Openness is best when creating families from donated eggs or sperm says research

There are many ways to create a family and to accept that the child may not be genetically related to one or both parents can open up new options but also questions. A new free event at Bourn Hall – ‘Pathways to Parenthood’ on 17th June 2017 – is designed to help couples and individuals to consider the different possibilities.

Some people have a condition that makes IVF treatment with donated eggs, donated sperm or adoption their only pathway to parenthood and same-sex couples know from the outset that help will be needed to start a family. Acceptance that a different path is needed is the first step.

Counselling helps overcome concerns

Jackie Stewart is an independent fertility counsellor at Bourn Hall Clinic. She says that some patients need to allow themselves time to grieve over the fact that they will not be able to have a child that is biologically related to one or both partners:

“For some this is a massive emotional hurdle, whereas others come to terms with it more quickly.

“Some people decide that they want to cherish what they have and move on with their lives. For others, they may consider fertility treatment with donated eggs/sperm/embryo or via surrogacy.

“Another route is adoption or fostering. We are happy to support them with all these options.”

Jackie provides counselling for couples considering IVF with donated gametes; two of the common issues are a concern that the child will not feel ‘theirs’, and when to tell the child about their origins.

Dr Thomas Mathews, UK Medical Director for Bourn Hall, believes that honesty is a good thing: “The anonymity for sperm and egg donors was lifted in 2005 because it was realised that it is important for children to know their origins. Although this did create a drop in donors initially, we have made up for this at Bourn Hall by creating our own sperm bank, encouraging altruistic donation and offering egg and sperm sharing programmes.

“Patients who participate in the sperm or egg sharing programmes understand clearly what it means to struggle with infertility. They have made an informed choice and are mentally prepared if later they are approached by an 18-year-old looking for more information about their beginnings.”

Creating a family with donated eggs or sperm

Recent research by the Centre for Family Studies* has also concluded that children told about their origins before they are aged seven tend to have more positive family relationships and experience higher levels of adolescent well-being, compared to the child being told later in life.

This is because although children can have understanding of biologically inherited physical characteristics by age four they only grasp the concept of biological relatedness when they are 14. So a child can label themselves as adopted (or donor conceived) at age three, but they will not know the implications until they are seven, and will then develop a more sophisticated understanding of what this means as an adolescent.

Early knowledge helps the child to process this information gradually as they mature.

Adjusting your concept of ‘family’ from giving birth to having a child also helps to create new opportunities.

Ria and Lee decided to use donor sperm after unsuccessful surgical sperm retrieval. Ria says: “We went in with our eyes wide open and we had wanted to try to see if we could have a baby that was genetically ours before considering other options. It was very disappointing when they couldn’t find any sperm.”

However they have no regrets about using donated sperm, as Ria reflects: “It took us a lot longer to get where we are, with our happy bubbly baby, but once referred to Bourn Hall Clinic the process was surprisingly quick. We now couldn’t imagine life without Jacob. Lee phones me every day from work to check how his son is doing – it was well worth going through all the ‘hoops’ to get him.”

Creating a forever family through adoption 

For Fiona, adopting her little boy after 11 years of infertility and failed IVF made her “instantly an insider in a club you have so longed to join for so many long and arduous years during your infertility journey. When you enter it, there is so much joy, so much of the time.

“Through adoption, you come to share in the love, frustrations, happiness, laughs, experienced by all mums and dads. Whilst I have never ever forgotten my infertility, I no longer identify myself primarily as an infertile – I am definitely a mum first and foremost.”

Many Pathways to Parenthood

The Pathways to Parenthood Fayre is being held on 17th June 10am – 3pm at Bourn Hall Clinic, Bourn, Cambridge CB23 2TN


*Ilioi, E., Blake, L., Jadva, V., Roman, G. and Golombok, S. (2017), The role of age of disclosure of biological origins in the psychological wellbeing of adolescents conceived by reproductive donation: a longitudinal study from age 1 to age 14. J Child Psychol Psychiatr, 58: 315–324. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12667

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