As infertility rates climb worldwide, there is a greater focus on assisted fertility solutions than ever before. One of these solutions is making use of an egg or sperm donor.
Women will most often need donated eggs as a result of diminished, ovarian failure, cancer treatment or genetic causes, while sperm quality can also suffer as a result of a number of genetic factors and diseases. Same sex couples will always need a donor to create a family and for some, single parenting is calling and a donor egg or sperm is the way to make a family of two.
For each family or individual the path to donor conception is a personal one and is best approached armed with all the facts. Wijnland Fertility Clinic in Cape Town has both a sperm and ova donor programme, here’s what they suggest you start to think about.
Finding a donor
First you need to choose a donor. This can be someone you know, although it is advised that you approach this with the help of a professional councillor. If it is someone you know, you will also need to visit a clinic for assistance with the insertion. Clinics can ensure this is done optimally for the best chance of success.
If you prefer an anonymous donor, you will need to approach a reputable ova or sperm bank. Says Wijnland partner and counselling psychologist, Lizanne van Waart, “You need to be sure that the clinic is registered and also that they offer your counselling before going on the journey to finding a donor.
Among the things to consider include the fact that your donor may well have an unknown half sibling as donor gamete may be matched with multiple recipients. Another point to pause on is that although the law currently protects the identity of donors, this may at some point change – forcing donors identities to be available to their DNA – this is already happening in countries like the UK and Germany.
Currently donors can be chosen along the lines of their age, physical appearance, education, interest, hobbies and possible medical conditions within the family.
How does it work?
The egg or sperm is brought together in a laboratory, then put into an incubator for up to three days during which time the fertilization should occur.
The fertilized eggs or embryos are then implanted into the woman’s uterus. There may be additional medication required when eggs are implanted to prepare the lining of the uterus.
Fresh vs. frozen and success rates
There are numerous opposing studies about the efficacy of fresh vs frozen eggs. Although many favour fresh eggs, Wijnland Fertility Clinic have reported great improvements in the use of frozen oocyte with an average of 94% survival rate for thawed eggs in 2018 leading to a fertilization rate of 70%.
Success rates of any type of eggs are also dependent on other factors such as egg quality and the age of the donor. No notable difference has been found between fresh and frozen sperm.
Important things to know
It is illegal to buy or sell human reproductive matter in South Africa, donor recipients are usually liable for all clinic fees and medical costs of a donor however.
While screening through questionnaires and medical tests is part of the donor screening process, there is a chance that a genetically inherited condition may not be disclosed or known about. Without access to the anonymous donor, it is not possible to build up a genetic medical history later on should a complication arise.
Before women and couples consider egg or sperm donation, Leader says there are a few things couples should keep in mind.
Because of the possible emotional, physical and psychological effects donors and recipients may go through, they are often asked to meet with a counsellor or psychologist to ensure that they’re ready to go through with their decision.