It was an honour to be at the House of Lords last night to help to celebrate 25 years of the Donor Conception Network – a fabulous organisation working to support would-be and current parents and their children. We heard about how the charity was started by a group of parents, and how the brilliant Olivia Montuschi and her husband Walter helped to steer it forwards. We heard from Professor Ken Daniels who had come all the way from New Zealand and who spoke about the worldwide reach and respect for the charity. We heard from Dr Marilyn Crawshaw from York about how vital the work of the Donor Conception Network is. There were moving talks from a parent about what the Network means to her and how vital it is, and from the wonderful Aled who talked about being donor-conceived. And finally we heard from Nina Barnsley, who runs the charity as Director and who takes it forward to another 25 years ahead.
If you are considering using donor eggs or sperm or a donated embryo, the Donor Conception Network should be your first port of call. They offer support on the phone and by email, and run workshops for people considering donor conception. They also arrange local meet ups and a range of events for would-be parents and for families. They also offer support for young people who are donor-conceived and have a range of story books and information about how to talk about donor conception. They are non-judgemental, supportive and a fantastic resource.
You may have seen this very alarming article about unregulated sperm donors and the risks of using them. Whilst it is absolutely true that there are some very real risks from using unregulated donors – both in terms of your personal safety and of your health and any future child’s health as well as the legal status of the donor – it is not the case that there are no donors available through licensed fertility clinics in the UK. Nor is it correct that it has been impossible to recruit UK donors since the laws about anonymity changed in 2005.
It really is worth ringing around a number of clinics if you need a donor to find one that has donor sperm available. You can find a list of all licensed fertility clinics on the HFEA website and you will be able to check clinics in your area which offer sperm donation.
There are huge risks in using a donor like those whose adverts appear in the article – it may seem a quick route to parenthood, but it may well be one that you end up regretting.
We’ve all seen the stories about babies born to celebrities in their late forties – or even fifties – with no mention of how they got pregnant. It can make it seem as if having a baby at an age when most women are on the verge of the menopause is effortless when in fact the celebrities concerned will almost certainly have used donor eggs in order to conceive.
Now Sonia Kruger has spoken out about this – and I admit, I hadn’t heard of her, but apparently she is an Australian television presenter who hosts Big Brother and is described by the Mail as a ” fashionable 49-year-old” (because of course not many 49 year olds are “fashionable”….). Responding to a magazine headline which referred to her “miracle pregnancy”, she has gone public about her history of fertility problems, miscarriage and the fact that she was told by doctors that for any woman over the age of 45 the chance of IVF success using their own eggs was zero. She says her pregnancy is “science, not a miracle” and has been open about the fact that she needed donor eggs in order to get pregnant.
The National Gamete Donation Trust is looking for a new National Coordinator who will be responsible for the day to day management of the charity. It sounds a fascinating job for anyone interested in the fertility field, and you would be the first port of call for many different people and organisations and discussions are often of a sensitive and confidential nature.
It is a part-time role (30 hours a week) working from home, and involves flexible working and attending some meetings with trustees and stakeholders. The meetings are mostly in central London, Birmingham and the South East, so you should ideally be located within easy reach of these. You can find more details about the job and how to apply here
In an interesting move to increase the number of egg and sperm donors, one UK fertility clinic is offering anyone who donates the chance to nominate a friend or family member for a free cycle of IVF treatment. The clinic carried out a survey which found that the thing that motivated donors more than anything else was knowing someone who was having difficulty getting pregnant – so this scheme aims to capitalise on that by offering them the chance to help someone they know as well as someone they don’t!
The clinic, Bourn Hall, has set up a new website for anyone wanting to know more about becoming a donor and potential donors can visit any of the Bourn clinics near Cambridge and Norwich and in Colchester.
I don’t need to say anything about this feature with an unlicensed sperm donor who is joined by Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation Trust and Peter Thompson of the HFEA on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. If you’ve thought of using an online donor, please just watch it….
If you’ve ever thought about using an online sperm donor, this article may put you off… It’s about a sperm donor called Simon Watson who advertises his services on Facebook and claims to have “about 800” genetic children, and says he wants to reach 1,000.
In the UK, donors who donate officially through clinics are limited to 10 families. Donors go through a fairly lengthy process which often involves counselling as well as screening for genetic diseases and sexually-transmitted infections. Their sperm is frozen for six months and the donor is re-tested before it is used to ensure that it is clear from potential infection. Any children conceived will be able to trace their donor once they reach the age of 18.
Of course, using an online donor like Simon Watson is cheaper but that’s hardly surprising as you aren’t getting the careful screening and checking process that happens in a licensed clinic. He apparently charges £50 for samples after meeting his customers at motorway service stations.
If you’re only thinking of using an unlicensed online donor because a clinic is expensive, I’d think again and perhaps try to cut back elsewhere. Is the choice of genetic parent of your future child really a place you want to be taking risks by saving money?
Congratulations to all at the Donor Conception Network on the exciting new children’s book they’ve commissioned and had published about being donor conceived. ‘Archie Nolan: Family Detective’ aims to tackle the issues young people may face around this, and is targeted at eight to twelve year olds.
It was interesting to see the news coverage today following an article in The Guardian yesterday headlined ‘UK sperm bank has just nine registered donors, boss reveals’. Some of you may remember that a couple of months ago The Telegraph was “revealing” that the National Sperm Bank had just five donors. In fact, that story and the two articles in The Telegraph used quotes and figures from Banking on Birmingham a BBC Radio 4 documentary I’d made with producer Steve Urquhart which had been broadcast a few days earlier – where the fact that only five donors had been recruited was discussed and put into perspective.
Today’s story was very much focused on the “just” nine donors recruited by the National Sperm Bank but in fact that’s almost double the number of donors in June which would suggest that recruitment is on an upward trend. Recruiting donors is not easy – many men who initially express an interest are put off when they discover the commitment involved and many others who would like to donate are not suitable – on average, just one in every 20 men who applies to donate will be able to as the sperm has to be very high quality and they must also get through screening tests to ensure they do not risk passing on any genetically inherited diseases or sexually transmitted infections.
To learn just weeks after we thought the National Sperm Bank had five donors that it actually has nine can only be a positive step forward; let’s hope that the coverage today will encourage many more men in the Birmingham area to come forward. But do bear in mind that every time the National Sperm Bank is in the news, it doesn’t just lead to more donors in Birmingham but to more donors across the UK – so it’s good for other banks too.
You can find out more about the National Sperm Bank here and more about donating in general here
A number of people I’ve spoken to recently have been told that there are no donor eggs available here in the UK because of the change to the law about anonymity some years ago. This is simply not true. There has actually been an increase in the number of egg donors, and there are clinics here in the UK which can provide donor eggs without long waits and delays. If you need to use donor eggs and would prefer a UK donor, it is always worth ringing around a few fertility clinics and enquiring about this if there are no donors available at the clinic you’re attending.
The change to the law on anonymity was made because it was agreed here in the UK that this was in the best interests of those born using donor eggs and sperm. Whether someone who is donor-conceived wants to find out about their genetic parent is entirely up to them, but this change meant that they would have the opportunity to do so if they chose to. The change in regulation has not led to a reduction in the number of egg and sperm donors, but there are some clinics which have donors and others which don’t – so it’s always a good idea to check all your options before making a decision.