The week of my daughter’s birth, a man living somewhere in Melbourne received a letter from Monash IVF informing him that he had fathered a daughter and that she was healthy. Was he happy? Proud? Did he wonder what she looked like? I don’t know, because I have never met him.
I am one of an increasing number of single women who have chosen to have a child using anonymous sperm donation. I know, it sounds like a cheap dinner party conversation topic, but for me it is the one reason I am able to hold my beautiful daughter, Greta, in my arms.
Pushing a pram into Centrelink to drop off a statutory declaration stating I don’t know the identity of my child’s father is a long way from where I thought I would be. I am not a lesbian unable to have children without donated sperm, and I am not a militant feminist compelled to make it in this world without a husband.
After two years of IVF, my partner of 17 years told me he didn’t want to continue with the treatment. I didn’t want to give up the dream of motherhood. We split.
I was devastated – at the loss of my relationship, but also at the loss of the possibility of ever having children. At 40, I knew the chances of meeting someone in time to have children was close to impossible.
Then my IVF specialist told me that thanks to a recent law change in Victoria, I could now access the donor sperm program as a single person.
I didn’t need to think about it – sign me up! I wasn’t at all daunted by the prospect of going it alone. In fact, given how emotionally draining managing my partner’s anxiety had been, it was a relief.
My doctor explained that the IVF process would be exactly the same as my previous IVF cycles, except that instead of my partner having to ‘make a deposit’ the sperm from a donor would be used.
It’s a statutory requirement that women who conceive using donor material – sperm or egg – must undergo counseling, so off I went, slightly nervous, to have my head shrunk. I needn’t have worried. The counseling was more of a session to discuss the legal and social ramifications of using donor material to conceive a child.
Under the law, the donor has no rights or responsibilities. He does not have to pay child support and he has no rights to access. The donor would be given no information about me, but once the child turns 18, she can ask to be given all the personal details of the donor and even request to meet him.
I had already decided to choose a donor on the basis of colouring similar to mine. I figured that then the baby would just look like me. There would be no embarrassingly obvious missing pieces to the parental puzzle.
But imagining the child meeting the donor made me rethink the criteria. The last thing I wanted was Greta turning up on the doorstep of a man with whom she had nothing in common. I’m planning to raise her to value education, for example. How would it be if she meets the donor and finds that he chose to leave school at 15?
I decided right then that shared values were higher up on the criteria than looks.
The next day, the envelope arrived in the mail. There was something almost exciting about the prospect of choosing a donor for my baby – in a strange way, it was a bit like shopping – but that changed when I looked at the list.
There was way more information than I had expected. There were physical characteristics like height and colouring, as well as education levels – but also occupation and hobbies.
Suddenly, where once I thought ‘sperm donor’, I now saw ‘man’. A man with a job. With hobbies. A man with a job and hobbies who was going to father my child. A man I had never met, with whom I was going to have a baby.
The reality suddenly hit me. Having a baby is an incredibly personal experience to share with another human, normally involving sex and intimacy. And now I was going to have to choose a stranger to do it with.
A close friend came to the rescue. I gave her the list and over a few wines I ran through qualities that I wanted and she whittled down the list until we had a winner.
By the end of the task we were laughing hysterically. Some of the details made us chuckle (occupation: office assistant; hobbies: accounting), and others just seemed a little bit wrong (hobbies: making films with my friends). In the end we had a winner.
We actually had two winners, which turned out to be a blessing. Not long after selecting a donor, Monash IVF sent me a letter saying that the sperm was no longer available. In Victoria, a donor can only father 10 offspring, and this guy had reached his limit.
From the donor sperm I did access there were 11 viable embryos. One was transferred and the rest frozen. The first embryo didn’t take and I got my period two weeks after the transfer. The second transfer resulted in a pregnancy, but I miscarried at seven weeks. The third transfer resulted in a pregnancy.
A year after Greta’s birth, I went back for another and Rori was conceived in the first round of IVF.
The first thing everyone asks – or wants to ask – when a single woman announces her pregnancy is, who is the father? I felt it was important be open and honest about using a donor. Silence or cover-ups point to shame and I didn’t want my child to think there was anything shameful about her existence.
Greta and Rori are the absolute loves of my life. With the help of the councilors at Monash IVF, I have worked out a plan to explain to them how they came to be, through stories initially, then through explanations that begin with phrases like ‘Your mummy loved you so much and wanted you so much…’
Occasionally I wonder about the donor and if he ever thinks of Greta and Rori. I wonder if he hopes one day they will contact him, or if he doesn’t care. Regardless, I hope that this man, wherever he is and whoever he might be, understands that he has played an integral role in an incredible story of love.