The Challenge Of Accepting Donor Conception

At the recent Fertility Show Africa, Dr Mandy Rodriques, resident clinical psychologist at Medfem Fertility Clinic with 25 years of experience in field of infertility, provided an insightful look at the decision to use donor eggs, sperm or gametes and the emotional aspects thereof in her talk entitled “Losing my DNA”.

Donor conception is an option for increasing numbers of people, including single parents, the LGBTQ plus community, and the growing numbers of couples facing infertility challenges that can only be treated with eggs, sperm or gametes from a donor.

When looking at potentially losing or not using your own DNA to achieve a pregnancy, feelings of grief and loss are a harsh reality. Dealing with these intense emotions is important and there is a process of closure that must be completed. It’s a transition, and it is important when going through this to have support, and to start looking for the next option that will help you reach your end goal, which is to have a child.

Many couples can’t even say ‘donor egg’ or ‘donor sperm’ during their first counselling session. But often, by the end of the session, they are starting to look at options for the future.
This is why counselling is so important.

Many people feel that they first need to deal with the loss and this grief before thinking of the future, but in reality dealing with loss and grief is a simultaneous process with the acceptance of the next step.

Remember that the decision ultimately lies with the end goal, which is to have a child. It is also vital that both partners are on the same page.

So, you have to look at your worst-case scenario: what is the next step and can you acceptance this next step?

What are the other options, and which options are acceptable to both of you?

Donor conception is not for everyone. But over decades of practice, only one couple at Medfem decided not to go this route. Most accept the loss of their own DNA and take the next step of getting help from a donor, because of the value attached to the end goal.

Acceptance of the next step also creates peace of mind.

Donation decision-making process

At Medfem Fertility Clinic we have counselled thousands of couples through the process of accepting egg, sperm or gamete donation.

The process involves, firstly, exploring options before you make any decision, while realising that donation may not be the right option for you.

The process also involves acknowledging the enormous grief for the loss of your own DNA, knowing that the intensity of grief becomes less with time.

During the process, hope may be reborn.

Donor conception: did you know?

When looking at the option of donor conception, it is also useful to consider a few facts that are not always well known.

Firstly, there’s always the big question: who are the parents of the children born from donated eggs, sperm or gametes? Fortunately, in South Africa, we have strong and clear laws, as well as registered and credible donation agencies. By law, the woman carrying the child is the mother. In addition, all egg and sperm donors are anonymous and their privacy is protected by law. This means a child conceive via donation is not able to trace donors later in life.

Children often resemble their parents – not always or even just in physical features, but certainly in how they pace when they are bored, the way they laugh, and their facial expressions. And all of that is learned from the people who raise a child, not from the DNA.

The science of epigenetics also shows that the environment is in which a child lives is more important than the genetics. The basic the premise that our genes can be expressed in different ways depending on the environment.

So, perhaps the DNA is from a donor, but how it is expressed depends on the mother carrying the child – right from the nutrients consumed during pregnancy and the way she takes care of the pregnancy – all of which switches on and imprints different DNA expressions that are similar to her own. Looking at genotypes versus phenotypes, the instructions of the expression of a baby are primarily from the birth mother.

It is also helpful to recognise the type of women and men who tend to be donors. Medfem Fertility Clinic has worked with thousands of donors over the years and can confirm the findings of a large study by Associate Professor Donrich Thaldar in 2020 which found that the main reason why people donate is not for the money, but for altruistic reasons. Egg donors and sperm donors are often also organ donors, as well as blood donors and platelet donors. Many of them know someone who has experienced infertility, which is why they donate. On average, a donor will donate 2.48 times, even though more donations are allowed.

Many people are also unsure about disclosure or transparency to the child. Remember that it is not a decision you need to make upfront: first get comfortable with the process of donor conception and make the decision about telling a child thereafter.

However, it is encouraging to note that the incorrect ‘stigma’ once attached to using a donor sperm, eggs or gametes, is fading. Worldwide there is a movement towards ‘openness’. While in the past people may not have discussed the issue, around 75% of couples today are willing to disclose that they’ve used an egg or sperm donor. Others feel that they are protecting their child by not disclosing personal details to extended family, friends or colleagues, allowing the child to make the decision to reveal that information later in life.

However, the willingness to be open about egg donation or sperm donation, as opposed to living with a ‘white lie’ or ‘secret’ might be an indication of acceptance and the readiness of a couple to pursue the next step.

Another burning question couples who are thinking about donor conception always ask is whether there will be problems with attachment to a baby conceived with the help of a donor. After 26 years and more than 18,000 babies later, the Medfem Fertility Clinic team can confirm that there has not ever been a couple under our care that held their baby and regretted the decision to go ahead to their end goal – to have a baby – with the help of a donor.

Similarly, there is no difference in attachment whether the baby shared their own DNA or not: attachment already started happening when the embryos were still in the laboratory, and the parents-to-be watched and rooted for them, like parents do.

Take the next step

Grieving about your loss of your DNA is a process that must be completed, but it doesn’t mean you’re not ready to accept and take the next step. It is, however, vital that both partners are on the same page.

Even as you deal with the emotional upheaval, take time to explore the many fertility options that are available.

It is also important to find support. Speak to friends or family, or if you can’t do that, look for support on online platforms and from different support groups, or speak to a qualified counsellor.

Whether you are still considering donor conception, or if you are ready to take the next step, we would like to invite you to meet our team of fertility specialists at Medfem Fertility Clinic. Simply click here to book an initial consultation or contact us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244.

We look forward to meeting you at Medfem Fertility Clinic!


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