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Three: Who’s the daddy - options when choosing a donor

Updated: Jun 10, 2023

How this came as a surprise I’m not quite sure, but the clinic asked how we would like to source sperm. To my embarrassed response of huh? followed by panic, another Google search, some very inappropriate search results, until finally we found out what our options were. A friend, an anonymous donor from a registered sperm bank, through a matching website or a random stranger found on the street.

We opted for an anonymous donor. We figured parenting was going to be complicated enough without having a third person in the mix. In the UK a lot of clinics have their own sperm bank or shared access to one. However, the information about the donor is very limited. One page listing key characteristics such as height, weight, age, eye colour, skin colour. We wanted more information and more choice so opted to look for a donor from the European Sperm Bank (ESB for those in the know!). When using the ESB we had access to all of the above plus a donor’s medical history, education, family tree, phycological profile, nurses statement, voice recording, a letter on why they donated and a baby photo.

Buying sperm can only be described as a surreal online shopping experience. It is actually very easy. Although genetics wasn’t an issue for my wife it felt right to look for a donor with similar characteristics. White, dark brown hair, tall, green eyes, average weight and further educated ticked on each filter and a long list of donors appeared. Wow, this is easy. So much choice. Then we noticed the last filter column said available in the UK, yes or no. We checked yes and everyone disappeared. Not a single name was left on the list. There must have been a mistake. A quick scan through the website and all became clear.

In 2005 the law was changed in the UK to allow children, at the age of 18, to find their donor. I like this law as it gives children the choice. The donor has no legal obligation or rights but must agree to be found. And there lies the problem as it would appear most donors don’t want to be found. This is a personal decision to that donor and one I find understandable and with no judgement. Numbers are also reduced because there is a limit of ten family slots that a donor can be used for. A family slot costs about £500 and is a way of preventing hundreds of half siblings being born across the UK.

Back to the filters. Untick green eyes. No results. Untick average weight, still no results, untick height, five results. Success as we went straight to the baby photo and realised, we had unticked skin colour too. Ok so let’s take all filters off except for use in the UK and forty-four results were shown. Amazing that I still remember that number. From across Europe and America the ESB had forty-four people who didn’t mind being found when the child was eighteen. Over the next few days, we narrowed our search and found two possible contenders. Both based in Europe. You could tell this because of the name. Anyone listed with a five-letter name was from Europe and a six-letter name was from the US.

Time was ticking as the sperm needed delivering and I was waiting on a test result for a common virus called cytomegalovirus or CMV. A virus hardly anyone has heard of, or cares about but for some unmemorable reason it was very important if you were having fertility treatment. It was recommended a CMV negative doesn’t mix with a CMV positive because of the one in a million chance something could happen to the foetus. Our preferred shortlisted donors was positive. The clinic called and my results were back. I was negative. Shit.

We only had hours to place our order and that one in a million risk suddenly became the most important statistic ever. I felt sick. I would never forgive myself if that risk became real. One last search again. Someone we had looked at stood out and we didn’t know why we had rejected him. It may have been the light brown hair, blue eyes and medium height which had put us off initially, but something felt right and like me he hadn’t caught a mild virus caused by unhygienic public toilets. So that was that. We bought our family slot, ordered the vials and went to bed. Half the genetic makeup to our future family decided in less than an hour.

Words matter. Who’s the daddy?

I struggle when asked who’s the dad or father. It is an innocent question and one I will kindly correct. I struggle because for me a dad is a parent, someone who plays a role in the child’s life. Our children have two loving parents and a donor or doughnut as my daughters call him. Someone I believe is a kind man, with a made-up six letter name, who altruistically helped us by donating his strong swimmers all the way from America. I am so grateful to him, and his genes have helped us create two very beautiful girls.

If anyone is considering being a donor there is lots of information on the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HEFA) website. I would advise anyone considering becoming a donor or using a donor to research the legal implications. If you donate through a private arrangement, the law on who will be the child’s parent(s) is not straightforward. There are also websites that offer services to match women with donors for home insemination. By going this route there may be future legal implications on parenting and possible health risks as checks for infections such as HIV, hepatitis or syphilis may not be taken and could be passed onto the child.

If in any doubt and are using a fertility treatment clinic then talk to them about the process. They should be able to advise and both our treatment centre and the ESB helped make the process seamless.

Let’s get the conversation going. Please share in comments below. The more we talk about LGBTQ+ parenting the more we will fill the gap

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