A stranger was the answer to Anna's fervent prayer for children.
A "friend of a friend of a friend" gave Anna her eggs - without getting anything in return - to help the housewife who suffers from a hormonal disorder, making it hard for her to conceive and have children.
Anna (not her real name), 50, has a daughter, seven, and a son, five, born from the donated eggs.
Her good friends found the donor, who is in her 20s, for Anna. Through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), the donor's eggs were retrieved and fertilised in a laboratory with the sperm of Anna's husband. The resulting embryos were implanted in Anna's womb - at different periods - and she gave birth to her children.
Anna, who has spent more than $100,000 on several rounds of IVF without success until she used the donated eggs, said: "It is a miracle as I didn't know the donor. It is real altruism as she got nothing in return and I had no interaction with her."
DISCLOSING THE TRUTH
Almost 100 per cent of couples do not want to tell their child at first. They have a big fear of their child rejecting them (if they are told) or the child not being accepted by other family members or by their friends.
MS TANJA FAESSLER-MORO, Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore counsellor, on parents informing their children that they were conceived through a donor egg.
Anna is one of the few people who found an egg donor here.
Dr Loh Seong Feei, medical director of Thomson Fertility Centre, said: "It is very uncommon to find a donor among the couples' relatives or friends. It's very hard to ask people for their eggs. And how many (of those asked) would say 'yes'?"
Currently, there is no egg bank licensed here as the altruistic donation rates are very low, compared with Western countries, a Ministry of Health (MOH) spokesman told The Sunday Times.
Few women want to donate their eggs as the process is onerous, doctors said.
Dr Anupriya Agarwal, senior consultant at the National University Hospital Women's Centre, said a donor has to get daily hormone injections to stimulate her ovaries for about two weeks. Then, she has to undergo a procedure under anaesthesia to retrieve her eggs.
In Singapore, donors cannot be paid for donating their eggs, although couples can "reimburse the donor for expenses incurred in relation to the collection, storage or transport of egg as a result of the donation", an MOH spokesman said.
Doctors said some women as young as in their 20s and 30s need an egg donor. They suffer from conditions such as premature ovarian failure when their ovaries stop functioning before the age of 40. For some, their eggs are of poor quality, which affects their fertility.
Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore psychological counsellor Tanja Faessler-Moro said couples who want to use an egg donor would have tried an average of six to eight years, undergone multiple rounds of IVF and still failed to be parents.
And many do not even try the donor route, doctors said. By using an egg donor, this means that the child is genetically related only to the husband, not the wife.
Dr Roland Chieng, medical director at Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore, said: "I think many women can't get past the genetic part or their husbands may not want to use an egg donor. They want their genes and traits to be passed on to their child."
For those who find a donor, both the female donor - and her husband if she is married - and the husband-and-wife recipients must be counselled to assess their readiness and suitability for the donation.
One issue couples have to consider is to tell their child at some point that he was conceived through a donor egg, Ms Faessler-Moro said.
"Almost 100 per cent of couples do not want to tell their child at first. They have a big fear of their child rejecting them (if they are told) or the child not being accepted by other family members or by their friends," she said.
She encourages couples to disclose this fact before their child enters school, as overseas research has found that keeping the fact a secret affects the child and strains the parent-child relationship, especially if the child learns about it later.
And after all that, using a donated egg does not guarantee a baby. One cycle for IVF costs between $12,000 and $16,000 here, Dr Loh said.
Associate Professor Yu Su Ling, director of the Centre for Assisted Reproduction at the Singapore General Hospital, said that women using eggs from a donor aged between 20 and 30 have a 30 per cent to 50 per cent chance of getting pregnant.
For Singaporeans who go to the United States to find an egg donor, they pay the donor anything from US$10,000 (S$14,000) to US$50,000, said Mr Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, chief executive of the British Surrogacy Centre of California (BSC).
They also have to pay the BSC - which gets about 15 to 20 couples from Singapore seeking egg donors in a year - another US$7,500 to link them up with a donor.
The Sunday Times understands that one cheaper and popular destination is Malaysia.
Ms Christine Gautaman, who owns an egg donor agency called Heart to ART based in Selangor, links up an average of 10 couples from Singapore a month with egg donors. The Singaporean women are often in the 35 to 45 age group.
Her agency charges RM45,000 (S$14,300), which covers all the fees involved in the IVF procedure to retrieve the donor's eggs and implant the resulting embryos into the recipient. She said donors are not paid but are given "an allowance for time off work", among other things. She did not say how much the allowance is.
For Anna, she plans to tell her children about their genetic origins when they are older as they "need to know". She added: "Many people think it's very easy to have kids. Don't wait. When you feel ready, your body may not be ready (to have babies)."