The egg broker
An infertile Israeli woman’s hunt for ova from a Jewish donor produced a baby — and a flourishing business
AT AGE 42, Ruth Tavor, an Israeli expat living i n New York, gave birth to her first c h i l d a nd i mmediately began t r y i ng f or her second. But five years of infertility and numerous cycles of fertility treatments later, Tavor found herself on a lengthy waiting list for an egg — mostly because she insisted on finding a Jewish donor.
“That’s what I feel a connection to,” says Tavor, now 53. “[But the wait] starts to get too long. I thought, ‘I’ll wait nine months, and if I’m lucky I’ll be pregnant nine months and then I’ll be 50.’ That’s too much.”
Discouraged by fertility doctors telling her how difficult it is to find Jewish egg donors in the US, Tavor, a former opera singer, and her website- and graphic-designer husband, David Fogle, now 46, took matters into their own hands: they placed an ad in a newspaper asking Israeli women to donate eggs. Twentyfive responded. Many matched their long list of requirements — including being both Jewish and Israeli. The couple chose one and, after going through in-vitro fertilisation under the supervision of a fertility doctor, Tavor became pregnant.
Astounded to learn how easily Tavor had found a Jewish donor, her doctors called a few months later and asked her to help them do the same for other women. Tavor agreed, and thus NY Lifespring LLC was born. Launched by the couple in 2002, the company helps about a dozen clinics nationwide to find Jewish Israeli egg donors for barren American couples eager to find — and pay for — these eggs. “[Infertility] can be the darkest cloud over your life,” says Tavor, now a doting mother of two who teaches singing in New York while also running NY Lifespring. “You can deal with it in a very practical way [with NY Lifespring] and save your emotions for when the baby comes.”
Essentially, NY Lifespring formalises the matchmaking process between Jewish donors and couples. Once a couple selects a donor, the donor’s eggs are fertilised in-vitro using sperm from the male and implanted in the female recipient’s uterus. If a pregnancy takes root, the recipient carries to term a child who is, genetically speaking, the product of her partner and the donor.
In 2006, Tavor says, 46 couples received donated eggs through NY Lifespring, though many more called to inquire about the process. Each couple meets Tavor to review profiles and photos of potential donors, and if a match is made, they pay the agency $5,000 (£2,500), plus $8,000 (£4,000) to the donor.
When it comes to her donor pool, Tavor is necessarily thorough. First she conducts an initial interview with each woman by phone to get a feel for her history, health and emotional wellbeing. If a woman makes the cut, Tavor brings her to New York for face-to-face interviews; of those she meets, she accepts a third. Most applicants, she says, arerecentarmygraduatesonholidayor students in their early 20s who are looking to make some money. Although the couples never meet their donors in person — they do see photos during the selection process — doctors and NY Lifespring retain identifying information in case there is a medical issue with the child.
“The investment in finding a donor is enormous,” Tavor says. “I have to believe that she is emotionally intelligent and gets it, how important it is what she’s doing. They should feel that they have the power to change someone’s life.”
And, of course, they do. One donor, speaking anonymously, says: “The most beautiful thing is having a baby, so if you can help a couple build a family, why not?”
The donor, an Israeli medical student at an American university, has donated six times through NY Lifespring. For two weeks, she injects hormones into her belly or thigh; Tavor then accompanies her, as she does all her donors, to the clinic for egg retrieval. She stays with her until she’s on her feet. As a medical student, the Haifa-born donor says she thoroughly researched ovum donation to make sure it would not harm her chances of having children.
“You can never know the implication because medicine today is very new,” she says, “but I did not find any connection between this procedure and cancer or the ability of making children. I’ve been checking with my own doctor and everything is fine.”
For the most part, Jewish law also views egg donation favourably. According to Rabbi Edward Reichman, an expert on the Jewish legal ethics of egg donation and an associate professor at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein School of Medicine, there are many opinions about every aspect of assisted reproduction, with most rabbis giving the OK to ovum donation.
“The major issue is the definition of maternity,” Reichman says. “Meaning, who do we consider the halachic mother? Is it the genetic donor or the gestational mother?”
This question is especially relevant for observant Jews, because of the prohibition against marrying a sibling — future children born to the egg donor could potentially qualify as a sibling under Jewish law. Even though there is no universally accepted answer, rabbinic authorities tend to side with the gestational mother. Tavor says that while most women who come to NY Lifespring are not concerned with these details from a religious standpoint, it is reassuring for those who are that Jewish law supports their desire to do what it takes to have a baby.
“Even though [couples] may not be overtly concerned about it, there’s no question that halachah [Jewish law] informs this question as to whether the child is Jewish,” Reichman says.
“That’s the beauty of this particular organisation — it alleviates major concernsbyfacilitatingthatunionbetween two parties that are both Jewish.”
Indeed, for one egg recipient who requested anonymity, NY Lifespring was literally a godsend. Having a Jewish donor, she explains, gave her an added connection — physically, emotionally and spiritually — with her future child.
“When you choose [a Jewish donor],” she says, “you can imagine that 3,000 years ago you were part of the same tribe, you share the same gene pool.” NY Lifespring is at www.nylifespring.com. This article first appeared in the May 2008 World Jewish Digest (www.worldjewish digest.com) and is reprinted by permission
Finding donors for Jews: Ruth Tavor