'DNA-mum’ to four Malaysian kids, this South African woman connects egg donors with intended parents

Milad Hassandarvish
Genevieve Uys is a DNA-mother to nine children living in Malaysia, US and Australia. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 — In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is big business.

Globally, the IVF market size is expected to reach US$36.2 billion (RM151.44 billion) by 2026, based on a report by Grand View Research.

In Malaysia, it is estimated that the country is capable of becoming Asia’s fertility and cardiology treatments hub by next year due to its high quality healthcare services.

Malaysia Health Tourism Council (MHTC) also reported that the country records a 65 per cent success rate for IVF treatment, compared to the global average rate of 50 per cent.

The rising demand for IVF treatment in Malaysia comes after recent reports showed an alarming fall in the country’s fertility rate, from 4.9 children per woman in the 1970s to 1.9 children per woman, which is below replacement level.

In light of that, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng announced in his Budget 2020 speech that couples who seek IVF treatment may withdraw from their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) to fund the procedure.

Earlier, the Healthy Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad also noted that a total of 976 patients had gone for IVF treatment at four government hospitals last year, with 198 of them becoming pregnant.

But what of services provided that seek to make the process easier?

This is the case of a young and curious South African girl nine years ago, when curiosity led her to the business of “egg donation.”

Genevieve Uys had overheard a conversation about IVF and egg donation between her mother and cousin.

At that time, she was 20 years old and although she had heard about IVF as a medical procedure, the esoteric term, “egg donation,” triggered her mind.

She started surfing the internet to learn about the processes involved in the medical procedure.

This led to her registering with an agency in Cape Town to officially become a donor and soon after, she was called to donate her eggs.

Egg donation is when a woman gives her eggs to enable another woman to conceive as part of an assisted reproduction treatment.

The procedure that followed, however, didn’t make her feel comfortable as a donor and left her wishing she could be more involved in the process and receive more emotional support.

Despite her unpleasant first experience, Uys said she was informed by her friend that a company was sending a group of egg donors to India.

Genevieve Uys talks about her experience as an egg donor. — Picture from Hari Anggara

Convinced to give it one more try, Uys flew to Mumbai with another 20 girls for the same procedure.

“My experience in India was quite different in terms of the medical care and services,” she said.

“But I still felt that the agency that was handling us didn’t really look after our emotional needs while undergoing the procedure.”

The missing factor for Uys was the service quality to put both the donors and intending parents at ease.

Frustrated by the mismanagement of certain egg donation companies, she set up her own boutique agency, called Traveling Donors, in December 2011 to connect egg donors with intended parents from all over the world.

Her goal was to provide full-service, hands-on approach to the egg donation process and ensure that donors and intended parents feel comfortable throughout the IVF process.

While she was juggling between her roles as an entrepreneur and an advocate to raise awareness about IVF, she continued to donate her eggs in a bid to help more families.

She is now a DNA-mother to nine children, including four from Ipoh, two from New York, two from Brisbane and one from California.

Describing her feelings about being a DNA-mother to many children, the 29-year-old said being an egg donor is a rewarding experience, especially when she got to fulfil her recipients’ dream of building a family.

Genevieve Uys with her DNA-child from California in the US. — Picture courtesy of Genevieve Uys

Uys has already stopped donating eggs after helping four families, and now fully focuses on bridging donors and intended families across the world.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has set the industry limitation at six cycles per egg donor in her lifetime.

To date, Traveling Donors have brought over 400 babies into the world.

“My goal is to make sure that both donors and intended parents have a smooth and comfortable experience,” she said.

Speaking about the company, Uys said they have successfully delivered donors to 18 locations in the world.

She added that they have also established a strong network with trusted clinics and IVF centres in various countries including Malaysia to make it convenient for both the donors and intending parents.

How to become an egg donor?

If you wonder how one can become an egg donor, Uys said generally anyone between the age of 18 and 32 can sign up to become a donor.

However, all applicants must undergo stringent health screenings before they can join the pool of egg donors.

According to Uys, the examination includes various fertility, medical and genetic screenings to determine the donor’s eligibility.

“Family health history will also be evaluated through a genetic carrier screening to make sure the donor is free of possible hereditary diseases or genetic disorders,” she said.

On the fertility side, Uys noted that a donor’s ovaries will be examined to determine ovarian function and reserve as well as the donor’s ability to produce eggs.

Aside from the medical screening, Traveling Donors also conducts Skype video interviews with the potential donors to find out about their motivation, and if they have full knowledge about IVF processes.

The agency currently has a pool of 250 qualified donors mostly from South Africa, Russia, Georgia, Thailand and Malaysia.

 

The IVF journey

Once the donor and recipient are matched, Uys said the donor will be put on birth control pills for 14 to 21 days, which synchronises both the donor’s and recipient’s menstruation cycles.

Next, a follicle scan will be taken and the donor will be put on medications for 12 days.

Egg donors will then be monitored two to three times daily to measure the follicle growth and ensure it is within a healthy range.

“On day 11 or 12 of the cycle, once the follicles have matured for retrieval, an injection of agonist trigger called Decapeptyl, also known as the trigger shot, will be administered to prepare donor’s ovaries to release the eggs.

“Egg retrieval will then take place approximately 36 hours after the injection."

According to Uys, a typical egg donation process takes between 12 and 16 days from start of fertility medication to eggs retrieval.

 

She also highlighted that the whole process could take approximately three months from the day the donor and recipient are matched to the day of the actual donation.

How much does it cost?

Uys said the cost of egg donation can be variable depending on the services, fees and medical expenses.

The range includes egg donor compensation, egg donor programme fees, IVF and fertility treatment, medical screening as well as travel and accommodation expenses.

Traveling Donors have tailored three egg donor programmes that starts from US$9,000 (RM37,729), which includes travelling expenses, accommodation and medications for the period of the procedure.

Aside from the logistical expenses, Uys said the medical procedure alone will cost the families about RM28,000 in Malaysia depending on the medical centre.

Egg donors will also receive a US$3,000 (RM12,576) reimbursement for each donation cycle.

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