Donor Conception

Is Donor Conception Right for Me?

Eloise Edington  |   16 May 2022

If you’re considering using an egg or sperm donor for fertility treatment, you might be wondering if it’s right for you.

Perhaps you’re in a same-sex relationship, planning on being a solo parent, creating a fertility safety net, or maybe you or your partner have fertility problems. Whatever your reasons for using donor gametes, speaking with your fertility specialist will help you decide if using a donor for conception is right for you.

Recently, we reached out to our Fertility Help Hub community and discovered that 54% are concerned about donor conception for fertility treatment. So here, we’ve spoken to Nina Barnsley (Director of the Donor Conception Network) about what to consider before using an egg or sperm donor.

The Donor Conception Network is a charity network of families (and intended families) of donor-conceived children. The charity is bursting with advice and support for anyone considering using donor eggs, sperm or embryos, or for parents of donor-conceived children.

Over to Nina.

Decision-making is often hard. Making really big decisions in complex and emotional situations can be simply overwhelming. For many people, deciding whether or not to use donor conception to create their family isn’t an easy process. To make that decision with confidence, you need support, space and time to work out what the issues are, how you feel about them, how your partner (if you have a partner) feels and what options are available that work for you.

So, if you’re finding the decision whether to use an egg or sperm donor complicated, that’s because it is complicated.

What Exactly is Donor Conception?

People who want to have a family usually expect (and want) to use their own eggs or sperm together with a partner’s eggs or sperm to create their children. However, it doesn’t always work out that way.

While, in theory, heterosexual couples have the ingredients to make a baby together, a couple may experience fertility issues or problems with either the eggs or sperm – or both. This could be a fertility problem that has been diagnosed or it might be something that’s never fully explained. But, for whatever reason, getting pregnant using their own eggs and sperm is difficult.

For same-sex couples and single people, at least one of the ingredients needed is ‘missing’ in the family unit. To make a baby, some intervention is needed. On top of this, there may also be fertility issues to navigate.

In all these situations, one way forward is to get help from a sperm, egg or embryo donor, using their genetic contribution. This way of creating a family has its own particular implications and it’s helpful to pause and invest time to be sure you can make decisions that are right for you and your future child.

If you’re a couple, you may find that each of you has different feelings about donor conception. You may not be going at the same speed or reaching the same conclusions, so make sure you give each other time and space to catch up together. These are important decisions, so try not to rush.

What are Common Issues When Using an Egg or Sperm Donor?

Our charity, the Donor Conception Network, has been around for 30 years and society has changed enormously over that time, but what’s interesting is that the issues people are facing today are surprisingly similar to those that people faced all those years ago.

There is a recurring theme of loss, grief and wondering if it’s ‘OK’ to have a baby this way. You may have concerns about the egg or sperm donor, who they are and how to choose a donor. You might be worrying about who to tell, what to tell, and when and how. You may feel nervous about what people will say and how your child will feel.

There can be real anxiety around whether you will bond with the child (and whether they will bond with you). Will you feel like a ‘real’ parent if you don’t have a genetic connection? Will you feel like equal parents if only one of you contributed your genes?

Sometimes, the fear is over the importance of the egg, sperm or embryo donor and that genetic connection. A donor-conceived child will be genetically linked to the donor as well as to the donor’s genetic relations. Added to this, your child may not be genetically connected to you or your partner (if you have one).

Remember that genes aren’t everything, but they are not insignificant and how you feel about genetics may influence how you feel about donor conception and whether it’s right for you.

Who are the Egg and Sperm Donors?

In some countries and fertility clinics, intended parents are offered a huge amount of information about the egg or sperm donor and many options. In other countries and fertility clinics, intended parents are given only a few details of the potential donor and very little choice.

As with so many areas of life, there are pros and cons to both situations. It’s often helpful to match with egg or sperm donors on physical characteristics, but there may well be other attributes or characteristics that are important to you as well.

In terms of potential future contact with the egg or sperm donor for your child, there are three options: anonymous, ID release and known donors. Anonymous donors are people you don’t know and are not intending to have any future contact with your child (although home DNA testing is exposing those connections, regardless of consent).

ID release donors are anonymous to you at the time of treatment but they have agreed to their identity being released in the future, often once a child reaches 18 years old.

Known donors are people you have actually met. They might be a friend or acquaintance, a family member or someone with whom you have connected specifically to be your egg or sperm donor.

Juggling your needs with the options available can be tricky. It isn’t always possible to get exactly what you would hope or wish for and donor availability varies enormously across countries and fertility clinics. You might feel a sense of pressure to get it right, whilst not quite knowing what ‘right’ is.

“Destination Parenthood” and Joining the Donor Conception Network

All of this is a complex path to navigate, especially alone. The two things that are perhaps the most helpful for anyone considering donor conception are booking a place in our ‘Destination Parenthood’ workshop and subscribing to the DCN membership.

Our Destination Parenthood workshop is a perfect opportunity for thinking things through. It offers you a dedicated space to explore your hopes and fears about fertility treatment with donor gametes with a small group of other people who are also at a similar stage. It’s designed and structured to help people talk about difficult subjects in a really supportive and confidential space. We know it can be transformational for both solo parents and couples.

Beyond the fantastic workshop, DCN membership is also hugely valuable. We are a warm, engaged and inspiring Network offering support, information and community to donor conception families and prospective families. We have so much experience and, over the 30 years or so that the charity has been in existence, we’ve pretty much seen it all.

We’ve supported people through a range of challenges at various points in the lifespan of a family. We’ve watched donor-conceived children from the early days grow up and have children of their own. That depth of experience informs everything we do. We publish books, including storybooks for children and Telling and Talking books for parents. We run workshops and webinars and regularly engage with the wider fertility-related sector. For members, we have a Welcoming Team and a large group of volunteers who run events and facilitate topic-based discussions, both online and in-person.

We pride ourselves on offering a personal service to families (and prospective families) of donor-conceived children.

Building Confidence

We want to help people be confident in and comfortable with their decisions, whatever decisions they make. We know how important it is to connect with others who are also on a fertility journey and who share a similar story, to build that confidence.

Fertility treatment and donor conception can feel like a lonely road sometimes but with our community behind you, it really doesn’t have to be…

Join the Donor Conception Network here and sign up for the FHH newsletter for more expert advice on donor conception.

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