In the early 1980s, a friend told me that there was a shortage of sperm available for women in the new IVF programs. He encouraged me to be a sperm donor. He thought I had a desirable background, coming from a well-balanced family, being physically healthy and intelligent. He explained the process, how easy it was, how anonymous it was. My wife and I discussed it. By offering to be a donor, my sperm count would be checked and my fertility assessed. As we wanted to have children, this knowledge seemed a good side benefit. I was willing, but anxious about the potential personal embarrassment of the process. My wife encouraged me, both for our benefit and also to possibly help other women who couldn’t have children. I was very clear that I wanted to be anonymous. If some unknown woman or women benefitted, great for them. I volunteered.
The Donation Process
Despite my open views and enjoyment of sex, I found the whole process personally embarrassing. I made a phone booking, fronted up to a hospital department reception, was given a small vial, shown to a windowless room which had explicit magazines and some comfortable leopard skin chairs to create the mood and asked to return the vial when the unmentioned task had been completed. It didn’t take long, though the small amount of sperm embarrassed me. I’d never captured my sperm and had little idea of its volume. I sheepishly took it back to the nurse, who thanked me and hurried off to do whatever happened to such sperm. Home I went.
The hospital rang to say the sperm count was fine and to arrange for me to come again to donate. And so I repeated the process a few times, having already discovered I was fertile enough for making children. I never got used to the process. Approaching the nurse to get the vial was always embarrassing, despite their pleasant ways of speaking to me, as if this was just a normal event. But masturbating in a strange room, then returning the product to a stranger always embarrassed me, despite the sexual revolution that had occurred, despite enjoying masturbation and despite knowing that I could be giving someone the wonderful gift of a life.
I’m sorry now to say that I made only a few small contributions to the program and of course never heard anything more about it. Nor did I want to know what happened to the sperm.
2017: Open Access to Donor Information in Victoria
Now Victoria is about to allow IVF children to access medical records to seek their donor fathers. While I can understand their interest, that wasn’t the deal I signed up for. If that is the deal for future donors, fine. They can allow for the possibility that they may be contacted by children conceived from their sperm, much later in their life. In my case, had this been known, I would not have been a donor.
While I might get a warm feeling knowing that those sperm were successful, that a woman was able to have a child because of my efforts, the impact that some new ‘child’ (or children!) might have on my family – including my wife and our children – is unpredictable. They might want to adopt me as their dad, they might want emotional or financial support. They might want me to be part of their family(ies). Their mother(s) may want to know me better or seek help from me.
Even though probably none of the sperm were successful, as IVF success rates were very low in those days, the possibility of being exposed, or involved, is something I don’t want. An Australian Story program recently showed a woman who managed to track down the donor that helped create her child through knowing some of his background details and using some intelligent detective work. The end result was he split up with his wife (the program implied this was due to other factors, but surely this would have contributed), married the IVF wife, took the child in with his existing four children and lived happily ever after, except of course for the first wife!
What are my rights in this new situation?
Now I wonder, will there be a knock on the door, a letter, a phone call, or maybe several? And if I there are, what would be the long term effect on my life, our lives? If I’ve helped someone, great! But please leave me out of it. I’m happy not knowing.