It’s the question on people’s minds when (if) they figure out that we are not sisters but rather two women raising a baby together (in a gay way, not a sister wife or commune type way). I sometimes feel like I can see the wheels inside their heads turning and trying to make sense of it. Before they realise we are gay they just look at whoever is primarily interacting with our daughter in that moment and assume they are the mother. They figure the other person is just tagging along for whatever reason. It’s when the other mother gets involved talking, caring and playing with our daughter that you can see the confusion etched onto their faces. It’s a fairly obvious difference the way a mother treats her child compared to another close family member. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it’s there and people pick up on it.
Once the realisation hits that we are in fact both the mothers, if they have a bad poker face you can see them trying to piece together how we made our kid. So without further ado, this is how two ladies made this very cute baby.
Did I mention she is very cute?
I did not know so much of my time and energy could be consumed by thoughts of sperm. It’s everywhere you know. Lots of people have it, but getting the right one to give it to you is more difficult than I imagined. We met with our IVF clinic 18 months before we planned to begin trying for a baby. I remember picking my outfit for the day thinking I needed to look mature and together because I was only 24 and what if the doctor thought we were too young to be making a baby? Turned out the doctor gave zero fucks about our age and the very sensible looking navy pants and modest blouse I wore were irrelevant. In fact, I think after seeing many patients older than us, he was actually excited about us being in our 20’s.
So first, I suppose I need to spend quite a bit of time telling you about sperm. Actually, this whole piece is going to be about sperm, which I think is the question everyone has in their head. Where did it come from, and how did they get it there? Relax my friends, you will have your answers.
A Lesson In Donor Sperm
Did you know that there is a shortage of sperm donors in Australia? I didn’t until that appointment. It is in part due to the fact that it is illegal to pay anyone for tissue donations in Australia (which I happen to think is a good thing). So the motivation to become a sperm donor in Australia needs to be one motivated by the altruism (in theory, though from my dealings with some I would say perhaps narcissism plays a role at times). You can be compensated for your time, but it doesn’t amount to much given the process is a lot more involved than just showing and and delivering the goods on queue. Two separate counselling sessions are mandatory, as well as one for your partner if you have one (not sure if all clinics enforce this but ours did), blood and urine tests that are completed on the day of the donation as well as six months later to recheck for diseases. It’s only once this six month waiting time has been completed that the sperm can be cleared by a doctor to be used. Until then it remains frozen in the same way surplus embryos from IVF are.
There are also pretty strict guidelines on information donors in Australia must provide with regards to the child being able access identifying information on them if they wish once they are 18. Previously in Australia, and still currently in some countries, sperm donors enter the program with guarantee that they will remain completely anonymous. Back when sperm donation became possible through fertility clinics they were only servicing heterosexual couples. The thinking at the time was that it was best to keep this information secret from the child. As the years passed and these donor conceived children grew into adults, it became apparent that the secrecy surrounding their conception and genetic heritage, combined with the inability to track down their donors could be deeply distressing for them. Due to this, laws were later changed so that identifying information can be made available to donor conceived children in Australia once they reach 18, providing they want it.
Many Australian clinics import sperm from overseas (America and Denmark have large for profit banks that ship worldwide), so long as the donor has agreed to have their information provided to offspring once they reach 18 then they fit the criteria to be used under Australian law. Our clinic did not import from overseas. Instead they sourced only local donors, which likely contributed to their long wait list.
OK so donating sperm is kind of way bigger and more involved than most people think it would be. This in turn deters a lot of people, and so there is then a shortage in supply. Most clinics have a wait list for donor sperm, for some it’s only a few weeks or a month or two. Ours was a smaller clinic with a small donor program and longer wait. Our doctor told us 6-9 months at first. We signed up for the program then were told the wait was 9-12 months, then when we rang again it had extended to 12-18 months. The lady on the end of the phone leveled with me and said look, we currently have 25 people ahead of you on the wait list. Each donor can make three families (they are very strict on family limits). We have no donors currently available in the program.
Also, did we mention once you get to the top of the waiting list you get three measly goes and if you don’t fall pregnant with the 1/14th of an ejaculation they allocate you (well, 3/14th’s of an ejaculation they have allocated you once you have had your three goes), they boot you back to the bottom of the list again. Another fun sperm donor fact you didn’t know is they ration the absolute shit outta that stuff. When a donation is given it is studied, prepared and split into ‘straws’, with one straw being used per attempt. The amount of straws they can get from each sample varies, but we got 14 from our donor. They use so little because they are either doing IUI where they insert the sperm directly into your uterus (they figure that 98-99% of it dies before it even gets to your uterus, so why not ration if you are giving those suckers a free ride!), or doing IVF where the egg is right there in front of those lazy bastards.
