If you’re based in Northern Ireland, you may be interested in a one-day conference on donor treatment to be held in Belfast on 19 September at the Malone Lodge Hotel.
The conference is organised by Northern Ireland Fertility Counselling Service and it will be of interest to anyone considering donor treatment or those who are parents after donor treatment as well as anyone working in the field. A range of leading experts are speaking including Dr Marilyn Crawshaw from York University, Dr Petra Nordqvist from Manchester University, Rosetta Wotton from the HFEA, Jane Ellis who is a trainer with the Donor Conception Network and the mother of donor-conceived adults, Danny Ruddock, another Donor Conception Network trainer and father of donor-conceived children and Kate Litwinczuk who is a Donor Conception Network member and was herself donor-conceived.
It promises to be a very interesting day – and you can find out more here
I’ve had lots of positive feedback about the Radio Four programme I presented on the National Sperm Bank, but also some inevitable emails from people who don’t agree with sperm donation, or probably any kind of fertility treatment to be honest. These emails tend to follow a familiar theme and at some point will always berate the “selfishness” of couples with fertility problems who could “just adopt”.
I have never been able to understand why it is selfish to have treatment because you have a perfectly natural desire to have a child – it’s not a term we’d ever use to label parents who have conceived naturally, so why does the motivation change if you need help to get pregnant? If you are going to say it’s selfish to have treatment to help you to conceive, then it’s surely no less selfish to conceive any other way…
The “why don’t you just adopt” folk often talk about adoption as if it were as simple as going out and doing your weekly supermarket shop. They seem to assume that all that is involved is sticking any child with any parent and off everyone goes to live happily ever after. In reality, adoption is about finding the right home for a child who may have complex needs. Of course, there are many people who can’t conceive naturally who do go on to adopt happily and successfully, but it’s not a solution for every couple with fertility problems in just the same way that it’s not for every couple without fertility problems.
I suppose it’s good that people want to air their views about these issues, but sometimes I wish the “I don’t agree with sperm donation” emails would be a little less predictable and a little more thoughtful.
Another research request – this time the researcher is looking to talk to people who have conceived using donor eggs and is part of a doctorate in Counselling Psychology. It will involve an interview of about an hour and you will be asked to discuss your experiences throughout the process of conception, including their experiences of the actual donation, the support that they received and how they could have been better supported, their views and experiences about their pregnancy, their sense of self as a woman, mother and partner, their view on their mother/child attachment, and views about their egg donors.
If you think you might be interested and want to know more, you can contact Simone by email at Simone.Roggenkamp.firstname.lastname@example.org
The patient support charity Infertility Network UK have a media request from ITV News – they are looking for someone who used a sperm donor to help create their family who would be willing totalk to the media about the ten families limit on sperm donation? If you are, please contact Infertility Network UK’s press officer Catherine Hill as soon as you can on 07469-660845 or email her at email@example.com
There was an interesting piece in the Telegraph at the weekend about people travelling overseas for fertility treatment, but sadly it fell short on when it came to the suggestion that the number of egg donors in the UK has gone into decline since the change to the law on anonymity. In fact the number of new registered egg donors has risen steadily in recent years, but you’d never know this from reading most articles on the subject which accept the urban myth of the rapid decline in donors following the law change.
The article implies that new technologies used in Spain, such as time-lapse imaging, may not be available in the UK which is not the case. It also quotes a pregnancy rate of 90% after four embryo transfers for one Spanish clinic. Figures given here in the UK are not usually pregnancy rates but live birth rates, as we know that more than 50% of pregnancies will miscarry once a woman is in her forties and so the live birth rate is considered more meaningful. The 90% pregnancy rate can be compared with data released at the Fertility Fairness event last week from one UK clinic showing an 80% live birth rate rather than pregnancy rate after just three cycles of fully funded NHS treatment.
What I found most odd about the article was the claim that the desire for an anonymous donor is the key reason for couples to travel for treatment. In fact, when we did a survey at Infertility Network UK on why people choose to go abroad for treatment we discovered that this was not something that the vast majority wanted – some said that they’d accepted it because at the time it was the only way to get an egg donor. It was cost which was usually the main driving factor, along with donor availability.
Now, there are many clinics in the UK which don’t have long waiting lists for donors – and it is always worth looking at all your options before making a decision.
When, just minutes into this BBC Two documentary, the commentary told us that the shortages of donor sperm in the UK were due to the change in the law about donor anonymity, I was tempted to switch off. This old chestnut has been discounted by most experts in the field, and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when you find it cropping up. But in fact, I was glad I stuck with the programme. This wasn’t a factual documentary about why women in the UK might be using imported donor sperm or about why some clinics here don’t have ready supplies of donors – and if you came to it looking for factual information, you would be disappointed. Instead, the programme focused on the stories of a number of single women and a lesbian couple who were trying to conceive using donor sperm. Video diaries made up a lot of the footage, letting the women tell their own stories and charting the sadness and longing, the ups and downs of the fertility journey in a moving and engaging way.
