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Children

"It's easier for me to take full responsibility straight away" - why conceiving children from sperm donors is becoming the norm

14.07.2023

A handsome prince on a white horse - with a radiant smile and perfect genes - is, of course, every girl's dream. Or is it?

Svetlana Kolchik visited the world's largest sperm bank in the Danish city of Aarhus and found out why more and more women in Denmark - and not only there - are choosing to become pregnant by  donor sperm.

"Look how many  handsome men we have - this one, for example, is a non-anonymous donor, but you'll have to pay a couple of hundred euros extra for him," Helle Sayersen says with a smile as she opens a photo on her laptop of a tall, wide-smiling blond man in his thirties, wearing a white shirt and a well-fitting suit.

 My new acquaintance, a tall, black-clad brunette with elegant make-up, is the director of Cryos International. The windows of her spacious white-walled office overlook the mediaeval streets of a beautiful Danish town.

If it weren't for the unmistakable pictures of colourful sperm floating in the ocean, I would never have guessed that this high-tech office with long corridors is a sperm bank.


Photo: Getty Images

The main office of the world's largest and oldest (it's over 40 years old!) sperm bank is located in the centre of Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city after Copenhagen. This place is a mecca for those who want to procreate but are not ready to wait for the perfect relationship, have encountered reproductive difficulties or are not looking for a relationship in principle.

Many infertile couples apply to Cryos International, but the number of single women who have decided not to wait for a prince but to become solo-mums is growing every year - among the sperm bank's clients there are almost 50%.

In the US, the number of women deciding to be impregnated by donor sperm  has at least tripled since 1995. In the UK, the number of donor babies has almost quadrupled in the last ten years.

In Denmark, almost one in ten children is now born through so-called assisted reproductive technologies. This country has the most liberal legislation regarding sperm and egg donation: there are banks with biomaterial in every,  smalltown, and local women of 18-40 years old are paid by the state for the first three attempts to get pregnant. Unlike many European countries, Denmark started allowing sperm donation for lesbian couples and single women as early as 2007.

FROZEN HAPPINESS

"I understand perfectly well the women who come to us. The desire to have a child is stronger than any convention, although in Denmark impregnation from donor sperm has long been the norm," says the director of Cryos.

The sperm bank has four branches in Denmark, offices in Cyprus and Miami. From each branch, sperm frozen at -196 C in dry ice containers is sent to more than 100 countries. Home delivery used to be allowed - now it is only done to the address of the clinic where the artificial insemination is planned.

Viking sperm is not cheap - you may have to pay several thousand euros.

The exact amount depends on the quantity and quality of the sperm, on whether the biomaterial will be reserved in case the client later wants a child from the same donor, and on the degree of anonymity of the latter.

The options include a completely anonymous donor with only basic information about him/her; a donor with a voice recording, handwriting sample, a baby photo and a detailed questionnaire including information about the next of kin and their health status; an "open" donor with the option of contacting him/her when the child reaches adulthood; and a donor with full information about him/her, including a current photo.

Donor sperm has been used in Denmark since the early 1980s and several generations of children have already been born this way.

Many do not hide their origins, but instead join together in a community. On Facebook, for example, there are many international groups like Donor Children or Donor Sibling Registry, where donor sperm donors - or donor siblings themselves - search for - and successfully find! - their half-brothers and sisters. Some do it out of pure curiosity, and some - especially those who live in small towns and actively use, for example, Tinder - want to minimise the risks of falling in love with a half-brother or sister.

"Would you like to try our new augmented reality glasses?" - Director Helle Sejersen offers with a chuckle, showing me the small rooms with soft, "intimate" light where candidates for fathers-to-be "extract" their biomaterial.

The guys used to be stimulated the old-fashioned way - with porn magazines - but since the arrival of the pandemic, they are shown funny pictures and films on a digital panel hanging on the wall.

This sperm bank accepts sperm from men aged 18-45, but most of the men who want it are screened out because they don't meet the health criteria.

Screening here is serious - it lasts several months. In addition to blood and sperm tests, genetic tests and infection checks, there is also an interview with a psychologist.

Some enthusiasts, however, have been going to Cryos like a job for years. I ask their motives.

"Well, some, of course, do it to earn money (for a portion of sperm in the bank pay from 500 Danish kroner - 67 euros) - answers Helle Sejersen. - We are a university town - students need money. But many people donate sperm out of altruism, they want to help others start a family. Especially since half of our donors are in relationships."

AMAZONS 2.0

Doctor Emilia, a Stockholm-based mum of two donor children, neither hides the story of the birth of her offspring  from friends, colleagues and teachers at school, nor from her nine-year-old son and six-year-old daughter.

"When they were still two years old, I explained that not all babies nowadays grow up with dads and that I wanted to become a mum so badly that I went to a clinic to see a doctor who "planted" baby seeds in me."

