One of the reasons why we formed We Are Egg Donors is to bridge conversations between egg donors and academics (of course, these groups are not mutually exclusive: some egg donors are also academics). We are thrilled and honored to interview Dr. Daisy Deomampo, who is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Fordham University. She is also a medical anthropologist who is conducting a study on US-based egg donors and women considering egg donation.
A big thank you to Suraiya Jetha, doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who collaborated with us on this interview. (Fun fact: Suraiya briefly interned at WAED when our organization first formed. We doesn't always have interns, but when we do, they are wildly overqualified for the task.)
If you're an egg donor who would like to participate in this study, or ask questions about it, please contact Dr. Deomampo directly via email at email@example.com. Her study is open to current egg donors, former egg donors, and people considering becoming egg donors in the United States, especially those who identify as Asian, Asian American, or of a mixed race Asian background.
SURAIYA: Tell us about your current project.
DAISY: My current research examines the social and cultural factors that influence decision making in egg and sperm donation. In other words, how and why do women and men decide to become egg or sperm donors? What are the main issues, challenges, and concerns they have? How do intended parents make decisions about whether or not to use donated sperm or eggs? What are the most important characteristics they look for in potential donors? For this research I am interviewing both donors and recipients, and I am particularly interested in how people think about race and identity as they navigate these processes.
RAQUEL: Why the focus on Asian Americans?
DAISY: I had read a number of recent news articles that detailed the plight of Asian intended parents who sought Asian egg or sperm donors, but found they were in short supply. Often they were unable to find a donor who shared the same racial/ethnic background, or if a desired donor was available, their compensation was very high, much higher than donors of other racial/ethnic backgrounds. I was interested in learning more about how people make decisions about gamete donation in these circumstances. I was also interested in learning more about the donors’ perspectives, as their views and experiences were rarely mentioned in such articles.
Moreover, Asian Americans are the fastest growing minority group in the country, and a recent CDC report concludes that Asian American and Pacific Islander women have the highest rates of ART utilization than any other ethnic group. Yet, Asian American experiences of ARTs are understudied and underrepresented in the social science literature. I decided this was an important study to undertake, in order to understand how minority groups access ARTs as well as their experiences and perceptions of the challenges and rewards associated with gamete donation.
RAQUEL: How does this project differ from your previous work?
DAISY: In my previous work I conducted long-term fieldwork in Mumbai, India, on transnational surrogacy. I conducted interviews with intended parents from around the world, Indian surrogate mothers, egg donors from India and South Africa, and Indian doctors, with the goal of understanding the motivations and perspectives of diverse actors involved in transnational baby making. In many ways my current project is similar, in that I am seeking to understand the motivations and experiences of a wide range of people involved in gamete donation. But this project more explicitly focuses on the role that race and identity play in gamete donation, whether you are considering becoming an egg or sperm donor, or going through the process of selecting a donor in order to become pregnant. More specifically I am interested in how eggs and sperm are conceptualized and valued (socially, culturally, and economically) by Asian American communities in the United States.
Another difference from my previous research is geographical; while my previous project was primarily located in Mumbai, this project involves shorter stints of fieldwork in three US cities: New York, NY, Los Angeles, CA, and Honolulu, HI. I’ve focused on New York and Los Angeles because of the diverse populations and large numbers of Asian Americans in each of the cities, and Honolulu has the highest proportion of the Asian American population (68%). I’m conducting in-person interviews in each of these cities, as well as phone interviews with people across the country.
SURAIYA: I read that a doctor you interviewed suggested that you could be an egg donor yourself.
DAISY: Yes, that was an interesting fieldwork moment! A doctor I had interviewed explained that he speaks with many clients from East Asia who are hoping to do surrogacy in India, but are also looking for what he called “Oriental” egg donors. He explained that such donors are uncommon in India and he thought I might be a good candidate (I am Filipina American). He then began to describe his system for classifying donors according to various characteristics; in this system, women with higher education, taller height, and fairer skin, were classified as “Diva donors” and received higher payments. “Regular donors” on the other hand, tended to have less education, darker skin, and received lower payments than Diva donors. I should note that he was not the only doctor I met that classified donors in this way. In retrospect it was perhaps one of the key events in my previous research that led me to my current project. The ways in which eggs were racialized and differently valued was explicit.
SURAIYA: That moment spoke to me because of moments in my research when women would interject "you should try getting pregnant now" — when I first started research, I was 28 and single, and they told me to go for it. During my research year itself, another woman told me “I'd regret not trying now!” I was wondering what that was like for you.
DAISY: That’s fascinating! It also speaks to how we, as anthropologists/ethnographers/fieldworkers, are never fully removed from or outside of the research. We engage in conversations and interact with research participants, rather than simply subject them to interviews or surveys. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about conducting ethnographic research.
RAQUEL: When you were in India, did you have any surprising moments or insights when you connected with egg donors or surrogates?
DAISY: Yes! One of the things I love about doing research is how unpredictable it can be. There were several women I ended up spending a lot of time with during my year of fieldwork; they did not fit the usual representations or stereotypes of Indian women I was reading about in the news media about Indian surrogacy. Many of the women I met were smart, strategic, and clear about their desires to become surrogate mothers. I was also surprised by how diverse women’s stories were; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has spoken about the danger of the “single story” and how it limits our field of vision and our understanding of a particular issue or a group of people. At the time I was doing research in India, there was definitely a “single story” that was repeated in the media, and it was refreshing to learn about women’s stories and experiences that challenge that narrative. In my current project, I look forward to learning about the diverse experiences and motivations of egg donors, so that we may challenge the dominant narratives commonly told about egg donation.
SURAIYA: Some of your findings might translate into things that some of our members would want, or even need, to know. What are your thoughts on the relationship between your research and advocacy for egg donors?
DAISY: I absolutely believe in the importance of using research to support advocacy efforts. One of my goals as a researcher and anthropologist is to show the broader social and cultural factors that influence health care. My hope is that this research can contribute to efforts to improve health outcomes, access to resources, and rights of individuals seeking health care.
RAQUEL: How can egg donors participate in your study?
DAISY: If you would like to participate or have any questions about this study, please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The study is open to current egg donors, former egg donors, and people considering becoming egg donors in the United States, especially those who identify as Asian, Asian American, or of a mixed race Asian background.
About the Interviewers
Suraiya Jetha is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research interests include national belonging, kinship relations, and the welfare state in Scandinavia. She's currently writing her dissertation on sperm donor siblingship, friendship, and queer kinship in Norway.
Raquel Cool is a writer and founding member of We Are Egg Donors, a women's health organization and global conversation among more than 1,300 egg donors in 12+ countries. She is represented by New York literary agency, Writers House. Her forthcoming book is called Women With Eggs.