There was also a section with interviews with some of the donors at a Danish sperm bank and with a donor-conceived young woman who explained how she felt about not being able to find out anything about her anonymous donor – but the issues arising from these were left hanging as the programme’s central focus was the experiences of the women who were trying to conceive. They were using a variety of different ways to get pregnant from home insemination with sperm sent by courier to visits to a Danish fertility clinic or IVF at a private British centre – but the themes of repeated attempts, of money spent, of tears and heartache were the same.
The Twitter response to the programme was a testament to the women and to the empathetic story telling. Generally any item about people using IVF or donor gametes to get pregnant leads to a flurry of accusations of selfishness and the usual cries about why people don’t “just adopt” – but there was a welcome lack of that in the reaction to this programme which was largely sympathetic.
As the programme drew to an end, we were cheerfully told that one of the women who was opting for egg sharing had produced more than 40 follicles as if this were a great thing rather than an alarm bell for OHSS – and it sent me hurtling back to my initial reaction. The programme offered a moving insight into the feelings and emotions involved, but where it fell short was on informed context.
It exposes a strange world where recipients seek out donors online, and where the donors compete with one another to try to produce the most children. These donors are unscreened for sexually transmitted infections or for hereditary conditions, and some insist on “natural insemination”. There was the donor who kept it a secret from his wife, the donor who claimed his sperm was so potent he could get women on the pill pregnant – despite their suggestions that their motives were altruistic, it certainly didn’t feel that way.
Of course, there are also longer term legal implications about using a donor you’ve found online men who donate through clinics are not legally or financially responsible for any child conceived through their donations. This doesn’t apply to men who donate through these online networks, and if a donor opts for natural insemination, he is always the legal father of the child concerned.
If you’ve ever had any doubts about using a donor from a fertility clinic, this programme may be enough to change your mind..
The National Gamete Donation Trust, a charity which supports egg, sperm and embryo donation, is looking for trustees. The Trust works with donors, recipients and clinics and helps to raise awareness of the need for gamete donation. It also manages the voluntary contact register which helps donor-conceived people born before 1991 to get in touch with their donors and half-siblings, and is currently working to bring the first national sperm bank to the UK.
The Trust is looking for enthusiastic people to join the Board of Trustees, and would be particularly interested in anyone with skills in human resources, business development and/or performance management, communications particularly with knowledge of social media, writing and editing or developing grant applications and business cases
Trustees will attend at least two annual meetings in central London, and will be expected to contribute actively to the work of the charity. If you’d like to know more, or might be interested in applying, you can find out more at the National Gamete Donation Trust website – http://www.ngdt.co.uk/
So, we finally have a national sperm bank in the UK… Based at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, this will be the world’s first independent sperm bank and it aims to address the shortage of donor sperm in the UK.
Although there have been increases in the number of sperm donors in recent years, the demand has been outstripping the supply – and we’re importing more and more donated sperm from overseas, mainly Denmark and the USA.
The sperm bank is a collaboration between the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) and Birmingham Women’s Hospital, and was set up with government funding. It is based within the NHS, and will eventually aim to deliver donor sperm to those who need it across the country.
Sue Avery, Director of Birmingham Women’s Fertility Centre, said: ‘There is currently a national shortage of sperm donors in the UK, especially in NHS clinics and particularly among some ethnic minorities. Patient numbers continue to rise and treating those who need donor sperm to build their families is a major problem. At present, some patients needing donor sperm are faced with few safe options and find themselves on waiting lists of up to five years or having to stop treatment altogether.’
Laura Witjens, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Gamete Donation Trust, says they want to change the way people think about sperm donation. ‘When people think of sperm donation they often only think about the physical act of producing sperm. Let’s face it that can be off-putting and detract from the real issues. We’re all set to change that outlook. Sperm donors are very special men who are doing something they and their families can be exceptionally proud of. These are men who are doing something life-changing for themselves and for others. It’s time to shout about how fantastic these guys are.’
If you are a man aged between 18 and 41 and you are interested in joining the ranks of these special men, you can text ‘Donor’ to 88802 for more information and visit www.veryspecialman.co.uk.
If you know you may need to use a donor if you’re going to conceive, you are bound to consider the impact this might have on your future family – and particularly how any child you may have will feel about being donor-conceived. It can feel a daunting prospect, and it is fears about this which sometimes make parents worry about whether to tell their children.
Now, two new films from the Donor Conception Network give a really interesting insight into how it feels to be donor-conceived as they feature young people whose parents used donor gametes to have them talking about their thoughts and feelings. You can buy them on a DVD which has two films, one featuring young people who are growing up in families with heterosexual parents, and one featuring those who are growing up in lesbian families or with single mothers.
Having seen the films, I would highly recommend them to anyone who is considering donor conception. They are really moving, incredibly reassuring and show that what really matters to the young people is being in a loving family; being donor-conceived is something that can be a totally normal and accepted part of life to young people who grow up knowing how they were conceived. You can find out more and buy the DVD at www.dcnetwork.org