Guest post: "We chose a donor online and ordered sperm in my lunch break"
Posted on: Wed 02-Sep-15 15:45:17
(45 comments )
How do you choose half of your child's genetic heritage?
You fall in love. The thought rises to your mind unbidden: "You will be such a good father". There are months spent wondering whether your baby will have his eyes. In the best case scenario you know and love your child's genetics.
Of course it's not always like that.
In my case, I procrastinated for three weeks and then, following an impatient email from the fertility clinic and a rushed Skype conversation, chose a donor from a catalogue online and ordered sperm during my lunch break.
We know a lot about him. We have his medical profile and that of his parents and siblings. We know his hobbies, that his favourite animal is a golden retriever, that he struggled with alcoholism in his youth. We have a photograph taken when our donor was roughly the same age as our twins are now and the resemblance is striking. We have a tape recording of his voice, a letter in which he commands his offspring's parents to "cherish them" and wishes the children the best.
Following our experience, I was surprised to read this week that the UK's national sperm bank was keen to "kick the foreign banks out of business". The case was made that the UK system would be 'kinder' to those conceived using donor sperm because it limited the number of families created by each donor. How altruistic of them.
I don't know anybody who went to Denmark in order to conceive a child. I, and the other families I know, bought the sperm from overseas but shipped it here for treatment.
Like every parent we want the best for our children. The brightest future. The best genetics. When making a baby becomes analytical rather than emotive, you shop around for the best.
Our children were conceived using sperm imported from the European Sperm Bank (ESB). Sperm met egg during IVF at a London clinic - the fact that we had fertility treatment in a UK-based clinic meaning that the sperm that we purchased from the Denmark-based ESB was of the more expensive 'UK-compliant' variety. UK-compliant sperm is subject to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association's 10-family rule and from a non-anonymous donor. Our children will, if they desire, be given their genetic father's name, passport number and last known address if they request it once they are over 18. For our slot among the donor's ten families we paid €1000 Euros to the HFEA. To the clinic, we paid €100 for three months of access to their donor catalogue. We also paid €370 for our sample of sperm and €300 to have it shipped to our London clinic. We funded our IVF privately.
So how do you choose half of your child's genetic heritage? We made an account with every sperm bank our clinic recommended. Of the clinic that we used, only 68 donors were UK-compliant. Of those, 23 tested negative for Cytomegalovirus antibodies, like me. We stared at 23 infant photographs, read 23 medical profiles, considered 23 donor letters about their hopes for their offspring, and we made our choice.
Would it have made a difference to us if there were a functioning clinic in the UK? No. Like every parent we want the best for our children. The brightest future. The best genetics. When making a baby becomes analytical rather than emotive, you start to wonder whether it mightn't be kinder to choose somebody who might counteract your own height of five-foot-nothing. Whose 'science brain' might give your child a hope of passing maths. You shop around for 'the best'.
Ultimately we chose somebody older, with the maturity to commit to adult children potentially turning up on his doorstep in eighteen years' time. Somebody who wrote us a beautiful letter. Somebody who seemed kind.
Laura Witjens, chief of the UK National Sperm Bank, has said Danish banks are recruiting donors by appealing to male vanity. As a keen future surrogate I can attest to the fact that one can think that one is fantastic enough at baby-making for it to be a shame not to lend a helping hand, whilst still wishing the best for the potential parents and child. I don't believe narcissism is the driving force behind sperm donation - I think that, if anything, donation rates are higher in Denmark because students are supplementing their income by donating. Does it matter to us? No. My children may one day meet the man who helped to conceive them but he will never be their father. It would be naïve to expect his part in their conception to be driven by pure altruism.
For us, we would have considered sperm from a UK sperm clinic but it wouldn't have eliminated the other options; even the Danish sperm banks don't have enough subjects on their books to do that.
By Amber Wilde
Ultimately, it's all a transaction though isn't it? Even for the couple wanting to conceive. And one of the reasons why the foreign clinics are so frowned upon by most people is because in general, the men are purely in it for the money (as you said yourself, students use it as a way to boost their income), and the women who donate eggs are exploited, often they are women living on the poverty line with no other way they can see of earning a living, and so they essentially sell their eggs. And often they are given enough of the right drugs to produce as many eggs as possible in order that these be sold to desperate couples for £££.
And then there are the surrogacy clinics in India and the like where again, women carry babies for westerners in the hopes of being able to provide a future for their families which they otherwise never would be able to do. And the western couples just swoop in at the end and collect their baby while the surrogate is discarded until she can carry another baby.
