In recent years, elective egg freezing for fertility preservation by unmarried women has caught on in popularity within Malaysia, with many local fertility clinics offering cost-competitive egg freezing packages. In Singapore, elective egg freezing for both married and single women will be permitted from 2023 onwards.
However, in Malaysia and Singapore, medical regulations explicitly ban sperm donation IVF (in vitro fertilisation) treatment for single women. This poses a dilemma to former patients on what to do with their frozen eggs, if they continue to remain single after being unable to find a suitable husband.
After all, most single women who freeze their eggs, do so with the strong expectation of utilising them one day, especially after spending so much time, effort, and money in freezing their eggs, in addition to paying expensive storage fees over several years.
One possible solution may be to export their frozen eggs for sperm donor IVF overseas. Currently, in both Malaysia and Singapore, there are as yet no regulations that ban single women from exporting their frozen eggs to foreign fertility clinics in Australia and the United States, which routinely carry out sperm donor IVF for single women.
This leaves open a legal loophole that can be exploited by single women who may choose to pursue the option of single motherhood with their frozen eggs.
Nevertheless, a woman considering single motherhood needs to do much soul-searching and think carefully about her choice, particularly in conservative and patriarchal Asian societies such as Malaysia and Singapore, where single motherhood is very much frowned upon.
Here are some pertinent key issues that a woman should consider, before choosing to embark on the journey of single motherhood with her frozen eggs.
Legal Discrimination Against Unmarried Mothers And Exclusion From Various State Benefits And Subsidies
First and foremost, be aware of the law. In both Malaysia and Singapore, the state and legal system make a clear distinction between the legitimate children of divorced and widowed single mothers, versus the illegitimate children of unmarried mothers who gave birth out of wedlock.
In the former case, the children are entitled to state benefits and subsidies, while in the latter case, the children face much legal discrimination, and are often excluded from various state benefits and subsidies.
For example, in Singapore, unmarried mothers are excluded from various pro-family incentives given only to married heterosexual couples with children; such as tax rebates, government subsidies for public housing, as well as cash gifts to newborn babies.
While sperm donor-conceived children of unmarried mothers in Malaysia have automatic inheritance rights to their single mother’s estate in the absence of a will, this is not the case in Singapore.
Nevertheless, in both Malaysia and Singapore, the illegitimate children of unwed mothers are automatically granted citizenship of their mother’s home country.
Financial, Emotional, And Physical Challenges Of Single Motherhood By Choice
Unless you are rich and with a strong supportive family network, there is no doubt that single motherhood by choice via sperm donation is financially, emotionally, and physically challenging. Unlike divorced single mothers and unwed mothers with accidental pregnancies, who usually receive child support maintenance from their ex-husbands or ex-boyfriends respectively, the costs of child upbringing will fall entirely on your own shoulders.
You would have to juggle earning enough money with caring for your child, which can be both physically and emotionally draining. It is imperative to ask yourself whether you can rely on your parents and other family members to provide child care and financial assistance on your single motherhood journey.
If your parents and other family members disapprove of your choice in the first place, then you can expect a hard time getting any childcare and financial support from them in the future.
By contrast, your married counterparts can also rely on their husbands and in-laws for additional child care support, besides their own parents. You may have to end up spending extra money on a nanny or child care centre.
Hence, it would be prudent to consider how much personal savings you have in the bank, before embarking on your single motherhood journey.
Detrimental Psychosocial Effects On The Illegitimate Child
The harsh reality is that both Malaysia and Singapore are conservative Asian societies with patriarchal traditional cultures, where single motherhood is heavily stigmatised. This in turn could exert detrimental psycho-social effects on the illegitimate sperm donor-conceived children of unmarried mothers.
For example, how would the child feel upon going to kindergarten or school and observing that most classmates have a father and mother, while he or she is different by having only a mother?
It must be noted that children of divorced mothers or those born out of wedlock usually know the identity of their biological fathers, and often have some degree of contact with them. By contrast, the identity of the biological father of a sperm donor-conceived child and the role that he plays in the child’s life is often a complete blank.
