Sperm donors online: Are there emotional and physical risks?

Sperm donors online: Are there emotional and physical risks?

image-4.jpgThe following recent article by the Daily Mail highlights the risks both physically and emotionally of sleeping with a sperm donor met online. As a single woman any donor would be classed as the child’s legal father and could be held financially responsible. For this reason many donors may try to conceal their true identity, which adds a greater risk for the recipient, of not having adequate identification for CRB checks and health screening tests. Not to mention the importance of any child not being able to trace their biological routes when they are older.

Erika from Pride Angel states ‘ There are many advantages for personally meeting a sperm donor and having them involved in their child’s life’ ‘Making sure that both parties have the same views regarding their parenting and level of involvement is imperative to any successful arrangement’

‘It is also important to consider the risks, getting legal advice and full health screening tests before attempting to conceive’ ‘Using a regulated clinic is the only real way of being certain about any health risks and gaining fertility treatment through a clinic also clarifies the legal position for both the donor and the recipient’ .

For these reasons Pride Angel unlike many other websites, has strict terms and conditions regarding donors not donating by natural insemination, no payments being offered and anonymous donation is strongly discouraged. Profiles are monitored constantly and users are able to ‘Report’ any concerns they have regarding other members.

Article: Frances Benning, 29 has chosen to conceive with a sperm donor. She has scheduled the event meticulously; planned every detail with military precision — for her sole purpose is to become pregnant. But the man she has chosen to be the father of her baby is neither her husband, nor her partner nor, even, a long-term friend. In fact, he is Toby, a sperm donor she met for the first time just a few hours ago.

Toby, 30, who is affluent and handsome with a glamorous job in the film industry, and Frances — attractive, articulate and privately-educated — were introduced via a website that matches potential sperm donors with would-be mothers. After she singled him out as a prospective father, they corresponded before arranging to meet.

No money would change hands but, at the end of their brief encounter, Frances fervently hoped, Toby would have bestowed on her the priceless gift of life.

After that, she planned to embark on life as a single mum. She figured she could manage perfectly alone: she is resourceful, financially secure and owns her own house outright. But as is often the case with even the best-laid schemes, Frances’ went awry. For a start, she failed to factor emotions into her plan, and had not reckoned on the impact of seeing the father of her future child face-to-face.

‘When I first met Toby I thought, “Wow!”,’ she recalls. ‘He is 6ft 5in, dark-haired and blue-eyed with lovely broad muscular shoulders. He looked even better than he did in his photos. Under different circumstances Frances, a legal secretary, and Toby, whose job as a researcher takes him round the world, could have been made for each other.

They enjoyed an afternoon of sightseeing then dinner together; chatted amicably and shared a few drinks. And even though she had convinced herself the intimate act that would ensue would be nothing more than a clinical, emotionless contract, Frances found herself fantasising about a future with Toby.

‘It crossed my mind what an idyllic family life we could make,’ she admits. ‘But I tried to force these thoughts away. I kept reminding myself that this was a transaction. I told myself it was a bonus that I got on so well with him and found him attractive and interesting. I took consolation in the fact that our baby would have such good genes.’

In these days, when the traditional nuclear family is fast becoming a rarity, Frances’ decision to become pregnant by sperm donor is no longer exceptional. Perverse as the idea may seem, Frances believes her baby — she is now four months’ pregnant with a daughter — will be happier knowing she was conceived ‘naturally’ rather than artificially.

‘I wanted to be able to tell my child that I did share an intimate moment with her father. That was important,’ she says. ‘I think donor children find it far harder to grapple with the idea that they were conceived by IVF, in a petri-dish, as if they were somehow the product of a mere scientific process. ‘She’ll also know she was very much a loved and wanted baby, which cannot often be said for babies who are born as a result of one-night stands. ‘Some of my friends asked me why I didn’t just go out and get pregnant by someone I met at a bar. But I felt it was dishonest and unfair to impose fatherhood on a man who hadn’t chosen it.’

