Considering donor conception
Your decision to have children with the help of donated eggs, sperm, or embryos is a lifelong one. It will be the result of an extensive process of consultation and discussion. Your fertility specialist and clinic counsellor will provide you with information about using donor gametes (sperm and eggs) or embryos and can help you explore the social and emotional considerations.
Eligibility requirements for fertility treatments in Victoria are outlined in Section 10 of the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008.
According to the Act, a doctor must be satisfied that:
- the woman is unlikely to become pregnant other than by a treatment procedure; or
- the woman is unlikely to be able to carry a pregnancy or give birth to a child without a treatment procedure; or
- the woman is at risk of transmitting a genetic abnormality or genetic disease to a child born as a result of a pregnancy conceived other than by a treatment procedure, including a genetic abnormality or genetic disease for which the woman’s partner is the carrier.
There are many reasons why donor sperm, eggs or embryos may be needed. You can read more about the donor conception process and what is involved here.
If you are considering donor conception, VARTA recommends following these steps:
- Speak to your GP or fertility specialist about your fertility assessment and donor conception options.
- Discuss donor conception with your partner (if any) and family.
- Find a donor. This could be through your fertility clinic, advertisement, a known or overseas donor.
- Have counselling sessions with your treating fertility clinic.
- Complete the required consent forms with your counsellor. This will cover details such as withdrawal of consent and what happens in the event of death. You and your partner (if any) will need to be involved in this.
- Undertake fertility treatment at your fertility clinic.
Once you are ready to proceed with donor conception, the next step is to find the right donor. There are many options depending on your circumstances and preferences, including using a fertility clinic donor, a donor you know, advertising for a donor or using an overseas donor.
Using a fertility clinic donor
Most fertility clinics have sperm donors, with some also recruiting egg and embryo donors. If donor numbers become low, there may be a waiting list for access. All donations must be altruistic, meaning donors are not allowed to be paid for donating (apart from reimbursement of expenses). Clinic donors are limited to donating to ten women (including their current or former partner). Donors are medically screened. They (and their partner) have counselling to inform them of their rights and responsibilities before donating.
All donors consent to their identifying details (name, date of birth, last known address) being released to the donor-conceived person when they turn 18. Donors complete a donor profile giving some information about themselves including why they donated, their hobbies, personality, appearance, and whether they are open to being contacted before the child is an adult. Potential recipients are usually able to read these profiles and, if possible, choose which donor they prefer.
You can find out more from your fertility clinic.
Using a known donor
A known donor could be an acquaintance, friend, or family member. Using a known donor often requires a proactive approach to letting people know you are looking for a donor. Word of mouth or your personal social network can be useful tools. You may want to consider the following questions when finding a known donor:
- What criteria are you looking for in a donor (e.g. level of ongoing involvement or contact) and what would exclude someone as a potential donor?
- How important is the donor's appearance, religion, personal characteristics, morals and beliefs, level of education, etc.?
- Why is the person donating to you? Do they feel obliged to donate to you? The decision to donate may have long lasting implications for the donor, their partner (if any), and their family, so it is a good idea to ensure they do not feel an obligation to donate, but rather want to do it for their own reasons.
The relationship between all parties, including the parents and the donor, and the donor and the child, can vary enormously from no contact to occasional contact or an ongoing relationship. It is important that everyone involved including partners (if any) express how they feel about the arrangement, roles and consent. Regardless of the level of involvement, maintaining a positive ongoing relationship can be beneficial for known donors, parents and the child. This is particularly important where there is a co-parenting arrangement in which the donor is actively involved in the child's upbringing.
Expectations, feelings, and needs are likely to change over time. As things change, it is important to focus on ensuring positive outcomes. Some factors that can help contribute to positive relationships are:
- a high level of trust and a capacity to communicate openly and honestly
- an ability to manage change and conflict
- a solid grounding of shared values and priorities
- holding each other in high regard
- a level of emotional maturity.
In Victoria, it is a legal requirement to have an advertisement for a donor approved by the Health Minister before it is published. This includes sending your draft advertisement for approval to:
Minister for Health
Department of Health and Human Services
GPO BOX 4541
Melbourne VIC 3000
Email Address: email@example.com
- Stand out by uniquely reflecting you and your situation. Describe you and why you need a donor.
- Clearly state what you are seeking in the title and/or the opening sentence.
- Include a short explanation of what reasonable expenses (e.g. medical, travel) will be reimbursed.
