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.
If you want to see for yourself, you can find the programme here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer.