Yasmin Sharman, a 25-year-old digital marketer, donated her eggs for the first time out of curiosity. “It was all sparked from a conversation I had while in college with one of my best friends. We were discussing how we feel about having kids.” Speaking to Unbothered, Yasmin explained that while she doesn't want to have kids, egg donation was the best way to have a child without technically having a child. “I’ll still be keeping the family DNA out there without having to do all the work.”
Yasmin donated her eggs a second time after learning that there is a scarcity of Black egg donors in the UK. “The first time I [donated] the nurse was so happy and glad that I donated in particular because I'm mixed race,” she says. Yasmin shared that the nurses at her egg donation facility said they could count on one hand the number of Black women that have donated eggs [at their facility], and she felt empathetic to the Black women and couples going through the stress of the IVF treatment without the option of having a baby that looks like them.
Egg donation is a process where a fertile birthing person donates an egg to another person, or couple to help them conceive through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). According to this report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), from 2012 to 2018 IVF cycles mostly used white egg donors for the majority of ethnic groups, and about 96 Black egg donors were counted out of the 3000 donors recorded. “There is a real difficulty with getting Black women to donate their eggs and we don't fully understand why that is,” explains Dr Edmond Ed-Osagie, a consultant gynaecological surgeon at the Ebony Concept Donor Group, a surrogacy and donor egg procurement service for couples of African heritage. “For some reason, Black women just do not come forward to donate eggs. It could be that historically Black people just have a distrust of medical facilities or even cultural influences.” A survey conducted by Fertility IQ also found that Black women are roughly three times more likely than white women to believe their ability to conceive relied upon "religious faith" or "God's will" so are less likely to choose medical intervention.
“There’s not a lot [Black women] represented in the [egg donation process] and we experience infertility at way higher rates... ”
journee clayton, 23
Journee Clayton, a 23-year-old professional cheerleader, was more than aware of the scarcity of Black egg donors and went through the donation process as a way to show other Black women what their bodies can do. “There’s not a lot [Black women] represented in the [egg donation process] and we experience infertility at way higher rates,” she says. “So this way I can help and be a face for women looking to donate but don’t know that donating is an option for them.”
The women who spoke to Unbothered said they were mostly motivated by altruism when it came to donating their eggs — not monetary compensation. While the IVF process can cost around £10,000 for one egg donation cycle, on average UK donors receive £750 compensation.
It can also be a physically and emotionally exhausting procedure. The egg donation process is made up of three parts: screening, hormonal injections and the surgical procedure. The screening process involves reviewing the donor’s personal and familial medical history, DNA tests, and physiological and psychological evaluations. Next, hormonal injections are administered to stimulate the donor’s ovaries to produce multiple eggs at once. Then the eggs are retrieved during a 30-minute trans-vaginal ovarian aspiration procedure.
For Yasmin, the hormonal injections induced an array of physical and emotional effects, including weight gain, bloating and intense mood swings. “[My mood swings] were quite [extreme] and I can laugh about them now but it was honestly a lot,” she says. “Like I’ll be in floods of tears because an advert made me cry and I would just have to leave to a corner to cry for a minute. But it wasn't too much and was something that I could work through."
Yasmin explains that while her drastic hormonal fluctuations were a shock to her system, she kept reminding herself of the magnitude of the journey to prevent being swept up in emotion. “I had to keep saying, I'm doing this for a purpose, I'm putting hormones into my body and that's what's making me emotional,” she says.
“The overall egg donation experience in the United Kingdom is a struggle,” Dr Edmond explains. “There is a huge demand for eggs and the supply just can’t satisfy this. And because of this, a lot of people from the UK have travelled to other countries to try and meet that demand. The problem is even more within the Black community because we have very few Black women who are willing to donate eggs. So any information we can get out there that lets people know that there is a huge need for Black eggs will be really helpful.”
Similarly, both Yasmin and Journee agree that limited access to information is the biggest hurdle with Black egg donation in the United Kingdom. “I had to do my own research to find out whether I could even donate my eggs and I’m certain there are people out there that have no idea it's even a possibility,” Yasmin says. “The process needs to be explained so that people can make their own decision. There’s obviously a lack of knowledge out there. And I think that can easily be changed,” she adds. Journee agrees that there should be more accessible education about Black women donating eggs. “Most of us don’t seek to donate because we aren’t knowledgeable about it,” she shares.
“You may think it would be nice to help someone have a family, but actually doing it and then embracing the knowledge that a baby has been born [with your help] is a different kind of gratitude.”
Yasmin sharman, 25
The ratio of Black women in need of fertility treatments compared to the number of Black women that donate eggs is vastly unequal but fertility experts such as Dr Edmond Ed-Osagie are working tirelessly to close this maternal health gap.
“I feel really honoured to be in a position where I can help couples who are struggling to have children,” Dr Edmond shares. “It's very fulfilling to come into a couple's life at a time when they feel really desperate, feel nothing is working out for them and are desperate to have children, and help them along that journey to the point where they're able to fulfil their need for children.”
Yasmin was surprised at the amount of joy this altruistic decision brought her. “I never fully grasped the level of joy giving to somebody else in this way could bring me,” she says. “You may think it would be nice to help someone have a family, but actually doing it and then embracing the knowledge that a baby has been born [with your help] is a different kind of gratitude.”
A significant part of Journee’s experience was choosing to be open about the decision to donate her eggs. “It is okay to talk about infertility,” she urges, “there’s a huge stigma around it — that we should keep it to ourselves because it’s not other people’s business, but I learnt that it’s something that is okay to talk about.”
There’s freedom in truth, and this applies distinctly to Black women's health issues. The rise of social media has created a culture of openness around our health and this gradually includes fertility. This openness and curiosity will influence the demystification of the egg donation process for Black women willing to give the ultimate gift.