How does one tell one's children that their sperm donor was chosen from a catalogue? It's all very well to have that conversation when the children are younger but really children aren't stupid, and this sort of thing is only going to increase as they get older, eventually they will figure out that they were essentially chosen off the back of a couple of pictures and the likes and dislikes of a total stranger.
An article on the bbc yesterday reported that the sperm clinic opened in Birmingham last year has just nine donors. Yes that is unfortunate, but tbh I would rather have a system in the UK which limits the number of families one donor can create than one where men are essentially selling their sperm as an income generator, while women are exploited for their eggs when they see no other way of earning money, while infertile couples have been reduced to people who believe that it shouldn't matter how or where their donor comes from, just as long as they get their baby at the end of it all.
IMO the entire fertility industry is completely toxic, and I am glad that we live in a country where there are still some boundaries.
Just because something can be done, doesn't mean that it should.
How does one tell ones children that their sperm donor was chosen from a catalogue
I'm not seeing the problem - unless men with genetic issues, lesbian women, single women, shouldn't have children?
You are wrong about the number of children/families created by a foreign donor versus a UK donor.
It is true that the when sperm is imported to the UK from the European sperm bank or cryos or xytex in the U.S. (To name the most popular banks for importation) it is then subject to the UK limit of ten families per donor (which could easily mean 20 siblings).
However - and crucially - the limit is only applied WITHIN THE UK. A UK compliant donor from a foreign bank can also be exported to any other country in the world - the only restriction is that the family limits WITHIN THAT COUNTRY are adhered to.
This means that if, for example, you used a UK compliant donor from xytex in the U.S. That same donor is likely to be used all over the U.S. As well as being exported world wide... And the U.S. Has no family limits. none. Thus I once asked a xytex employee for common numbers of offspring from one donor and she told me eighty! (There are reports of donors with over 150 offspring on the donor sibling registry).
The Problem with this for offspring comes if you have an ID release donor... That is willing to be identified when the child turns 18. How meaningful can contact be with a donor if there are scores of offspring?
I'm not saying the UK is perfect. It's not. i was looking at the London sperm bank website recently and it strikes me that quite a few seem to be students from abroad. These, I imagine, might also be hard to track down.
However, Properly recruited a UK donor would mean that children would find themselves with manageable numbers off offspring and a reasonable chance of contact with the donor.
The one thing I feel the UK banks need to do... is to provide far far more information to potential parents. The allure of the foreign banks is the photos and the medical history the writing self assessments the random facts... When combined with identity release its pretty irresistible.
Oh yes: to add.... It is better to Import a foreign I.d. release donor (a donor whose identity will be released a'wheb child 18)... Rather than go abroad to get pregnant. In the U.S. For example the identity of the donors are kept with the soerm banks and they can withhold it ... It has even been known for donors to change their mind and belatedly decide to withdraw their id release. If the soerm is imported however the identity has to be lodged with the UK government bidy.. The hfea...) and will be released at offsprings request when they reach 18.
On iPhone so hope this makes sense!
it will be interesting to see what research shows up about how the children of these transactions feel when they reach a meaningful age to start wondering about their heritage, where they have come from, their biology etc. iirc the anonymity rules were changed in the UK precisely because research showed that children gained more from knowing where they had come from in exact terms and being able to trace their biology.
There's organisations representing children born from
Anonymous donors and a certain degree of them have issues, as you may expect. There is quite a large anti- sperm donor anon movement in the US and Australia led by children born this way in the 70s/80s there, obviously larger numbers than in the uk.
I think it's biologically and psychologically dangerous for an offspring to never meet it's biological father, none of its bio relatives, know it's proper geographical/ cultural heritage (there is so so much to tell that can never be written in a few sentences on a form, ie what was your paternal granddad's hobbies/ occupation/ quirks etc) - all this denied as the woman being inseminated chooses to cut these rights from the resulting offspring.
Personally I think the law around all of this needs to change, globally. Creation of life is not a biological event purely. It is also a combination of everything that has gone before from both family lines and the well being and connection of the offspring to their identity is paramount for mental health and happiness.
I disagree London. I haven't met my biological father since he left his biological family when his biological daughter was age 3. That's psychologically dangerous.
Whereas the couple I know who used a sperm bank are bringing up a much-wanted, much loved child in the securest of family units.
I suspect they know more about their donor's medical history than I do about my own bio father's as well.
I am more shocked with the idea that out of 23 options you went with the one who had "struggled with alcoholism in his youth"...?
