Single at 40 and yearning for a child: how to choose a sperm donor

Date

Margaret Ambrose

"My donor selection was based on assumed similar values, but other than that, it's a roll of the dice."

"My donor selection was based on assumed similar values, but other than that, it's a roll of the dice." Photo: Stocksy

Deciding to have a baby with a man I had never met didn't seem particularly momentous at the time. It seemed like an easy solution to a tricky and emotional problem.

I was on the cusp of turning 40, about to commence IVF after a painful year of tests and trials with my partner of more than a decade, when I suddenly found myself single - and my dreams of ever becoming a mother in serious jeopardy.

it suddenly hit me that these were real people; real men with real lives. It was too confronting. 

Despite the distress the breakup caused me, I have always understood why it happened and harbour no grudge. IVF is a difficult process and everyone has a point at which they say "enough". My partner's was just sooner than mine.

At the time I was devastated. Yet in hindsight, I was more upset at the prospect of a childless future than the prospect of a future without my partner.

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The week my partner and I split, we had an appointment with our IVF doctor. Despite my change of circumstance, I decided to go anyway. Sitting in the surgery, I explained what had happened and asked the doctor about my options.

"I will tell you something that I am always telling my children," he said solemnly. "For every problem there is a solution. If you have a problem, you just haven't found the solution yet."

Then he told me about the donor sperm program. It sounded perfect. I could still become a mother and I didn't even need a man - sign me up!

Dates were set, medication commenced - it was very exciting! - and then came the job of choosing a donor.

The start of my dilemma came in the mail in the form of several A4 pages, listing details of the available donors. My job was to select two - one being my first choice and the other being the back-up in case the first one became unavailable. (In Victoria, sperm donors can only contribute to 10 families, including their own - in NSW, it's five - and you need a backup in case that number is reached while you are undergoing treatment.)

I made a coffee, sat down at the kitchen bench and pulled out the information. After reading the first listing, I hastily shoved the paper back into the envelope and took a calming breath. Then I grabbed the envelope and pushed it into a drawer.

I had not expected to react like that. Up until that point, the donor had been a rather abstract concept. He was my ticket to motherhood. That's it.

But when I opened the envelope and began reading the profiles, it suddenly hit me that these were real people; real men with real lives. And I was about to have a baby with one of them.

The information provided about the donor contained the expected details - height, hair colour and eye colour - but it also contained details that I wasn't expecting: their education, their profession, their hobbies. With every detail, images of these people and their lives solidified in my mind; they were no longer just donors, they were men.

There was the tertiary-educated accountant who enjoyed photography. There was the fair-haired tradesman who liked going to the footy on the weekend.

It was too confronting; too frightening. I just didn't know how to process it.

A close friend cornered me at work the next day, keen to hear how the selection process had gone. I explained how it hadn't. She quickly came up with a plan.

The next day, we met for breakfast and I handed her the envelope. She pulled out the list and a pen. "Right, now tell me what you want and what you don't want and I will eliminate candidates until we have a winner."

Okay - what did I want?

I had initially thought I'd choose someone who looked like me; dark hair, brown eyes. If I had a blonde-haired, blue-eyed child, the first thought people would have would be wondering what the donor looked like, right? If the kids looked like me, the donor would just be an afterthought.

Yet, the more I thought about it, the less sure I was that colouring was at all important. Under Australian law, all donor-conceived children have the right to access information about their donor when they turn 18. They might want to make contact, or they may not. But this knowledge did make me contemplate the possibility that one day, my kids might come face to face with the donor who helped create them.

I consider education to be extremely important: what would it be like if my kids discovered their donor finished school at 14 and worked odd jobs all his life? There's nothing wrong with different life choices as long as everyone is content, but I wanted to avoid a situation where my kids might discover that they have nothing in common with their donor.

So I decided to base my choice on shared values: education, career, healthy interests.

My friend read through the list. "I'm assuming that you want someone who can fill out the form properly?" she said.

"Um, yes."

She immediately crossed out two. Apparently one poor guy had filled in his profession in the hobbies column.

Next, we narrowed it down to donors who were tertiary-educated and that, surprisingly, greatly reduced the list. Then it came down to professions and hobbies.

It wasn't long before we realised that I was choosing the donor for my child in the same way I would choose a guy to date. I wanted a professional who had similar interests to me - and if he were tall, dark and handsome, all the better!

The selection process for choosing a donor might have been the same as choosing a partner, but that's where the similarities end.

A donor is not a dad. The sperm donor I chose has no parental rights and no parental or financial responsibility. He has no rights to see his offspring and will only ever be in their lives when they are adults and at their choosing.

So I chose my ideal men, ticked the boxes, and returned the form. Just over a year later, I was holding my very own daughter, Greta, in my arms, and 21 months later she was joined by another daughter, Rori. Both blonde.

In the end, my donor selection was based on assumed similar values, but other than that, it's a roll of the dice.

I really know nothing about this man who helped create them.

But what I do know is this: thanks to his generosity, I have two remarkable, beautiful, lovely daughters who make me happy to be alive every single day. Turns out, I made the right choice.