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The Process of Sperm Donation for IVF

Sperm gif via giphy

On a recent post on facebook I had a comment from someone disagreeing with my choice to use a ‘random sperm donor/random artificial insemination kit’ where any future child would not be able to know their father.

Now believe me when I was younger and dreaming of having children this was not the way I thought I’d have to go either but there are a number of factual inaccuracies with these views and this was not a decision I took lightly so I just wanted to enlighten people about the process. I am aware that there are other options available such as adoption and fostering and I am not ruling those out but to have a biological child my options were waiting to find a partner (not really an option as biologically time is not on my side), a random hook up (ethically not something I would be comfortable with and based on my results actually unlikely to be successful anyway – and potentially likely to end up knowing even less about a biological father than via donation). Basically that leaves regulated sperm donation.

UK Regulations and the HFEA

Please note that I am in the United Kingdom so things may very well be different in other parts of the world. In the U.K. the process of using donated sperm or eggs is regulated and monitored by the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority). As a side note it is not just single ladies that may need to use donated sperm, same sex couples or couples where there is a problem with the male partner’s sperm may also need to use this route.

Firstly I was recommended a couple of sperm donation banks by the clinic I had my assessment with – one was European and one American. There are some in the U.K. but I don’t think these are necessarily as well “stocked”. Despite using a bank outside the U.K. I had to select a UK compatible donor. That is one who had agreed to meet the standards required the by HFEA. Namely that they would be an Open donor. More on this later.

Before I even got to this stage though there was other steps I had to take.

Implications Counselling

Firstly a single lady or couple planning to use donor sperm or eggs has to have implications counselling. I was referred to a fertility specialist counsellor by my clinic and ended up having two sessions over Skype. During these sessions we discussed any concerns or questions I had about the process and also we had to discuss the legal and ethical implications of using a donor.

Some of these are: (can’t be sure I’m remembering everything but I was relieved I’d already considered most of the implications)

⁃ If you are having treatment in the U.K. you have to agree to using an Open donor. This means that any future children will be able to find out if they are donor conceived when they are 16 and to be put in contact with any half siblings that have also registered as wanting contact. At 18 they can get identifying information about the sperm donor including their name and last known address. This doesn’t guarantee future contact.

⁃ A donor can change their mind at any point up until a fertilised egg is transferred into the woman’s body. If this happens there is a year cooling off period where any created embryos are frozen. If at the end of this they still don’t want to go ahead these have to be destroyed. This was the one aspect I wasn’t aware of and I think is more likely to be an issue in the case of partner donated sperm (perhaps after relationship break down) rather than anonymous donors who have signed up to this voluntarily.

⁃ That donors are not fathers. They have no legal rights to donor conceived children and are not listed on a birth certificate. Donors do not get paid (they may get expenses) and generally do this because they are generous people who want to help others have a family and for that I am immensely grateful.

⁃ I wanted to discuss how to raise the manner of conception with a future child (Tomorrow’s post).

⁃ Other aspects that are more general IVF factors are the risks of multiple births and risks of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome that can occur with the use of the hormone medication.

CMV Status

It is recommended you have a blood test to assess your CMV status. This is a virus that many people get without really being aware of it but there is a little evidence to say if a woman who had never had the virus and they use sperm from a donor who has had it that it might cause problems. So if you are CMV negative it’s best to pick a CMV negative donor. You can choose a CMV positive donor but you have to sign something to say you are aware of the risks. If a woman is CMV positive you can choose a donor with either status.

There was also a panic about some new regulations about the importation of sperm that may affect importation from the US company in the short term. Hopefully your clinic will be aware of this but it came in just after I’d made my ‘order’ and put me into a bit of a panic that it would delay everything. I had to import this to a HFEA registered clinic – I don’t believe you can randomly import it to your home address.

Booking a Pregnancy ‘Slot’

To use donor sperm you have to book what they call a pregnancy slot. This is so that they limit the number of women in a particular country able to become pregnant by one donor. In this case to ten women. The cost of this was 500 Euros and this is refunded if IVF does not result in a live birth. Any live births have to be registered so that donor conceived children can find out about siblings.

Choosing a donor

This was the weirdest part of the process.

I chose to pay a fee to the sperm bank I had chosen to be able to access more information than the basic profile which is basically eye/hair colour/ nationality.

Here’s what I could access:

Baby photos of the donor (which no I won’t be sharing publicly).

An audio file of the donor answering questions in English about why they wanted to be a donor and about their personality, family etc. Some of this information is also provided in a written document too.

A scan of a handwritten letter they have written to a future donor conceived child.

Clinic Staff Impressions of the donor.

A full medical history – they have had full medical screening / this also includes family medical history where known. (And as a friend noted I know probably more than she does about her husband’s family medical history). I’m also pretty sure they also have to update their clinic if anything notable happens medically.


How many children have resulted from their donations or if they are a new donor.

On the US site you could even access adult photos which I felt a bit strange about so decided not to use this option.

Process of Elimination

Now due to confusion I believed I was CMV negative so this led to me reducing the pool of donors I was able to choose from. It transpired I was positive but by that time I’d already selected the donor and was happy with my selection.

I likened this to being vegetarian and having two thirds of the menu taken away which actually helped me because it made the amount of choices less overwhelming.

I then took away any donors it indicated were still in high school because personally I just felt uncomfortable with that.

I then looked at general characteristics and the full information and made my decision based on all of that.


This was the final deciding factor. Because I felt my time was limited I ended up choosing the donor from my short list who was ‘in stock’ or would be very shortly. Often donors donate regularly and obviously samples have to be assessed for quality before they are released.

You are recommended to order enough ‘units’ for a few rounds of IVF because things aren’t always successful first time. I chose to order enough for 3 rounds and then this was shipped to the clinic in London where I will be having my treatment. They arrange this between them and then store this (at additional cost) until your treatment. It was a little weird ordering online and adding sperm to an online shopping cart. The sperm bank staff were super helpful and responded quickly to any e-mails or queries I had.

So that’s the process so far and as I hope I’ve clarified – it is not random, it is well regulated and safe and a donor is not legally a father. But donor conceived children in the U.K. when they are adults are able to find out information about how many half siblings they have (and contact them if they both register to find this out) and the name of their donor.

I hope if this is all successful and in the future I find myself in a relationship that that man would become my child’s father but I will make sure they have positive male role models and relationships anyway.

As a final aside there is no sperm emoji so my friends and I have had to make do with 🐳.

Tomorrow’s post – Telling a donor conceived child how they came to be

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