A funeral director has given the gift of life three times by donating her eggs on half a dozen occasions in six years – and says the children she helped create can expect a hero's welcome if they ever come to her door.
Mom-of-two Leanne Armstrong, 39, heard an ad on the radio calling for egg donors in late 2009 as she drove to work and – appreciating the importance of life through her dealings with grieving families – she immediately came forward, having her first treatment six months later.
Now classed too old to donate, as Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) rules limit donors to women aged between 18 and 35 apart from in exceptional circumstance, she waits in happy anticipation for any of the children produced by her eggs to track her down.
Leanne and baby Elise (PA Real Life/Collect)
Leanne, of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England, said:
“I'd say to them, 'Yes, come and find me – knock on the door.'"
“I'm quite curious to know how they look and whether they are well, but I'm more intrigued by the recipients. I'd love to hear their stories."
Leanne, whose children, Elise, 16, and Nyle, 11, are from a previous relationship and is now engaged to Dan, 53, says she had no idea egg donation was possible until she heard the radio ad and, for the last two years, has volunteered as an ambassador, working to raise awareness of the process.
Leanne and baby Nyle (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I'd never heard of egg donation before listening to the advert, but working in my industry and dealing with death makes you treasure life so much that it really hit home."
“I can't imagine wanting to start a family and never being able to."
“And now that I can't donate eggs myself anymore, I spend a lot of my time helping other potential donors."
“It's one thing reading a fact box about egg donation, it's another hearing it from people who have first-hand experience of it."
Listening to the radio as she drove to work that day was a life-changing moment for Leanne.
“I'm usually a music blaring, singing along kind of driver, but something really stopped me in my tracks when I heard an advert for the egg donation agency Altrui, who are part of fertility clinic Apricity, asking for more women to consider donating their eggs."
Elise and Nyle (PA Real Life/Collect)
After thinking about it all day, when Leanne came home from work, she looked the company up on the internet and called its phone line – receiving a wealth of information, outlining the egg donation process, later that week.
“There was so much information to take in," she recalled. “It was a lot, but I instantly felt excited by the idea."
“I called them back after reading it all to get the ball rolling, but they put me under no pressure whatsoever."
Nyle and Leanne (PA Real Life/Collect)
Within three months, Leanne had a series of blood tests, her egg count was determined and she had several counseling sessions.
Given the green light to proceed in 2010, it was her daughter, Elise, who helped her inject hormonal treatments for 10 days, to stimulate her egg growth, before having them harvested.
“I've been honest with both the children from the start," she said.
“Elise was always fascinated and thinks it's amazing."
“Nyle thinks it's cool, but he's a typical boy, so that's about it."
“My husband at the time was nothing but supportive, too."
Nyle and Elise (PA Real Life/Collect)
Having the procedure at a London fertility clinic, Leanne had first to be 'nil by mouth' for the morning.
“I was given a sedative, before they used a needle to extract the eggs vaginally."
“It took 15 to 20 minutes and they managed to get roughly 20 eggs."
Leanne has donated her eggs six times (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Afterwards, I was up and on my way."
Within two weeks, Leanne received a phone call from the clinic, saying her egg had led to a positive pregnancy test for the recipient but that, sadly, later on, they had miscarried.
“It was absolutely amazing to hear that the egg had taken," she said. “As a donor, I was desperate for it to work. You can't imagine what it must be like for the recipient, waiting to receive the egg."
“There's no legal obligation for the donor to go through with the procedure, so they can pull out at any minute, it must leave the recipient on tenterhooks."
“Hearing the pregnancy had ended in miscarriage was upsetting, but as a donor, I had done my bit – the rest was out of my hands."
“I was devastated for them, though, and it just made me want to donate again."
Leanne, Elise and Nyle (PA Real Life/Collect)
So, six months later, Leanne did exactly that.
“I went through the whole process again," she said. “But that time it wasn't successful from the outset."
Donating her eggs four more times over the next five years, Leanne was elated to find out that three of the four attempts resulted in a successful pregnancy and birth.
Leanne and Dan (PA Real Life/Collect)
As it is illegal in the UK for egg donors to receive anything more than expenses – which can be up to £750 (~$955) – it is a purely altruistic act.
“I got the cost of childcare covered and the train ticket to the clinic."
“It's not about financial gain though, it's about helping people who are desperate to start a family to achieve their dream."
All Leanne knows about the children she helped make possible, is that two are boys and one is a girl.
“I don't even know how old they are, as the clinic doesn't tell you specifics."
“For all I know an egg could have been fertilized and frozen, before being used months down the line."
Leanne has donated her eggs six times (PA Real Life/Collect)
But all could be revealed one day, as in April 2005, HFEA rules changed, allowing people conceived through egg donation to find out their donor's full name, date of birth, and current address when they turn 18.
Leanne, who last donated eggs in 2016, said:
“I always knew they could track me down one day and that's fine."
“Of course, I'd be interested in seeing who they are and knowing they are well, but mainly, I feel it is a great honor to have been able to help another woman to start a family."
Leanne is a funeral director (PA Real Life/Collect)
Now Leanne hopes that, through her work as a volunteer ambassador for the fertility clinic, Apricity – a position she has held since 2018 – that she will help other women to share her joy by becoming donors, too.
“As well as one-to-one calls with potential donors, I'm also part of a closed Facebook group that helps women in the process."
“My main goal is to raise as much awareness about egg donation as possible – it really is one of the best things I've ever done."
Elise, Nyle and Leanne (PA Real Life/Collect)
Altrui, part of Apricity, specializes in finding, matching and looking after altruistic egg donors with one-to-one, anonymous donation.
To find out more, visit: https://www.altrui.co.uk/.