Monday, November 29, 2010


Nurture founder, Tertia Loebenberg answers questions around Surrogacy and IVF/Egg Donation and fertlity issues...

It seems about 25% of surrogacies require donor eggs - under what circumstances do surrogate couples require donor eggs?
When a woman is unable to get pregnant, or stay pregnant, and it has been established that female fertility issues are the cause. The reasons why, could be grouped into two main categories: the quality of her eggs could be inadequate to conceive (due to age, genetic reasons or other), or her womb is unable to sustain a pregnancy. In the majority of cases, her inability to conceive is due to egg factors, but sometimes both her eggs are of insufficient quality and her womb is unable to sustain a pregnancy. In that case, she would need an egg donor and a gestational surrogate.

Could the egg donor be the surrogate mum?
Theoretically yes, but it adds a layer of complexity that is best avoided. If the intended mother’s eggs are of insufficient quality, it is strongly recommended that she makes use of an egg donor as well.

What does the law say wrt egg donation?
At this present time there are two laws which are relevant to donor eggs:

1. The Human Tissue Act

This law states that it is illegal to buy or sell any type of human tissue. Egg donors are not allowed to ‘sell’ their eggs. The donation must be done purely for altruistic reasons. However, they are entitled to compensation for travel expenses, time away from the work place, and discomfort from the injections and procedure.

The Human tissue act also requires the donor and recipient to remain anonymous to each other.

2. The Children’s Act
The surrogacy section of the new Children’s Act is still not yet enacted, although it is close to being signed off. Currently a standard adoption process must still take place between the surrogate and the commissioning couple.

This law states that the birth mother is the legal mother of the child. This implies that once the donor has donated her eggs, she no longer has any legal rights or responsibilities toward the child born from the eggs. The reverse applies in the case of a surrogate carrying a child.

Both recipient and donor are required to sign a consent form acknowledging that they have been informed and understand the legal aspects of egg donation.

Are things the same if it is donor sperm required? Yes

Is this market being abused? How so?
It isn’t abused, although there is a perception, by a few people who like to sensationalize this type of thing, that egg donors are simple, uninformed young women who lured or enticed and submitted to the process without any idea of what they are getting themselves into. Firstly, our donors are all 21 and older, most of them are in their late 20’s. Secondly, these are educated, intelligent women who are making an informed decision. They get briefed thoroughly by ourselves, and then again by the medical professionals. They are carefully screened both by a qualified psychologist (who will go over all the issues with them once again), and then again by the doctors.

How does payment for eggs get administered?
The egg donor is not paid for her eggs, she is however compensated for her travelling costs, time and inconvenience.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Egg Donation – A Truly Special Gift

Imagine if you could give the gift of life to somebody, if you could put an
end to a fellow human being’s heart ache. If you are a woman between 21 and 34, you can, simply by donating some of your eggs. This gift could give infertile mothers-in-waiting the chance to have what so many of us take for granted – a child.

Nurture is a South African egg donor and surrogacy programme set up in 2008 to respond to the increasing demand for donor eggs. The first successful egg donation in humans was achieved in 1984, but, while it represented a major breakthrough in modern reproductive treatment, egg donation was still out of reach for many desperate South African mothers-to-be.

The brainchild of Tertia Albertyn, an infertility patient who conceived her twins on her 9th IVF, and Melany Bartok, a former egg donor, Nurture was set up make egg donation affordable and accessible to local couples. “Infertility is something I am passionate about,” explains Albertyn. “There was such a need for a local player to come onto the scene, one run by people who really understand fertility. Helping others gives some kind of meaning and sense to all the pain and loss I went through.”

One in every six couples struggles to conceive. That is not an insignificant number. And of these, about 35 per cent of the cause for infertility rests with the woman. Vitalab Fertility Clinic’s Dr Merwyn Jacobsen says infertility in women can be attributed to a number of problems, including having poor quality eggs, or no eggs at all: “Many women are unable to produce eggs from their own ovaries. The early onset of menopause leaves a woman with no hormones, and no eggs. Some women’s bodies fail to ovulate, while exposure to auto immune diseases and cancer treatments can kill or harm eggs. Some genetic diseases may also be carried over in the eggs, making it difficult to conceive.”

To date, Nurture has recorded a success rate of over 65% per attempt(which includes eight sets of twins) which in itself is remarkable, as Albertyn explains: “These are women who have been trying for years and years with no success and lots of losses. It gives such divine hope.” Albertyn credits the top-class clinics Nurture deals with – including Vitalab – for much of their success. “I have 100 percent faith in the clinics we use. This is their area of expertise and they are among the best in the world. We know that when we send our donors and our recipients to a clinic like Vitalab, they will be well looked after and have the best possible chance at success. We are also very strict about which donors to bring on board, which adds to our success.”

