Why Egg Donation Is Truly A Sisterhood of Grace – II
There are many women who struggle to conceive because of reproductive health issues. One of the options they can turn to for conception is seeking the help of an egg donor. We recently sat down with Embryologists and Director of HART & Egg Donations South Africa, Kimenthra Raja and Egg Donation Coordinator, Kinny Ramoeng, who explained the “ins and outs” of the egg donation process.
Kimenthra (Kim) has been an Embryologist for twelve years, whilst Kinny has been in her field for seven years. Both women are passionate about the work they do in empowering and changing the lives of thousands of families in South Africa. This is what they had to say about their egg donors and why they think being an egg donor is a very special job.
Recap on Part One here.
What is the difference between freezing eggs and donating eggs?
Kim: Freezing eggs (embryos) is a process where a woman is the only one who will have access to her eggs at any point of her life. Donating eggs means that eggs are available to anybody who wants (or needs) donated eggs in order to conceive.
Once an applicant gets a thumbs up and they are a successful egg donor! – What happens next?
Kinny: The applicant will be asked to come in and see us. Once their application form for egg donation has been approved, the next step is to go for a medical screening. This includes an ultrasound, a psychological evaluation, as well as a genetic and hormone screening. This medical screening will give a potential donor valuable insight into their own current health status at no cost to them. They will also see our psychologist or social worker, as we would like the process to be a fulfilling one, not just for the recipient of the donor’s eggs, but for the donor as well. This is done at no cost of course.
Can you donate more than once?
Kinny: There’s a limit to how many live births can come from egg donations. One egg donor can have six.
Kim: An egg donor can donate three times and create three sets of twins – that’s six children and then they are done! On the flip side, a donor could donate seven times and create two children. Seven is the very maximum.
Are donors paid to donate their eggs?
Kim: Yes, there is compensation a donor gets for donating her eggs. Every time she donates she will receive R7000 for her time and effort.
Do you only see donors during regular working hours?
Kim: We are available 24/7 for our egg donors. Our donors are supported by our entire team, from myself, to Kimmy and our nursing staff. Everything we do we, we discuss and consult with the doctors. No matter what time of the day.
We urge our donors to tell us anything and everything regarding the process and when they do, we’re so appreciative. An egg donor is never alone, there is an entire team of experts right by her side, who care very much.
If a woman wanted to be a donor would she have to get off birth control?
Kinny: No, most doctors would probably prefer you get off the injection, however, it is fine if you’re on contraceptives.
Would a donor need to refrain from sexual activities?
Kim: Yes, because they might actually end up pregnant and not just with one, but with twins!
So once the donor starts her treatment, she can actually produce more than one egg in her cycle?
Kinny: Yes absolutely! It is so important that donors take extra precautions if they were to engage in sexual activities. In our view however, it would be best is to abstain during that time.
What happens when a recipient chooses their perfect egg donor?
Kim: Once we have gone through the egg donor application process, a donor has been approved, and a recipient picks that donor from the database, Kinny would immediately contact that donor to state that they have been chosen.
Kinny: We wait for a recipient to choose a specific donor. That’s what is so special about egg donation, and why it’s so personal. It’s an immediate connection.
What if a donor has an irregular cycle?
Kinny: If they are not already on the contraceptive, then they will be put on a oral contraceptive to regulate their cycle. The pill is also used to sync their and the recipient’s cycle because they would both be taking medication, in tandem, yet they stop at different times. This is so that the recipient’s uterus is ready when the embryos are ready.
If the recipient’s pregnancy is unsuccessful would the donor have to go through the treatment process all over again?
Kim: In an ideal situation, we would get a good harvest of eggs in a cycle. 12-15 is ideal.
Kim: Yes, and in some instances we can get 40! So once we have the eggs ready, we will fertilise those eggs with either the recipient’s husband or the sperm donor’s sperm in the lab. We allow the embryos to fertilise for five days and then we will inject two good embryos into the patient. If there are any more embryos that are really good, we will freeze them.
Should the recipient not get pregnant from the two that we injected into her, then we will use the frozen embryos.
Your work with that couple might be done, but in the meantime, there are other couples who are looking for eggs donors. If a donor is selected, then they will go through that process again. We do have a lot of patients who come in a few years later, asking for the same donor they used previously. If they are not available, that’s ok because as a donor, they are not obligated to say yes.
People have this idea that donating is taboo because you’re ‘giving away your child’.
Kim: Sure, and we are very mindful of this. That’s why egg donation is such an individual thing. No one can tell you what to do with your body.
A woman can decide the importance they want to place on their eggs. It really depends on their cultural background, their philosophy in life and why they would want to do it. I don’t think it is fair to judge anyone wanting to donate their eggs, or those not feeling comfortable to donate either.
Does the donor get to decide what is done with the eggs? Or does the clinic make the final decision?
Kim: As an agency, we recruit donors for fertility purposes only. However, within that, a donor has the right to say who they want their eggs to go to. Perhaps a donor may only want their eggs to be available to a South African couple or perhaps not to a gay couple or a single woman. A donor has the right to say who they are happy to donate their eggs to.
Do donors have the options of getting to meet the children conceived from their eggs?
Kim: Not in South Africa, it’s completely anonymous.
Do you think that donors are doing it for the money?
Kim: Donors do it for the money but it’s not the only reason. A lot of our donors who come in with that motivation have a change of heart once they’ve completed their donations.
Does the treatment make donors moody, or sore during menstruation?
Kinny: There are general PMS symptoms but really nothing more than what any woman has experienced in their lives. There is no moodiness, however tender breasts, feeling bloated and mild headaches are all common. A donor does not have to take time away from work or change their lifestyle, they can literally continue on as normal. It is advisable not to partake in exercise on the day of your egg retrieval because a donor may be feel crampy and tender.
Does the egg retrieval process hurt?
Kinny: A lot of donors say they feel mild cramping, like period pains, but the actual procedure of retrieving the eggs is done under general anaesthetic.
If I was a 32-year-old who wanted to donate, what would you say?
Kim: Our cut off age is 29, so we would have to take guidance from our recipients and most of them seek younger donors.
Have you had donors who have started the treatment but didn’t finish because they changed their minds?
Kinny: I’ve been doing this for seven years and I have never encountered this. This is part of the reason why the questionnaire and psychological screening is important because we get a good sense right from the start, of the type of person the applicant is.
What do you want a potential donor to know about egg donation?
Kinny: Egg donation is an empowering process, and I deeply believe that donating eggs is a sisterhood of grace, because a younger woman is effectively donating a precious gift to a potentially more mature woman, who is receiving this from a younger self. It’s a beautiful privilege to be a donor. It is very powerful if you think about it.
Kim: You’ll forever have a connection with another human being. For me, our donors are extremely special to us. Without them, we wouldn’t have our moving stories to tell. We have close one-on-one relationships with our donors and recipients. It is a journey for our donors as much as it is for our recipients. We meet the donor and recipient, and immediately there is a very real connection. From that moment, both are never alone throughout and beyond the process. To us, our egg donors are amazing… super stars in fact!
Kinny: It’s truly transformative, for us all. We love our egg donors very much!
Love HART x