I didn't realise alcoholism was genetic
I have a gorgeous baby created by a donor. I'm single with another child created by a dad who didnt want to be in her life, let her down over and over and she had to put up with the unsettling couple of years it took for us to realise the relationship was over and the resulting pain of the seperation etc. I have a feeling my donor created baby will have a happier start in life! She's perfect, the whole family are happy, she's happy and it's the best decision I ever made :-)
Yes; there is evidence for a genetic link now - certainly not a foregone conclusion but there is a higher risk of developing it.
It's not all bad - there is an environmental factor as well (as with many things), along with the influence of personality traits, so hopefully they won't be in trouble!
london32 - what you're effectively saying is that if a person is infertile, they don't deserve to have children.
Plenty of donor conceived children would disagree with you in the very strongest terms
Children conceived from donor sperm (or eggs, but frequently sperm is the one that people are most critical of, I suspect because children conceived from donor eggs grow inside their mother's body and she gives birth to them, or perhaps because the release of sperm involves masturbation which is still quite taboo) are, obviously, not one mass body.
I don't deny for a moment that some children will feel a sense of displacement or loss, a sense of confusion and/or identity issues.
However, it is not the case that every child will feel the above. It is important to remember that the outcomes for children raised in either same sex partnerships or single women (by choice - although I dislike that phrase!) are overwhelmingly positive.
People naturally feel uncomfortable with human fluids, I suppose - hence why some religions forbid donating blood, some people don't wish to donate their organs after death, prostitution is taboo, surrogacy is also taboo. I quite understand that if you have a husband you love and who is a good father to your children the idea of selecting a 'father' from a catalogue may seem strange.
It isn't. 'Father' is used interchangeably to describe both a biological relation and a relationship. Haven't we heard people reject the word to reject the relationship? 'My father - if you can call him that. My mother - although I don't feel I should refer to her as such! You're no daughter of mine anymore!' I'm sure I've heard statements akin to that over the years, on here, and on Eastenders!
Some of those children will have a 'father' who is their mothers husband or partner whose sperm cannot be used for whatever reason.
Others will have two parents who are both the same sex. Others will have one parent.
Really, people feel a sense of disquiet with this issue because of the planning. Someone becoming a single parent through an accident is something society copes with. No matter how clearly unsuitable the 'father' was, how violent, unstable, addicted or incapable, we do not have the right to judge and must support the woman.
By contrast, a single, educated, professional, intelligent woman the wrong side of 35 taking the informed decision to get pregnant is often open to harsh criticism.
I wonder why it is? It cannot be the lack of a 'father' - if that was the case, there would be many more families open to criticism. It cannot be concerns for the child's wellbeing - if that was the case, there would be many more families with children witnessing domestic abuse in terror, families where children are dirty, sworn at, shaken and hurt. It cannot be the idea of human fluids being used for advanced scientific purposes, as I'm sure the people concerned wouldn't be alarmed about a kidney transplant if one was needed, or a blood transfusion.
Could it possibly be that in their heart of hearts most people know these women - these educated women, who are smart and clever and successful - don't need a man?
Could it be that the primary reason women are encouraged to find a male partner from an early age (Disney princesses, fairy tales, ever romantic comedy known to mankind) is for the stability of the family unit - and that if a woman can find a stable family unit without a man, where is the mans place in that?
Is it maybe a fear that if the sperm is available and women are happy to use it, men won't be able to get away with some of the selfish and infantile behaviour as is frequently described on these boards, if they aren't needed? As there's a difference between 'need' and 'want'. 'I want you to be part of my life;'I love you and you enhance if in every way,' is wonderful. 'I need you to stay in my life because of the children,' isn't. Yet happens and is happening every day.
There is a sense of disquiet surrounding this issue. But we need to be crystal clear about what it is, where it stems from, who is leading it.
Otherwise, the poor men might feel that they aren't actually necessary to having and raising a child, and we wouldn't want that, would we?
YouBead that is a bloody brilliant post
Well I disagree you beard.
Children with loving involved Dads (as all in my family and 90% of those I have known are) have much better outcomes, form better long term relationships themselves and have higher self esteem.
Dads are very important. Say what you like, but no child prefers to mums or two dads, especially if they are the opposite sex child.
If I were gay I would aim to develop a long term friendship with the donor and set up a legal agreement with him/her so the child knows their dad but lives with 2 mums.
All of the post above about knowing a single woman can manage alone.. Yes she can cope etc. that isn't the issue. Most people can cope with most things.
The issue is the child, who doesn't get a choice. Actually their parent chose for them not to know their origins, to live in a set up overly represented in the media and only the same as 1% or so of families. That isn't ok.
The research doesn't support your assertions though London.
Children of same sex relationships are doing as well and in some areas better that their peers from hetero parents.
london32 - anecdotes don't make data. The evidence all contradicts your POV. So you just sound like a bigot I'm afraid
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