So how did you spend that bit between Christmas & New Year? Tidying up the house? Hanging out with your friends? Me? Oh, y’know, the usual, just obsessively researching sperm banks, learning about the difference between the regulations about sperm donation in the US and the UK, emailing random women in America to get their recommendations for ethical sperm banks, downloading eBooks from ChoiceMoms.org (while I totally applaud what they’re doing and saying, for some reason — maybe many reasons — I have a real issue with the name of that organisation. It actually sets my teeth on edge even writing the name of their website).
Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing, so, yeah, I now know way more about sperm banks than I EVER thought I would. (You might have gathered that from the fact that this post is “Sperm banks (Part 1)”. Yes, there will be a Part 2, there’s quite a bit to say…)
This is going to sound really stupid, but throughout this whole process — the deciding whether I was going to do this on my own; the deciding if I was going to do it on my own, at what point I was actually going to do it; the deciding whether I was going to use fresh egg or frozen ones, throughout all that, the one bit I hadn’t really spent a lot of time thinking about was the donor.
I know, I KNOW, I had literally not thought about the crucial 50 per cent of the equation. How could that be? I guess because at various points I’d done a cursory search on a couple of sperm bank databases (it’s LITERALLY like internet dating) and satisfied myself that there were out there, a load of guys who pretty much matched my hair and eye colour (I want any kid I might have to stand a fighting chance of looking like it might actually belong to me), and had decent jobs and degrees (yes, I’m an intellectual snob, and yes, I know that intelligence is way more complicated than that) so basically I figured that when the time came, there would be a donor out there that I’d be happy to be the father of my child.
And, unlike with internet dating, when I found the person that I’d be happy to be the father of my child, they wouldn’t get the chance to say no. If I had the money, those genes were mine. (Yes, I know I sound like a control freak; no, I don’t see dates and potential boyfriends as sperm donors; yes, I am trying to make light of this because this wasn’t the way I envisaged conceiving a child, and although I’m coming to terms with it, forgive me if I mask these anxieties and insecurities with a little black humour.)
But now I’ve actually got to the point where I’m making the choice, it’s — as these things always are — a little bit more complicated than that. My clinic has a short list of donors (none of which measured up to my exacting requirements), but they also suggested a number of banks in the UK, the US and Europe that they’d worked with in the past. I asked my consultant if there were any she’d particularly recommend — or advise against, and she said she’d had some issues with some of the European banks, with them telling patients that they couldn’t use embryos they’d created as the donor has been withdrawn, but not explaining why. Ultimately, she said her patients had had better service from the US banks.
I’d heard so much about there being a shortage of sperm in the UK that I didn’t really consider any of the UK banks — not least because the one UK database I’d looked at in the past had only a handful of donors on it, and didn’t give you half as much info as the US ones did — and with the European contingent out of the picture, it was basically all about the USA. But it appears that all sperm banks are not created equal. Here’s a crash course in global donor sperm regulation…
UK: Pretty tightly regulated. Since 2005, donors have had to agree that their identity can be held by the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority), a governmental department. Aged 18, any donor-conceived child has the right to access this information. Donors aren’t allowed to create more than ten families worldwide (that might mean 20 children if there’s more than one child conceived from the same donor in the same family but no more than ten families.) Donors are paid £35 to cover expenses. (Insert your own joke here.) Basically anyone who is doing it is doing it out of altruism, not because they want to get rich quick.
US: Well fuck me, it looks like the Wild West out here. Donors can be anonymous, or opt to allow any offspring to contact them via the clinic when they reach the age of 18 (no idea what happens if the clinic goes bust). According to BeASpermDonor.com who recruit for some of America’s biggest banks “the average donor earns $4000 in a six month period, although many are compensated more based on a healthy lifestyle and optimal abstinence hours.” No bloody wonder these banks have hundreds and hundreds of donors. And they’re coming (sorry) back for more because, guess what? There’s no enforced national limit on how many families they can create! Guidelines — GUIDELINES!!! — recommend 25 births per population of 850,000.( Just FYI the US has a population of 318.9 million, that means TECHNICALLY, a donor could father 9,375 kids and still be within the guidelines. But hey, they’re only guidelines so who gives a fuck, anyway?)
As far as I can make out, if someone donates in another country, as long as they satisfy UK requirements in terms of testing and the amount of information they divulge, their sperm can be used in the UK, as long as it’s not used to make more than ten families. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t make more families outside the UK. (I don’t think that any of the UK banks actually export their sperm because there’s so little in the UK as it is, but I could be wrong, it’s all so bloody opaque.)
I hadn’t even thought about how I felt about the ten family limit in the UK, until I started to think about how, if I get sperm from outside the UK, my hypothetical child could share 50 per cent of their DNA with literally hundreds of other people. And when I thought about THAT, it made me feel distinctly icky.
To be continued… (Bet you can’t wait for Part 2, this is all gripping stuff, right?)