- Consider privacy (use a non-identifying email address, PO box, mobile number rather than home number).
It may take some time before your advertisement is successful. Not everyone who responds will be a suitable donor for you.
You can find examples of advertisements here.
Using an overseas donor
If you would like to import donated eggs, sperm, or embryos (created using donor eggs or sperm) to Victoria for treatment, you need to apply to VARTA for approval to import donated material. In considering your application, VARTA will determine whether the imported eggs, sperm, or embryos will be used in a way that complies with Victorian law. You can find more information including import criteria in the Victorian guidelines.
It is important to note that you cannot use donations from anonymous donors within Australia. Anonymous donation does not comply with Victorian law. Although anonymity may seem appealing, it is important to consider the impact of this on your potential child. With overseas unknown donors, no contact or further exchange of information (e.g. medical, biological or cultural background) is possible between the donor and child.
Helpful resources & support
“Having a child via donation is not to be taken lightly from either side. It’s complex. It’s emotional. It’s challenging… But it’s also exciting, rewarding and life changing. The power to help create a human being is the most powerful gift anyone can give.” Alison, mother of donor-conceived child
"For Sam and I, we couldn’t accept donation to start our family from a person we didn’t also respect." Alison, mother of donor-conceived child
"It was always important for me for the kids to know who their donor was because I’m adopted. I don’t know my biological parents and I just really felt this strong need for them to know where they came from because I don’t." Kate, mother of donor-conceived child
"You don’t feel any differently about them; I feel that it’s not an issue at all. You know that there is a biological difference, but it doesn’t change how you feel about them." Stephen, father of donor-conceived child
"When he was born I just felt completely bonded to him immediately. I got to hold him and cut the cord and I felt completely connected and very protective!" Cathy, mother of donor-conceived child
"We used a lawyer to produce a memorandum of understanding... I’m mindful that none of that is legally binding, but it was a very helpful process and it would be foolhardy not to do it." Brad, father of donor-conceived child
"For anyone considering a co-parenting arrangement I’d say get professional counselling, separately and together, because you need to understand why you want to do it and that your emotions are going to change once that child is born, because they will. And you need to learn about how the other person feels and about how this journey is going to work. The journey will not work like it says on paper - it’s an emotional journey." Rodney, father of donor-conceived child
"They [the recipient parents] had a copy of some Rainbow Family guidelines which were really useful and even though it wasn't legally binding we came up with a written agreement, a kind of symbolic contract between us and it helped clarify our expectations." David, sperm donor
"You know, it’s not a little project. It’s something that lasts your whole life so you want to make sure the person you’re having the child with, in whatever way, is the right person." Maryann
"We met and spent about three or four hours together and we just drank coffee and talked and talked… I think it’s worked because we talked about everything from the start. I made a very conscious decision to have a child - it took me a lot of work and effort and planning." Maryann
"For co-parenting, I think you would need to be really careful. You would need to know the person well and have a really good capacity to talk - you wouldn’t pick them willy-nilly." Joanna
"It was a good year, more than a year, between meeting him and starting to try to get pregnant, which I think was the right thing." Joanna
"I think it is definitely an issue [biology] and it has to be thought about. Whether your child looks like they’re part of your family – like they’re your child – is a concern at the beginning, but I must admit as time’s past I’ve found it not to be an issue." Vien
"I wish someone had tried to explain things to me more, because everyone just said: it’s fine it’s not a problem. I think having a conversation about that really helps." Ell
"Parenting is not about genetics and both of us are equally his parent." John
"I thought, right, I’m going to be involved as much as I can. I’ll just be right there and I’m the Mama and it will be all 50: 50 and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to be just as much a parent." Cate
"Over time my anxieties disappeared. She was equally our daughter and nothing’s coming up for me now so it just became a non-issue, I suppose." Cate
Frequently Asked Questions
I’m anxious. Is this normal?
Yes, it is common to have doubts, be anxious or nervous. Many of the anxieties experienced reduce or completely disappear over time. Discuss any concerns you have with your partner, close friends or family, known donor or your counsellor.
What is my role in the family going to look like?
Many non-biological parents worry about their role in the family, particularly their role in relation to their child. This can be challenging for some people, especially in same-sex relationships, as there are no established societal norms for their relationship. Some techniques for overcoming this include sharing the practical parenting responsibilities (e.g. feeding and caring) and time spent parenting. Flexible working arrangements (e.g. working part-time, working from home) can help to share the primary-care role.
