CHILD OF OUR DREAMS: Giving couples the chance of experiencing parenthood

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Some couples discover they cannot have a child together without the use of donated sperm.Today, as part of our series “Child of our dreams” Aasma Day talks to a Lancashire man who has helped create 10 families by donating sperm.

David feels a warm and contented glow whenever he considers he has helped create 10 families by donating sperm with a total of 13 children.

I realised there were many other people in similar situations who would make terrific parents, but needed intervention to make it happen.

These are families who might never have experienced the joy of parenthood if it wasn’t for people like David willing to donate sperm.

David, 31, from Lancashire, first decided to donate sperm about six years ago after hearing the plight of a couple he knew who were struggling to conceive.

David recalls: “In my head, I knew this couple were going to make great parents but they weren’t going to be able to achieve that without assistance.

“I realised there were many other people in similar situations who would make terrific parents, but needed intervention to make it happen.”

David read news reports about how there was a shortage of men willing to be sperm donors following a change in the law.

Since 2005, all egg, sperm and embryo donors in the UK must agree to be identifiable to any person conceived from their donation.

David wanted to help people become parents and after hearing about CARE Fertility in Manchester through a friend, made enquiries about becoming a donor and decided to go ahead.

Donations are made at least once a week until sufficient sperm has been collected and frozen.

David, who works in an office and is post graduate educated, says: “The actual donations take a couple of months to give as they require a certain volume of the samples.

“You have to abstain from sexual activity for three days before each donation and it takes 10 to 12 separate donations before the clinic has the amount it needs.

“Because of the rulings around quarantine, they then quarantine the samples for six months as there are certain blood borne viruses which may take this long to show.

“I had to give personal information about myself such as hair colour, eye colour, height and ethnicity so they could match my sperm to people so the child would look like them.

“I also wrote a pen portrait, a letter to any children who may be conceived, so they could potentially request information about me once they reach 18.”

After completing his sperm donation, David theoretically didn’t need to donate again.

However, he was called back a couple of years later as one of the families who successfully had a child using his donation wanted another baby and preferred using the same donor so the children would be biological siblings.

David was happy to do this and donated sperm again.

David says: “There are now 10 families that have been created through my donations with a total of 13 children including a set of twins.

“Ten is the maximum number of families that can be created by one person’s donations as they want to limit the chance of half-brothers and half-sisters meeting each other and forming relationships or getting married.”

However, David admits even if he was able to, his partner wouldn’t want him to donate sperm again.

David explains: “At the time I made the donations, I was with a different partner who was absolutely fine with it all.

“But my new partner says she feels a bit strange about it and wouldn’t want me to do it again.

“She is accepting it is something I did in my past and that I did it to help people.

“I think it is the potential that if we had children ourselves, she feels it would be something very personal between us and maybe she doesn’t like the idea that I have helped create children elsewhere.

“But they are not my children.

“They were created with my sperm and have their own parents and families.”

David says some people are put off donating sperm due to the changes in law surrounding anonymity.

Potentially, any children conceived from egg or sperm donation can apply to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for details of their donor once they reach 18.

David says: “I think some people get concerned these children might turn up on their doorstep in 18 years time.

“But I think the likelihood of that is very slim.

“Their parents may never tell them they were conceived using donor sperm or donor eggs.”

David confesses he does think about the children he helped create and feels happy knowing they are out there.

He is also hopeful that one day he might get to meet some of them - although it is another 13 years before that can potentially happen.

David says: “It makes me happy to know these children are out there.

“Hopefully they are happy and making their parents happy.

“I am hoping at least some of the parents do tell their children about me.

“Some may choose not to tell their children they were conceived with donor sperm and that is fine and their choice.

“Personally, I am looking forward to meeting at least some of them.

“However, I went into the whole process knowing I might never meet any of these children.

“Even if I do meet them, it would not be as a parent. I didn’t raise them and will have no claims on them.

“I knew this and was happy with this from the start.”

David says his experience of being a sperm donor with CARE Manchester has been very positive and he would encourage anyone else considering sperm donation to look into it.

He says: “If you can do something to help other people and it is not something difficult to do, then why not do it?”

Glenn Atkinson - Medical Director at Care Fertility Manchester: “A lot of sperm donors used to be students doing it for beer money”

The majority of sperm donors used to be younger men doing it for spare cash safe in the knowledge they would never know the consequences.

However, the change in anonymity laws since 2005, means all egg, sperm and embryo donors in the UK must agree to be identifiable to any person conceived from their donation.

This does depend if their parents chose to tell them they were conceived using a donor and if they decide they want to know about their biological donor.

Glenn Atkinson, medical director at CARE Fertility Services in Manchester, says there has been a change in the demographic of sperm donors.

He says: “A lot of sperm donors used to be students doing it for beer money who were happy they would never know the consequences.

“But the change in law impacted this and made some of them unwilling to be donors.

“We have seen a change in the demographic of sperm donors.

“It is now mainly older men in relationships rather than young students.”

Situations where sperm donors are needed include men who are infertile, single women and same sex female couples.

Mr Atkinson says: “Men with low sperm counts who may previously have needed donor sperm can now benefit from ICSI - a treatment where single sperm are injected into a single egg.

“This means we can effectively treat them using their own sperm.”

However, there is still a need for more sperm donors and although CARE has its own sperm bank, patients can also buy their own sperm from Denmark for use in their clinics.

Some people go it alone and buy sperm from over the Internet, but this is risky.

Mr Atkinson says: “Sperm donation is easier than egg donation as to donate eggs, women basically go through IVF treatment.

“With egg donation, you are also usually donating to one person.

“With sperm donation, there is opportunity for multiple donations.

“With one sperm sample, we usually get 10 straws of sperm so there is the potential to donate to 10 couples.”

To meet current demands, around 1,000 sperm donors are needed in the UK every year from all nationalities, religions and cultures, especially those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Mr Atkinson says the cost of fertility treatment using sperm donation at CARE as a private patient depends on how the sperm is used.

He explains: “If it is donor insemination, the cost is around £1,400.

“IVF using donor sperm costs between £4,000 and £5,000.

“The cost of IVF treatment with egg donation is between £5,500 and £8,500 for a cycle of IVF.”

Andrew Drakeley, consultant in fertility at The Hewitt Fertility Centre based at Liverpool Women’s Hospital, says the law change has not been around long enough to know the numbers of children who will seek their biological donor.

He says: “The law changed in line with adoption laws to give people the right to know their biological parents.

“But that assumes the child knows they were conceived using a donor egg or donor sperm.

“That right is entirely up to the parents. It is not compulsory.

“It can be a difficult decision whether to tell the child or not and this is why there is counselling.

“In this country, the parent who gives birth is the legal mother and it is their name on the birth certificate.

“It is important the couple think of this child as their own and not somebody else’s child.

“Similarly, the donor has to see it as helping someone less fortunate rather than giving something away.

“This minimises regret.”

“A donor does not have any legal or financial responsibility for the child.

“There was a dip in sperm donors coming forward when the anonymity laws changed.

“However, we had a drive for more sperm donors a couple of years ago which was very successful.

“Before that, people were having to pay for sperm to be imported from the USA and Denmark.

“We don’t currently have a waiting list for sperm donors, but we do need more sperm donors.”