Intended Parents FAQs

Quick List

1. I have just heard I need donor eggs (DE) in order to conceive a child and I am really struggling to come to terms with it all.

As one donor egg mom puts it, ”I remember when my doctor first started talking about donor eggs. I was devastated. It felt as though someone told me I had cancer, or that I was going to have a leg amputated. I couldn’t imagine anything worse.”

It is a big shock to find out that you have to say goodbye to seeing your DNA in your child. No matter how quirky we know we are, no matter how many crazy skeletons we have in our genetic closet, we still mourn for the loss of our DNA. After all, at least our crazy is a familiar kind of crazy.

Mourning the loss of that DNA is an important part of the process of coming to terms with the concept of donor eggs. And it is a process. No one wakes up one morning and says “Oh, I know what! Why don’t I give up on my DNA and do DONOR EGGS!” By the time most people reach the point of considering DE, they have walked a long, hard path of trying with their own eggs and as any battle scared Infertility Veteran will tell you, this stuff SUCKS.

I strongly urge you to work through this process with someone you trust. Your doctor, your shrink, your best friend or the amazing group of women you will find online at the various support groups (Check out our wonderful South African support group Fertilicare). If you need us to refer you to a good psychologist who understands this fertility stuff, give us a shout.

For some people it is an easy decision, a no-brainer. My eggs = no chance at a baby, donor eggs = much, MUCH better chance at a baby. But for others, the process requires lots of careful consideration and thought.

Let me assure you however, once you do decide to go ahead, you will feel a million years lighter and filled with new hope.

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2. But will I love the child as much as if it was my own?

My dear, dear friend, if there is one thing I can assure you of, is that when that little baby is born (and even long before), you are going to love that baby so much, you are going to forget that those 23 chromosomes didn’t originate from you, this I can promise you.

As a recipient mom says “being on the other side…. I can’t believe how much it (where the egg came from) doesn’t matter. It isn’t possible for me to love this child any more. He’s 100% mine, no matter how he was conceived, or from whom. I know there are so many people struggling with this decision, some feeling that they just can’t go the donor egg route. I’m telling you, once they feel that baby kick, or hold that child in their arms – nothing else matters. I wish I could put them in my life for a day so they could truly see. I wish I could convince everyone who is sitting on the fence with this issue. I have no doubt that some people will miss out on this wonderful opportunity because of the fears they have about donor eggs…”

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donor eggs

A submission to PostSecret (www.postsecret.com) that perfect sums up what all our donor egg parents say once they have their baby. They love their child more than they could ever have dreamed possible.

3. What makes a mother?

As I sit on the couch at 2am holding my ill son in my arms, I reflect back on a conversation I had with a potential donor egg recipient today, a future mother. She has only just heard that she will need a donor egg in order to conceive, and is still in shock. Part numb, part devastated. Grieving for the loss of a child created from her own DNA.

So many questions, so many concerns. “But will I feel like the child’s mother?” Will that child feel like ‘mine’.

Sitting in the perfect still of the winter night, wiping my child’s feverish brow, it comes to me in a moment of absolute clarity….being a mother is not about the origins of conception. It is not about an egg or where the DNA comes from. Simple biology does not a mother make.

The mother is the person who cradles the baby to her chest, gently rocking him to sleep.

The mother is the person who holds the sickly child in her arms, wiping her feverish brow.

The mother is the one who whispers ‘I love you’ into the sleeping ear, who wipes the snotty nose, who fixes the scraped knee and cleans the poopy diapers.

The mother is the one who loves the child regardless, who loves the child unconditionally, even on the days where they behave revoltingly.

The egg donor, surrogate or birth mother (in the case of an adopted child) is a wonderful, beautiful, generous person who helped in the creation of that child, but they are not that child’s mother. That child’s mother is the one the child calls mommy.

What makes a mother is not about what happened at the moment of conception; it is about what happens every day in the life of the child.

And that my friends, is what makes a mother.

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4. So, who is the ‘mother’ of this child?

