Hannah married her husband, Nathan, when she was 36 years old, and though they tried for seven years, they could not conceive a child.
After attempting five in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles using Hannah’s own eggs, the couple was told that her eggs would never be able to produce a child.
“It was a mournful process, giving up on the idea of using my own eggs,” Hannah said.
Although the couple wrestled with the concept of using the eggs of a donor, Hannah and Nathan’s longing for a child overrode their doubts. Through a clinic, they soon found a donor from which they were able to produce 38 embryos. None of those embryos, however, were viable to transfer to Hannah’s womb.
“The IVF clinic was stunned,” recalled Hannah, who lives on the East Coast. “And I was at a loss. I was thinking maybe we should adopt.”
That’s when Hannah happened to find A Jewish Blessing on the Internet.
A Jewish Blessing is a nurse-run organization that assists Jewish families looking for qualified Jewish egg donors and gestational carriers. The business was founded in 2005 by Judy Weiss, who worked for 18 years as a psychiatric nurse with a keen interest in women’s health. After working for some time at an infertility clinic on the East Coast running its egg donor program, Weiss was able to help a Jewish friend who could not conceive with her own eggs find a Jewish egg donor.
“I knew it was hard to find Jewish women to be donors,” Weiss said. “So that was a pivotal moment for me.”
It was soon thereafter that she decided to start her own company to facilitate the egg donation process for Jewish families struggling with fertility issues.
For Hannah, her search for an egg donor became “extremely personal” once she started working with A Jewish Blessing. She realized that with Weiss’ help, she could actually look for a donor with whom she shared some traits in common.
Hannah, the child of a father who was Jewish by birth and a mother who converted to Judaism, grew up regularly attending synagogue and religious school. When Weiss showed her and Nathan the profile of Sarah, they knew they had found their donor.
“She was born in Israel,” Hannah said of Sarah. “Her mother had converted to Judaism before she was married. She was very artistic. There were certain things about her that I felt very good about.”
Hannah and Sarah then exchanged letters through Weiss.
“She turned out to be so loving and terrific,” Hannah said.
Using Sarah’s eggs, Hannah soon became pregnant with twins. Although she miscarried one of the embryos, she delivered her first child, a daughter, in November 2010.
After breastfeeding her daughter for 13 months, Hannah became pregnant again using frozen embryos conceived using Sarah’s eggs.
“I was 45, pregnant with twins, and with a 2-year-old,” Hannah recalled. “I gave birth to the twins in January 2013. A boy and a girl.”
“They are so beautiful, my children, I can’t even tell you,” Hannah continued. “It was all so beautiful. I never could have imagined that this would all come together.”
For Sarah, who lives on the West Coast, the ability to help a Jewish couple have a Jewish family has been rewarding.
She did not even know what egg donation was until a few years ago, when a frequent customer of her jewelry business began asking her lots of questions about her family history, and eventually told her that she could not have children, and that she wanted to use Sarah’s eggs.
“I didn’t even know what that meant,” Sarah said. “I said, ‘No,’ but then I began talking to my friend, who told me about the whole thing, and about A Jewish Blessing, where the eggs only go to Jewish families. I thought that seemed like a good thing to do.”
“It’s not because I am racist, but it is important to me that my eggs only go to Jewish families because I just didn’t want my genes to not go to my own people,” she continued. “I thought this was a great process to help people. And it’s easy, but you have to clear your schedule for three weeks.”
Potential donors must be healthy women “of proportionate height and weight (with a BMI under 30),” according to A Jewish Blessing’s website. They must be between the ages of 20 and 32 and of Jewish ancestry, either from their maternal or their paternal side, or both, and they must provide a detailed family health history. Upon receipt of a completed application, information is reviewed in detail by a reproductive endocrinology nurse, a geneticist and a physician.
Once matched with a family, a potential donor is further screened to determine if she is likely to be a good candidate; one who can produce enough healthy eggs for a successful donation cycle and whose cycle, ideally, results in a pregnancy for the family.
Egg donors typically receive $8,000 in compensation.
Sarah has now donated eggs on five separate occasions, and has helped Jewish families in Seattle, Texas, Los Angeles, New York and Miami.
While she has not met any of the recipient families, she did ask to see a photo of Hannah’s children. That photo was exchanged through Weiss.
“The mom was so happy to share the photo,” Sarah said. “And seeing it warmed my heart.”
Hannah said she was more than happy to share the photo with Sarah, although she and Nathan declined to meet her in person.
“For some people, it’s so hard to have kids,” said Sarah, who is now 28. “I’m not ready for babies myself. And I don’t think of it like I gave my baby to someone. I just helped someone have her own baby.”
A Jewish Blessing’s team is familiar with Jewish law governing egg donation and surrogacy, said Weiss, who was raised in an Orthodox home, and was educated at a yeshiva.
“A lot of the work we are doing has confusing halachic implications,” she explained. “We help the families access the resources they need. And we work a lot with the PUAH Institute in Israel, that does work with halacha and infertility.”
Weiss and her team carefully track the children that are born with the help of A Jewish Blessing, in order to avoid the risk of consanguinity, she said.
The organization is nearing its “180 baby mark,” Weiss noted. “And there is something beautiful about that.”
Still, while she has found that Jewish women are more likely to agree to be a donor for a Jewish family than a non-Jewish family, there remains a shortage of donors.
“For every donor I have, I am missing 50 donors,” she said. Even more challenging is finding Jewish women to serve as surrogates, she said.
“In 10 years, I have found only three Jewish surrogates,” she noted, adding that a non-Jewish surrogate could necessitate a conversion of the child after birth.
“My hope is to increase awareness for the need for Jewish women to become donors and carriers,” she said. “But I don’t tell any woman that donating eggs and being a carrier is a good idea. You have to be a unique person to do this.”
>> The names of the recipient couple and the egg donor have been changed for this story to protect their privacy.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.