Prospective donors can apply online ( and complete an initial application which is screened by Nurture. Once screened and accepted, the prospective donor must complete a comprehensive application form which, when approved, is followed by a face-to-face interview. “Perhaps one of our biggest strengths is our database of donors,” says Albertyn. “We like to offer each intended parent a large variety of good potential matches. Some parents-to-be focus more on the physical attributes of the donor (so that these match those of the intended mother) while others place more importance on the donor’s personality, her academic achievements or sporting abilities. As diverse as we are as individuals, is as different each of our decision-making process is. It is important to remember that all our donors are anonymous, and only baby pictures are shown to the potential recipient.”

Unfortunately, while Nurture is justifiably proud of its donor database, there are certain categories of donors which do not have a strong presence. Donors of Indian and Asian descent do not feature much on the database, and Albertyn says there are not nearly enough Black donors. “Infertility, and therefore things like egg donation, are not as readily acceptable or spoken about in certain cultures, which means that fewer Indian, Asian and Black potential donors know about the opportunity to become an egg donor. This is a great pity as there are so many recipients out there who are desperate for someone to help them.”

Admittedly, becoming an egg donor is not a decision to take lightly. Donors should carefully consider the emotional, psychological and medical implications of becoming an egg donor. The medical procedure involves the removal of the eggs via vaginal aspiration, and the donors will be placed under conscious sedation – the same procedure as IVF. It is important to know that donating your eggs does not mean you are ‘using up’ your supply of eggs. Instead, the donated eggs are ones that would have normally gone to waste with your monthly cycle. Egg donation is a truly wonderful thing; it gives hope where there was previously none. There are an increasing number of women out there who can finally call themselves ‘mother’ because of the generosity of our donors.”

As for the recipient mother, the wonder of this gift of life is unbounded. According to Albertyn, while there is a definite sense of loss when she realises that her child won’t have her DNA, it helps enormously that she will still be playing an important role: that of carrying the baby. As one recipient mother wrote to Nurture: “being on the other side…. I can’t believe how much it (where the egg came from) doesn’t matter. It isn’t possible for me to love this child any more. He’s 100% mine, no matter how he was conceived, or from whom. I know there are so many people struggling with this decision, some feeling that they just can’t go the donor egg route. I’m telling you, once they feel that baby kick, or hold that child in their arms - nothing else matters. I wish I could put them in my life for a day so they could truly see. I wish I could convince everyone who is sitting on the fence with this issue. I have no doubt that some people will miss out on this wonderful opportunity because of the fears they have about donor eggs…..”

For more information on the egg donor program, please visit

About Vitalab Fertility Clinic

Vitalab is a unique fertility clinic in South Africa in that it is one of the country’s only comprehensive fertility facilities. Everything from counselling services, pathology facilities, a clinical hypno-fertility service, dietician and radiology department are located under the same roof as the fully licensed IVF operating theatre. All Vitalab’s practitioners are exclusively focused on infertility. The clinic is fast establishing itself as South Africa’s benchmark for assisted conception, combining the most recent advances in medical therapy with an open, holistic approach and the highest levels of patient care. For more information on fertility options, visit

About Nurture
Nurture - South Africa’s premier Egg Donor and Surrogacy program is the creation of two fabulous South Africans who have experienced the heartbreak of infertility first hand - Melany as an egg donor, and Tertia as an infertility patient who went through 9 IVFs to achieve her dream. Joined by two other IVF veterans, Kim (17 IVFs) and Jacci (currently undergoing IVF), the girls at Nurture make a formidable team who combine the best of heart and soul to provide truly excellent service. For more information about egg donation and surrogacy, visit

Issued on behalf of Vitalab Fertility Clinic by:
Jenni Newman Public Relations
Jenni Newman CEO
Tel: 27 (0) 11 772 1022
Cell: 27 (0) 82 882 8888

Friday, November 12, 2010

Would you become an egg donor?

What makes a woman willing to give up her eggs? Two donors explain their thought processes.

Your best friend just broke the news that she can’t have a baby. You’d love to help but the question is whether you’re ready to part with your precious eggs. Are you ready to be an egg donor?

An egg donation is the process by which a woman provides one or several (usually 10-15) eggs (ova, oocytes) for purposes of assisted reproduction or biomedical research. For assisted reproduction purposes, egg donation involves the process of in vitro fertilization as the eggs are fertilized in the laboratory.

So scientific terms aside, many people wonder what makes a woman want to become an egg donor? Two donors explain. (Names have been kept anonymous for privacy reasons).

Donor 1’s story

“My best friend was conceived by egg donation and she decided to donate her eggs so someone out there could have a family, just like her mother was able to.

