProgramThere are women out there, who care so much about their fellow human beings, they would give up their eggs for them.

Find out all about Nurture, South Africa's egg donor programme, that has given the gift of life to those infertile couples who long for it the most.

Nurture, South Africa's Egg Donor and Surrogacy Programme, is the creation of two remarkable women who have suffered infertility first hand and been “best friends forever” – Melany Bartok as an egg donor and Tertia Albertyn as an infertility patient who went through nine IVFs to achieve her dream, a beautiful set of twins.

In a nutshell, it is a South African company, based in South Africa, owned by South Africans using South African donors and surrogates. It has now been going for six months, and has way exceeded any expectations that Tertia and Mel ever had. So what's the secret to its success?

Up until a year ago, there was only one woman, an American woman, who had an egg donor programme. But she charged a fortune for it. “She charges $4,500 and was catering for overseas people with lots of money. Our local rate is only R12,000, so together, we have made it more affordable,” says Tertia. (Taking into account the IVF procedure, the entire procedure will cost you about R55 000.)

“There was such a need for a local player to come onto the scene. More so, there was also a need for those who really understand infertility to run a programme,” she adds. “And there's no doubt about it. We are passionate about what we do.”

So how does it work?

First of all, Mel has to find Nurture's egg donors. She does this by advertising in various forums and via word of mouth. Prospective donors can then apply online (www.nurture.co.za), and there is an initial application process that they have to go through. For example, they have to be between the ages of 21 and 34. They have to have a regular cycle and they have to have the right BMI. Once the initial applications have been submitted anonymously, Mel, who has been an egg donor herself and therefore understands this part of the business, screens them.

“After Mel has seen (and okayed) their initial application, she sends them the full application which comprises a five-page form with questions relating to their medical history, a personality profile and other relevant genetic information. We then have a look at that again and check if there are any concerning medical issues.”

Then what?
Once the donor's full application has been approved, she is interviewed face-to-face. During this interview, Mel goes through the entire process with the donor, explaining to her how it works and what the risks associated with the procedure are.

“It is important that when the donors get to the point of donating, they understand completely what they're in for,” says Tertia. “They need to understand that donating their eggs is going to be an operation, and that with any operation there are going to be risks. They need to know that their eggs will be removed via vaginal aspiration, and that they will be placed under conscious sedation – the same procedure as IVF. They also need to sign a consent form that states that they will have no rights over a future child that might be born from the donation.”

On board

Once a donor has been approved, Nurture gives her a pseudonym and places a mini donor profile plus her toddler pics online. If you go to www.nurture.co.za and look under donor profiles you can view the profiles, but you need to contact Tertia first to get the password. Once a recipient has access to the mini donor profiles, she can look for things like the donor's height, weight, eye colour, and complexion. “Most of the time, recipients are looking for a physical match for the wife,” says Tertia. Recipients

And then there's Tertia part in the business: the recipients. Since she's been through infertility, and has a lot of sympathy and empathy for those struggling to conceive, she handles this side of things.

After a recipient has been told that she needs an egg to conceive, she'll usually contact Tertia via email, who will send her the website password to view the mini donor profiles. The recipient then sends Tertia a list of the people she is interested in, and Tertia sends them their full, anonymous, profiles back.

The full profiles include information on the donor's personality, what her interests are and what she has studied. It includes a full family background too, and any medical problems. If the recipient decides she likes someone and wants to choose her, Mel contacts the donor and tells her she has 48 hours to think about it carefully and asks her if she'd still like to go ahead. “It is a very big emotional investment for the donors, so they need to be 100 percent sure they want to do it. Ninety nine percent of the time, they say yes,” says Tertia.

Once a donor has given her consent, she goes for a psychological evaluation to make sure that she understands exactly what she is getting herself in to, that she is mentally sound and that there are no problems. “The donors need to understand that this is an egg, not a child, that they are giving away. We pay for everything so the donor does not incur any costs.”

The donor has a full medical evaluation and an internal scan and blood tests (HIV and Hepatitis). Once she is declared physical and medically fit, she is ready to donate. “This is where our obligation ends as Nurture is essentially a match-making service. But we continue to hold the donors' hands. We pick them up from the clinic, we take them flowers, we make sure we are there when they come around. They are so, so important to us.”

The donor then gets paid R5 000. But this is not, says Tertia, for her eggs. It is illegal to sell body parts in this country! “The donor gets paid for her time and inconvenience. Most of them do it for altruistic reasons (and not for the money) as R5 000 is not a lot of money considering what they're doing – injecting themselves with hormones for 14 days.”

Conception time

The clinic then puts the donor and the recipient on the birth control pill so that their cycles are in exact sync. After they have started bleeding, on day 1, both the donor and the recipient start their hormonal medication – the donor to grow eggs, and the recipient to prepare the womb. The donor goes for regular scans to make sure that she is producing enough eggs and on day 14 the eggs are taken out and placed with the husband's sperm, or the donor sperm. Three or five days later the eggs (no more than two, because they are young eggs) are put back into the recipient. The day of retrieval is, however, the day that the donor's obligation ends.

Success rates

“We have a 67 percent success rate (which includes six set of twins) which is incredible considering that most of the recipients who are coming to us with their own eggs are only having a 10-20 percent success rate. These are women who have been trying for years and years with no success and lots of losses. It gives such divine hope,” says Tertia, who puts Nurture's success down to the top-class clinics that the company deals with. “I have 100 percent faith in the clinics we use. They do this all the time and are the best in the world,” she says. “We are also very strict about which donors to bring on board, which adds to our success.”

Emotional issues

“It's a big thing to get your head around, coming to terms with the fact that it's not your DNA.” But once that baby is born, Tertia maintains that the recipients, the women who are receiving these eggs to create their own much longed-for children, forget that one lot of chromosomes came from a donated egg. “That baby is theirs, 100 percent,” she says. Where it's different to adoption is that bonding happens in utero. There is also the fact that at least some of the DNA comes from one partner – the husband. Also, when it is you who is carrying the child, you are better able to control the environment that your baby is growing in.
According to Tertia, the grieving process that a woman goes through when she realises that her child won't have her DNA is similar to the grieving process that she might go through when she adopts. There is a definite sense of loss over one's own DNA, that is normal. But it helps women a lot to know that they have such an important role: carrying the baby. There is also a very important role in the pregnancy as to which DNA is switched on or off, and the birth mother influences the way in which that DNA is switched on. “Look, blue eyes are blues eyes, but the type of person the child becomes also depends on how she is carried and where she is raised.”

Of course, there are sceptics who think that creating a child with someone else's egg is wrong and say things like, “Why don't they just adopt?” Tertia's kneejerk response? Naturally, she says, a lot of people are very opinionated about this, and don't believe that it's God's will. “I respect their opinions, but our conscience is completely clear and as much as they try to find controversy in this, they won't.” And why? Because when Tertia sees the joy that Nurture is bringing to people's lives, she knows she is doing the right thing.

article by Tori Foxroft
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