In a community filled with people talking about their lived experience – infertility accounts, parents of donor conceived children and increasingly more donor conceived adults, sadly it is still somewhat rare to hear from the perspective of a donor.
Erik* donated his sperm relatively recently and is from Sweden. He donated at a clinic on an Open ID at 18 basis; meaning any individuals born from his donations can request his identifying info when they turn 18.
Erik has kindly agreed to answer some of my questions. Here goes!
Can you tell me how you found out about sperm donation, and what were your motivations to donate?
When I got the news about a shortage of donors in Sweden there was never a discussion (for me) about donating. I have built my life and a lot of myself around helping others. It has always been part of my life choices. I donate blood, I have chosen a career to help, and I try to make choices to help others. I’m not saying sperm donation is connected to a political view, but I’m voting left because I want society to help those who need it, and for the same reason I wanted to help. My donations go to whoever needs it, but I assumed they would mainly go to help solo mums by choice (SMBC) and female couples.
How did you first hear about sperm donation?
When I was a student there were advertisements (ads) at my blood donation centre, as well as ads on campus. But I’d like to point out that the ads were very low key, not huge posters that I’ve seen in some media reports. I have also seen ads (to donate) via my Facebook feed, probably because of algorithms linking me to my university. However, my willingness to donate was not necessarily influenced by these ads. It was always going to be a step I wanted to take; there was no turning point that overly ‘convinced me’.
Can you tell me a little bit about your dealings with the sperm bank? How did they treat you? What questions did they ask, were you medically screened? Did you receive any therapy or counselling?
How I experienced the bank…Well, I actually don’t remember our first contact. It was a letter, but after that I’m unsure about phone calls etc. When we decided about an initial meeting it was pretty easy really. I met at the bank and talked with a nurse about the whole process, and how it would go on from there. Then after the first meetings we scheduled a test day, where I had to leave a sample. I was then sent for more tests; STDs and some (basic) genetic screening. After that, it was onto counselling.
Counselling was one single meeting, but it was a good one. A lot of questions about motives, and how to talk to my family. However, there was not a lot of talk about how to interact with any offspring. My feeling at the time was that the counsellor had a “list”. The nurse did state that she believed the number of offspring that may be interested in contact would increase, but we didn’t elaborate much further on this topic.
The last step was the interview with the doctor responsible for donations. The one that “cleared” me. Sure, I was happy I was cleared, but at the same time I had a feeling he (the doctor) wrote more in my profile about topics that were seen to be “good” for a donor. My interests in books, music and sports were noticed, but those are minor hobbies of mine, compared to hiking (which I still would assume would make a “good donor profile), photography, cooking and computer gaming. More “educated” interests were written down, while my more uncivilized ones, closer to heart were not.
It made me think that there may be a family out there ‘expecting’ a wonder child who improvises für Elise at four, yet instead getting an outdoor kid who wants to ride a motorcycle in the dirt!
Afterwards, I was required to attend the centre around once a week to donate. The personnel at the clinic were very nice and gave some insight in the backdoor area, but more about how vials are frozen and such as opposed to the donation itself. One strange thing, maybe related to my particular clinic, is that the waiting room is shared by donors and recipients, both in time and place. I’ve met more than one future SMBC there.
There was this incredibly strange feeling when the two of you meet, examining each other, both knowing you might be the other half. Maybe. Maybe not. That’s how it felt to me anyway.
Have you had any contact with the sperm bank since donating?
I have not had any contact with the bank after my donations. Nor do I have any reason to (have contact). In the future I might, but now I have no reason to connect with them. If I were to find out that I have some genetic illness, I would contact them, but I’m not sure they would pass on that info to the families. I do not think (but I’m not sure) that this is even allowed in Sweden? My donor number is written in their journal, not the other way around.
You’re now on Instagram sharing your story, what made you start sharing and interacting?
Do you ever think about the children that have been created from your donations?
The next two questions are also intertwined. Do I think about the offspring? Do I think about my donations? My Instagram account would be quite empty were it not for my curiosity.
I started posting on Instagram both for me to look into the life of the donor conceived person (DCPs). Not particularly MY DCP offspring, but DCP in general. To gain a better understanding. I also decided to share my history, maybe it could help someone else in the same way as other people’s stories have helped me. To date I have only had a little interaction (on Instagram), but those who comment and write seem to appreciate it. The donor view is somewhat a forgotten one. We are not supposed to be heard of. And that’s reasonable. We gave a gift and should not expect something in return. It’s not our children, we should not care. And in a way I do agree. But at the same time, I did care enough to help the parents (to be). Is it so strange that I am curious about them?
Regarding my curiosity, to be fair, I’m more curious about the parents (who I have helped) rather than about the children.
Do your friends and family know you have been a sperm donor?
My family knows about my donations. It’s not a secret but it’s not something we shout out loud either. That’s the reason for me being anonymous on social media. My fiancée and I do not have any kids, but we plan to tell them. However, when we do, we wouldn’t want to shout it out loud in the media either, so they will have the opportunity to talk about it in a way they feel comfortable.
What support and guidance would you like to see being provided for donors?
Guidance. Well, I believe there will be more and more offspring seeking contact with donors. We are more open about donations than we were, SMBC are allowed, which they were not in Sweden before. Also, DNA-tests exist and make it impossible to hide the truth, so under those circumstances, I’d like more support about how to interact when/if you meet.
For example, how do you greet? Do you hug? What happens if you like one another? What happens if you don’t? How will the donors’s social children react? How will the dcp’s parents react? Will we call each other for Christmas? I’d like that kind of guidance.
Would you be open to connecting earlier with any families you have helped?
Would I be interested in contact? Yes and no. I am interested, but I will not intrude where I’m not welcome. If they seek me out, they are welcome, but I will not go looking for them, out of pure respect for them and their parents.
Anything else you would like to add?
Well, the industry is in need of change. That’s something I’ve realized now during the short time since when I started writing about it. The industry is just that, an industry. Children are not. There are bound to be problems when you put life in the hands of capitalism. Life should not be a commodity. Of course, I realize it’s not an easy system to fix, but we need to take the necessary steps, because when money is the driving force of donations, problems are inevitable.
Also, I got paid to donate. I did ask if I could donate to something like the red cross. I couldn’t, so I cashed in. Does this make me a bad person? Maybe. I don’t know. I thought it was stupid not to take it. However, personally I do not think you should be paid a cent. It’s not like I’d stop giving blood just because I didn’t get paid.
Erik* is a donor from Sweden who has kindly given his time to answer some of my questions. If you would like to read more of Erik’s story, please check him out on Instagram @mydonorstoryuntold.
*name changed to protect identity