Here are a few things we have learned from our home insemination attempts thus far….
1) More often than not this will be a thoroughly unromantic process. This is ok.
This is not always the case by any means. We have managed to inject (no pun intended) some romance into insemination and the more adept I get with a syringe the better this will get. However, as with many couples trying to conceive (gay or straight), sometimes the process is going to be quick and functional. This is ok. The end result is the main thing and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if it occurs via a business-like insemination while the dinner is cooking or if it is a wonderful romantic evening with candles and music. All that matters is that it creates a baby.
2) Speculums – more trouble than they are worth
I have come to dislike speculums. To be fair, the years of having smear tests haven’t exactly enamoured me towards them but now I truly dislike them. They are fiddly. They make the whole thing a lot more detached and clinical and also, in my experience, contribute to way more spillage that if we don’t use them. I don’t know if it’s a case of angles and getting the syringe in the right place but every time we use a speculum we end up making more of a mess than if we don’t. I appreciate that there is always going to be some leakage (gravity etc) but I’d like to give the wee swimmers as much chance as possible to do their job and it’s disheartening to feel like a lot of the semen has been lost whilst trapped in the speculum. Syringe and extender seems to work much better.
3) There are things you need a lot of and things you can reuse
We ordered a deluxe insemination kit from Pride Angel. In it we got lots and lots of eminently washable and reusable items – syringes, sample pots etc but only three measures of the lubricant which aids conception. Most lubricant is actually quite bad for sperm and if you are going the speculum route you definitely want to be using some. It’s also reasonably tricky to get hold of (special order from our local Boots) so it baffles me as to why we had six syringes and sample pots (seriously, these can be rewashed/sterilised and re-used) and only three vials of lube. My advice – spend money on the lube and re-use the plasticware.
4) Ovulation predictor kits can be inconclusive
Don’t panic. This doesn’t mean you aren’t ovulating. It might just be that the kits are sensitive enough to pick up your hormone levels. If you are charting in times of days since last period and you feel it’s the right time, it probably is. Use the kits by all means but also listen to your body.
5) Towels and cushions are your friends
This is not always a comfortable process. Towels mean if there is any leakage you’re not fretting about the cushion covers and that the clean-up is quick and easy afterwards. Cushions make everything more comfortable, especially in terms of keeping the pelvis tilted to help the swimmers. Extreme angles are uncomfortable and probably not necessary.
I’m not going to go into the specifics and details of our interactions with potential donors as that seems inappropriate. When we first started thinking about having a baby we thought long and hard about whether we wanted a known donor or an anonymous one. There are pros and cons to each and I found it hard to decide on what I wanted to do. We’d already ruled out completely anonymous donation via a clinic – the cost was too high especially when you consider trying to conceive 3 times per cycle, plus it had that very impersonal feel of having to go via a clinic. As you will see this is not a romantic process at all but we did want to keep some semblance of us creating this baby together. That rapidly goes out the window when doctors are involved.
Initially we didn’t know about the existence of places like Cryos and so our first thought was asking friends or using something like Pride Angel to meet someone willing to help. Both of these would come under the known donor heading for me – meeting a stranger through Pride Angel would lead to the donor becoming known as there would need to be conversations face to face, contracts and meet-ups several times a month.
I’m going to be a little abstract here as I don’t feel too comfortable sharing interactions with those friends who we asked and who were kind enough to consider. Suffice to say asking a friend to be your sperm donor is one of the more terrifying conversations to have and also, for us, demonstrated the love and respect we had for the individuals we asked. We restricted our choices to men who already had children to reduce the chance of something being wrong donor-side if we were struggling to conceive which also shortened our list.
It’s hard not to feel rejected when people say no. Really hard. It’s also hard to reconcile some of the reasons given with your own feelings about the process and about how you view what is going on. Every reason given is valid for the person giving it regardless of whether it fits with your outlook – as hard as that may be in the moment. I personally really struggled with this part of the process – with having to ask someone else’s permission (in effect) to start a family. It’s hard to have someone outside of your relationship dictate whether this can happen. I’ve used quite emotive words there and that is not a reflection on any of our potential donors who were all lovely. It’s just how it felt from my side as the person who actually has no input (biologically) already, to have to wait for someone to agree to help. Unreasonably or not I felt angry and frustrated that the decision to start trying to conceive was not solely within mine and biomum’s control, that a third party, however vital, had a say.
