Donor gametes – sperm, eggs and embryos – are regularly used now to help couples and individuals conceive. You can receive treatment in the UK or in clinics abroad, using gametes from UK or overseas donors. It can still be a difficult decision to take and anyone undergoing donor conception treatment in the UK should take implications counselling, where they can explore their hopes and emotions about this important step in their life in confidence. All assisted conception units in the UK offer counselling from a BICA registered member.
Counselling for the implications of treatment aims to help you understand exactly what the treatment will involve and how it might affect you and those close to you – now and in the future. You will also explore how you will tell any child born about their conception, and their donor, a process which is now encouraged (just like adopted children can find out about their birth families). If you are considering using donated sperm, eggs or embryos, which involves complicated issues, you may need time to explore how you feel, and to consider the needs and legal rights of donor-conceived children.
Clinic-based donor treatment after 2005 has been by ‘known donors’, which means that any child born from the treatment can try to contact their donor at the age of 18. This is also an aspect of discussion in implications counselling.
Telling donor conceived children
Telling the donor conceived child about their origins is important for their development – it is much less scary once you have the right tools! Single women and lesbian couples obviously have to explain how things happened, and heterosexual couples are encouraged to do so. Aside from being the right thing to do, in today’s world of genetics it is very difficult to keep secrets.
If you are a parent of a donor conceived child or children, and you are wondering how you might tell them, it can feel like a big step. You wonder if they will be upset, or reject you, but you know you can’t keep this information from them any longer. If you need individual, or couple support for this I can help you.
The Donor Conception Network (DCN) supports all parents of donor conceived children, and donor conceived adults and young people in the UK. DCN publishes a range of children’s books and you can purchase the one that helps you explain your child’s situation to them. They also have two very helpful workshops, tailored to couples or individuals, on Preparation for Parenthood, and Talking and Telling. You can find all this information on its website.
I see NHS patients from South London and Surrey referred to me for implications counselling. I also see private clients who need further, ongoing emotional support.
Single women and donor conception
Many single women decide to try for children nowadays through donor sperm. While some choose to be a single parent, most would have liked to have found a partner to make a family with. Whatever the circumstances, all can find fulfilment in their life choice. While life for solo mums – by choice, separation or bereavement – might not be as easy as families with a mum and dad, there is far less stigma about the single mother than in previous eras.
Donor treatment for a single woman with no fertility issues will start with IUI, so pregnancy could be simple and quick! If this doesn’t result in a pregnancy you may have IVF. And for some people, especially women over 40, donor egg or embryo might be your best option. All assisted conception units, NHS or private, must treat single women as well as couples, but you will need to check with your clinic and funding authority as to your eligibility for funding. Most authorities do not fund women (single or in a couple) over 40 because of the lower chance of conception, and donor egg treatment is usually self-funded.
Implications counselling helps you to think about the kind of family you will hopefully create and how you will help the child to understand its origins as it grows up. Telling the child is an important aspect of the counselling session. You may wish to have further support counselling. There are issues of loss – of a partner and the traditional family – and treatment might become more complicated, especially if egg donation becomes the likely option.
Donor conception and same sex couples
Implications counselling gives you the opportunity to think about the kind of family you will have and how you will support your child (or children) to be confident and proud of their family. As with single women, families with same sex partners are much more accepted nowadays, but you need to be mindful of the potential for misunderstanding and bullying by other children. Telling the child about its origins gives them understanding and helps build confidence and self-esteem.
Most lesbian couples I see are optimistic about their upcoming treatment and do not need further counselling. If there is a need for further emotional support, or to discuss any more complex issues, then I am happy to see you for private counselling.
I am a registered member of the British Infertility Counselling Association and have been seeing fertility clients since 2014. I also have personal experience of donor conception and am a member of and facilitator for DCN, taking workshops for single women. Please contact me to discuss your situation and concerns.