“Women who give birth to donor egg babies are the biological moms”

“Perhaps the greatest myth surrounds pregnancy. Many believe the uterus is simply an incubator. Nothing could be further from the truth. The most important aspect of all pregnancies- including egg donation pregnancies- is that as the fetus grows, every cell in the developing body is built out of the pregnant mother’s body. Tissue from her uterine lining will contribute to the formation of the placenta, which will link her and her child. The fetus will use her body’s protein, then she will replace it. The fetus uses her sugars, calcium, nitrates, and fluids, and she will replace them. So, if you think of your dream child as your dream house, the genes provide merely a basic blueprint, the biological mother takes care of all the materials and construction, from the foundation right on up to the light fixtures. So, although her husband’s aunt Sara or the donor’s grandfather may have genetically programmed the shape of the new baby’s earlobe, the earlobe itself is the pregnant woman’s “flesh and blood.” That means the earlobe, along with the baby herself, grew from the recipient’s body. That is why she is the child’s biological mother. That is why this child is her biological child.” Taken from a booklet published by Freedom Pharmacy.

Epigenetics – The Importance of the Birth Mother

An article about epigenetics that referred to the influence of the birth mother on the genetic make up of a child born from donor eggs…

Genes must be ‘expressed’ within an individual in order to have an effect.

The same gene or genes can express in a number of different ways depending upon the environment. A gene can remain ’silent’ or unexpressed; it can be expressed strongly; it can be expressed weakly, and so on. There is also an entire field of study called “imprinting” having to do with which gene you ‘activate,’ the copy you received from your mother, or the copy you received from your father.

The field of epigenetics studies these phenomenon, and popular journalism is just starting to write about it. While the Human Genome Project was still underway, we usually heard genes referred to as ‘the Bible’ of the human being, as a kind of absolute truth concerning the fundamental nature of the individual.

That is now changing.

In a donor egg pregnancy, the pregnant woman’s womb is the environment. It is her genes, not the donor’s, that determine the expression of the donor-egg baby’s genes.

A donor egg baby gets her genes from the donor; she gets the ‘instructions’ on the expression of those genes from the woman who carries her to term.

This means that a donor egg baby has 3 biological parents: a father, the egg donor, and the woman who carries the pregnancy.

The child who is born would have been a physically & no doubt emotionally different person if carried by his genetic mother.

In horse breeding for example, it’s not uncommon to implant a pony embryo into the womb of a horse. The foals that result, are different from normal ponies. They’re bigger. These animals’ genotype – their genes – are the same as a pony’s, but their phenotype – what their genes actually look like in the living animal – is different.

The implication of epigenetics is that the child inherits characteristics from the woman who carries the child even if the original DNA comes from a donor egg. In other words the birth mother influences what the child is like at a genetic level – it IS her child.

Original source unknown but more information can be found here and here.


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5. Telling vs Not Telling – what do we tell the child, the aunty, the granny and the world?

One of the topics of greatest concern and interest to parents or prospective parents is whether, when and how to tell the child about the role the egg donor played in their conception. “Disclosure” as it is known in the local parlance is a very personal decision, and you need to do what is right for your child and for yourself. Although my personal belief is it is better for the child to tell, it is something YOU need to feel comfortable with.

There has been some excellent research into this topic and I encourage you to check out this really great article by a Britta Dinsmore, Ph.D. – herself a mother after egg donation. “DisclosureDecisions” on the PVED site.

For great support and really REALLY useful (free!!) booklets on Telling and Talking about donor conception, please check out the Donor Conception Network site.

More info:

1. ‘Quandary on Donor Eggs: what to tell the children’ 1998 NYT article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg – LINK

2. ’Donor Egg Disclosure- The Great Debate’ 2008 article by Phyllis Martin – LINK

3. ’To tell the truth’ – 2008 Boston Globe Article by Patricia Wen – LINK

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6. Why am I so emotional about this!?

For many recipients, the decision to use an egg donor is an incredibly difficult one to make. There is much anguish and emotion that goes into the decision and yet they often feel as if they have very little ‘choice’ at all. For others, it is an easy decision to make. Whatever the personal reality of each of these recipients, the truth is that for most of them, they have arrived at this point after a long, hard journey, often marked with much pain and heartache.

