Heartbreak inspired Dunedin woman to donate her eggs

It was the unexpected death of her precious child that changed everything for Sally Aldrich.

"Our daughter Claire was born in 2019 and we did think we were on track for many, many years with her. She unfortunately did pass away right before her first birthday from a very rare genetic condition, but a spontaneous mutation so nothing that was inherited," she told Newshub.

"We still don't have all the answers and we may never have all the answers. But we have experienced first-hand what it's like to experience life's unfairness and unpredictability and that things don't always go as they should."

During that unimaginable heartbreak, Sally found comfort in the kindness of strangers.

"When Claire did die, we had people all over the world helping us, strangers helping us with food, with so much moral support." 

Thirty-three-year-old Sally and her husband Jeff have three other children, a six-year-old boy and three-year-old twins.

Sally has been studying health sciences in Dunedin and while learning about the human body she started thinking about organ donation.

"I was learning about the renal system and I said to my husband 'how would you feel if I donated my kidney to someone who needed it?'" she said.

"And he said: 'oh do you know someone who needs a kidney?' And I said 'no just altruistically how would you feel if I was to be a live donor and donated a kidney'? And he said 'well you do have three young children - maybe don't sign any consent forms just right now.'

"My mother is a doctor and I had a similar conversation to her and she had a very similar reaction. And she was the one who did suggest egg donation.

"I know what it's like to be in a time where we needed someone else and I'm in a position where I can be 'someone else' to someone else."

Through the help of Repromed fertility clinic, Sally is about to go through the process of donating her eggs to two couples and a single person.

"This has really been quite eye-opening and if I could give this gift of parenthood to someone else, it doesn't make sense not to," she told Newshub.

"I have everything and the small sacrifices that I might need to make to go through that to then help another family - it is so worth it, in my mind, it is so worth it."

She told Newshub she received many messages from people needing an egg donor to have a child.

"I did have to choose and I suppose I didn't want to be in that position," she said.

Sally Aldrich.
Sally Aldrich. Photo credit: Newshub

In the past three years, Repromed fertility clinic has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of women on the egg donor waiting list.

But the number of egg donors has remained the same.

"We have women or clients on our waiting list that have been waiting for years," said Repromed medical director Dr Devashana Gupta.

The clinic gets about one to three people donating their eggs every year. Meanwhile there are about 100 people on a waiting list for an egg donor.

That's why those who can't use their own eggs are always encouraged to ask someone they know first.

Dr Gupta said they do about two IVF transfers a month where someone is using a donor egg they've privately arranged through someone they know.

One of the biggest factors as to why people need an egg donor is due to age.

"As we get older, the number of eggs that we have remaining does go down. The quality of the eggs goes down as well. So therefore when you come to 39, 40, 41 and you're starting to try to conceive - it will be harder," Dr Gupta said.

She said other reasons for needing an egg donor could be medical factors such as someone having had previous cancer treatments which can reduce ovarian reserves.

In New Zealand, egg donors have no parental or financial responsibilities for donor-conceived children.

To be a clinic egg donor, you need to be aged between 20 and 35. A donor-conceived child can request the donor's identity when they turn 18.

There is also no formal payment for egg donors, but Dr Gupta is open to that changing.

"We should be able to provide more compensation," she said.

"I'm not saying we should go into a commercial model but we should be able to compensate because you don't want them (egg donors) to be left financially harder off than they started off.

"You're taking two weeks of injections. You're going through a procedure where a needle is put into your ovaries and the follicles are drained. So it's half of a IVF cycle basically.

"There isn't a greater gift at all. You're giving someone the ability to have a family to progress their lineage - yes it might not necessarily be their whole DNA but it's still their child by all means. The woman gets to carry the pregnancy, gets to birth and gets to experience parenthood and that's the ultimate gift," she added.

She also believes there needs to be more awareness about egg donation and fertility education in general.

"In school we talk about 'don't get pregnant, don't get pregnant - use contraception'. Yes that's important but we also need to talk about our declining fertility and how important it is that we think about that early on, " she said.

Sally Aldrich said she's "honoured" she will soon potentially help start three families. She said the donor recipients are "grateful" but that she's just as thankful.

"I try to teach my children to always give to others if they are in a position to help because as humans we all need help sometimes. I am fortunate enough to be in good health and I have the ability to do something so special," she said.

"Once the embryo is made - it's their baby. It might have my genetic information but it is their baby. It is their child and I feel very, very strongly about that. Thank you for trusting my body and thank you for giving me this opportunity to help you."

Her only condition is that the child is loved.