Regardless of the roles in your family, love, commitment and shared values are good building blocks for any family.
I’m in a same-sex relationship. Will my experience be different?
Regardless of the roles in your family, love, commitment and shared values are good building blocks for any family. Most same-sex parents say that while biology can be important it does not affect how they love their children. Gay fathers may not feel the anxieties associated with being a non-biological parent as keenly, or for as long, because they don’t have to deal with issues of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. While for non-biological lesbian mothers, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding can sometimes be difficult and they may experience feelings of grief and loss or feel excluded. Once the child stops breastfeeding, they often say there is no longer any difference between them and they feel more secure in their role and in their relationship with their child.
What can I do to support my family members of friends going through the donor conception process?
Listen to them. Acknowledgement and support go a long way to help non-biological parents feel secure in their role.
Where can I get more help?
Discuss any concerns you have with your partner, close friends or family, known donor or your counsellor. It can also be helpful to contact a support group or hear from others who have had similar experiences.
I want to use donated eggs, sperm or embryos. What are some of the things should I consider?
Before using donated gametes, consider:
- Family. What are your ideas about family? Is genetic connection a priority? Have you taken time and space to grieve the loss of not being genetically related to your child, including physical resemblance and family history? It is important that you feel confident and comfortable regardless of your child’s genetic origins.
- Your donor. If you know your donor, how might their donating affect your relationship with them? If you do not know your donor, what characteristics (i.e. intelligence, health) are important when choosing your donor?
- Relationships. What will the donor’s role be in relation to your child? Who and what will you tell your family, friends and, most importantly, your child?
- Access to information. Consider that your child may want more information about their donor or may want to contact them when they are older. Consider how you would feel if you were contacted by the donor for information or to meet.
- Legal implications. Understand the legal implications of your decisions here. Seek legal advice before proceeding.
Having doubts and fears is normal. It is important that you think through and discuss any concerns you have. Talking to your partner, close friends or family, known donor, or your counsellor are good ways to explore issues further. You may want to contact a support group or talk to others who have been through it before you make a decision.
Who will be the legal parents and what will the birth certificate state?
Recipient parent(s) receiving the donor treatment are the legal parent(s), responsible for all parental decisions. Donors have no legal rights or responsibilities in relation to the child.
The parent’s name(s) will appear on the birth certificate as the legal parent(s). The donor’s name will not appear on the birth certificate. The Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages will also mark ‘donor-conceived’ against their record of the child’s birth. When a birth certificate is issued to an adult donor-conceived person conceived from 2010, a second page is attached stating that more information about their birth is available. The second page of the birth certificate can be removed so that it can be used for official purposes, such as applying for a passport, without revealing that they were donor-conceived.
If the donor-conceived person requests more information, they will be informed that their details are on VARTA’s Central Register. If they did not know previously, they will then find out that they were donor-conceived.
Am I going to be able to bond with my child if I’m not genetically related to them?
One of the most common concerns shared by non-biological parents is whether they will bond with their baby. However, once their baby is born, many say they are surprised by how easily and quickly they bond and how natural it feels.
I am looking for a donor. How do I do this?
Options for finding a donor include using a fertility clinic donor, advertising or using a known donor. If you are using a known donor, consider where, when and how you will raise the topic so that you both feel comfortable here.
I want to advertise for a donor. Do you have examples of advertisements?
If you would like to advertise for an egg, sperm or embryo donor, you will need to apply for approval from the Health Minister before it is published. This includes sending your draft advertisement for approval to:
Minister for Health
Department of Health and Human Services GPO BOX 4541
Melbourne VIC 3000
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
How do people describe their donor to their child?
The language used to describe the donor may vary and can include ‘Dad/Mum’ (coparenting), ‘donor Dad/Mum’, the donor’s first name, ‘special helper’, ‘generous man/lady’, ‘nice egg lady’ or some variation. The use of names; the relationship between parent, donor, and child; and the donor’s role and responsibilities are unique to each family.
Will the donor have any parental responsibility for my child?
Recipient parent(s) receiving donor treatment are the legal parent(s) responsible for all parental decisions. Donors have no legal rights or responsibilities in relation to the child.
A common fear is that the donor will not be able to let go of parental responsibility and will want to intrude or interfere with your family. It is important that everyone involved including partners (if any) express how they feel about the arrangement, roles and consent.