Egg and sperm donation can be used to help couples conceive. It is rather rare in Singapore, though — about 5 per cent of couples going through fertility treatment may need a donor, according to Virtus Fertility Centre.
Says the Centre’s scientific director, Dr Liow Swee Lian, “Egg or sperm donation may be needed in a case where the man has no sperm, or low sperm quality, or if the woman has premature ovarian failure, premature menopause, no eggs, or possibly recurrent miscarriages.”
Before the procedure, the couple will have to undergo psychological, health and financial counselling.
If donor sperm is required, the couple may look to MOH-approved sperm banks overseas, usually in the US.
Dr Liow explains that his Centre will facilitate this by pointing the couple to a website, where they can choose a sperm donor. “The donor is identified with a code number, and possibly a picture of him when he was a young child.”
There may also be specifications such as the donor’s education level, his hair and eye colour, and blood type. “The couple will be asked to pick two or three potential donors.”
It’s important for the bank to be an approved institution as the donor has to be screened for all blood diseases, as well as his psychological profile, before he can qualify as a donor.
Back in Singapore, the fertility centre has to check with the bank whether the chosen donor’s sperm has been imported into Singapore before, and if so, how many live births resulted. “The government limits it to be three live births here, per donor,” adds Dr Liow. “This is to reduce the chance meetings of half-siblings.”
If the requirements are met, the sperm will be imported, and the centre can receive the sample within a week to prepare for insemination.
If you want an egg donation in Singapore, you’ll need to source for the egg donor yourself.
The egg-donation process is slightly more complicated here, as eggs aren’t easily available. “There are egg banks in the US, but these are meant for US citizens,” says Dr Liow. If you want an egg donation in Singapore, you’ll need to hunt for the egg donor yourself. No commercial transactions are allowed.
There are several requirements for the egg donor: First, she should be between 18 and 35 years old. She cannot be related to the husband, but can be related to the wife, or may be a complete stranger. The donor will also need to go through a health screening for sexually transmitted diseases and other conditions.
The donor, as well as the couple will need to go through separate counselling processes and psychological assessments. This is to ensure that the donor is a willing donor, and to see if both the husband and wife are willing to accept the egg donor as part of their fertility treatment.
What does the egg collection process involve? Read on…
Egg donation takes longer than sperm donation, because the donor’s ovaries need to be stimulated.
After the donor’s next menstruation, the stimulation process will take 10 to 12 days. Explains Dr Liow, “She will be stimulated by daily injections of hormones. A doctor will prescribe the injections and she will do it at home daily. Every three days, she will have to go to the clinic to be screened, to see if her follicles are growing well.”
When the follicle is ripe, the doctor will give a final jab to trigger the maturation of the egg, and the donor will come in to the fertility centre for the egg collection process.
The donor will be under a general anesthetic, as the doctor prepares her for the egg collection. An ultrasound is done, as a vaginal probe attached to a needle and tubing is inserted into her cervix, into the ovary and follicle, to extract the eggs. Around 10 to 15 eggs can be collected at a time.
There may be some side effects because the hormones introduced to her body can cause Over Hyper Stimulation Syndrome.
Effects on the donor
As the donor must be relatively young with a high ovarian reserve, the procedure will not have an effect on her fertility.
However, there may be some side effects because the hormones introduced to her body can cause Over Hyper Stimulation Syndrome. This can result in bloatedness due to the accumulation of fluid in her body. “It will take around a month for the donor’s hormone levels to go back to normal,” says Dr Liow.
Transferring the embryo
Once the eggs are collected, they will be inseminated and fertilised by the husband’s sperm. The development of the embryo will be monitored for up to five days, before it is ready for implantation into the uterus.
Says Dr Liow, “This process mimics the natural fertilisation process; there, the newly formed embryo takes five days to travel down the fallopian tubes, before reaching the uterus.”
In order to sync the donor’s cycle with the recipient’s (to optimise the chances of a successful pregnancy), the embryos are frozen, before the transfer. The transfer process is similar to doing a Pap smear, where the recipient’s cervix is exposed and the tube containing the eggs is inserted, while an ultrasound is done on the abdominal area. The process takes 5 to 10 minutes.
A transfer of sperm samples from the US sperm bank would cost around US$3,000 ($4,056). An IVF treatment cycle will cost around $15,000 (learn more here).
There are also MediSave rebates available for IVF treatment, capped at $6,000 for the first cycle, $5,000 for the second cycle and $4,000 for the third cycle. More information here.
Read one mum’s first hand experience with egg donation here
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