Short-lived: Frances and Toby, who she did not want to identify, arranged to meet to conceive naturally and then fell in love. But he later decided he did not want a relationship

To many of us, it may sound shocking that you can go online and, seemingly, with one click find not just a man willing to donate sperm, but that men and women are willing to meet and have conceive naturally with strangers solely to fulfill this desire to be a parent. Donors on the site — primarily used by lesbians — offer women the option of artificial or natural insemination, in other words sex. But why did Frances, an attractive and intelligent young woman who was not encumbered with fertility problems, take such a contentious route to parenthood? Why not, instead, simply find a man she loved and share the joy and responsibilities of raising a family with him? She had, she explains, been unlucky in love and her urge to have a child was pressing; too urgent, it seems, to wait for a man she loved to come along and pursue the conventional route to parenthood.

‘I’d been engaged three times and none of the men were what I wanted for myself, let alone to be the father of my child,’ she says. ‘They’d been duplicitous, unfaithful and unreliable. Yet, for years, I’d wanted to be a mum, and the yearning became very strong after the break-up of my last engagement.

‘I had a miscarriage without even realising I was pregnant. This broke my heart and I realised that I wanted a child more than ever.’ So, impelled by the ticking of her biological clock, she convinced herself time was running out. She told herself, too, that she would rather raise a child alone than in an unsatisfactory relationship — she is, herself, the only child of divorced parents — and she resolved to detach herself emotionally from the whole business of finding a father for her child.

‘I decided to find a donor who wanted little or no contact with the child,’ she explains. ‘My idea was to find someone who would be happy to receive photographs at birthdays, maybe have the odd visit. I was hoping I could treat him as an uncle figure until the child was old enough to have his role explained.’

She concedes the process was fraught with huge risks: ‘It felt like a strange version of internet dating. As with all such meeting sites, you do encounter a lot of weirdos. There were men who were at best rude and barely literate, and others who were downright perverts. ‘Some were clearly in it to make money. I worried, too, about the risk of encountering sex offenders. ‘Then there were married men whose wives were infertile; you name it, every kind of aberration was there.

‘There was also no guarantee, either, that the men were even fertile; or that they did not have sexually transmitted diseases. I encountered one man who had apparently fathered more than 20 children, yet when I asked if he could prove he was not carrying any STDs, he told me no clinic would issue a certificate since, as a prospective sperm donor who frequently had sex with strangers, he could become infected at any time.’

All of which, of course, begs the question: why wasn’t this enough to deter Frances from this emotionally hazardous and potentially physically dangerous method of conception? There are a multitude of well-regulated IVF clinics with carefully vetted donors supplying sperm that has been screened for STDs.

But this is her explanation: ‘I worried about the failure rate of IVF and how traumatic it is to go through. ‘Besides, I wasn’t keen on the fact that you never got to meet the donor. And it was important for me to do so; especially as my child would have the legal right to meet him on reaching the age of 18.

Unusual conception: Frances said she will tell her daughter, pictured here at the first scan, where she came from when she's old enough ‘I didn’t want someone with a glowing paper reference who in real life was an anti-social, inarticulate geek. Let’s face it: anyone can write themselves a good reference. But to me the issue of personality was vitally more important than what eye colour the child might inherit.’

Small wonder, then, when she spotted a donor as personable as Toby — a man who not only possessed all the physical and intellectual attributes of an ideal father, but was also altruistic enough to donate his sperm for nothing and even meet their hotel expenses — Frances decided she had struck gold.

Toby, it emerged, had volunteered to give sperm when his GP, assessing him as an ideal candidate, told him there was a dire shortage of suitable donors in the UK. Rather than donate his sperm through the NHS, though, Toby decided he would rather be a more hands-on father, and for that reason, he’d registered on this website — originally planning to help a lesbian couple. ‘That reassured me that he wasn’t just on the site looking for sex,’ Frances explains.

