Another man's child - and thrilled about it!
A father writes about having children by donor insemination.
I came home that day from the shops, delighted that I had bought the baby clothes for my cousins new baby. However, when I got home my wife Heather was shocked to find I had unwittingly spent a few hundred dollars on 6 - 7 outfits, not to mention the postage to send them to the UK where my cousin lives. After a brief conversation it dawned on me that I had bought these clothes not so much for my cousin's baby, but for a baby I thought would never exist, our own.
The story began sometime before this event. We were married in December 1984 and decided, as many newlyweds do, to hold off starting a family until we had the house and garden set up safely for the children.
We briefly tried for a baby in 1988, but with long service leave coming up in 1989 we decided to wait again. Heather did not want to be pregnant and we were travelling overseas as well.
We thought the romantic settings in Europe such as Paris or Rome may relax us enough for our family to begin. We returned after a wonderful 3 month holiday but with no success. By late 1989 we had been having sex without any precautions for over a year. Heather felt there may be a problem so she went along to our family doctor for a checkup.
However the doctor suggested we both be tested to rule out any problems on either side. I felt a little concerned, but not overly so. If there was a problem, I felt sure that in this day and age it could easily be sorted out.
The doctor requested a semen sample that came back as low - less than 1 million sperm. I was referred to a urologist who found on examination, a varicocele in my left testis. He suggested they tie off the blood vessels that were interfering with the sperm production, and assured me it was simple day surgery. Good results had been achieved in the past in raising sperm levels like mine to 6 million. I was self-conscious of the procedure. I told no one at work about it, and only rang my supervisor after it was over, to inform her I was in hospital for a small operation of a private nature. I was worried people would find out about the problem. After all, this operation would fix it so there would be no need to inform anyone.
I told myself and everyone else including my wife, that everything was ok, when actually I was stressed out trying to sort out my questions by myself. That is why I got so upset after I bought all those baby clothes. You cannot deny you have a problem from yourself.
My mother became ill from cancer in 1990. As I wanted her to be as stress free as possible for her treatment I told her nothing.
Our doctor then referred us to Professor Mathews at Wakefield Hospital. He ordered more tests and after the results came back, our options were limited to Donor Insemination (DI). The sperm test showed less than 300,000 viable sperm, or less than 1% of conceiving naturally.
My mother was ill, and she had shown her disapproval of these procedures back in 1974 when after reading an article about sperm donors, had stated it was just legal adultery. This along with her strict Catholic beliefs did not encourage me to tell her anything. At this time I rang my sister who was living in Perth to inform her of mum's illness. She then told me she was pregnant. She was not married at the time, and both my parents found this quite upsetting - it only made me feel worse. My mother up to this point had not wanted my sister to know she was ill. So this was another secret to keep.
We had to wait 6 months for treatment with DI. During this time I came to the idea that my wife might decide to leave me for someone who could give her a family without all the hassle. I was feeling very low. My wife reassured me that this was not her idea, only mine, but the fear of rejection at this time was distressing for many weeks. After four cycles of treatment nothing had happened. They then gave us a fifth cycle and Heather fell pregnant. I got the phone call first and was overjoyed. Not many men get to know their wife is pregnant before she does.
Whilst Heather took advantage of the social worker at the clinic to talk problems and concerns over with, I refused to go. I did not want to tell anyone.
In my mind it was now "fixed", my wife was pregnant and to the outside world nothing appeared amiss.
Once my daughter was born and we got home I burnt all the information that could betray my secret. No one needed to know, not even my daughter. In June '92 just after the baby was born, my mother's cancer reappeared. She died when our daughter Laura was 4 months old.
We went back to the clinic when Laura was 9 months old and tried for another baby without success. Since we wanted to use the same donor we tried again after a break of 14 months and Heather fell pregnant on the first cycle of treatment, with our son Kieran.
I found I could not forget about the treatments, even though I tried to pretend they did not happen. Initially if I was to see the children as my own, I had to forget about the donor. Over time I found myself confiding to others about the DI treatment. We talked a lot at home about keeping secrets and decided that ultimately they would be detrimental and destructive to our marriage and our future relationships with our children. What if they found out by chance when they were older, through changes in legislation, or in a heated argument.
Nothing destroys a loving family more quickly than loss of trust. We decided we could not chance it, we would have to tell them. If they were to know of their origins it would have to be while they were young. But how? We could only discuss matters between ourselves up to a point. We did not know anyone who had adult DI children and my greatest fear was that I would be rejected by my children in favour of, as I saw it, their "real" father. I said to Heather many times "you will always be their mother". I felt I was jeopardising my relationship, but my wife had nothing to lose.
I was watching a commercial for TV one night on safe sex. It featured a beer mat. On one side was the picture of a sperm and on the other side it said "it takes more than this to be a father". Immediately it struck home to me that fatherhood was and is the day to day caring for and supporting, watching them grow up. This was the answer I had been looking for. We still were not sure though where to begin telling them and how.
In our search for assistance I saw in the paper one day at work a lecture by a British woman on legislation in Britain about fertility procedures. I rang Heather and went to the lecture straight from work. I arrived late but the lecture was very interesting. Initially I was hesitant to meet other people who had gone through DI, but I found people were very supportive. One sentence that hit me during the lecture was "no matter how many children you conceive through DI you still remain a sterile person. You are a sterile man or woman with a family. At first I thought this was a very hard thing to say to anybody. But by the end of the lecture I realised it was true. I met many helpful and supportive people that night from OASIS and the Donor Conception Support Group. I was encouraged to tell my children about their origins first and not to tell anyone else but them. I found the older adolescent DI offspring most interesting and encouraging, and was greatly comforted by the fact no older DI offspring whom I have met or read about have rejected their social fathers, in favour of a donor. I was surprised at the time but very pleased by this discovery. I met a young man called Robin who impressed me by simply saying "I would tell them anyway".
Now my children know of their origins. I even told my father, possibly one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, as I thought his attitude to the children might change. All he said to me was "Well it worked for you didn't it".
Although the children are only 6 and 4 years old they know and we can build on that basic information later. What a weight I feel lifted off me now there are no more secrets. We can build on trust now that all the cards are on the table.
Sourced with permission from The Donor Conception Support Group of Australia's September 98 Newsletter. To contact this group write to PO Box 53, Georges Hall, NSW 2198 or phone Leonie on (02) 9724 1366
OASIS Infertility Support Inc is at GPO Box 2420 Adelaide SA 5001 (08) 8223 7434
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