Katy Bond is going to treasure a letter she received last year. She doesn’t know the author’s name or address but gets a warm, fuzzy feeling reading it.
‘It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve read,’ says Katy, a 34-year-old nurse from Eastbourne. ‘The woman said no matter the outcome, I’d given her a gift of hope.
‘She said she would always be able to carry that hope forward, and simply knowing that there were women like me who were willing to help other women had restored her faith in humanity. Every now and again I read it and know I’ve done the right thing. In fact, that’s why I’m doing it again.’
It’s hardly surprising the anonymous woman felt compelled to write. Katy gave her the best gift: the opportunity to have a child.
UK-based women explain their decision to help strangers experience the joys of motherhood by donating their eggs – including Katy Bond (pictured), who donated her eggs in 2020
Katy gave her eggs in February 2020 to another woman for the first time.
Egg donation — the retrieval of a woman’s eggs to be fertilised with sperm and create an embryo for another woman to get pregnant — was pioneered in the early 1980s in America. Although men can give sperm readily, it is difficult for women to do so. The process involves fertility drugs, as well as the retrieval of the embryo under sedation.
While some consider it an act of admirable selflessness, others raise concerns about possible health risks — in very rare cases, women develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a serious and potentially dangerous reaction to fertility drugs.
You may also be unaware of the potential future consequences of not knowing your children if they do choose to locate you, after they turn 18 and are legally allowed to.
Private clinics can also profit from donors’ sacrifices, which is an ethical problem.
But egg donation has become more popular. According to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, there were at least 1877 registered egg donors in 2019. This figure is nearly a third of what it was a decade ago.
De Montfort University reports that around 7 percent of IVF treatment in Europe now involves egg donation. That’s approximately 70,000 IVF cycles that result in about 21,000 births each year.
Some of these women may have given their eggs to a family member or friend. Other women donate eggs through programs offering low-price fertility treatment and in exchange for their donation.
Katy, who has three children with husband Thom, 34, first inquired about donating eggs before she became a mother herself. Photo: Katy undergoing the egg collection process
Women can receive thousands of pounds in some countries including America for their eggs. This is especially true if the women have attractive traits like good looks or a high intelligence. But in the UK it is illegal to be paid for donating your eggs: women receive no more than £750 in expenses for travel and time off work for each donation.
Katy is among hundreds of people who have donated to strangers, many for their own benefit.
Altrui (which Katy used) is one of the specialist agencies that helps recipients locate the perfect donor. This gives them full access to their donation, so they may have biological siblings if necessary.
Thom (34), a theatre technician and Katy are married. They have three children, Paige, Arthur, and Toby. Before becoming a mom, she first sought out information about egg donation.
I wanted to help women who longed for a child but couldn’t afford IVF
‘I was haunted by a fear of infertility, so I wanted to do something to help someone in that situation,’ she says. ‘I rang the clinic but back then it was harder to donate your eggs. They kept calling me back. They never got back to me.’
Once she’d had her own children, ten years later she contacted Altrui, inspired by a relative who was struggling with infertility.
‘I couldn’t help her as her eggs were fine,’ says Katy. ‘But I mentioned donating eggs to Thom. He supported me and took us to counseling [clinics are required by law to offer this]. The counsellor asked us to think about how Thom would feel if a half-sibling of our children showed up one day.’
Altrui uses advertising to find donors that match recipients’ needs. On average they collect 16 eggs, and any frozen embryos provide the opportunity to find genetically related siblings.
The service costs the recipient £3,300, which covers finding a donor, initial screening, the matching process, provision of detailed non-identifying information about the donor and ongoing support of the donor through treatment.
Katy found a match with a woman in her 40s through various blood and genetic testing. Katy is pictured with her children
Katy took various tests and provided pictures of her childhood. Profile forms were also filled out about Katy’s sense of humor, personality and hobbies. Katy was then matched to a woman in her 40s.
‘She apparently looks like me,’ says Katy. ‘But that’s all I know.’
This process may take up to 4 weeks. The donor must receive daily injections of 10 to 14 days for the stimulation of the ovaries.
Dr Raj Mathur, chair of the British Fertility Society and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, says: ‘Before donating their eggs, each person will go through health tests, and counselling to ensure they are completely comfortable with their decision.
‘There is a risk someone will react excessively to the fertility drugs used, which in rare cases can lead to women developing ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Every potential donor will have an ovarian reserve test, which helps to determine the correct dose of medication and minimise the risk of OHSS.’
There are at least three biologically mine boys.
A sterile needle, which is guided by an ultrasound, is placed into the vagina to extract eggs. After the eggs have been removed from their mothers, they are placed in a special liquid-filled petri dish. To create an embryo, they are then manipulated using live sperm.
Luca Sabatini, consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician and chief medical officer for Altrui, says: ‘We normally have around 70 per cent chance of fertilising the eggs, and after day five we assess them for viability.’
Normally, the patient returns home within an hour to two hours after treatment. It is recommended that they take some days off from work. There may be some swelling and bleeding.
