Diary of a rejected sperm donor
When Simon Evans decided to do his bit for infertile couples, he thought it would be easy ...
Tuesday 28 May 1996
I have decided to become a sperm donor. After all, I give blood - why not sperm? Since I work from home, I have the time to do it. I will earn some money - about pounds 20 per trip. It will be an interesting experience: a good conversation topic at parties. I am not in a relationship and, at 31, have no immediate plans to have children: it would be nice to think I could help someone else to have some.
Perhaps also in the back of my mind the fear lurks that something horrible could happen to my reproductive capacity in the future and I might need some of my old sperm back. A handy way to obtain free storage.
Not knowing where to start, I phone the local family planning clinic - giggles greet my inquiry. (I suppose this is understandable: they are, after all, dedicated to stopping men donating sperm - even in the course of having sex with their own wives.) Eventually, through a variety of hospitals and helplines, I get through to a Harley Street clinic that specialises in artificial insemination.
I make an appointment for a Monday afternoon. In the interim, I tell a few friends. They seem to think the idea peculiar. "Don't I feel odd that someone I've never met might have my baby?" they want to know.
The appointment. The first doctor I meet is charming but unnervingly young - he still has an adolescent haze of facial hair around his lip. After explaining the procedure, he gives me some forms to fill in, all obvious stuff asking if I have suffered certain medical conditions, and consent papers for the use of my sperm. He then points out a section where I can give a brief description of myself for the parents and possibly the child to read, when he or she is 18. Who I am, what I do, what I enjoy. It reminds me of something you might bury in a time capsule.
For the first time, the emotional impact of what I am doing hits me. I feel like Jor-el, Superman's father, sending his son away from his doomed planet with only a few inadequate words to link him to his past, his birthline. I have this irrational urge to write not only something about me, but to tell him all about London, Planet Earth in the Nineties, the facts of life, the history of mankind: as if this is my job, rather than it being that of his future parents. And I realise for the first time that I am definitely visualising the child as a boy.
While all this rushes through my head, the doctor tells me that I can write something later when I have had a chance to think about it. I suspect he knows what I am thinking, and has had too many "By the time you read this, my boy ..." type messages already. I am then introduced to a second, older doctor who takes some blood from me for tests for various unwelcome conditions, including HIV: despite his gentle warning, I feel glibly confident I will sail through them without any positive results.
Finally, I am shown into a room that locks from the inside. It is barely furnished: just a sink, a low bed and a coffee table, on top of which lie four top-shelf magazines. That, apart from a litter bin half full of lightly soiled Kleenex, is it. I select a magazine that seems mainly to feature unfeasibly large-breasted women on yachts (the others are all full of readers' wives, a genre I have always found inexplicable) and prepare to perform the requisite task.
Though I feel a little self-conscious, the experience is not particularly awkward or embarrassing. The lock on the door is at least as substantial as in any public convenience and the fact that anyone walking past the engaged sign knows exactly what is going on in there doesn't seem to bother me. Remembering to snatch up the sample jar at the last minute is a close call though - my mind had gone into autopilot, so to speak. I remember what the point of all this is in the nick of time.
I am disappointed to see how empty the sample pot still seems. For years I have been plagued by doubts that I was not producing enough semen - a fear inspired by pernicious exaggerations in pornographic magazines. For the first time I realise that, to some extent, I am putting my masculinity on the line. I shake these thoughts out of my head, but I'm still pleased when, delivering my pot to the lab, I see that a couple of other pots sitting there are no more full than mine. I almost feel as if I am leaving my son at school for the first day, and am pleased to see that the other lads are no bigger than him.
I return to the lab. If my sperm counts are high enough and my blood test has unearthed nothing unpleasant, then we will begin the programme. I am welcomed by the two doctors, both looking slightly embarrassed.
It transpires that my sperm have failed to make the grade. The sample was tested for quantity, liveliness and motility of sperm, and level of antibodies (these are generally left behind following testicular surgery or the sort of mild internal bleeding that can be caused by a kick in the testicles and can impede sperm efficiency). By any normal standards, it seems my sperm are OK. But for sperm to be of donatable quality, I am told, they have to be better than OK. The process of freezing, testing, separating and so on takes it out of a sperm sample, and to go through it they need to be a bit special - the Marines of sperm, if you like. My motility rating is not quite up to these standards.
The blood tests were not carried out.
My immediate reaction is to try again: perhaps there was a reason for my previous poor performance. By all means, I am told, and back I go into the little room.
The results will be in now, but I still haven't phoned the clinic. Perhaps I don't want to know for sure that my sperm are not up to the job.
But I also have a feeling that that dodgy first sample, as well as undermining my facile confidence, has given me just a bit too long to think about that Jor-el factor. I begin to wonder if I wouldn't be troubled by thoughts of what life was like for the child or children I might father.
Today I visited some close friends who have just had a baby (to be christened Joel, funnily enough). Looking at him, all wrinkly, blotchy skin and screwed- up eyes, I recalled the Lou Reed song "Beginning of a Great Adventure". I have decided not to contact the clinic again. Perhaps I have been too flippant; perhaps I hadn't thought out the emotional implications of sperm donation. It may be selfish of me, but even if my sperm were up to it, I don't think I could cope. Perhaps fatherhood is one great adventure I can't bring myself to share.
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