Mum Lorna Bell gives a complete stranger the most precious gift imaginable - the chance to be a mother
- Credit: Gregg Brown
As Christmas approaches, Sheena Grant speaks to a Suffolk woman who is prepared to offer a stranger what must be the greatest gift of all.
Having given birth to four children in the last 16 years Lorna Bell is fairly sure she won’t be having any more.
But in the next few weeks, months, or perhaps even years, she’s hoping to hear that another woman, someone with whom she shares a unique bond, is pregnant.
This woman is a total stranger. Lorna has never met her and doesn’t even know her name.
Yet the 33-year-old, who lives near Bury St Edmunds, has given this anonymous stranger the most selfless, life-changing gift one woman could ever give to another: the chance to have a child.
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This year, Lorna became an altruistic egg donor, expecting nothing in return for the 11 eggs she gave through an agency to a woman unable to have children that are biologically her own.
All she knows about the couple who may one day have a family thanks to her incredible kindness is contained in a letter that was waiting for her when she came round from the anaesthetic after her eggs were collected.
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And as she talks about that letter she starts to cry.
“It’s the only thing about this whole process that makes me emotional,” she says. “It was just a beautiful letter in which they told me how in love they were and how much this meant to them.”
Lorna had never thought about being an egg donor until a friend shared a social media link to an agency that specialises in finding women prepared to give this most precious gift to others.
“I read about it and thought it might be a nice thing to do,” she says. “Until that moment I had never thought about it before in my life.
“I lost my eldest daughter, Ella, to cancer in 2006. She had a brain tumour and died just before her seventh birthday, so I know what it is like to love and lose a child. I don’t understand what it is like never having had a child to love.
“Knowing the pain of losing a child I can only think that never being able to have one when that is what you so desperately want would probably be similar in terms of the hurt you feel. It was five or six months after Ella died that it really hit me. I didn’t deal with it very well emotionally but I had friends and family who were there for me. I think about her every day.
“I’ve also got a few friends who have struggled to conceive naturally and have seen their pain but not been able to do anything for them. So when I read about this I decided I would like to give it a go.”
The window of opportunity was small for Lorna as Altrui, the agency she wanted to use, only accepts donors up to the age of 35.
“I thought, if I’m going to do it, I’ve got to do it now,” she says. “I’ve got a daughter of 14 and two younger daughters so I wasn’t envisaging having any more myself at the moment.
“After losing Ella I still had my second eldest, Charlotte, but for a long time the idea of ever having any more children myself wasn’t on my radar at all. It made me too scared. Then I met my husband, who had never had children, and changed my mind.
“I know what it is like to give birth to a child and have that rush of love. I wanted to help someone else feel that same rush of love. If someone is willing to put themselves through being an egg recipient, having IVF and all that entails they are probably going to be a parent who will love that child.”
After talking it through with her family Lorna got in touch with the agency and was asked to create a profile of herself, listing height, weight, hair, eye colour and hobbies.
“They got back in touch and said I had the right BMI (body mass index - a measure of whether someone is a healthy weight for their height),” she says. “The next step was going to Guy’s and St Thomas’ in London to have a counselling session, where you speak about your reasons for wanting to donate. They talk about your background and make sure you are aware of what you are doing and that you understand the process.”
After “passing” the counselling Lorna had a scan to make sure she had enough eggs to give and then underwent a series of health screening tests.
“It is a big time commitment as I had to go to London for all those tests,” she says. “When I was told all those checks were OK I had to inject myself with a drug to stimulate the ovaries. I had to go to London for a scan every three days during this time.
“On the day of donation you have a general anaesthetic while they remove the eggs. I think that took 10 minutes for me. Afterwards, they come and tell you how many eggs they have retrieved. They got 11 in my case but apparently 15-20 is average. Those eggs then belong to the woman I am donating to.”
After the eggs are fertilised in a dish an embryo is implanted in the recipient.
“If it works and she has a child the rest will be kept, frozen, in case the couple want more children in the future,” says Lorna. “If she doesn’t conceive at first she can try again with the others.”
Lorna knows many women would’t want to do what she has done.
“I have spoken to friends who have said they couldn’t even think about doing it,” she says. “That is fine - for them. For me, carrying and giving birth to a child is entirely different from donating eggs. I can’t bond with an egg. I know that any child born will be genetically related to me and may even look like me or one of my children but it will not be my child.”
Although Lorna has shared the heartache of friends who have had trouble conceiving she doesn’t feel she could have donated to someone she knew. “It would be different, watching a child grow up,” she says. “That would be harder to deal with emotionally. Although the woman I donated to is a stranger to me she is a friend of someone else, who may feel like I feel about my friends.”
Lorna will be told if a pregnancy results from her donation, when the child is born and whether it is a girl or a boy.
“That is all I will find out,” she says. “The fact that it was all anonymous was important to me. They don’t need to know much about my life. I would rather they didn’t know I had four children. If it didn’t work for them, then I would feel guilty.”
At 18, any child conceived from her eggs can find out more about her.
“You don’t have to agree to them being able to find out more about you but that was my choice,” she says. “I would be happy to meet years down the line if that is what the child wants when they get to 18. If I was born to a couple and wasn’t genetically related to one of the parents I would like to find out where I came from genetically. But I wouldn’t judge a donor who didn’t want that.”
In the UK it is illegal to pay for egg donation, meaning it is always done on a voluntary basis. Donors with the agency Lorna used are allowed £750 “compensation” for travel, loss of earnings and other expenses. “There is no financial incentive for doing this,” she says.
Despite her selfless donation Lorna insists she is not an especially altruistic person.
“I’ve done the odd charity run and did have my hair cut off to make wigs for young cancer patients. I watched my daughter lose her hair so I know how important that is for a little girl or boy.”
And having donated her eggs once, would she do it again?
“It was a completely painless process to make such a huge difference to someone else,” she says. “I haven’t ruled out doing it again but I want to ask the couple I donated to how they felt about it. I’d encourage others to donate as well.
“When I see a message online saying congratulations to a donor whose couple is pregnant I think that is the best gift anyone could receive, especially at Christmas.
“I haven’t heard that the woman I donated to is pregnant yet but I really hope it works for my couple too, especially when I think of the letter they wrote me.”