DEALING with infertility can be an isolating, lonely experience with only medical professionals to turn to for help. But author Maria Duffy, 44, decided to reach out by giving others the gift of life.
After watching a documentary about couples enduring unsuccessful IVF treatment, she was so moved she donated her eggs so other women could experience the joy of becoming parents.
“My husband, Paddy, and I were watching a programme about couples trying to conceive and we felt incredibly lucky to have our own four, healthy children (Eoin, 16, Roisin, 15, Enya, 11 and Conor, 9),” says the Dublin woman.
“I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to want a baby so much, but not be able to have one — it really hit a chord with Paddy and I, and we spoke a lot about it over the following days.
“The programme highlighted the need for egg donors in Ireland, so I contacted the Sims Clinic, in Dublin, and said I was interested in donating eggs.”
The fertility clinic advised her to make an appointment to discuss the procedure, the implications, and the potential emotions.
“Paddy was with me every step of the way and we made all the decisions together,” she says. “At the clinic, they talked us through everything and made sure we understood what we were doing — then sent us home with a lot of information to process.
“When we told them that we would like to proceed, we were sent to a counsellor, who talked to us about the procedure and the biology, which meant, if a baby resulted from the donation, it would have my DNA, but, legally, would belong to the other couple. We understood it all and still wanted to proceed.”
After a series of tests, scans and medication, Maria went into the clinic to have her eggs harvested.
“Two days after my eggs were harvested, I rang the clinic to find out if any embryos had resulted and was told they had,” she says.
“The embryos were implanted into the recipient and, after two weeks, I found out she was pregnant.”
Nine months later, Maria was told the couple had a healthy baby and were delighted.
While the entire process is anonymous, the clinic filters basic letters between donor and recipients.
“In the early stages, I wrote a letter to the couple, telling them why I was doing it and wishing them well.
“On the day I went in to have the eggs harvested, the clinic handed me a letter from the recipient.
“She wanted to say how much she appreciated what I was doing and she would never forget my kindness. I instantly felt a connection with her. Here were two women — one donating and one receiving eggs — forever connected in a way, but never knowing each other. The letter will always be very special to me.”
That correspondence prompted Maria to write a novel about a woman receiving a letter from a stranger. “When I was clearing out some paperwork last year, I came across the letter and it made me really emotional to read it again and thought it would be a great premise for a book,” she says.
“I have absolutely no regrets at all about donating my eggs, as it was one of the best things I ever did and would love to think that somebody reading this might think it’s something they’d like to do.”
Ann Bracken, Sims Clinic infertility counsellor, says donating eggs is altruistic — basic costs are covered — but there are emotional issues and counselling is imperative for both the donor and the recipient.
“The process of egg donation has implications for the donor and the recipient, and counselling for both parties is highly recommended,” she says. “There can be attachment issues for the recipient and these should be addressed, as we want to ensure a healthy family bond. This can only be possible if the recipient and her partner both accept the donor as part of the process.
“It is also important for us to be satisfied that the donor is being altruistic and is not being coerced in any way, as this could lead to problems later on. Basically, before any donation takes place, we need to be happy that the welfare of everyone concerned has been considered to prevent emotional problems, now and in the future.”
Dr David Walsh, medical director of the Sims Clinic, says Ireland has the highest rate of infertility in Europe, but there are various ways in which eggs can be donated.
“The statistics for Ireland used to show that one in four people had fertility issues. That is now one in five and is rising to one in four,” he says. “In fact, Ireland has the highest rate in Europe and this is mainly down to the fact that women are waiting longer to get pregnant.”
Although there are very few egg donors in Ireland, Irish women receive donated eggs from countries such as the Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Spain.
“If Irish women want to donate their eggs, they can either opt for known donation, which is where they donate to a friend or family member, they can donate anonymously, or they can choose egg-sharing, where we offer IVF treatment for a very low, or even no cost at all, if the woman decides to donate some eggs during the procedure,” says Dr Walsh.
“If anyone is interested in donating eggs, they should contact the clinic, where I, or any of my colleagues, would be happy to help.”
* The Letter, by Maria Duffy, is published by Hachette Books, €18.75.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved