“I don’t think any woman grows up thinking her ideal man is going to be a sperm donor,” laughs 47-year-old Kirrily Parfrey from Mildura, Victoria. “Yet for me, a total stranger, who carried out a kind, selfless, anonymous act, made my whole life complete and fulfilled all my dreams.”
Kirrily was 38 when she first tried for a child. Despite not having met ‘Mr. Right’, she was determined to become a Mum. So, she began to look into the possibility of a sperm donor.
“I desperately wanted to be a mum. I’d been married and it didn’t work out. I had waited and waited and hadn’t found the right person. And I knew after the age of 35, a woman’s chances of conceiving naturally do tend to decrease. So, I began to research using a sperm donor. By the time I turned 38, I was ready to start trying.”
Kirrily’s Attempts At Motherhood Using A Sperm Donor
Kirrily’s path to motherhood wasn’t a straight line from choosing an appropriate sperm, to insemination to healthy, happy baby, as many may think. “I tried falling pregnant with a sperm donor several times before I actually conceived and carried a baby to full term,” she explains. “Everyone’s journey is unique, and there are several procedures that may have to be tried before they find one that is right for you.
Sydney Fertility Specialist Dr. Raewyn Teirney says that there are many avenues women who wish to use a sperm donor to conceive can pursue. “Firstly, you can use sperm that is donated by someone you know. It might be a family member, or it could be a benevolent friend who is happy to donate his sperm from sheer generosity. You can also choose to use de-identified, clinic-recruited sperm that IVF Australia offers via its comprehensive and supportive donor program.”
“In my case, I tried to conceive using a sperm donor about six times between the ages of 38 to 41, but for some reason it didn’t work,” says Kirrily. “There was no explanation as to why I couldn’t conceive. I had some endometriosis, which was removed, but still nobody knew why. It was just one of those things. I only point this out because I don’t want women to think it is as simple as finding donor sperm and having a baby. Like I said, everyone’s journey is different.
“To begin with, I was having ovulation stimulation medication. I began on 300 units and with each failed pregnancy and attempt, the dose would be increased until I was taking nearly 900 units each time. By the time I turned 41, we realised it was time to try something else. My doctor suggested it might be that I had too much female hormone in my system, so he tried using some testosterone, applied trans-dermally on the back of my hand for six weeks prior to insemination with the donor sperm. And that’s when I conceived my girls!”
Dr. Raewyn says, “Kirrily’s experience is not unusual. While some women or couples conceive on the first attempt, we frequently have to try a few different techniques for people with fertility struggles before we see success. We encourage people not to become disheartened, as we more often than not get there in the end.”
Insemination With Donor Sperm
There are two ways for a woman to conceive using donor sperm. “Artificial Insemination, or IUI (Intra-uterine Insemination) involves inserting the donor’s prepared semen through the neck of the womb (cervix) and into the uterus, close to the time of ovulation,” says Dr. Raewyn. “It is a simpler, less invasive form of fertility treatment that is best suited to younger candidates.”
“The second method is IVF treatment with ICSI is where higher doses of fertility drugs are used to encourage a larger number of eggs (usually 5 – 15) to grow. These eggs are then collected from the ovaries and a single sperm is injected into each egg, outside the body. Then the embryo is then allowed to mature in a protected environment for a up to five days before being implanted in the womb.”
Kirrily’s age meant that IVF Treatment with ICSI was her best option. When the day for Kirrily’s insemination came, two sperm from the same donor were used to fertilise two of her eggs.
“Because of my age, I had the option of doing that and have them fertilised outside of the body. So, they removed my eggs, fertilised them and transferred two embryos into my womb. Thankfully, they stuck! Now, at the age of 48, I have two gorgeous five-year-old girls – twins Aleeia and Myah, who have the same donor father.”
Choosing The Right Donor Sperm
Contrary to common belief, there isn’t a huge folder that women can flick through to choose the ideal sperm donor. Rather, demand for donor sperm usually exceeds supply. For this reason, there is a fair and non-discriminatory waitlist of de-identified sperm donors for recipients to access when their time comes.
Once you reach the top of the waitlist you will be given access to a database of all the donors currently available to choose from. Here you will be able to view in-depth questionnaires completed by the donor about themselves and their families including physical attributes and a detailed family medical history.