This was one of things that drew me to places like Cryos. It felt like taking back control of the process for ourselves. Order the sperm, have it delivered and away we go. It felt impersonal and I wasn’t sure if I liked that. We could search by characteristic, sure, we could even go for extended profiles with more detailed background information, but we had no idea who these men were. Whether we would like them if we met them. It felt detached.
Fortunately for us, at the point where previous potentials hadn’t worked out, we got an offer. Yep, that elusive and mystical offer. Someone actually volunteered to help us start our family. Not only that but our thoughts about what we wanted were in sync. The contract writing was pretty easy (once we found a template) and every discussion about what needs to happen has been relaxed and involved a great deal of humour. Believe me, if you’re doing this yourselves, you need a lot of humour. We could not ask for better people (donor and his wife) to be doing this with and their willingness to help and their support and encouragement is invaluable and so, so appreciated.
Most of my posts thus far have been getting up to speed with where we are in terms of the practicalities of having a baby as a lesbian couple. I will get to grips with some of my thoughts and feelings in later posts but it seems wise to get up to speed first. There will be plenty of time whilst we’re going through false alarms and two week waits for me to delve into my psyche and do some navel gazing.
So…. donor search. Such fun (said in the style of Miranda’s mum). Many, many things to consider before the searching even begins. Do you want a known donor or anonymous? Do you want to go via a clinic or home insemination?
Going through a clinic generally involves using anonymous donor sperm where the most information available is ethnicity and general characteristics. The law changed in the UK in 2005 meaning that sperm donors donating to banks and clinics can be contacted by children born using their sperm, if the child so desires, once they turn 18. The sperm is screened and checked for STIs and certain genetic disorders – having said that how many straight couples screen their genetics unless they have a known recessive condition in their family? Most people just hope for the best and take their chances so this wasn’t a major consideration for us. Going through a clinic was something we wanted to avoid doing – partly due to the clinical, detached nature of the process and partly due to cost. As a rough guide to the costs involved in private treatment see the London Women’s Clinic treatment costs.
That leaves us with home insemination and the acquisition of sperm without the back-up of a clinic and their catalogue of donors. It’s still possible to do anonymous donation using the home insemination method. The options basically involve buying sperm from a bank either here or, as we considered, from somewhere like Denmark. The legalities are different and there isn’t the same automatic allowance of information to the child once they turn 18. Anonymous donors can remain anonymous forever unlike in the UK. The costs are also lower using places like Cryos than in the UK – sperm can be shipped to you or you can travel to Denmark to collect it.
Sperm banks are not the only option, though now we venture into the potentially murky world of known donors. That’s a bit of an exaggeration really – if you manage to find a known donor you are comfortable with it is awesome and I’ll talk about our personal search in a bit. There are however places that will help you find a donor. Pride Angel was one place we looked and seriously considered before our donor situation was resolved. The site itself is great idea. It acts as a connection platform between donors (sperm and egg) and recipients. It’s free to join but to send members a message you need to buy credits. They also sell a variety of home insemination kits and other useful things like vitamins and, my favourite, the sperm shaped stressball. The donors themselves were a mixed bag – some came across in their blurb as entirely genuine and altruistic. Some had already completed their families and wanted to help others achieve the same. Some appeared to be less genuine – talking about needing a physical attraction for instance did not fill me with confidence. Nor did anyone who filled in the medical questionnaire and refused to be tested for STIs. I’d approach any connections with strangers with caution and employ a good deal of common sense if going down this route. We had already decided to meet any potential donor that we didn’t know personally in a hotel rather than our own home despite the seedy connotations that conjured up.
The final option in the known donor approach is to ask a friend or hope that one volunteers. This conjures up a whole other world of potential issues (it’s not exactly something to easily drop into conversation) and can be awkward in the extreme.
Oh and if I haven’t said it enough already last post – if you’re not using a clinic or sperm bank, contracts are your friend.