Not since I once sat in a church, covered in rat piss and hoping desperately to fit in with my new lesbian friends, have I felt so damn awkward. Searching for a donor is an astonishingly strange process. It involves using the word ‘sperm’ in conversation more frequently than I have in the entire rest of my life. It’s nerve wracking and vulnerable and exciting and sad and weirdly similar to dating, if dating involved no sex and unusually frequent references to sperm.
Let me take you through the process so far. Rose and I need a donor as neither of us produce sperm. Plenty of couples find themselves in this boat for many reasons. Our first idea was to cross the genetic lines of our families – as we are both keen to carry a child, to ask for support from male relatives on both sides. Sadly that hasn’t worked out for us. Our second idea is to find a known donor that we are already friends with, or whom we become friends with, to help us have a child – maybe more than one with the same guy if that works out. Anonymous donation doesn’t appeal to us. There’s upsides, for sure! A total lack of drama for one. Less anxiety about relationships fragmenting. But Rose has never known her father. We know what it feels like to have a big empty space in your biological history. We don’t want that for for our kids. We’d love someone who we can point to and say ‘that’s the guy’. This is your donor. He’s not your parent, he’s not responsible for you, he doesn’t pay your medical bills or sit up with you when an assignment is due the next morning, but he’s a family friend. You can ask him questions. You can figure out how you want to relate to each other over the years. We’re not scared of him or threatened by him and we don’t want to hide him or pretend he didn’t exist. He’s part of the story of how you came into the world. There’s no shame in that. In fact, he’s a pretty awesome guy. We chose him, just like we chose to have you.
Being a known donor is a big ask. It’s a weird role. The closest parallel I’ve been able to come up with is that of an uncle. You’re involved in the child’s life to some extent, there’s a recognised relationship that may be closer or distant. There’s a biological tie. There’s no legal or social responsibility or rights. A fight with the parents could see you on the out. You’re kind of invested but also in a vulnerable position. If things go wildly wrong you may one day be asked to see if you’re a match for bone marrow for a kid that’s not yours. For many guys this role is a really poor fit. They want to become a donor anonymously and stay distant, or they really want to be a father, not a donor, and they’ll be intrusive and suffer greatly if their access to the child or their desire to relate as a parent is limited in any way. It’s a pretty unique kind of situation and it doesn’t fit everyone.
So Rose and I have been casting our net wider, so to speak. We’ve put up profiles on local dating websites, and we’re sharing our search with friends and contacts. We’re moving slowly and seeking to have a good foundation of friendship in place before we start trying to conceive. Talking with strangers on the net about donors has been… Illuminating, entertaining, bizarre, funny, and creepy. We’ve met some really lovely guys. We’ve deleted a lot of wildly unsuitable ones. We’ve explained that sex is not involved in being a donor, a LOT.
As I said, it’s oddly similar to dating. You get neurotic easily (am I talking too much? Too little? Am I mentioning the donor thing too often? Not often enough?). You get excited quickly and dream a whole future that dies a deeply disappointing death when things derail. You’re flooring the accelerator with excitement and hitting the brakes with anxiety at the same time. You’re keen for no one person to feel under pressure, so you’re still talking to other new possible guys, but that also feels weirdly like cheating or snubbing the ones you do like who have expressed interest in being involved. Communication is a challenge. Them reading this blog and having to process a whole bunch of stuff about someone fairly out of the norm is a challenge. Them worrying about being exposed when interacting with someone who lives a very public life is a challenge. The whole process is rather strange and fragile.
So, this is our online profile:
Female 31 Australia
We are 2 awesome ladies who have been together for nearly 2 years and are looking for someone fantastic to help us to have kids. We’re 29/31 and looking at starting within the next couple of years. We work in Youth Work/Alternative Education, Mental Health, and do face painting work on the weekends at kids parties. We’re smart, creative, silly, and a bit nerdy. Love reading, cooking, camping, card nights, and hanging out with our mates.
- Members anywhere in South Australia.
- Friendship with a man or a woman.
- Between 25 and 40 years of age.
- Members who speak English.
What I’m Looking For
Someone awesome to be a sperm donor and help us start our family. We don’t mind what nationality, sexuality, or gender identity you are but you do need to be between 25 and 40. Single or part of a couple is welcome. What’s important to us is that you don’t carry any known major genetic illnesses, that you’re happy to be tested so we all know that everything is safe, and that you’re a great person with similar values to us and excellent communication skills. We’d love to have a long friendship with our donor, and to have our kids know you and know their genetic history, so our first preference is to go down the DIY road rather than anonymous donation.We are also open to talking about supporting you to have children if you are gay or your partner is unable to bear children. We’re not in a rush, we’d love to meet up, get to know each other, talk things through, and make sure everyone is comfortable and on the same page.
Also happy just to make some new friends. 🙂
The process of donation involves coordinating with each other to pass along a sperm sample during the most fertile time of the month. Happy to talk about that in more detail. 🙂 Sex is not involved!
It can be a little awkward to start conversations about being a donor dad, so we’ll leave the first move to you. It just feels a little odd to say to a stranger – hey you seem nice, can we have your sperm? Feel free to strike up a conversation if you’d like to chat! 🙂
I’ve also taken to having the following spiel saved in a word document so I can copy and paste, seeing as it comes up in every conversation. It’s the basic run down of the process for when you’re using artificial insemination (AI) at home.
The first step is making friends. Donating can be a bit of a process and it’s best if everyone gets along and feels comfortable with each other.
The next step is getting tested. Sperm samples can contain STI’s such as HIV, so it’s super important to know no one will get sick.
