As I am getting out of the lift the next morning my cellphone rings. It is Dr James. His calm warm voice is reassuring. I walk quickly out on to the office balcony for some privacy to explain my most recent dilemma. The last time we spoke was when he handed over the dismal list of thirteen South African donors.
‘Hi! Hi!’ I say breathlessly. ‘Roxi and I have been thinking about getting sperm from a donor overseas. I was wondering whether you knew anything about it. Would you be willing to receive the goods on our behalf?’
Dr James sounds relaxed. ‘Yes, it is something we’ve done before with a married couple who used the Fairfax bank in the States. I don’t personally have a problem with it. You just need to know that it can be a very tricky process to get the stuff through Customs into South Africa. We cannot accept any responsibility for that. I am happy to sign papers saying we’ll do it for you, if it’s required. But it will be up to you to organise and get it cleared at Customs. The rest is just as per usual – we can store the sperm for you and we’ll do a straightforward insemination. But it can be tricky and it can be very expensive.’
Despite his reservations, this news is just what I need to hear. It has been done before! It is possible and Dr James is happy to be part of it. I love Dr James. I might even be in love with him. His patience and straightforward non-judgemental manner make me feel we are not completely alone. There is Dr James, if nothing else. I also now know that Fairfax has shipped to South Africa.
Disappointingly, there are no other emails bearing good news waiting in my inbox. Instead, in between answering work emails and editing a story on the rise in male osteoporosis, I scrutinise the Fairfax website. I read that in the States the limit on the number of successful pregnancies for each donor is ten worldwide. This is higher than in South Africa, where the limit is only five worldwide. Although I’ve thought of all the ‘other children’ donors conceive, I haven’t really given it proper consideration.
After I’m finished with the Fairfax site, I return to Google and type in: ‘donor half-siblings’. Nearly 80 000 sites pop up. Who knew? At the top of the list is a site called the Donor Sibling Registry. I discover it was created in 2000 by a mother and her son, Ryan, who was conceived by an anonymous donor. They believed there must be a number of other children, like Ryan, who were curious about their origins. The site assists those conceived through sperm, egg or embryo donation to make contact with someone they share genetic ties with – their half-siblings. Also, children have been put in contact with their donors and donors in contact with their offspring. The registry has 20 000 members and has already helped more than 6 000 people to make contact.
Two things strike me as I read on. Firstly, how far-reaching the implications are for people conceived like this and, secondly that my unborn kid might one day have a handful of half-siblings running around all over the world. It seems crazy. I worry that we’ll be forced to befriend ten other families because our children share genetic material. In my fantasy these families are pushy and abrasive (and for some reason overweight), knocking on our door all hours of the day and night trying to muscle in on family gatherings. I barely cope with the family commitments I already have, never mind a plethora of strangers I’ll have to be nice to because our kids are related.
But as I continue reading I realise something else. Although it’s weird for parents of donor-conceived children to think about half-siblings and their families, it isn’t necessarily as weird for the children themselves. On this site, most of the children who’ve made contact with a half-sibling (usually later in their lives when they are both adults) report that it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. They say it serves to quell their curiosity about their donor, and even themselves, sometimes to the degree that it no longer worries them if they never find out who the donor is. Most have made contact with only one or two half-siblings, not the twenty or thirty I fear. I imagine it is also reassuring simply to meet someone who was conceived in a similar fashion, whose life story you can relate to.
Reading about the joy these children experience at meeting their half-siblings lays something to rest for me, something that has been niggling, albeit subconsciously, at me ever since my first conversation with Dr James.
I return to the Fairfax site. Despite being impressed by the large number of anonymous and identity release donors listed, I find their all-white donor options problematic. Roxi and I have not yet decided on the race of our child, but it is likely we might go for someone with a darker skin tone, closer to hers. The bank also has an impersonal business feel about it that I find alienating. I wonder where the bank is situated, and discover it is in Virginia. Where is Virginia anyway? Is it a place where only white people live? Are the donors all cowboys? So when I receive Fairfax’s reply later that day, I am less excited than I might have been.
Yes, we can ship to Cape Town! It does take 5 days for delivery so we suggest that you place your order to be shipped on a Friday. The shipping fee is approximately $635 and there are additional duties and taxes that you may have to pay upon arrival. There is a $500 deposit on the nitrogen tank that will be refunded once the tank is safely returned to us. If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us again.
Have a great day!
Still, the news is positive. Someone out there is prepared to send sperm, despite being a bank with which I am not altogether comfortable, and despite the expense. The costs exclude the $100 to $200 per vial of semen. And this is before any Custom duties and taxes and, of course, the doctor’s bills for the insemination. I wonder about the NGO sperm bank which has more affordable rates. Why haven’t they replied?
I decide to send another email to urge them on.
Hi. This is the second email I’m sending to find out if you’d be prepared to ship semen to South Africa. I have heard from a number of the other banks but not yours. Please can you get back to me.
I receive one last email for the day. It is from Roxi. It hasn’t been sent directly to me, but I’ve been copied in on it. It’s been sent to forty-five of our friends, inviting them to a party at our house in two weeks’ time. Do we even have forty-five friends? She’s told them it’s a party to ward off the winter blues – a dress-up party. The theme is: Last shot at freedom.