“She spoke to me about it and at first I thought she was crazy but over time I understood her reasons and decided I would support her, I would go through the process with her.”

Donor 2’s story

“5 years ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She had big brown eyes that stared across at me from the other end of the room, and I know she couldn't see, but I know in my heart she knew where Mummy was, she knew.

“A year later, I found myself to be a single mum to this little angel who had done no wrong in her life. I feared that I would resent her as I could see her father in her, but that was not true. That little girl made me strong, she made me realize that my heart was bigger than I ever imagined, I loved her so much that I would move the world for her.

“Life moved on and that little girl, as small as she was, always saw herself as being my protector, I thought it was meant to be the other way around. As the years have gone by, I realized that yes, I did want to have another baby, just like my daughter, but my situation in life did not permit. I still had so much to do in life.

“One day I was on the internet and I saw an advert for egg donation, and that is when the thought crossed my mind: I want another baby but life does not permit me to have one now. There are women out there who are struggling to conceive and I could help them. I am young and healthy and I can help another woman experience the joy, the pleasure, the sheer magic of having a child. Another woman can have her dream fulfilled if I could but help.”

Research shows that donating your eggs is safe if it’s done correctly and with the correct professional medical care. However, the real concern isn’t a physical one but more an emotional one.

It’s not just about giving up your eggs. It’s about giving up a piece of you. While some women feel they can do it and have no emotional attachment to it, others don’t. But those who do donate are giving an amazing gift.

Read more on:

Article originally in Parent24

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gay Parenting – Navigating the Surrogacy Journey

Interestingly enough both my partner and I entered our relationship with no expectations of becoming parents. I think part of being gay is that you sort of accept that you may never be a parent and as such part of our ‘coming out’ process included the mourning of the loss of parenthood. Instead we envisaged a life where we would live vicariously through our siblings and friends who had become parents. Being uncles and God-parents seemed to be what was in store for us.

Well, who says paradigms can’t shift? It was my sister who first planted the seed by saying ‘you two would make wonderful parents!’. Parents? Us? Why not? Books, films and various articles all paint an attractive picture of how easy it is to adopt. And so we began exploring the option of adoption. After all, here we are, both well educated, are successful in our careers and have a spacious house to share with a child. Having graduated from the University of Google with my PhD, my frame of reference said that it will be easy to find an adoption agency, we would be screened and voila – new parents within at least 3 months! Plan the baby shower, design a nursery and start screening potential nannies! Well, all of that went out of the window when we realised that there is very little information on adoption in this country, adoption agencies seem to be an urban myth and we were alarmed at the open prejudice by some organisations that will not work with same-sex couples. In addition, we felt that we did not want to explore an inter-racial adoption as the fact that the child would be raised by two dads was already, in our eyes, a unique situation. Eventually we sourced a wonderful social worker, who was willing to work us but after having gone through the screening process, home studies the waiting began. After a year of waiting, with no baby, I continued to research and came across an article about infertility featuring NURTURE who were an egg donation agency ( and at that time, had a surrogacy programme).

As I reflect on the events leading up to this, in retrospect it is amazing how the pieces of the puzzle all slotted in. I recall picking up the phone for the first time and contacted Kim. My heart was beating, my palms sweating and I held my breath when I asked the question if they would work with a same sex couple. I nearly collapsed when she nonchalantly said it was not an issue! And so we entered yet another paradigm shift, this time that we could possibly be the genetic parent to a child!

Again we entered this surrogacy-IVF process rather naively, as there is so little information out there about surrogacy and in particular about same-sex couples choosing this option to parenthood. Those that have been through the process are reluctant to share their experiences with others and you find that you proceed using your own initiative. Our surrogacy experience has been one of learning, sharing and filled with disappointments and excitement. It has indeed been a roller-coaster ride! Our advice to any intended parents would be to look for the lessons learnt with each hurdle, to stay focused on the what you are wanting to achieve and to trust your instincts! At times we became so caught up in the ‘wanting to be parents’ that we missed some of the warning signs, which had we listened to may have saved us some heart ache. This said, the highs of surrogacy for us have far outweighed any of the disappointments. Some advice that we would suggest that is given some thought is:

1. Choose your fertility clinic wisely and make sure that the IVF coordinator will have time to answer your questions and be there to answer your questions, without you feeling that you are imposing. We changed clinics and our second clinic is worlds apart from our first experience.

2. Have clear expectations with your surrogate about expectations before, during pregnancy and after the birth.

3. Find a lawyer and social worker that you can connect with as they play a vital role in the whole process.

4. Be organized ahead of time, although the Child Act has recently changed, expect some confusion at government departments when you register the birth, apply for passport etc

5. Choose a gynaecologist and hospital that understands your unique needs. Again we were fortunate to find a doctor and a hospital, that although had never dealt with a same-sex surrogacy before, were keen to help! They made the birth of our daughter a wonderful experience for our whole family and we will forever be grateful to them for this!