Emilia gave birth at 34, although she says she started having maternal instincts at the age of 27.

" Since then, almost every date I went on turned into an interview with the future father of my children," she sighs. - I didn't want to give birth to anyone, I wasn't ready for adoption alone either. But at the same time I could not imagine a childless life - for me it is a much worse scenario than a life without a partner. But now I can safely meet men just for pleasure, without the pressure of a biological clock. You can get married at any age."

"Baby seeds" did not come easily to this woman: she flew to neighbouring Denmark for IVF several years in a row - Sweden only started allowing artificial insemination for single women eight years ago. Her son was born on the fifth attempt, her daughter only on the eighth. Both of her children are from the same donor. Emilia knows that he has two children of his own and at least ten donor children. Through a group on social networks, uniting the same parents, she received a photo of several half-sisters and brothers of her children. It turned out that they are almost exact copies of each other.

For Emilia, being a single mother by choice is in some ways preferable to having the baggage of divorce, especially if it was painful:

"I could, of course, try to "jump into marriage" just to give birth, and if anything - a quick divorce. But you never know how a partner will turn out later. So it was easier for me to take full responsibility for myself from the start."

"A child from a sperm donor is no surprise to anyone here," agrees Marina, a 38-year-old economist. Originally from Poltava, she has lived in Denmark since her student days, where she once came as an exchange student and then found a job. She is a lesbian and six years ago she gave birth to a son by a sperm donor, also deciding not to seek a relationship, especially since she likes the solo life in principle. In her son's kindergarten group there are six mums who made the same choice, and her nanny also used donor sperm and gave birth to twins not long ago.

"Danish women are Amazons," Marina laughs. - 'They are self-sufficient and independent. Many don't need  male help, nor even the presence of a male. They prefer not to wait for knights and take fate into their own hands. Moreover, the state helps single mums a lot.

Marina only knows about the father of her child,  he is a Dane, 10 years younger than her and was a very handsome child (she made her fateful choice based on his kindergarten photo).

The contract with the sperm bank states that upon reaching the age of majority, her children are entitled to one attempt of contact with their biological father, if the latter, of course, gives his consent at that time.

Marina says she would not mind meeting her donor in person - "to say thank you for her son". She is convinced that going to a sperm bank is in every way a much safer option than becoming a parent with the first man she meets.

However, with the number of donor babies on the rise, no one is immune to the risk of getting into a situation  like the one she was recently told over dinner by an acquaintance. Their children, now 14-year-olds, were also born to sperm donors. They are in the same class and are very close friends - fortunately, it has not reached the point of falling in love. Their mothers - also friends - printed out the donor questionnaires in time, carefully double-checked everything and... It turned out that their children were from the same donor!

Luckily, in Denmark, everything is spoken about openly," Marina concludes, "otherwise it could have come to incest".

When asked if it's hard for her to be  a lone parent, she shrugs:

"A lot depends on the mood. I wanted to give birth for myself. There are a lot of people like me now. The idea of the family hearth and the nuclear family is outdated. A child can be happy with one parent.”

Was there a daddy?

Should a child conceived with donor sperm be told the truth?

Emma Gronbeck, 26, who was born this way, shares her experience.

"I always knew my biological father was a sperm donor. My parents made a book with drawings and a story about how I came into the world and read it to me at bedtime from the age of two. They told me that mum and dad really wanted a baby but they couldn't have one and one day a nice man helped them. They were good for being as open with me as possible. Who knows how I might have reacted if as an adult I had accidentally found out that my dad wasn't really my biological father? It's not impossible that I would have felt betrayed.

My parents had been unable to conceive for six years. They went to Cryos Bank in Aarhus and chose a donor who looked as much like my dad as possible  and everything happened from there.

I also have a brother and a sister, twins. They were born after me, but this time they were conceived in vitro from my parents' biomaterial. We all look alike and I have a great relationship with them.

I'm glad my donor is anonymous. I am not tempted to look for him, to find out something about him. But even if I did, I don't think I'd try to meet him. Why? I don't like the word "biological father" either, by the way.

My father is the one who raised me and that man simply shared his biomaterial. For which I am incredibly grateful - he gave me the opportunity to be a part of my absolutely amazing family.

For a few years now, I've been blogging and Instagramming about what it's like to be a donor baby. A few years ago, my book came out on the topic. In Denmark, my story is certainly not uncommon. But my blog is in English - people write to me from all over the world. Women who have given birth to sperm donors advise me on how to communicate with their children, how and when to tell them the truth. Of course, this is a difficult topic: not all donor children have harmonious relationships with themselves and the world. So I am in favour of an open, honest conversation."

Svetlana Kolchik's book "The New Family '' about family and community setups in Russia and Europe will be published by Alpina Publisher later this year.


By: Svetlana Kolchik