The struggle Afro-Caribbean women and couples face trying to find an egg donor

Facing fertility issues is hard enough, but if you’re Afro-Caribbean and are considering the use of an egg donor, then your struggle is likely to be even harder

BBC online have recently highlighted the story of Natasha and her husband who have been struggling to have a family since they married in 2011. Doctors told Natasha, who is 38, that in order to conceive, she would need an egg donor. They also told her that it was going to be difficult, because Afro-Caribbean eggs aren’t often donated.

Natasha and her husband had four cycles of IVF, which heartbreakingly all failed. It was after the third cycle that their doctors informed them that the health of Natasha’s eggs meant they were unlikely to conceive without a donor egg.

Their experience was harsh, with Natasha explaining, “The doctor said, “we doubt that your eggs are going to be any good and you probably need to consider going down the egg donation route.” And she literally got up from her seat and said, “I’ll give you some time with your husband to discuss,” and she walked out the room. And that was it.”

When the couple started researching organisations that help individuals and couples find suitable donors, they faced the reality of the situation – that not many Afro-Caribbean women donate their eggs

Although upsetting, Natasha appreciated the honesty, and began looking further afield. It was then that she found a Spanish clinic who could provide the couple with an egg donated by an African woman.

Whilst some might assume this was the answer the couple were looking for, Natasha didn’t agree. Both sets of her grandparents are from the Caribbean and Natasha understandably felt that she wanted her child to have the same cultural background as her. She worried that having a child with a different heritage would mean that the cultural connection would suffer.

With utmost honesty, she also told the BBC that her family “has a big hang-up about who looks like who and might discriminate against a child that they knew had come from a donor”.

So, what do the numbers look like when it comes to Afro-Caribbean egg donors?

The figures from 2017 are upsetting. Of the 1,900 individual donors who donated eggs, only 15 were categorised as ‘Black Caribbean’ and 20 were ‘Black African’. The overwhelming majority, just over 1,600, were categorised as from ‘White’ donors.

Which goes against the percentage of the population who are Black Caribbeans.  The 2011 census showed that the UK population is made up of 1.1% Black Caribbeans. For egg donors to represent this, 21 of the 1,900 egg donors in 2017 should be from Black Caribbeans. Instead, only 15 were. The same goes for those Brits of Black African heritage – 1.8% of the UK population is Black African, meaning that we should expect 34 egg donors from this ethnic group, rather than 20.

Cheshire based reproductive medicine specialist, Dr Edmond Edi-Osagie thinks the problem lies in “something cultural in the black community that makes these women reluctant to donate their eggs”.

Added to the problem is the fact that anecdotally, Dr Edi-Osagie finds that Afro-Caribbean women are more likely to need a donor egg. He told the BBC, “Any time I see an Afro-Caribbean woman over the age of 35 who walks through my clinic, the first thing I think about is, ‘Are they going to need donor eggs?’ My heart really sinks, because I know that it’s going to be a really difficult battle if they are.”

For this reason, Dr Edi-Osagie has been talking to black organisations and churches about the problem, and says the message is always well-received. However, it doesn’t always end in success

“I get a line of people who wait to speak to me to give me their contact details and then I get my staff, over the following weeks, to try to contact all of those people – and unfortunately, almost invariably that’s where the trail ends.”

Natasha thinks the problem is that not enough people are talking about the problem

She says that front line clinics don’t have leaflets about the subject, and many people in the community thinks it’s a “taboo” subject.

But the toll this attitude takes on the women living these struggles is very real. Natasha says, “It’s never taken seriously about how that person must be feeling or what support they may need. It’s just not a topic that’s ever brought up and yes it does need to change, it really does. Especially because women, no matter what cultural background, are having children later. So I know I’m not going to be the only person that has gone through this.”

The practical reality is that Natasha hasn’t told her own family about her fertility problems

She says that even her own husband isn’t fully aware of the mental anguish Natasha suffers. She says she’s all on her own, and wears a “mask” to hide her real emotions.

Natasha, we hear you, and we wish all the good fortune in the world.

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