But when his first attempt to impregnate Frances failed, frankly, she welcomed the chance to meet him again. This time they went away to spend a week together in Yorkshire. Slowly their mutual resolve to be detached and businesslike was evaporating.

‘We had a lovely time,’ she recalls. ‘We felt as though we were a real couple. In fact, we agreed that we were falling for each other whether we’d planned it or not.’ Meanwhile, Frances had begun to question her naive belief that life would be ‘easier’ if she were a single mum. ‘Originally, I was determined I didn’t want the pressure of an emotional relationship on top of a new born baby,’ she says. ‘But then I found myself falling for Toby and I thought, maybe I could have the fairytale ending, after all.’ So veering away from their original plan, the couple decided to try to have a relationship and see how it worked out. ‘Neither of us wanted to look back and think we could have had a happy family life if only we hadn’t been so stubbornly set on going our separate ways,’ she recalls. When, a couple of weeks after their trip to Yorkshire, Frances discovered she was pregnant, Toby was present at her home in Canterbury, Kent, to share her jubilation. ‘I’d asked Toby to be there when I took the home test, and when it was positive I ran through the house laughing with delight. Toby broke into a huge smile and said: “Wow! It worked!”.’ For a while, it seemed, their relationship would, too.

Indeed, Toby and Frances even made plans to sell their respective houses, pool their resources, and make a home for their baby daughter, like any other conventional couple. ‘Toby did everything he could to convince me he was going to stay,’ she recalls. ‘He told me he loved me and wanted a family with me. It seemed dreams I’d long since given up on were coming true.’

But then, four months into her pregnancy, he had a dramatic change of heart. He decided he wasn’t actually ready for fatherhood; indeed, perhaps he wasn’t even ready for a serious relationship, either. ‘I was devastated when it ended,’ confesses Frances. ‘He didn’t give any kind of explanation, it just seemed he’d got cold feet. ‘It hurts that I trusted him and got burned. I try not to get upset, but this just confirms my belief that you should not follow your heart — in the end you always get hurt.’

Meanwhile, she has resolved to hide no detail from her daughter of the convoluted story that surrounds her conception. ‘When she’s old enough, she’ll be told the truth. I’ll explain that her daddy was a good guy and that both of us love her very much. ‘Toby says he wants to stay in touch, and I’ll never stop him having access to her. I’d love her to know his family, too,’ she says. Frances’ own mother died four years ago; there will be no maternal grandmother to support her, and while her daughter is young, she plans to be a full-time mum.

She takes solace in the fact that her father, a retired financial director — who was initially shocked by her decision to sleep with a sperm donor — has now adjusted to the unusual circumstances of his only grandchild’s conception. ‘Dad was very upset at the start,’ she concedes. ‘What father would wish this for his little girl?’ she asks, with justification. ‘He was worried there was a stigma attached to surrogacy. He said: “Can’t you just meet someone the ordinary way and fall in love?” ’ However, little by little, he has come round. Now she is convinced he will be a doting and financially supportive grandad. ‘Dad paid for my education — I went to a private girls’ boarding school in Kent — and I’m sure he’ll do the same for his granddaughter,’ she says. ‘She’ll probably go to private school, although I’d miss her too much to let her board.’

So what kind of a life is now in prospect for Frances and her much-loved donor baby daughter? Nobody can question that she was very much wanted. And Frances will clearly be a devoted and adoring mum. But will Toby be close at hand or abroad; emotionally detached or involved?

Today little is certain, but Frances remains resolutely philosophical; both about her contentious decision to sleep with her sperm donor, and about her single parent status. ‘I feel I’ve no right to moan. I chose a donor because I’d decided to go it alone,’ she says with irrefutable logic. ‘I’m pregnant with a baby girl I already love. So, in the end, I guess I’ve achieved exactly what I set out to do.’

Article: 17th February 2011 www.dailymail.co.uk

For more information about finding a co-parent or known sperm donor visit www.prideangel.com

Posted: 17/02/2011 16:01:15


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