Hence, it is often questioned whether this is in the child’s best interest. After all, numerous sociological studies have pointed to better academic performance and less behavioral problems with children raised in conventional two-parent households.
Disruption Of Family Harmony
There is also a disturbing possibility of you and your child being scorned and ridiculed by your extended family of relatives, including parents, grandparents, siblings, nephews/nieces, uncles/aunts, and cousins, given the stigma of illegitimacy and single motherhood in traditional Asian cultures.
Yet another potential problem is the limited time and care that a single mother can give to her child, if she needs to work overtime to earn extra money to financially support her child. This may lead to future estrangement of child-parent relationships.
Impact On Future Dating And Marriage Prospects
Being an unwed mother may negatively impact your future dating and marriage prospects, if you still harbour aspirations of finding and marrying your Mr. Right.
Based on conservative social norms in Malaysia and Singapore, having an illegitimate child out of wedlock would certainly be a liability that would greatly diminish your value on the dating and marriage market.
Additional Challenges Faced By Mixed-Race Donor-Conceived Children
Exporting your frozen eggs overseas to a foreign fertility clinic opens up the possibility of using a sperm donor of a different race than you or you family.
In recent years, there has been an increasing trend of Asian women pursuing single motherhood overseas with Caucasian sperm donors, probably due to the pervasive influence of Western beauty standards of fair skin, tallness, blue eyes, and blonde hair, brought about by the influence of Hollywood movies and extensive media advertising.
Such illegitimate mixed-race children may face problems integrating into their extended family and society, due to conservative values and racial stratification in Malaysia and Singapore. This differs considerably from the situation of legitimate children of mixed-race marriages, who have parents and extended family that can guide and introduce them to both cultures.
By contrast, an illegitimate Eurasian child of a single mother would stick out like a sore thumb, and be like a cuckoo in the nest within an all-Asian extended family. At school with an all-Asian student body, there may be difficulties fitting in and making friends from major ethnic groups like the Malays, Chinese, and Indians, who often prefer to form cliques of friends within their own race.
Mishaps And Scandals Associated With Foreign Sperm Banks
Women considering using foreign sperm donors should be aware of various recent mishaps and scandals associated with foreign sperm banks. In particular, three prominent cases have been widely reported in the news media.
Firstly, the scandal involving an ex-criminal (Christopher Aggeles) diagnosed with schizophrenia who falsely claimed to be a genius with a PhD in neuroscience, who went on to sire 36 children from his donated sperm.
Secondly, a racial mix-up that resulted in a white woman (Jennifer Cramblett) receiving donated sperm from a black man.
Thirdly, a single mother (Danielle Rizzo) with two autistic sons conceived from sperm donated by an autistic man, who went on to sue the sperm bank.
Possibility Of Reduced Chances Of IVF Success Upon Export Of Frozen Eggs
Women should also be aware of possible reduced chances of IVF success upon exporting their frozen eggs to another fertility clinic overseas, due to incompatible freezing and thawing protocols practiced by different IVF laboratories.
Because human eggs are very sensitive, the thawing technique needs to be compatible with the freezing technique, which is similar to the relationship between a lock and a key.
Hence, patients should preferably use the same IVF lab that perform both the freezing and compatible thawing procedures to achieve good IVF success rates with frozen eggs.
Moreover, there is also a remote risk of damage to the frozen eggs during the transportation process, depending on the reliability of the courier company.
Fluctuations in temperature during the transport process due to malfunctioning equipment may permanently damage the frozen eggs, drastically reducing chances of IVF success.
In this day and age, it is often stressed that women should have a choice and right to do whatever they want with their own bodies, which include the option of single motherhood with their frozen eggs.
“My Body, My Choice!” is a slogan that is often heard, but it is often forgotten that this is not just a one-way street.
Because a woman’s right to choose comes with consequences and responsibilities, which will not only impact herself, but also her unborn child and loved ones, particularly her parents.
Hence, it is imperative that women should think carefully and be aware of the various challenges and pitfalls of single motherhood by exporting their frozen eggs for sperm donor IVF overseas.
Dr Alexis Heng Boon Chin, originally from Singapore, is an associate professor of biomedical science at Peking University, China.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.