I'm giving couples hope

By Drum Digital
27 October 2010

IF THERE’S one woman who knows what it’s like not to conceive when you long for a child, it’s model-turnedbusinesswoman Mbali Lechler. She’s endured years of disappointment and spent thousands of rands on fertility treatment but has yet to hear her doctor say those magical words, “Congratulations – you’re pregnant!”

And the heartache has led the beautiful 31-year-old to dedicate herself to something that’s still considered taboo among many sectors of black society: egg donation.

Mbali started Egg Donation South Africa for women who, like her, are struggling to conceive a baby. And while many modern black women feel they want to help and are free to make their own decision about their bodies, traditional and religious leaders are in two minds about it. For some it’s a moral issue; others believe it could create problems with the ancestors and result in the child having identity issues.

For Mbali, it’s all about giving women the joy of having a child – something she and her husband have so far been denied. Mbali has a child from a previous relationship – a nineyear- old boy, Ahang. But she and her husband, German businessman Thomas Lechler, a consultant for Mercedes Benz, have been trying for a baby for more than three years.

“My son was conceived naturally so I didn’t think I’d have problems,” Mbali says. “We wanted to start our own family as Thomas doesn’t have children of his own but it still hadn’t happened after a year of trying.”

She finally went to the Cape Fertility Clinic to see Dr Klaus Wiswedel, a wellknown fertility specialist, for tests. “It turned out I have ‘unexplained infertility’ which means there’s no reason why I shouldn’t fall pregnant; I just can’t.”

According to the Sandton Fertility Centre 1 in 10 South African couples have problems with fertility, which is defined as failure to conceive after 12 months of trying. Usually there is a 40 per cent chance the problem lies with the man, a 40 per cent chance it lies with the woman and a 10 per cent chance that both parties have a problem. The remaining 10 per cent of couples fall into the unexplained infertility category.

Mbali and Thomas tried various options including artificial insemination (AI) for a year and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) for two years. With AI a fine tube is used to deposit sperm into the uterus in a bid to fertilise the eggs. With IVF a woman’s eggs are extracted and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. Once the embryos have grown for three to five days, they are placed in the uterus. This procedure, as well as carrying no guarantees of success, is extremely expensive. IVF costs around R35 000 each time – and if a woman needs donor eggs, it costs R10 000 more.

“The process is also very intense and emotionally draining. My husband and I have both been for counselling, but it still puts a big strain on any marriage.” Although Mbali picked a veteran in fertility – Dr Wiswedel was the first doctor in SA to achieve a successful pregnancy from an egg donor – she didn’t conceive. She did, however, strike up a close friendship with the doctor and it was he who suggested she start an egg donation clinic.

“I was running my own recruitment agency, Talent Pool, at the time, recruiting people for jobs in the financial sector,” she explains.

“Dr Klaus suggested I use the same format to set up a local facility for egg donors and offered to help me. At the time there was only one clinic, run by a woman in America who had consultants based here.

“I went for it. And that’s how Egg Donation South Africa came about four years ago. I provide support to the egg recipients and my partner, Ingrid Bothe, sees to the donors.”

Today Mbali has one of the largest donor databases of black women in the country. “Helping others lifts my own heavy heart,” she says. “And because I know what the women are going through, I can provide emotional support and a shoulder to cry on.”

FOR an egg donor, the chance to help a desperate couple can be an amazing experience – just ask Meme Ledwaba* (26) who is currently making her second donation.

“I first heard about it in 2008 when a friend was supposed to do it. She pulled out but asked me to do it. I was a bit nervous, but I spoke to the people at the clinic and realised I had a chance to really help someone realise their dreams.”

Read the full article in DRUM of 4 November 2010

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