So once everyone has the all clear, some paperwork is signed to say that this is a donor relationship, and no sex is happening. That protects the guy from being sought after for child support, and allows us to try and get both of us legally recognised as parents on the birth certificate.
The process of donating is quite simple. A couple of times a month the donor and we arrange a time that suits everyone on the days we know the biological mum is most fertile. The donor puts a sperm sample into a sterile cup that we provide. Then within one hour we arrange a handover – he drops it off or we pick it up.
Sperm dies really fast outside of the body, so that bit can be tricky to arrange, especially if the donor and us don’t live close.
But basically that’s it. This goes on every month until a pregnancy occurs, then if we’re lucky, all goes well and a baby is born.
Please be aware if you’re thinking of going down this road yourself that there’s some important considerations to keep in mind! Firstly, someone can have HIV but not show up as HIV positive in testing for a couple of months. So a clear STI test doesn’t always mean you are safe. When you’re using donor sperm and a clinic, the usual practice is for the clinic to freeze the donor sperm for 3 months or longer, with an HIV test for the donor at the start and end of that time. If both are clean, then the sperm is considered safe to use. Obviously you can’t do this at home, so you need good, honest conversations with a donor you trust about their risk of contracting HIV. Despite popular belief, the health of the donor is also very relevant to the chance of conception and a healthy pregnancy. It’s probably far more important to look at factors such as current drug use rather than education level or eye colour when you’re choosing a donor.
Another important thing to consider is the laws where you live about donors and parental rights. Everywhere is different. Don’t assume that just because you’ve used AI instead of had sex that you’re all safe and legally protected. Not all the laws recognise donors outside of a clinic, and not all the laws recognise that a same sex couple can both be parents. There are occasional horror stories about donors being pursued by the state to pay child support, or a non-biological partner being denied access to their own children following the death of the biological parent, or breakdown of their relationship. Do your homework! You may need to lodge forms, sign stat decs, and jump through various bureaucratic hoops to make sure your relationships are all legally recognised the ways you’re setting them up. If you are trying to set up a poly relationship or clan with more than two parents being recognised legally, you need advice from a specialist lawyer because this is extraordinarily difficult to pull off within current legal frameworks. It’s also important to mention that, all jokes aside, please don’t use regular household items such as your kitchen baster for DIY insemination. You can buy single use, sterile medical supplies online discretely through sites like DIY Baby. The last thing anyone needs is infection at early stages of pregnancy.
Another consideration is that around half of all fertilized eggs are lost to very early miscarriage. Women who conceive through sex are often not aware they were even pregnant because it happens so early in the process. But for those us using donors, we’re watching the whole process and often confirming pregnancy very early. So while our chances of miscarriage may not be any higher than anyone else’s, we can be aware of early losses other people aren’t and this can be very painful. It’s worth keeping this in mind and remembering that sadly, losses are to be expected as part of the process. (just as a side note, this is not what has happened with Rose, all her losses have been later, hence our care to go through fertility testing and work on pre-conception care to reduce our risks) There are things you and a donor can do (such as not smoking) to reduce your risks of miscarriage, but the base-line stats even for healthy people with low risk factors are still a lot higher than most people realise, and this can be a shock, both for you and your donor.
Lastly, even with the best of care in tracking your fertile window each month, it can take a while before conception and pregnancy result. When you’re inexperienced and excited it’s easy to think of a sperm sample as being a magic ticket to a baby – especially so if you have friends who’ve been more fertile than they wanted and had pregnancies on the pill, or when you’ve all spent your whole adult lives being super careful to avoid getting pregnant and worrying that the smallest mishap will inevitably result in an unwanted pregnancy. Both you and your donor need to be prepared that this could take a little while, and that’s normal. You may be lucky, so be ready, but you may also spend months arranging collection of samples with a donor who needs to remain a low HIV & miscarriage risk throughout that time. It can be a lot more drawn out and inconvenient than anyone was expecting. It may be worth having conversations at the outset about how you will approach things if someone’s circumstances changes and they want to stop. Donors have lives, sometimes their kid gets sick, or they get an interstate work offer, or start a new relationship, and what was a wonderful idea six months ago has become a stressful imposition. Sometimes too, your circumstances change and you change your timetable, perhaps you need time to grieve after losses, or you suddenly have to move house, or find yourself caring for a sick parent. Putting this on the table at the outset can help those important conversations to happen early and calmly if they need to. This is doubly important if you have a reciprocal arrangement with a donor – ie two families assisting each other to have children via sperm donation and surrogacy. There’s a lot of opportunity for heartbreak and hurt in these situations, as well as connection and joy.
If you’re curious to learn more about different family structures, including families with a known donor, I recommend (and own) the book Baby Makes More. There’s a wonderful range of families who have shared the good, bad, and ugly of their choices, their struggles for acceptance, and their efforts to find a language to communicate about their relationships. The legal trend is gearing generally in the direction of known donors after many years of anonymous donation. Some children born with the help of an anonymous donor experience the kind of dislocation that children born in closed, secret adoptions do, and go searching for information and history as they get older. In recognition of this, legislation is beginning to change in places and enforce that more information needs to be disclosed for secret donor arrangements, and that adult children conceived with a donor should be able to access identifying information. This is not to shame or judge those who have chosen to use an anonymous donor, merely to point out that we are moving in this direction culturally and we need to find more comfortable language for families and relationships like this. Where once it was thought that secrecy helped people, that children were more secure if they didn’t know their ‘big sister’ was really their biological mother, or that people would cope better with sickness if they were not told how bad it was, things are swinging more in the direction of disclosure and openness being essential to trust and a healthy sense of self. It’s no guarantee, and there’s certainly downsides, but we are starting to embrace that family comes in many forms, and that these complex ties of love and blood are part of all our lives – for good and ill.