A couple of days ago I read this article in the Telegraph about internet sperm donation. It wasn’t the usual sensationalized nonsense that you find in some tabloids, but it certainly did have the old “using a known donor is irresponsible” sting in the tail that these articles often do.
So, it got me thinking. Are we irresponsible? Is it irresponsible to use a known donor to create a child? Should we have gone to a clinic? I discussed my feelings around this previously in my “It’s Not Just A Sperm” blog entry, but I thought it was time to revisit.
I’m going to preface this post by saying that I can only discuss my ideas and my ethics on the situation, and I think that it is really important for each individual couple who need donor sperm to think and consider what is right for them. We are all different, so what is the right answer for one, is not going to be the answer for another. No way is “better”, it’s just what works for you as long as necessary precautions have been taken.
Now, let’s go back to this baby girl who is currently kicking me. Her biological other half (known here as Superhero Donor) was most definitely found on one of those “seedy, underworld” Facebook sperm donation groups. Yes, the sperm that made her came from a man who we met through a Facebook advert. To some people, that already makes us “bad parents”.
Why did we choose this route? For Amy and I, it was important to know more about the other half of our child than “24, engineer, blue eyes, brown hair” or similar. Personally, I need more than a baby picture and a handwriting sample. We wanted to meet the person. I wanted to know what their sense of humour was like. Did we have much in common? How did they feel about certain things? How they were as a father if they already had children? Would our dog like him – fellow dog owners know how a dog’s reaction can shape your opinion of a person. Most importantly, I wanted to know ONE HUNDRED PERCENT how many donor children this man intended to have.
One of my main drawbacks about a clinic, except for cost, was that although they say the sperm can only be used for ten families, there have been stories of men who have then donated and made over a hundred children in private donations, whilst those women paying £800+ for the clinic sperm are “safe” in the knowledge that their child potentially only has ten sets of biological half siblings. That scared the hell out of me. I know that’s only a very very small minority of cases, but nevertheless, I’m a knowledge hound. I have to know all that I can.
We had a very bad experience with our first donor, in which he told us a number of children and it turned out he actually had fathered nearly four times that number, so a lot of these requirements came about after a long break and time to discuss and reflect on what we needed. It wasn’t about “any sperm, now” any more. It was about creating the best start for our future child.
I know a lot of the objections stem from “what if they’re a weirdo?”, which I totally get. You have to be smart when looking for a known donor. You can’t just trust everyone as there are a lot of weirdos out there. They’re everywhere. In order to find someone genuine, it is often necessary to wade through quite a lot of crap. Men who tell you they have had STI tests but won’t show proof, men that won’t tell you their real name, men who try to tell you sex is more effective than artificial insemination, men who call you ugly when you say no to them and men who are just generally around for all the wrong reasons. It’s a bit like wading through a cesspool. You have to be careful. You have to have your guard up. You have to be sure. You have to take time. It’s not a quick process. If you want to quickly select sperm from a catalogue and know 100% that it’s safe, you’d be better off dealing with a sperm bank.
STI tests. I don’t get why people take risks with STI tests. Fertility clinics say they need to do them. This isn’t necessarily true, because anyone can walk into a GUM clinic in the UK and get an STI test, no questions asked. Then the results are texted to you when available. It really is as easy as that and anyone looking for a known donor should be making sure, ONE HUNDRED PERCENT that their donor is tested regularly for those little sexually transmitted nasties. Many people say a text isn’t enough, so most clinics will provide a print out of the results on headed paper for a nominal fee. Usually about ten pounds and worth every penny when it comes to knowing you’re safe.
With regards to genetic testing that the clinics claim they “must” do, I beg to differ on this one. We’ve spoken with Superhero Donor about anything inherited that he might pass on. Because we’ve built up trust with him, I don’t feel we need proof. I’m firmly of the belief that if I was a woman in a heterosexual relationship, making babies the old fashioned way, I wouldn’t have my significant other tested genetically before reproducing with him. So, I fail to see why this should be different in a donor situation. We wanted the best genes possible for our baby, but we weren’t looking for some “god like” specimen of mankind. We wanted someone who suited.
I’m also very much of the belief that fertility clinics are for people with fertility problems. As much as I now do know I have a fertility problem in the shape of some kind of PCOS type thing, I still don’t feel the need to go to a clinic. If it had got to further interventions, we would have of course gone to a clinic for assistance, but Amy and I wanted to keep this process as close to a “traditional” couple as possible. I like that our baby was conceived in our home. Not through sex – far from it. But she was conceived in the comfort of her parents’ home with the prior help of a man who is now, by all intents and purposes, a friend and who helped us with fourteen of the twenty-four cycles that it took to make her.
Amy and I are in a civil partnership, which means that Amy will be legally recognised as our daughter’s other parent and our donor has no legal rights. There will be no waiting until she’s eighteen for information about him, though. If she needs to know something, he’s only a text away. Contact is thoroughly negotiable between us, with no other “governing body” stepping in to tell us what we can and cannot do and when is the “right” age for our daughter to learn about her biological other half. She will always be learning about the person who helped to make her. Not her “father”, but her biological other half. The person who gave her half of her DNA. That’s important. I would never rob her of that with an anonymous “donor needed today. No contact EVER” situation. Everyone has the right to know where they came from.
I do agree that within internet sperm donation there is a lot to be aware of. As I said above, there are a lot of weirdos. There are a lot of men out to take advantage and get sex. There are men who are claiming to be things that they are not. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of naive, desperate women who post “donor needed today” type adverts and throw caution to the wind without really considering the risks. The two things together can make some horrific situations. Women being stolen from. Men rooting through women’s personal possessions in their house and publishing pictures of their sex toys on-line. Women who expect men to “perform” in car parks or Mcdonalds toilets. Women who sue for child support when that was never part of the arrangement. Men who charge £50 for a pot of semen and refer to it as “magic potion” – dude! You’re not a freaking unicorn! Get a grip!
My point is, there are bad people on both sides. There are bad situations. There are people who don’t take precautions and end up harming their child. BUT that does not apply to everyone. The vast majority of people within the online sperm donation community are just making babies. Donors are donating and recipients are inseminating in their chosen way. Babies are being born and everyone is protected because they took time to build up trust and to legally protect themselves.
But as usual, the side is let down by those who take risks and those who are out for personal gain, as well as those who seem to think that they can single handedly populate areas of Britain with no care for the welfare or future of these human beings that they are creating. Those human beings who will grow up with questions and who you’d better hope you have an answer for.
So, do I think Amy and I are irresponsible? No. Do I think any of my friends who have had babies this way are irresponsible? No. Do I think people who go to clinics and choose official routes are stupid or should have used the route we used? No. Do I think using an “internet sperm donor” is the same as going to a club and having a one night stand? Definitely not. I think everyone should make well thought out, researched decisions for them and their family. It’s not about “which way is better?”, it’s about taking responsibility for your choices and thinking of your future child.
We are forever thankful to Superhero Donor, our “Facebook sperm donor” from “the seedy, unregulated world of Facebook sperm donation“, because without him, I would not have this little girl squirming around in my belly at the moment. Giving that gift of life is something to be proud of, whether it is given in a clinic at a cost or through a private arrangement between friends. It’s an amazing gift, and I know our baby girl will bring a lifetime of joy.