“Recipients receive a special log in code, and they are able to view the list of donor sperm available,” adds Dr. Raewyn. “They don’t get to see photos of the donor, although in some cases he may provide a picture of himself as a baby. Usually, it is just a number, with all the characterises – race, age, height, eye colour, body build, interests and hobbies, occupation, the education level they got to … some men even write letters to their potential ‘children’.
“Most women have a definite idea of the sperm donor they would like – a certain height, eye colour, hair colour, etc. The most common request is a certain background that matches with their heritage.”
For Kirrily, well, she was just so happy that someone was so generous to have helped her dreams of motherhood come true.
“I didn’t have an ideal check list for the donor sperm,” she recalls. “I was reading profiles on the data base and this one particular profile struck me as being compatible and interesting. I am quite tall and in my mind the person had to be a tall person. I wanted him to be taller than me. I didn’t read too much into it otherwise! I was just so stoked that somebody would be so incredibly kind to do this for someone else. I mean, to do this to begin with suggests that he is is an incredibly good person. After all, it is so amazing that people would do that for others, especially in Australia, where men don’t get paid for donating sperm. They only receive out of pocket expenses, such as parking at the hospital. There is a man out there that will never know how much this has meant to me, that I have these absolutely gorgeous girls that are my family.
“My girls don’t really ask me about the donor. Because I have been so open about everything, they are satisfied. They never ask why all our friends have dads and we don’t. I just say “I had to use a donor because I loved you and I wanted you so badly. A very kind man allowed that to happen and I love you and it won’t change anything. They are OK with that. They know they are loved and that is the most important thing.
“Some kind bloke has given me the opportunity to do what I couldn’t have otherwise have. I would say to any guy who was thinking of donating sperm to do it. You may just make someone’s life. I’m not saying everyone should do it, but if you are that kind, considerate and giving, and you are in the position to do so, then you should do it. There are women out there through no fault of their own who need help.”
Who Donates Sperm?
“We have so many lovely men who wish to donate sperm,” smiles Dr. Raewyn. “Kirrily is right – they don’t do it for money. In Australia it is illegal to sell human tissue under the Human Tissue Act. Men only receive out of pocket expenses such as parking. We do sell it to women, but only to reimburse our costs.
“I always ask the men who are donating sperm why they are donating. The most common reason is altruism. These are truly nice men who don’t want children themselves but recognise that they can help someone else become a parent. Some may have gay friends and they know how much they want kids, which spurs them on in their decision. They are really nice men from all walks of life – lawyers, DJs, bus and train drivers, chefs, lawyers, accountants … you name it! As doctors, we spend quite a bit of time with the men, as we have to do medical histories on them to ensure all is fine. We find that they are really lovely guys. It is a very fascinating field of medicine and human nature – the altruism is wonderful to see.”
“The entire process has a complex legal framework; however, we have made it so streamlined so women who wish to use donor sperm can access it quite easily,” says Dr. Raewyn.
According to IVF Australia, Every donor undergoes rigorous preparation for donation, including:
This comprises family and genetic history, health tests including HIV, Hepatitis B & C, HTLV I and II, Syphilis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Chromosomes, Blood Group, Rhesus antibodies and full blood count.
This encompasses extensive testing of our donors for “faulty” genes. All human beings, including sperm donors, have some copies of “faulty” genes but, as we carry two copies of every gene, most of these only matter if the woman providing the egg also has the same “faulty” gene. If your chosen donor is carrying any “faulty” genes, you would then undergo the same testing to ensure that you do not carry the same genes.
To provide you with safety against infection, all donated sperm is quarantined for three to six months, and donors are re-screened for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, HTLV I and II and syphilis prior to release for treatment.
Donors and their partners spend time with counsellors to consider the legal and psychological implications of donation. All donors consent to have their identifying information entered to the NSW Health Central Register, so children born from donation can access it once they turn 18. The counselling is a critical part of enabling donors to understand and be comfortable with the long-term implications of their decision.
All donors are only able to help create five families worldwide. As the donor will also want to have a family of his own, we will only allow four women access to a donor.
“Because each donor can donate to other women, there is of course potential that my girls have siblings. In fact, I know they have half siblings. I don’t who they are or where they are, but I know the sex. When I had the girls, I was offered the option for them to meet their siblings at some point when they wanted to. I ticked the ‘yes box’ to that absolutely. I was so open to it because of the genetic side, and you know, if they want to meet these people later on in life, that is OK. All families obviously have to agree, and if that is what they want to do, I am 100% behind them.