Laura, a 28-year-old Manassas, Va., woman, has donated her eggs four times to women who otherwise could not have children.
“It gave me a real sense of purpose,” said the woman who, for privacy reasons, asked that her full name not be published. “It really is a great personal pleasure to know that I have something that changes someone’s life.”
Laura donates her eggs through A Jewish Blessing, a Jacksonville, Fla., company that matches Jewish potential parents who are infertile with Jewish egg donors and surrogates. It has helped bring more than 180 babies into the world in its 10-year history, said Judy Weiss, company founder.
While some Jewish women request Jewish eggs to make sure there is no doubt that the child is Jewish, most opt for a Jewish egg so that their child can be more like they are.
Most people who obtain eggs from Donor Egg Bank USA in Rockville, a frozen egg bank facility, are “looking for a donor who could pass as a member of their family. I think that’s part of human nature. We want a donor who looks like us,” said Heidi Hayes, CEO.
Weiss agreed, noting, “It’s a sense of comfort, knowing you can relate to the woman who they felt had something in common with them.”
But to others, requesting a particular ethnicity amounts to snobbery. Weiss has gotten “lots of ugly anti-Semitic emails over the years.” Basically, she said, the emailers write, “‘You Jews think you are better than anyone else. You think your eggs are better than others.’”
Of greater concern than those emails is finding a way to obtain more eggs from Jewish women, Weiss said. Currently, she helps about 40 families per year but that number could be higher if she had more eggs to distribute, she said.
Hayes said her Donor Egg Bank doesn’t always have enough Jewish eggs. “Finding Jewish donors is difficult. There aren’t as many women who donate.”
She estimated that less than 5 percent of her clients are Jewish.
NY LifeSpring, is a company located in Manhattan and Israel that also connects Jewish couples with Jewish donors. It obtains many of its egg donations from Israeli women. Ruth Tavor, who operates the company with her husband David Fogle, estimated that they help about 45 women a year, who are located in nine countries.
Many of the American women she helps are not Orthodox and are more concerned with having a baby who will be like them than with Jewish law, she said, especially because Jewish law can be murky. “If you meet enough rabbis, you will get many, many versions,” she said.
According to the website Jewish Fertility.org, couples who learn they are infertile are advised to speak to their own rabbi about the best way to proceed with trying to become parents.
To eliminate doubts about the baby’s religion, the newborn can be converted to Judaism.
Still, the website calls egg donations “a viable option,” and lists three definitions of motherhood. In one definition, if the birth mother is Jewish, the child is Jewish, regardless from whom the egg was obtained.
In another scenario, the child is Jewish only if the egg came from a Jewish woman. Some rabbis insist this woman must be single as she must be a woman the new father could marry, according to the website.
In the third scenario, both the egg donor and the birth mother must be Jewish for the child to be Jewish.
All egg donation facilities conduct a lengthy battery of tests before accepting a woman’s eggs. Those tests include a medical history as well as information about job, income, drug and alcohol use, and even hobbies.
At Shady Grove Fertility Center, which has locations throughout the Washington area, donors are screened for 103 genetic disorders, of which about a dozen are specifically Jewish. They are questioned about their religion and whether or not they practice.
For every 30 people who offer to donate, only one is accepted, said Dr. David Saffan, a reproductive endocrinologist with Shady Grove Fertility Center.
Most women requesting eggs look for someone of their own ethnicity, said Saffan, who works out of the Annandale, Va., office.
“Most people who donate want to help somebody. They have two kids. They want a little money for their college fund,” Saffan said.
It costs about $29,000 for one traditional donor egg cycle, not including medication, at Shady Grove. However, the cost can be lower if a woman shares a donor’s eggs with other patients.
At A Jewish Blessing, it costs between $35,000 and $50,000, Weiss said. Her company reimburses a woman between $8,000 and $10,000 for her egg donation.
It is illegal to pay someone for part of their body; the money is considered reimbursement for medical and other expenses.
Two Jewish men in Washington turned to A Jewish Blessing for both an egg donor and a woman to carry their baby to term. It was important “to find someone who reflected our Jewish background,” said one of the men, who did not want his named published due to privacy concerns.
Their son, now 6 years old, has an Israeli name and is being raised Jewish, he said.
“We know there are a lot of halachic challenges” in making sure a child is Jewish, but with the help of A Jewish Blessing, some of those issues were cleared up for us, he said.
“We are so appreciative. I just wish more Jewish women would help” by donating their eggs.