More and more frequent and less private

In Spain, more cycles of assisted reproduction are carried out per inhabitant than in any other country in Europe and around four out of ten of these cycles already go through egg donation, that is to say, to implant in the pregnant woman a embryo generated with eggs from another woman.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
15 September 2023 Friday 11:25
8 Reads
More and more frequent and less private

In Spain, more cycles of assisted reproduction are carried out per inhabitant than in any other country in Europe and around four out of ten of these cycles already go through egg donation, that is to say, to implant in the pregnant woman a embryo generated with eggs from another woman. The percentage will grow over the next few years, because women are increasingly trying to become mothers at a later age. And this, the relative normalization of the process, means that it is no longer a taboo, as it used to be.

Just type "ovulation" in the TikTok or Instagram search engine to find thousands of first-person accounts from all angles: women who take hormones to be able to donate, others in "beta-waiting" (the two weeks that pass from when treatment is completed until a reliable pregnancy test can be done), curious people asking about genetic mourning (the process you go through to assume there will be no genetic link to the child), stories that end in triumphant ultrasounds , stories – many – that end badly.

Women with fertility problems, much more than men, have always found refuge in social networks, the difference is that they were conversations in very localized forums, which had their own codes and terminology, and now it's all about content open to anyone, who are changing the way these issues are discussed, which is no longer so mediated by the official narrative of the fertility industry itself.

"No one would go through all this completely for free, because yes, it involves shit", says, for example, a tiktoker who has donated twice in a video entitled Donating eggs in A Coruña. “I donated eggs about ten years ago. He was in a precarious situation, he was paid illegally and he needed money. A friend of mine had done it, and I didn't feel very comfortable. At that time, I was only thinking about the thousand euros", he also explains to La Vanguardia Estrella de la Libertad Macías, who has spoken about his experience as a donor on TikTok.

The messages generated by the clinics themselves (until recently, they also posted testimonials from their donors on YouTube and other networks, but the Data Protection law limited this) and their promotional material always emphasize the altruistic nature of egg donation. In fact, the law also prevents publishing what is charged to go through the hormone and donation process, and this amount, between 800 and 1,100 euros, is not exactly considered a payment, but a compensation for the inconvenience, which it is not few

Researchers such as Sara Lafuente, sociologist and author of the book Mercados reproductivos (Katakrak) and Anna Molas, anthropologist from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​who has been studying social attitudes about assisted reproduction for years, agree that the economic compensation that 'offers in Spain, an amount close to the interprofessional minimum wage, is a fundamental factor for donors and one of the several differential facts that have made the powerful sector of fertility clinics grow.

"The motivation for the vast majority of donors is financial," says Molas, who has interviewed hundreds of them in his various research processes.

Lafuente, who also registered around 75 donors as part of the EDNA project, which took place in the UK, Belgium and Spain, prefers not to talk about "motivations" because it involves "putting the focus on the donors and their morality". The project asked, among other things, what the money would be spent on and what was the relevance of the economic factor. "All of them were clear about what they would be used for and that without the financial compensation they would not have donated eggs or would not have repeated the experience. A donor who at the time approached the clinic without knowing that there would be an economic exchange, once she saw how difficult the process is and how long it takes, she valued it positively. It is key - he adds - for these donations to exist. Without the compensation, the system would not work".

Even many pregnant women take part in this discourse. Rebeca Badía, a Valencian actress and broadcaster who is explaining her journey towards motherhood on Instagram (@yosoyovomama) and on YouTube (Ovo Mamá), admits that when she was in her early twenties – she is now 42 – she considered give eggs "But when I saw that it was necessary to get injections and hormones, I thought that it wasn't that much money either." It seems to him that the term "donor" is incorrect. "They didn't give me anything, I'm paying something. And if I donate the leftover embryo I have, someone else will end up paying for it. I'm not saying I bought my baby, but another term should be used."

Badía, who is 29 weeks pregnant, receives many messages from other women in similar situations. "My mother, who is from another generation, sometimes tells me: maybe you don't need to explain it so much". But his decision is to bring the issue with maximum transparency. She has even prepared a story to tell her daughter how she came into the world, written by Noemí Catalán, a publicist who has more than 30,000 followers on an Instagram account (@cestalvienoemi_mamipordonacion) in which she explains her experience.

It is difficult to quantify the extent to which those who resort to egg donation explain it to their children and those around them. The (looking for the maximum physical resemblance between the donor and the pregnant woman, or the partner, if there is one) is a fundamental part of these treatments and has traditionally allowed those who did not want to explain it not to have to - it Families with children without a genetic link or in which only the father contributed the sperm are used to hearing comments like: "He's just like his mother".

Catalina Roig, egg donation coordinator at the IVI clinic in Palma de Mallorca, believes that "there are still many people who don't explain it". "We still have a long way to go for people to normalize it more", he points out. In this entity, a giant in the sector that now has 74 centers in nine countries, 31.6% of the cycles carried out last year were through egg donation, and the average age of the patients who they opted for this technique was 42 years old.

In Spain there is no age limit for female patients, but there is a consensus among clinics not to treat women over 50. Are the patients informed about the high incidence? "It depends on the age. Between the ages of 40 and 45, they are still surprised when you diagnose them with a low ovarian load and recommend egg donation. In this area, we still find a lot of ignorance. They come to formidable, divine girls, and you tell them that their ovarian reserve is practically nil and they are surprised," explains Roig.

There are patients who decide at this point, and prefer not to go ahead with the treatments if they have to give up the genetic link, although the percentage of how many do so is not recorded. "There are also many people who tell you: 'Don't talk to me about egg donation', and in the end, when they see that it doesn't work with their eggs, they change their minds."

At the Roig center in Mallorca, 40% of the patients come from Germany, a country where egg donation is not allowed. The so-called "reproductive tourism" - the term is questioned, because there are those who consider it offensive - represents an increasingly important portion of the sector's activity. According to the SEF, the Fertility Society, more than 12,000 of the 127,000 cycles of assisted reproduction that were carried out in Spain in 2020, the last year with data collected, were for foreign patients.

"Ovules are at the center of the bioeconomy in Spain," says sociologist Sara Lafuente. "Third-party eggs are used to define many problems."

His decision would be to "puncture the balloon" of the demand for eggs, "to take a step back and solve the previous problems that generate this strong demand for egg donation. Many of the people who end up with these treatments did not want them, and they could have been avoided with public policies focused on improving life issues."

In other words, create conditions so that maternal age is not delayed so much, so that it is less necessary and that it is essentially concentrated in the public sector.