Donor conception and the single mother. This is program from the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority or VARTA in Victoria, Australia... at VARTA.org.au. And made possible by the Victorian Law Foundation.
Important changes to legislation introduced on 1st January 2010 meant that fertile single women can now access Assisted Reproductive Treatment in Victoria. They can now try to have a child using donor sperm treatment. Previously this treatment was only available to single infertile women.
This is podcast two of a two part series "How Alexander understands his donor conception"- about a single mother raising a child conceived using donor sperm and the issues and challenges that face single women in this situation.
We're talking with Anna, a single mother raising her so, Alexander, born through IVF from donor sperm. As Alexander grew Anna made the decision to tell him about his beginnings as early in his life as possible. For some parents this is a difficult decision. For Anna it was a practical step forward that was to reap some unexpected benefits.
Telling Alexander of how he came to be was never a process of sitting him down and telling him, it was always his story. The story was there from the beginning. And it wasn’t just hey, I did IVF and I’m a single mum and this is why you don’t have a Dad story. It was a story of the whole of his journey. It started off in a sense with babies are made with love and I loved him from the beginning and since the moment you were a twinkle in my eye I loved you and I wanted you.
It was always a story told to him as soon as he started enjoying stories.
So his journey always was, this is how you were created and there was a person, a special man that helped you be. He gave a gift to the hospital. I’ve always used the term “sperm” and “egg”. I know that others use the term “baby magic”. I don’t think it matters. I’ve always believed it’s an incorrect term. I don’t think it matters what language you use as long as you are consistent.
So you’re creating a world that is open to further exploration but is kept simple for the child to understand. Alexander knew from the moment that he was conceived this way.
But it wasn’t until he hit school he had the major problems because the other children... he would say “I don’t have a Dad” proudly. “I have a special man that helped me be”. But then the other kids would say “But you’ve gotta have a Dad”. In the first school he went to that was such a major issue. The other kids kept going on and on: “You have to have a Dad”. “Why don’t you have a Dad?” And that really started to impact on Alexander.
The law in Victoria allows donors, donor recipients and off-spring to apply for access to identifying information. For Anna it meant there was the possibility of making contact with her sperm donor. And she could apply now when her child was young.
Alexander’s story was always based on the man who helped you be... and so what I used to tell Alexander the story about this special man that helped him, you know, gave the gift to the doctors at the hospital.
And he used to wonder what he looked like and what he did now. So I decided to try and make contact with just those two primary things; to have the first name so that we could start using the correct first name and have a photo. I didn’t envisage that contact was going to be possible until he was 18 years of age. That’s what the laws at that stage were saying. That unless we petitioned the donor early that then we could have that information. But that’s what I thought. I thought, it’s going to be driven by Alexander, because it wasn’t about me and my relationship or my imagined fantasies about who the donor was.
And so we wrote him a letter. And we had to fill out these forms. And we were just very fortunate that the donor at that time was happy for Alexander to have as much information as he needed. And at the time he was actually coming to Melbourne and would we like to meet him? So for what was initially started as something little came to something big. And I asked Alexander what would you like to do? And he said, yeah I like to meet him. So we said, yes we would definitely like to meet the donor. And that’s how we decided to make contact with the donor. And we have been very fortunate that this donor, his name is Steve, has been very open and willing to provide Alexander with as much information about him and his life as he wants. So I don’t know what other donors might be like but certainly Steve has been very gracious with his time and in responding to Alexander’s questions about him.
It certainly has helped Alexander tremendously knowing a lot earlier. But the challenge for me is that I need to be the facilitator.
Because I always thought it would be directed by Alexander and his timing and the donor’s timing. And that’s what I believe needs to be taken into consideration when you are making contact with the donor. You need to be.... what the donor’s willing to give you and what the child actually wants. But because Alexander is younger then I need to be pivotal in facilitating some sort of relationship.
Steve has been so wonderful with his engagement of the children that his donation has created that it’s different. So that the relationship can be whatever Alexander may want it to be. And it has been very positive. His whole family has been, his wife has just been so open to understanding that Steve’s donation has created so many other children. So that this has now opened the door to meet with other children conceived by Steve’s donation and therefore Alexander’s other genetic half-siblings.
It’s been fantastic and extremely important to Alexander. It’s funny that... Because one of the things that Alexander wanted more than anything was a brother or sister. And even though I’ve tried for the last five years to not only give him, you know, create a different family situation. I dearly wanted to have a second child as well. Even though technically speaking we can say these children are not his brothers and sisters. For Alexander, he has clearly said, he’s proud of saying, “I have two brothers” and “I have two sisters”. Actually it’s more than that now that he knows Steve’s children as well. And it’s something that I haven’t squashed because he understands genetics - as much as an eight year old can. So he understands they’re genetically his half-siblings, they’re not siblings that live together.
I guess you need to be open to the donor’s willingness. To be engaged, to engage in the process. We were very fortunate because Steve had a different attitude, he was very open to this engagement. I would say, offering advice that, to be the facilitator. If it’s at an early age you need to facilitate the questions and answers.
And he mucks about sometimes, “It’s lucky I’ve got Steve’s height Mum” because I’m quite small. So he understands, because he’s older, that this is not his Dad that lives with him like other people’s Dad but this is an important person that’s given us a gift. The advice is just to go for it. If the donor is willing to give you information take it because I think it does benefit your child.
Even though there’s been lots of challenges I could not envisage a life without Alexander.
Donor conception and the single mother.
This has been a program from the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority or VARTA in Victoria, Australia at VARTA.org.au. And made possible by the Victoria Law Foundation.
Our thanks to Anna for sharing her story.