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 sat down with Embryologist and Director of HART Fertility Clinic & EDSA, Kimenthra Raja and Egg Donation Coordinator for DESA, Kinny Ramoeng, who took us through the process of egg donation.
Kimenthra has been an Embryologist for over twenty years, whilst Kinny has been in her field for over seven. Both are extremely 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 “super-star” egg donors and why they think being an egg donor is a very heartwarming job.
Who can become an egg donor?
Kim: If you are a young, healthy woman, between the ages of 19 and 29, you can become an egg donor. Egg donors donate their own eggs to women who cannot conceive naturally on their own, due to infertility.
Who are the donors exactly?
Kim: We very carefully screen our donors, we don’t just allow anybody onto the program. We have a certain criteria that we look for in a donor that fits our profile. We do acknowledge that applicants are young women, and we are mindful too that young people do get up to mischief or have fun, we are certainly not in a position to judge people’s lifestyles, however, we are looking for reasonably responsible young women. We won’t consider anyone who have substance or alcohol abuse, or have any mental health issues.
Kinny: Following on from what Kimenthra said, we will never pass judgement but one of the key aspects about being an egg donor is the fact that the applicant is reliable and a woman of integrity. We cannot take a chance where an approved donor has had a late night previously and misses a vital scan appointment the next morning or forgets to take her medication regularly. The actual egg donation process is a very simple one, that slots into your day to day life but it is about being able to rely on that donor from start to finish.
Kim: We don’t police our donors, but we do work on an honour system. When we recruit a donor and we explain the process, we specifically focus on the recipient involved. It is important for the donor to understand that it is not only about the money invested by the recipient and her family, but the emotional investment too, that we would seriously expect the donor to respect. And that is why the donor needs to be responsible and take this process seriously. It is possible that we could easily misread someone, and that has happened in the past, but that would equate to approximately 1% of our donors.
We have wonderful donors overall, donors who understand the process and respect how difficult choosing an egg donor by a recipient can be; donors who really want to make a difference. I feel that egg donation is more widely accepted nowadays, and so too are young people’s motivation to help others.
Do you think you’re on a stricter regimen if you’re an egg donor compared to a sperm donor?
Kim: Oh yes! It’s two completely different scenarios.
What does the egg donation procedure entail from beginning to end?
Kinny: A potential egg donor would contact us for an interview with myself. I would explain how the process works and what it involves and I’d answer any questions they may have. The applicant would fill in an application form.
If egg donation is new to an applicant, it can be overwhelming. The first meeting is really make the applicant feel comfortable in knowing that there is always someone readily available to answer any questions or concerns they may have. The application form has three general sections; personal medical history, then lifestyle and finally family medical history.
What if they don’t know their family medical history?
Kim: That’s okay!
Wouldn’t a potential donor decide not to apply if they thought they would be automatically excluded if they don’t meet all requirements?
Kim: Not necessarily, we do encourage our donors to acquire that information but we won’t disqualify anyone. Unless an applicant has serious medical conditions, mental health issues in their family or any substance abuse issues, they won’t be easily disqualified.
Every donor that comes in is an individual with their own backgrounds and with their own personal issues and so we try and accommodate where we can. The questionnaire that they will fill when meeting Kinny does aim to encompass their whole life. It’s quite an in-depth form that allows the donor to find out things about themselves as well.
Kinny: We recognise that each donor is unique, we all have different cultural and family dynamics. The form is not there to exclude anyone but more to inform the recipient about their eggs. Perhaps there is a certain condition that runs through their family that they should be aware of, as they parent a child with someone, with the donor’s genetic material. We also look at the donor’s personality and interests. In fact, filling out the form is really a cathartic exercise!
Kim: Correct. The application form tends to draw out information about the donor. It is important to note here that egg donation is an anonymous process, so that questionnaire is used to paint a very clear picture of who this person is so that the recipient gets to select someone they feel they know very well or have a lot of similarities with. A lot of recipients want ‘someone that resonates with them on a very personal level.
Kinny: Once the form has been completed, we would make the applicant an appointment to see our fertility specialist for an ultrasound scan. This is to check if her ovaries and uterus are healthy and active, and that there are no abnormalities in the reproductive system. That scan is very important.
The screening is empowering for our donors because it allows them to know where their reproductive health stands. They get an opportunity to speak to a gynaecologist who is further specialised about their position with eventually having children of their own and whether to have a pap smear.
They will then meet our psychologist. In this confidential and safe space, the applicant will through their own and their family’s mental health history. What would exclude someone if they or any member of their family have any mental health illnesses, especially anyone with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
In terms of mental illness, what about clinical depression? Would a donor qualify?
Kinny: Yes of course, but it’s important to us that the donor is in a healthy space. It is also possible if the donor is on medication.
What if a donor is on medication for bipolar disorder?
Kim: No, unfortunately not. Conditions such as bipolar disorder have a genetic composition that can be passed onto their children. So even if someone has depression for example, the psychologist would have to assess if the donor is comfortable with the procedure and that they understand the implications of what they are doing.
Again, t’s not to pass any judgement at all. If a donor has any mental health issues, our psychologist will delve into the why that is. The psychologist is there to see if there’s something more significant that could be passed on or affect a donor’s health at the time of the donation and after they have completed the donation.
What if a donor isn’t clinically depressed but going through a “low” period in their lives?
Kim: This would not disqualify a donor but if they are suicidal or something very serious along those lines, we would need to address that.
Kinny: It would be a decision that we would assist the donor in making in terms of what is best for the donor, in the long-run. The whole overarching outcome regarding egg donation is that it’s a very empowering journey either way.
Can a recipient be picky about choosing an egg donor?
Kim: Absolutely! There is a database that recipients can go through and they can select their perfect donor from there. As mentioned earlier, donors are anonymous however, their profiles do include full details about themselves, medical / family history and we include baby pictures of the donors on their online profiles too. Recipients can then choose one that either looks similar to them or has similar personality traits.
Have you ever had an instance where a recipient who was single used an egg donor and a sperm donor?
Kim: Yes. We experience that all the time! Egg donation is available to anyone who wants to have a child. Single women, same-sex couples, interracial couples, anybody can have a baby!
Do you cater for same-sex couples who are looking for egg/sperm donors and or surrogacy options?
Kim: Absolutely! We urge everyone to come forward. We’ve met and welcomed people from all walks of life, from different cultures and backgrounds, all races, and of course our amazing LGBTQ community!
LGBTQ parenting has been a topic that is very close to our hearts as we are proud supporters of LGBT families. We will continuously strive to advocate Human Rights but also share as much information as possible regarding common misconceptions about LGBTQ parenting!
Be sure to keep an eye out for PART-TWO of our “Why Egg Donation is truly a Sisterhood of Grace” interview next week!
Love EDSA x