The decision to use donor eggs is often a difficult one because it does involve the loss of the genetic and biological connection to the mother. And often grieving is a part of that process. Add to this years of disappointment and heartache and it is no wonder some of you might be feeling a bit fragile. As a veteran tenant of many counsellors’ couches myself, I strongly recommend that you see one of our fabulous counsellors to sort through some of your fears, concerns, and sadness with respect to doing an egg donor cycle. Contact us for a counsellor close to you.

‘Making Good Decisions about Using Donated Eggs: Elements and Influences’ By Ellen Sarasohn Glazer and Evelina Weidman Sterling – LINK

‘The Decision To Use Donor Eggs: Differences Between Men and Women’ By Dr. Andrea Braverman – LINK

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7. How on earth do I go about choosing a donor?

Right, after all that agonizing, you have decided to go ahead. Now the tricky part – choosing a donor! Again, this is such an individual decision. Being on this side of the screen, it has been fascinating to watch how different we are in how we go about choosing a donor.

On the one end of the scale, I have a recipient who quite simply said to me “I don’t care, as long as she doesn’t have a criminal record. All I want is a baby”. She was really battle-weary.

And at the other end of the spectrum, I have recipients who are still searching for the ‘perfect’ donor, a donor that mirrors all the good bits about themselves, but without the bad. A mini-me. In fact, what they would really like is a clone of themselves. Not gonna happen

And situated somewhere in between, lie the majority of people. For some people, physical appearance is very important. They would like a donor who looks just like the intended mother. Tall moms look for tall donors, blonde moms look for blonde donors.

(On that note – please note that it is illegal for Egg Donor Agencies operating in South Africa to show adult photos of their donors. All donations are anonymous so please don’t ask us to send you the donor’s modeling portfolio, we aren’t allowed to!)

And there are others who place less importance on what the donor looks like, but much more importance on the donor’s personality, or her academic achievements, or sporting abilities etc etc. As diverse as we are as individuals, is as different each of our decision making process is.

Having said all of that, based on my experience, let me offer the following thoughts:

  1. Children have this annoying habit of doing their own thing anyway, no matter how much we would like to plan and control the process. I have twins who look completely different to one another – the one is blond with olive skin, the other has fair skin and brown hair. And yet everyone says they both look like me. People see what they want to see.
  2. I often think it is a bit like choosing a life partner – while we like to think we are 100% sure he (or she) is The One, in reality we are taking a bit of a leap of faith when we say “I do”.
  3. Yes we would all like our donors to be super model brain surgeons who devote their spare time to saving the world, but just as a matter of interest, do this exercise….. if you were a potential donor and you had to complete the full application form, would you pick you? It’s quite a sobering thought!
  4. Please don’t judge someone’s ‘intelligence’ on whether they have studied or not. Having a degree doesn’t necessarily mean you are intelligent (says she with three degrees!!), it means you were fortunate enough to have the OPPORTUNITY to study further.
  5. Lastly, don’t go into analysis-paralysis. Don’t kill yourself with trying to analyze and interrogate every detail about the donor. Pick a short list, weigh up what is important to you, and then go with your gut. Go with what feels right for you.

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8. How much is ‘Nature’ and how much is ‘Nurture’?

Ah, the eternal question.

“You got your green eyes from your mother, and your freckles from your father. But where did you get your thrill-seeking personality and talent for singing? Did you learn these from your parents or was it predetermined by your genes? While it’s clear that physical characteristics are hereditary, the genetic waters get a bit more murky when it comes to an individual’s behavior, intelligence, and personality. Ultimately, the old argument of nature vs. nurture has never really been won but a shocking surprise that emerged from the full sequence of the human genome earlier this year is that we are the proud owners of a paltry 30,000 genes — barely twice the number of a fruit fly.”

So, in other words, we don’t know. How much of who we are is shaped by our DNA and how much is shaped on what our mother ate when she was pregnant with us, how much we were stimulated as a baby, good nutrition, opportunity, society…… We don’t know. I like to think of it like this: children are a bit like molding clay, they are born with certain shape and form, but what the end results looks like is determined by how much work and play we put into creating the end result. Or put another way – the donor provides the outline, it is the parents who colour the picture in and give it life. As long as they tidy up their toys and end up being highly paid plastic surgeons one day, does it really matter?