6. Maintain a sense of humour!

As part of the process of surrogacy, you may have to consider selecting an egg-donor. This is such a personal aspect of the whole process. Both my partner and I looked at the profiles individually and on two occasions chose the same donor and our criteria for our selection was different. It is amazing to think that although we both looked at many profiles, we both ended up with the same choice. Our beautiful daughter resembles both of us in different ways and as she gets older, we have both found ourselves commenting on how she looks like the other! Our view on this is that the right donor is out there for you and something in the profile will attract you to her. Trust that intuition! If you are considering doing the process for a second time, plan ahead and try to secure the same donor so that the children will be biological siblings.

In terms of actual parenting it is surprising how often we are asked, “Who/where is the mummy?”. This question has so many implications for us. In terms of parenting, my partner was given 3 months ‘maternity’ leave so for practical purposes we consciously made a decision that he would be the one to stay in the hospital and to do all the things normally associated with a new mum. This does not in any way infer that I have not shared the role as parent. As in our relationship, we have not labelled or assign ourselves to specific roles, instead we chose to do those things that we feel comfortable and confident with. From the very beginning we had said that we need to be comfortable with ourselves and our relationship to answer such questions. Our philosophy is that we need to cultivate confidence from within our family unit in order to face the ‘outside world with its stereotypes’. When posed with this question, we have answered, “Her moms are angels and she has two dads!”. We will share information with people on the basis of what they need to know.

Another interesting concept is that we get the question, “How much did it all cost?”. Our decision is that we will not put a price on what it cost to have our child or children. So we normally chose not to answer this question from both a moral and personal perspective. It is strange to think that these are the two most common questions but I expect that people take comfort in contextualising our family set up for themselves. After all, we have been ahead of the characters from ‘ Brothers and Sisters’ so for many people the concept of surrogacy is still new.

How are we going to answer questions from our children? Again we had a lot of time to think about such things during our adoption screening. We had our surrogate and her family do a scrap book for our daughter, so that when the time comes, we can give it to her. This may help her process the steps we took to become parents. What we have decided is to explain things in an age appropriate manner – we have made no rules but are drawn to imagery that her mum is an angel and will deal with each situation in the best manner that we can. We expect some challenges along the way, it would be naive not to. Any parent will tell you same.

We have been so blessed on our journey towards becoming parents and we are reminded each day as we look at our daughter of the special people we have met along the way. From the team at Nurture, the other professionals and naturally the egg donor and our selfless surrogate for whom the words “Thank You” do not seem enough.

A final word of advice, do not enter this process thinking it is going to be a speedy process devoid of any emotion. Be realistic, don’t lose sight of the goal posts and take lessons from any of the set-backs you may encounter! As Kim said to us in the very beginning, “Fasten your seatbelt!”.
Enjoy and the best of luck with the journey that lies ahead.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ricky Martin's Egg Donor Has a "Good Vibe"

Los Angeles - Ricky Martin used the internet to choose an egg donor for his twin sons.

The Puerto Rican singer – who is openly gay – chose both an egg donor and surrogate mother to carry his twins after spending hours poring over internet profiles.

Explaining the process to US TV show Access Hollywood, he said: "I sat in front of the computer and I started searching. It definitely was a very beautiful journey.

"I know what the donor looks like. Yeah, it's in the computer, you sit down for hours and look at different profiles."

When asked by the interviewer what made him choose the particular donor he settled on, Ricky replied: "It's a vibe thing, you know. In this case, it was like, I feel something in her eyes and her smile. Then you read the profile and you read her letter, and where she goes to school and she's very beautiful. And she is smart as well."

Ricky also described his nerves on the day of the birth, and his elation when he heard the first cries of his newborn twins Mateo and Valentino.

He recalled: "I received a phone call 'You're gonna be a daddy today, OK?' I was not in the delivery room, but I was in the little room next to it so I could hear the first cry."

The 38-year-old star hailed the twins' birth as a "miracle" and was astonished by the surge of emotion he felt when he held the babies for the first time.

On his feelings at that moment, he said: "This is real. Woah! OK, perfect. So I want to hold them. I need to hold them.

"I went to my room and the nurse gave them to me and I started holding them and I was like, 'This is amazing. I mean, it feels incredible. There is a God. This is miraculous and they do look like me."

The Livin' La Vida Loca singer also revealed he is a very hands-on father, changing nappies, waking, bathing and feeding his children, putting them to sleep and singing to them.