'Women are desperate': Calls for women to donate frozen eggs due to chronic shortage

Photo: Liz Heffernan and her husband have been trying unsuccessfully for a baby for over 10 years. Supplied
Photo: Liz Heffernan and her husband have been trying unsuccessfully for a baby for over 10 years. Supplied 

Liz Heffernan has been trying unsuccessfully for a baby for over 10 years.

After four rounds of IVF doctors advised the 46-year-old Sydney woman to find donor eggs.

"We put our name down with a clinic for a donor which we were told could be over 12 months," she tells Essential Baby. "We also put our name down on two websites and set ourselves up with an online profile.

"It was daunting. It's a very private process, but then you are putting it out to everyone," Liz explained.

It took six months to find a donor and build a rapport with her before they began the long process of counselling and tests to begin the egg donation.

Unfortunately, it resulted in only one egg and no pregnancy.

"We brought her from Melbourne to Sydney with several of her children and paid all her food and medical bills," Liz said.

She was lucky though, because her niece's best friend found out about their situation and offered to donate. However, after another long wait and more medical costs, none of the embryos were viable.

"I feel like I am in limbo," Liz says. "You are not sure if someone will offer (their eggs) and many donors might not want to give to an older couple. And i's not easy to approach family or friends."

Advertisement

The reality is, there is a chronic shortage of egg donors in Australia.  

Many women have to travel overseas to clinics in countries such as Greece, South Africa and Spain to access eggs.

Natalie Hart, who travelled to South Africa to have her son, Jenson, in 2017 is an administrator on the Facebook group Egg Donor Angels.  

She hoped to return to South Africa last year to transfer her remaining embryo and have another child, but COVID-19 has been prevented this.

"The number of women joining the group since COVID-19 has risen exponentially," she explains. "It's been nearly a 100 per cent increase since for 2020.  

Wow.. amazing and congrats xox #eggdonorangels #ivf #infertility #nkc

Posted by Egg Donor Angels on  Wednesday, 8 January 2020

According to Hart, women are more 'desperate' because there is such a shortage of egg donors, with many waiting more than six months.

"Many women feel their time is running out due to their age," Hart says. "Single women feel they are at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to finding an egg donor - believing a donor would prefer to donate to a couple."

Natalie said the majority of women would prefer to find an Australian donor.  

While the number of women seeking Australian donor eggs has risen since COVID-19, so too has the number of women choosing to freeze their eggs for a later date.

New research reveals most women don't end up using their eggs and they go to waste.

Current estimates suggest that less than one in five women who freeze their eggs will return to use them later.

Researchers are now encouraging those no longer needing their eggs to consider donating and are proposing they could be reimbursed for the egg freezing costs they had incurred.

Dr Genia Rozen, clinical senior lecturer at Melbourne University and specialist at Melbourne IVF, said there is a huge unmet need for donor eggs which leads to women travelling overseas. Meanwhile, more and more women are choosing to freeze eggs.

"Most of those women will not be using those eggs," she tells Essential Baby. "It seems like the logical solution to marry those two things up.

"It is hugely important.  I see patients routinely who are desperate to start a family and the have very few choices, and to offer them options that are safe in our jurisdiction and take pressure off those having to travel overseas would be amazing," Dr Rozen explained.

She said there was little awareness that the eggs could be donated and part of the aim was to draw attention to this need and make more women realise donation is something they can do.

She said donating eggs must be done altruistically in Australia, but the cost of donating would be covered by the recipient.  

"In the same way reimbursing the women who froze those eggs makes sense," she explains. "It could be $6000 to $8000 per cycle to freeze the eggs as well as ongoing storage costs."

Dr Rozen said not many clinics have a supply of donor eggs and for those waiting it could be years and years, meanwhile the number of women freezing their eggs is going up.

"The demand for eggs is always there.  COVID has taken away the overseas option so there would be a greater demand."

Dr Rozen and Dr Alex Polyakov have just published their paper in the BMJ Ethics.