My friend wanted to start a family and, at the time, she said she couldn’t do it without me. Suddenly, I found myself asking “Could I donate an egg?” As someone with four wonderfully healthy, happy children of my own, bringing another baby into my life wasn’t something I had considered. Bringing a baby into someone else’s, though? It was something I was willing to think about.
I’d already seen those pages of ads in Melbourne’s Child magazine – the standard black font masking a smorgasbord of unique characters, all with their own fertility-related drama and the singly determined desire to have a baby in their lives.
At certain times of the month, these were the ads that could invoke a compassion that was almost tears – the public outing of so much emptiness, so aching to be filled. Now, I studied them with fresh eyes, retracing the footsteps that led my friend to me and what she believed might be her only hope.
On the face of it, I fitted all the criteria. At the time of her initial question I came in just on the border of the preferred 40-year-old age limit suggested by Melbourne IVF, I had completed my own family (another preferred) and I had enough feelings for my friend to want to see her have something she had talked to me about over lattés and late breakfasts for years.
I said yes. That the answer seemed to come so easily came as a bit of a surprise to some who know me, but perhaps I’d had a bit of a head start.
Being raised by someone other than your genetic parents wasn’t a foreign concept to me. In 1968, I was one of the 9000-plus children put up for adoption. It wasn’t a planned altruism. Just the result of two people with “teen” still ending their ages who had thought, foolishly, they loved each other before the reality of pregnancy had made them see some sense.
Still, for the family who adopted me, I was the product of donor sperm and someone else’s egg – a much-wanted daughter to add to the son they’d had themselves before fertility problems kicked in and denied them another successful pregnancy.
The most recent statistics on adoption in Australia show the babies available numbering just 441 annually. Of those, fewer than 40 per cent were born in Australia, with inter-country adoption now the main hope for Australian families wishing to adopt a child.
And so, my friend and her need for my egg.
In April last year, Melbourne IVF issued a press release promoting an advertising push for more sperm donors. The campaign had the slogan: “A donation to us won’t save a life, hopefully it will create one”.
Between 2005 and 2007, the number of in-vitro fertilisation cycles facilitated by donors fell from 3356 to 2458, a number that Dr John McBain, fertility specialist at Melbourne IVF and head of reproductive services at the Royal Women’s Hospital, was quoted as saying had probably decreased further. And with a law change that opened the IVF door to single women and women in same-sex relationships, demand is on the increase.
Demand for eggs, needed by women who have stumbled upon their own infertility problems, is also increasing. But eggs aren’t donated in the same way sperm is. At Melbourne IVF, there is no clinic-recruited donor egg program – the greater invasiveness and more complex nature of the procedure means most egg donors come from a pool of family and friends. In other cases, donors are pleaded with through advertising that tell of desperate quests for “angels” who will help make “dreams come true”.
When my friend wanted an egg from me, having already discounted what she predicted might be the complications of a close familial donor, she had seen those ads too. She didn’t like her chances. When I said yes, I had thought I meant it and saw myself – those four beautiful children – as that angel, enjoying the potential glow of my own goodness. Making my friend’s motherhood dream a reality.
My friend and I talked one day about the way dreams can turn into nightmares. I know, after all, about teething rashes and nights when sleep seems like it will never come again. I have changed more than 10,000 nappies, been dribbled on, thrown up all over and have wanted to shut myself in the wardrobe, just for some breathing space, when someone’s tantrum won’t stop.
I asked her questions that probably surprised her, and I surprised myself for asking them – questions about what might happen to our friendship if the change in our relationship (me donor, her recipient) would see the demise of our decade-plus knowledge of each other.
On June 23 it was the 30th anniversary of the birth of Australia’s first IVF baby, Candice Reed.
The world’s first baby conceived through egg donation, by Monash IVF, was born in 1983. Since then, the Monash donor egg program remains one of the largest in the world and more than 130 babies have been produced through its services.
Any baby born from my own egg would never be counted as one of them.
It was my friend who decided, in the end.
I had left my offer hanging there between us. I had worried over it, wondered what was right and had looked at the faces of my own children and thought about seeing something of those faces on a child I did not tuck into bed each night.
When my friend eventually did become pregnant it was still through the generosity of an egg donor. Just not me. For this other woman, the decision was probably just as worried over and wondered about, but it’s clear it is right for my friend.
Her dreams have come true and I have the pleasure of watching it happen … from the sidelines. For me, it is the best seat.
By Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday is a freelance journalist and director of Copy Queens.