We put our names of the waiting list more as a backup plan than our first option, so we weren’t as bothered as we probably should have been by that news. Instead we went with our plan A and went about finding our own sperm donor to bring to the fertility clinic for our exclusive use. Many people don’t even know this is an option. We did this for a number of reasons outside of the donor program looking like a dead end. For some people, having a donor they have never met is what they would prefer for various personal reasons. I get that and I respect that, but it wasn’t really what we wanted. We liked the idea of actually being able to talk to the person at length, make sure that we were on the same page about what their role and what their intentions were. We also wanted to make sure they were available to meet the child should they have questions before they turned 18 (we wanted this option open to our child should they want it), and also get a feel for what sort of person he actually was.
In the same way that there is no Internet guide for what to wear when meeting your sperm donor (as I spoke about here What To Wear When Meeting A Potential Sperm Donor ) sperm donor recruitment advice and etiquette is scarce on the internet. If you Google ‘How to ask someone to donate sperm to you?’ you will mostly find Yahoo Answers results. Who trusts Yahoo Answers anyway?
We ended up finding a couple of websites that were basically modified dating site templates that looked like they were from around 1998. On one of them part of the matching criteria was if you shared the same hobbies with a potential donor. You love books and movies? Me too, let’s make a baby! I joke, it wasn’t that simple and we really didn’t give a shit what his hobbies were.
We had a couple that were ‘goodish’ but they had their own quirks that in the end we couldn’t really get down with. One was an artist who was looking to donate to several families and sounded OKish, until he told us that he then wanted the children conceived to be part of some art project in the future. He wouldn’t disclose any information about the nature of such a project when we kept pressing him. We felt uncomfortable with our future children being the subject of the latest MONA exhibition and declined.
The next one seemed a little better at first. He was a man from America who had sperm stored at a clinic there and was looking to donate it. We thought this wouldn’t be a big deal with our clinic if we paid for shipping but they put up a ton of roadblocks and insisted on him and his wife flying all the way out to Australia (which would be at our expense) so they could meet with the doctors and counsellors here in person. It was kind of a relief when our clinic made it virtually impossible to use him. Looking back I am so relieved we didn’t go with him. By that point we had been looking for months and hadn’t found the right donor, and were just getting to the ‘last drinks’ time of the night where you will go home with anyone (and maybe let them get you pregnant).
Also, he had a massive forehead. Like way massive. We spent hours looking at his picture and our own foreheads, trying to figure out if our regular sized foreheads would combined with his to make only a slightly enlarged forehead. We Googled pictures of adults and children with large foreheads, and fringe styles, and tried to convince ourselves that maybe it would be OK. Maybe he didn’t have a massive forehead but rather low set eyes we rationalised. He also supplied us with a photo that looked a bit dated, and when we asked for a recent one he reluctantly sent one through. At least 20 years had passed since the picture we had originally received was taken, which I found a little (a lot) creepy.
There were a couple more we had brief dealings with during our six months of searching, but they were mostly normal nice guys who ultimately didn’t make the cut. There were also a couple of creeps who messaged us and basically wanted an invitation into our bedroom, to which I promptly replied with a ‘no’ and then took a really hot long shower to try and scrub off that icky feeling. I still feel a bit nauseous reliving it actually. The below meme illustrates exactly how creepy they came across.
Image by Quick Meme http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3tltdb
And The Winner Is…
After six months of talking to guys who neither of us ultimately wanted to be impregnated by we found ‘the one’. Not creepy, which was a very good start. We sent many emails back and fourth discussing our expectations regarding the donation, stating that we would like to know he is available should the child have questions, we would like to have at least two children with the same donor, is he cool with that etc. All good answers. It was clear he was smart in his emails, as well as having a qualified profession that made us think we might just have a clever baby. Healthy, check! Makes beautiful babies, check! Not creepy, check! Good looking, check! On the same page as us, check! Knock me up already!
You want to know what I liked the most about him? His reason for donating. He seemed so smitten by his own children and the immense joy they had brought into his life. His face lit up when he talked about them, and all their achievements. He talked about wanting to chomp down on his baby’s rolly polly legs and just gobble her all up (which sounds a bit creepy if you aren’t a parent, but the whole wanting to eat up their chubby little arms and legs is for some strange reason a universal parental love thing). He was so proud of his family and he said he wanted to be able to give other couples the same joy he had from his children.
We both liked that. We liked the idea of our daughter one day asking to meet him and actually being able to present her with someone who donated to us because he wanted to help bring more happiness into the world. I think that’s special, I think that’s the sort of person I would be happy for her to meet one day.
Really the acquisition of sperm is the main part of what people want to know when it comes to how we made a baby. The rest of it isn’t nearly as interesting. We brought him to our clinic where he fulfilled all his obligations to the clinic and we used his sperm to make our daughter. I did five rounds of IUI treatments which were all unsuccessful. There was a lot of probing and crying and jabbing with needles. There was a cancelled IVF cycle, then there was a full IVF cycle which resulted in my pregnancy. That’s the short version of actually becoming pregnant.
I hope reading this has helped some people who may just generally be curious about the process. It was a hell of a ride. Also, maybe reading this will change the way you think about sperm, as it did for me!