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Hollywood rom-coms have been telling people for decades that they should find the perfect partner, get married, and have a baby. The reality, of course, is that things don’t always pan out that way. It’s neither necessary to marry a guy, nor have sex to start a family. But science is yet to evolve to the point of not needing sperm to fertilise an egg.
If you’re living in Australia and have been thinking of either becoming a solo mother or having a child with your partner, and adoption isn’t for you, then there are a few things you should know about alternative methods of conception. For starters, it’s illegal to pay donors for their sperm. Also, Australian laws require donors to agree that if the child wishes to meet their biological fathers once they turn 18, all details will be provided.
Nowadays, there are at least four possible processes to genetically conceive a child. The first is the most obvious, followed by Partial Insemination, which is when the donor masturbate and ejaculates into the mother. It’s important to mention here that the chances of pregnancy are higher if the penis enters the vagina to ejaculate.
The third one is Artificial Insemination: a process that involves syringing sperm into the uterus. It can be performed by a physician at a clinic or even at home by yourself or your partner. If you’re curious as to how it works, you can get more info and purchase reliable Home Insemination Kits here.
Finally, there’s In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF): an exclusively clinical process of fertilisation that involves extracting the eggs, retrieving a sperm sample, manually combining them, and transferring them into a uterus.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, however. Finding a sperm donor in Australia can be an immense and incredibly difficult undertaking. To learn more about the emotional effect of this bureaucratic process, we spoke to several women about their experience of getting pregnant.
Lola-Mae Pink, 40, tattooist/visual artist
VICE: Hi Lola-Mae. What made you decide to look for a sperm donor?
Lola-Mae: About seven years ago I was in a long-term relationship with a trans-identified person. We'd decided that we wanted to have children, and so we explored our options regarding fostering, adoption, and insemination. Biological connection wasn’t overly important to us, but it seemed that adoption required far more personal scrutiny than paying a private company to have a biological child. So we had little choice at that time but to start the process via an IVF clinic.
Tell me about your experience looking for a donor.
Choosing a donor was tricky. On the one hand it felt a bit like designing a baby, which was a gross idea to us both, and on the other we were told we had to list things we were looking for in order to be offered sperm that fit “our needs”.
We received written profiles from the donors, where they answered a range of questions about their life, why they were donating, and their family background. In the end we decided we wanted someone queer, creative, and who wrote about themselves and their life in a way that resonated with us. We didn’t care about height, looks, body type etc.
Mind you, the IVF clinic could only ever offer three donor profiles at a time and if you didn’t choose from those three you’d have to go on a waiting list until more came up. So we waited 4 months to be offered two donors and if we refused them it was a four to seven month wait to be offered another two to three donors.
Was it a bureaucratic process?
Extremely. I lost count of how many papers we signed, how many fees we paid, how many info sessions we sat through, and how much time it took to even get the ball rolling.
I did wonder after we’d paid $4000 (which were just the fees to get to the point of being offered sperm, not the cost of the actual sperm or insemination) if we’d made a huge mistake. We were told that if we didn’t get pregnant in two goes I’d have to subject myself to hormone treatments, egg retrieval, and pay an extra $10,000 for the process.
Also, at that time, if you wanted to use donor sperm from a reputable source you were forced to link up with an IVF clinic, as sperm banks didn’t deal directly with clients.
Can you talk about the emotional side of this process?
One of the hardest parts when we were going through the official system of insemination in 2013 was that my partner at the time couldn’t be on the birth certificate as the father. He would have had to legally adopt our child.
We got to the final counselling session and were told we qualified emotionally and mentally to start the insemination process—but it was at that point I began to realise it wasn’t the path I wanted to take. So we never ended up having the insemination.
For me, I can say it was an absolute eye opener, because it led me to realise I didn’t want to have biological children anymore. The drawn out processes, the constant need to prove I’d be a good parent, that I deserved that chance, that I was worthy, and that I was capable all took a toll. As a queer woman, I was in a situation of perpetual scrutiny, from outside and from within myself.
I also had to wonder how parenting would change if all couples were subject to the counselling, endless questions, financial costs and mental gymnastics for something that many dismiss as a happy accident. Queer folks like us never had that luxury.
Iris Bonnemasou, 38, community service worker and artist
Samantha Brewer, 37, Criminology and Criminal Justice student
Samantha Brewer, 37, Criminology and Criminal Justice student
Hi! Thanks for your time. How did you decide to have a child together?
We met at soccer training almost three years ago and we fell in love at first sight. I already have two kids from my previous relationship, and Sam always wanted to become a mum—but she’s 37 years old now, so the clock’s ticking fast for us. We started looking for IVF in private clinics, but due to the high cost and the long waiting lists we decided that that option wasn't the best choice for us. So I started doing an exhaustive search on the Internet, looking for all possible options that didn’t involve IVF clinics.
And what did you find out?
Well, we found a private Facebook group called Sperm Donation Australia that basically connects sperm donors with people. At first we were resilient, but after three months we chose a donor and made a mutual agreement that he wouldn’t have any legal right over the child. If the child wants to meet him at any point of their life, though, it’ll be perfectly fine.
What were your preferences for a perfect sperm donor?
We didn’t have anything specific in terms of physical attributes or family background. We were looking for a healthy and genuine guy who was willing to agree with our decisions. In a clinic, I would have been given the chance to choose the donor only by reading their details on profiles, but I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to meet our sperm donor in person first before deciding he’d be the one.
I’m trying to imagine what it’s like to meet your sperm donor in person. How did it go?
It was interesting. Sam and I were impressed by him from the first meeting, because he was very well informed, self-assured, and had already helped other families by donating his sperm. He’s also married and has a family of his own. He decided to help people like us after his own wife had issues getting pregnant in the past, and after they succeeded he decided to help other women fulfill their dream of becoming mothers. I think his altruistic nature and personal history made a significant difference in our decision to choose him.
And how’s the insemination process going so far?
Basically we have what’s called a Home Insemination Kit and it does exactly what the name suggests. It’s made up of sterile specimen cups, sterile artificial insemination syringes, and ovulation test strips. This is Artificial Insemination, so Sam periodically does an ovulation testing and, when she’s fertile, the donor meets us here at our place. After he collects the sperm and the donation is done, we use it while it’s still fresh and insert it inside my partner with a syringe.
We think the experience of getting pregnant through a sperm donor was much more difficult for lesbian couples in the past, so we feel fortunate in being able to finally find a donor that’s been supportive. We already tried six different times, which is completely normal, and next week we’ll try again for the seventh time. Wish us luck!
Interviews by Felippe Canale. Interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.