Within two weeks she should be back to her normal cycle — use of contraception is advised, as she will be highly fertile. There is no evidence that egg donation can adversely impact your fertility.
Katy (pictured) stated that it would not be a problem for the children to track her down once they become adults. She also said she will tell her children straight.
Katy had to be sedated at the clinic for the procedure, which took about 30 minutes. ‘I felt a real buzz to know they had extracted 22 follicles [which contain immature eggs] — a good number — and they ended up with 12 fertilised eggs.
Of the recipient, she says: ‘Sadly, her round of treatment failed and I suspect she hasn’t tried again, perhaps due to the pandemic, her age or the cost of treatment. She can choose to use any 11 remaining eggs if necessary. If she never uses them, they can be used for research.’
Katy has decided to donate for another couple. If successful, she will have a biological child — or children — somewhere in the world. Donors have no legal claim on those children, as in law what defines you as a ‘mother’ is the act of giving birth.
‘I’d be fine with them tracking me down when they’re adults,’ says Katy. ‘While we might develop a bond, those bonds are different between two adults, rather than an adult and a child. I’ll be honest with my own children. If a baby is born, I’m allowed to know the month and year, so I can say to my kids: “If you meet someone romantically and they’re born in this month and year, it might be worth taking a DNA test, just in case.” ’
But she adds: ‘The chances of that are so slim. I went into this with my eyes open and I’m more than happy to think that, one day, a biological child of mine will be making someone very happy.’
Donna Lambert, 34, (pictured) who lives in Wickford, Essex, said she wanted to help someone have a family and stop them going through the same pain she did after a late miscarriage
Donna Lambert, 34 years old, agrees. Two-time stay-at home mother, Donna Lambert, 34, feels the same. She has given her eggs to charity four times over seven years. Three babies were born from these donations. It was her loss of her child, which she found so tragically inspiring.
‘I got pregnant with my daughter Madison in February 2011 and at 12 weeks, I discovered there was a genetic problem,’ says Donna, who is now single and lives in Wickford, Essex.
‘I was told the problems she might have could be severe but I didn’t care, I knew I’d love her whatever she had. Then at 18 weeks I went for a scan and Madison’s heart had stopped beating. I was devastated — but that was the driving force behind me wanting to donate my eggs.’
Donna contacted the CARE clinic in Nottingham to arrange one-to-1 donation. ‘I had no idea if I’d even be eligible after losing a baby, but a genetics consultant confirmed that Madison’s issues were not hereditary.
‘They talked me through the risks, but I knew I’d be so well monitored I wasn’t worried. It was my goal to make someone’s life easier and prevent them from going through what I went through with my last miscarriage.
Donna’s first egg collection was in 2014, when the clinic collected 16 eggs. It was repeated in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2018. She estimates that approximately 30 eggs total were collected. From the original donation, twin boys were born in 2014. Another boy was born in 2015 — she believes to the same family — from the second collection.
Donna (pictured) has donated her eggs four times in the past seven years and knows that three babies have been born as a result
‘The twins were born about a month before my eldest child, Beau. I was so happy,’ she says. ‘I’d have loved twins myself.
‘My daughter Amelie came along in 2016 and I decided to donate twice more. I don’t know if any babies have been born as a result, although I could find out if I wanted. The recipients can find out things about me — my height, weight, etc — but I wasn’t told anything about them.’
Donna said she was happy to give again. However, tests have shown that her egg reserves are no longer viable. According to law, no more than 10 families may be formed from one egg donor.
How does she feel about the fact that she has biological children she’s never met?
‘I’d love to know what they look like and if they are similar to me,’ she says. ‘I know there are three children — possibly more — out there who are biologically mine but I don’t think of them as “sons”. They are someone else’s children. I’ll tell my own children when they are old enough to understand.’
Emma Hore says that being a mother to Ellie was the turning point in her life.
Emma Hore, 24, who lives in Saltash, Cornwall, underwent ten months of tests including blood tests, HIV and STI checks, and mandatory counselling before being able to donate her eggs. Pictured: Emma Hore, with Emelia
‘When Ellie was about 18 months old, I saw a programme about infertility and it made me really emotional to think I’d been so lucky while others were struggling,’ says Emma, 24, a student nurse from Saltash, Cornwall.
‘I wanted to help women who longed for a baby, but couldn’t afford to pay thousands to a private specialist clinic. My local NHS fertility clinic told me that she rarely receives women who offer donations.
‘My partner William was supportive. I was a little nervous that the procedure might affect my own fertility, but I was reassured that the risk was very low.’
Emma went through ten months worth of testing, including HIV, STI, and blood checks. She also received mandatory counseling. In February 2019, she underwent the procedure, which led to 11 fertilized eggs being given to one recipient. She says she felt bloated but was back to herself ‘within a couple of days’.
She was informed two weeks later that her recipient had been positive for a pregnancy test. She was not able to track whether the birth resulted from a live or deceased baby as soon afterward.
‘I really hope it did,’ she says. ‘I got pregnant again two months later myself with Emelia, so we may have children of the same age. But I’ll never see her child as my own. I have simply given another woman the tools she needs to be a mother.’