‘Nature vs. Nurture – Are We Really Born That Way?’ by Kimberly Powell – LINK

‘Nature vs Nurture Revisited’ by Kevin Davies – LINK

Wikipedia takes on the Nature versus Nurture debate – LINK

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9. How many eggs will I get?

The short answer – we don’t know. No one can predict how many eggs the donor will produce. Not us, not you, not even the doctor.

Unless you have made a specific agreement to do egg sharing, you get all the eggs the donor produces…. BUT…. I want you to forget about every thing you used to think was true about eggs. I know that when we cycle with our own eggs, all we want is LOTS and LOTS of eggs, but donor egg cycles work differently.

Research is starting to point us in the direction of something that this infertile chick guessed was true long ago – lots of eggs does not necessarily equal good results. In fact, it now seems apparent that higher doses of stims have a negative effect on the quality of the eggs retrieved. Combine that with the fact that doctors are very, very careful not to overstim a donor, you will see why the aim is to get between 8-10 good eggs per cycle. Yes my friends, only 8-10.

Now I know you are all clutching your chests in horror – EIGHT TO TEN EGGS!!! Even my useless old ovaries can produce more than 8 eggs!! Yes dear, but wouldn’t you rather take 8 excellent eggs (THAT WORK) over 15 crappy ones? I thought so.

Seriously though, the success with donor egg cycles is excellent (around >60% per attempt!!) so the doctors must be doing something right. Plus the very last thing we want to do is put our wonderful egg donors at risk.

Keep telling yourself this: The aim is to have a baby, not to have X number of eggs.

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10. Will it work?

Short answer: Up to 60-70% of the time it does work, first time. But obviously it doesn’t work first time, every time. You might need to come back to do a FET, or to try again. If you do try again, we will give you a further discount on our rate. We hope you are one of the lucky 70% for who it works the first time.

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11. I stay in Durban, but I would like to pick a donor in Cape Town and do my cycle in Johannesburg, is that ok?

It is possible, but it is more expensive. Some of our lovely donors have kindly agreed to travel between cities, but it will add to your cost. Please email us to get a quote for the travel costs associated with ‘out of town’ donors.

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12. I would like to pick a donor now, can you hold her for me until 2015 when we might or might not decide to use her?

Unfortunately not. Our donors are young women with their own lives, we can’t ask them to put their lives on hold for us. And at the same time, we can’t predict where they will be in their lives in even a few months time, never mind a year to two away. They might get married / divorced / pregnant / relocated by 2015. Your cycle has to start within three months of choosing a donor.

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13. How long is your waiting list? How soon can we get going?

We don’t have a waiting list. The ‘wait’ is only as long as it takes for you to choose your ideal donor. We have some absolutely wonderful donors on board, from all ethnic groups but if you are looking for a French speaking, 7 foot red-headed, blue eyed gymnast with a passion for cooking Indonesian food, well then you might have to wait a bit longer until one comes along. But if your list is a little more in the range of ‘normal’, we should have a donor who meets most of your requirements.

Once you have picked your donor and we have completed the ‘admin’ of matching you up, the soonest your cycle can take place is 6-8 weeks. The timing is usually around 8-10 weeks. Remember that the donor first has to have all her blood tests done, and her medical examination etc, all of which takes a little time. Then, if everyone is ok, your cycle will have to be synced with hers. These things take a little time.

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14. How much information is available about the donor?

Unlike some other international donor programs, future parents are able to view full information about prospective donors, including personality and character information, family history going back two generations, education history, medical information, etc. as well as photos of the donor as a child.

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15. I am coming from overseas, can you help me with my travel arrangements?

Yes, with pleasure! We have a travel service that will assist you with ideas, recommendations and quotes for travel and accommodation in South Africa, please visit our travel page. South Africa offers a broad range of the most amazing travel experiences. You will LOVE your time here.

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16. How are the dates for my treatment cycle worked out?

In your initial discussion with the doctor and fertility sister, you will let them know when you would like to be in South Africa – give them your preferred dates for your 12 day stay. They will then confirm those dates with the donor, and then they will work out a treatment plan based on your chosen dates. In summary, it involves working back from your preferred dates to see when the donor should stop the pill, when her first injections start etc.

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17. What type of screening will the donor undergo?

