When John* and his wife were faced with the possibility that they might never have children his whole perspective on life changed.
“I suddenly realised that although I hadn’t thought about it, my entire life had been geared up towards the assumption that one day I would have children,” he says.
“We had been trying for about a year before we realised there was a problem, it’s a hard thing to go through. We were at an age where all of our friends were getting married and having children, everybody was falling pregnant around us.
“I found it difficult seeing my wife trying to cope with that, putting on a brave face, when people came round and announced that they’re expecting their second child or that they’d decided to try and within a month they were pregnant.
“It’s really quite awful to go through that and be denied – you always assume that it would just happen, you never even think about it. Then when it doesn’t, it really makes you rethink what your life’s all about.
“When I was faced with the fact that I might not be able to have children, it changed my perspective on things, so I really do have a great deal of sympathy for people who for whatever reason can’t have children of their own and that was behind my decision to donate.”
When the couple got married in 2008, they started trying for baby straight away as they had been together for a long time. After a year they went to their GP for advice, testing showed a good result for John’s sperm but his wife was referred for a laparoscopy, which took many months to arrange and finally happened in 2010.
John still remembers the sense of numbness when they were told the results from the laparoscopy: “The gynaecologist at the hospital who did the procedure was very matter of fact. He breezed in and said ‘you’ve got category four endometriosis, it probably means you’re going to be infertile, so you’ve got two options: you can either have surgery to try and correct it or you can go for fertility treatment, but the chances of having children of your own will be limited. And then he was out again. It was really a shock, there was no time to take it in and ask questions or anything.”
“It took us about a year to get to a point where we accepted that we would need fertility treatment or some kind of serious decision.”
The couple were referred for IVF treatment in 2011 and after an unhappy experience at another clinic chose to go to Bourn Hall where John’s sperm was tested again and found to be high quality.
“I wasn’t aware that there was a shortage of sperm donors until Bourn Hall wrote to me to ask if I would consider sperm sharing. Fertility treatment isn’t something which people talk about. Unless you are in that situation it is a closed world.
“I would say the decision to donate was fairly easy, I felt that it was almost like a duty. I felt it was something which people needed and if I could help them have a child, then I definitely should do it.”
“I didn’t discuss it with my family, only with my wife. If she had said no, I wouldn’t have done it, but she had the same view as me. Having been through what we have, we both felt that if it bought children to other couples that would be a good thing.”
John had a consultation when Dr Mathews Medical Director at Bourn Hall explained that as a donor you are not the parent of any resulting child and have no legal, financial or moral responsibility to the child and he also explained the procedure.
You give a blood sample for analysis; this will be tested to determine your blood group as well as screened for common genetic diseases and sexually transmitted infections. You also need a physical examination and provide a semen sample for analysis.
“He explained that I would need to make about ten visits over the next few months in order to create 100 ampules of sperm. The process didn’t take long, I think it was within about four or five months. It was casual, I’d ring them and go two or three times in a month, and then have a month when I hadn’t gone at all. So there was no pressure to do anything.
“The nurse would meet me and take me to a room. They give you a bottle and some instructions, and essentially let you get on with it. You put the bottle in an envelope and go to a window like a doctor’s surgery hatch, and you put it on there and press the buzzer and walk away. Nobody sees you, it’s all very private.”
“You write a pen picture of yourself for the people that may be using the samples just to give them a bit of an idea about what to expect. For example, I’m left handed and I’m quite tall. I gave a very simple overview about my background and what kind of person I am. I tried to be as honest as possible.”
“I don’t have any objection with children wanting to get in touch with me; it’s only fair that they should want to know about me and I wouldn’t object to meeting them. I spoke to my wife about that and she was quite happy. It is a very controlled process; there is no danger of them suddenly turning up at the door.
John says he thinks that men don’t donate sperm simply because they don’t think about it.
“Before I started trying for a baby with my wife, I’d never thought about it. It’s not something you talk about down the pub or over dinner, it’s quite personal so I think it’s not really on a lot of men’s horizons.
“I think if you’ve got your own children it’s a bit like “why do I care?”. I don’t think you can really sympathise with somebody who’s not got children through no fault of their own unless you’ve been in that position.
“You just think “oh that’s sad, poor you”, but that’s about as far as it goes. But the real pain you can only sympathise with if you’ve been through it.
“I don’t think they see the importance of how it can change people’s lives because it hasn’t touched them – a lot of guys don’t have any exposure to the possibility of childlessness.”
As a sperm-sharer you are entitled to a free treatment cycle. John and his wife were eligible for NHS-funding and when they had exhausted this they decided in early 2014 to have a final cycle of treatment before giving up and looking to adopt and this is when the sharing made a difference to them.
“I would have done it anyway but that was obviously a bonus to have a saving on another round of IVF. We decided that it would be our last attempt before we’d adopt.
“We knew very well that it might not happen for us, but if there was a chance that it could then we would take it. Better to have donated and given that chance to somebody else as well.”
This time it was successful and the couple are now proud parents of a little girl, born in December 2014.
“I would say that she is everything I ever wanted and didn’t know that I wanted. She’s lovely. To have a child is just amazing.
“It matters to me is that I have given somebody a chance and I feel I owed it to people in the same position as me and my wife. If anyone else gets the sense of what I’ve got now with my daughter then that makes me very happy about what I did.”
*Names have been changed
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