The egg bro­ker

An in­fer­tile Is­raeli wo­man’s hunt for ova from a Jewish donor pro­duced a baby — and a flour­ish­ing busi­ness

The Jewish Chronicle - - FEATURES - BY LYNNE MEREDITH SCHREIBER

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

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