The donor will undergo a psychological assessment and a medical assessment. The psychological assessment has three main purposes: (1) that the donor is fully aware of what is involved in donating in her eggs and that she understands all the implications and risks involved, (2) that she is mentally healthy to donate and (3) that there are no known psychological disorders that would disqualify her from donating.

The medical assessment must be repeated each time the donor donates to ensure that the results are current. This involves blood tests for infectious diseases including HIV I and II antibodies, RPR (Syphilis). Hepatitis B surface antigen, Hepatitis C antibodies and CMV (Cytomegalovirus) IgM. In addition, the donor will have a pelvic ultrasound to ensure that her ovaries are in an optimum state to donate.

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18. How do I know that the information provided in the donor’s profile is true?

While some of the information can be verified, we rely on the donor’s integrity to be honest. Because there is no financial incentive to donate, there is also no incentive for the donors to lie about any of their information. Unless someone has a penchant for having needles jabbed in them, suffering PMS-like hormone swings, bloating and undergoing a fairly invasive medical procedure, it is highly unlikely that anyone would want to lie their way onto an egg donor program.

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19. How do I know that the donor I choose off the website is the same donor who will donate for me?

We provide the donor’s details and your details to the fertility clinic. The doctor will specifically check that the donor who is matched with you is the same donor you have chosen.

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20. Why do the donors do this? What type of person donates their eggs?

R6,000 is not a lot of money, the donors do not donate for financial reward. They donate for a variety of reasons, but mostly it is around giving back something to other people. You know how you get some people who volunteer, who recycle, who seem to genuinely care about their fellow human beings? That is the type of donor we have on our database. Genuinely amazing people.

To illustrate our point, check out this email from one of our new donors “C”:

Thanx, would it be possible to rather have the money (if chosen) donated to a charity as I’m not after this for the money?

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21. I am almost 50 years old, is it dangerous for me to be pregnant?

A very encouraging study has just been released which found that pregnant patients over 50 years old who had used donor eggs to conceive showed no significant additional risk due to their age. This is extremely encouraging! If you are fit and healthy, there is absolutely no reason why shouldn’t have a wonderful, healthy pregnancy. Don’t let your age discourage you, if you want to be a mother then go for it. (Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21809262)

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22. What else can I do to increase my odds of success?

During our fertility journeys we have done several things in hope that it might increase our chance at success. We ate bucket loads of pineapples because we heard it helped with implantation. We bought fertility dolls, rubbed the heads of babies (that one nearly got us arrested), had no sex / had lots of sex, avoided caffeine / alcohol / sugar / soya / life in the hope it would help. Ultimately, one of those things did eventually work. We eventually got pregnant. Which one worked? No idea, but one thing is for sure – the correct diet certainly helps. Penny Crowther, specialist fertility nutritionist in the UK put together a few thoughts for us on Fertility Nutrition: http://www.nurture.co.za/fertility-nutrition/

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23. Why do the donors donate?

Besides the fact that egg donation in South Africa has to be altruistic, R6000 is not a huge amount of money – the donors do not donate for financial reward. They donate for a variety of reasons, but mostly it is around giving back something to other people. You know how you get some people who volunteer, who recycle, who seem to genuinely care about their fellow human beings? That is the type of donor we have on our database. Genuinely amazing people.

To illustrate this point, check out these email we just got from donor ‘C’ and donor ‘Eve’:

‘C’ says: “Thanx, would it be possible to rather have the money (if chosen) donated to a charity as I’m not after this for the money?”

‘Eve’ says: “As soon as I cash the cheque, it’s off to the grocery store I go to shop for ‘my kids’ at the orphanage. Doing the happy dance”

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Final Words from us

Egg donation is a wonderful option that gives hope where previously there was only despair. Without the generosity of our fantastic egg donors, there would still be too many empty arms and aching hearts. It is a great, wonderful, magnificent thing, but it is also a very big decision, so take as much time as you need, ask as many questions as you like, view as many profiles as you need to see. We are here for you all the way, it is our honour and our pleasure to walk along side you on what is hopefully the home stretch of your journey.

Big smooches and much love to all of you, love Tertia, Kim and Gerida.

PS Tired of hearing “just relax” from well-meaning Fertile Myrtles? Tell them to read this excellent piece by Resolve on Infertility Etiquette for Family and Friends.