Meet the donor…it works for surrogacy so why not donor conception

Last weekend Walter went to a conference held by Surrogacy UK at a hotel in Northamptonshire.  He was there to talk about DC Network but came away really impressed with the event and with their model of bringing together women willing to be surrogates and intending parents (IPs).

For those inside and outside the UK who have no idea about the rules regarding surrogacy in the UK, it is illegal to advertise for a surrogate mother and also illegal to pay a woman anything more than her actual receipted expenses incurred as a result of pregnancy and childbirth.   Whether or not she is carrying a child conceived using her own egg, that of the intending mother or an egg donor, the surrogate mother is considered the ‘mother’ at the time of the birth of the child until a court order is made transferring parenthood to the intending parents (at least one of whom has to be genetically connected to the child).

Because of the ban on advertising for surrogates it is difficult for intending parents to find someone willing to carry a child for them…and this is where Surrogacy UK gets creative.  This organisation was actually started by surrogates rather than prospective parents and the ‘power balance’ if you like, has remained that way.  At events, like this conference, but more focused meetings as well, surrogates and intending parents come together to meet and find matches that feel right for both parties.  Before they decide to work together there will be many meetings between the IPs, the surrogate and her whole family and it is the surrogate who has the final say about agreeing to carry a child for the couple.  A close relationship usually develops between the two families and in many cases the surrogate becomes an important person in the life of the child as he or she grows up.  This feels to me as far from the picture of inevitable exploitation that surrogacy suggests to some people, that it is possible to get.

It can be hard to get ones head round the idea that there are some women who genuinely like being pregnant and are willing to give the best part of a year of their life to helping someone else realise their dream of a family, but it appears to be so.  This is not baby farming in India, nor taking advantage of poor women in Eastern Europe but genuine altruism by those who enter into an agreement as partners.

The event Walter attended had around 300 adult participants at every stage of the process, including those already with children, plus many children from the families of the surrogates.  All were mixing together, mostly staying in the same hotel, going to sessions on different topics and socialising in the evening and over the whole weekend.

The picture is not completely rosy of course.  Money remains an issue and there are those in the UK who would like a clear and stated price payment for surrogacy services (to include expenses) as in the US.  As it is here money sometimes changes hands in brown paper bags and it is difficult to trace if pressure is being brought to bear on either surrogate or intending parent.  But by and large this model works.

Could it possibly be then that this could be the future of gamete donation?  Intending parents and donors brought together to choose each other and remain in each other’s lives?   It’s hard to imagine at the moment with so much resistance to acknowledging the role of the donor but with the sea change in openness over the last ten years or so, who knows what the future might bring.  Not in my lifetime probably but Walter and I have fantasised about and predicted this scenario for a long time and seeing it in action at the weekend gave us much food for thought.  I’d be interested to know what you think?

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About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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17 Responses to Meet the donor…it works for surrogacy so why not donor conception

  1. I don’t see why something of the kind shouldn’t be possible if both parties want it. I don’t think it should be forced, though.

    As a donor I was occasionally approached by couples who had nowhere else to turn and asked for my help personally. I found this very upsetting and awkward, particularly because it was hard not to empathise with their feelings – that was why I was donating in the first place.

    I wish there was some kind of introduction service where people could go if they wanted that personal contact. After all lots of people do donate to people they know. It’s probably best done with a bit of support.

    • oliviasview says:

      Walter’s and my vision is a ‘not for profit’ service bringing together donors and recipients in a facilitated way. Not necessarily counselling but an intermediary service similar to that being set up by the HFEA for donors/offspring/half-siblings to make connections.

  2. sandra says:

    I think it’s a great idea. There is a Californian agency that has been doing just this for years: Rainbow Flag. I remember looking at them when I was considering getting pregnant. Mainly serves gay families.
    I know several women who have done also this informally with known donation (although in both cases the relationship quickly moved from donor to co-parent after the baby was born).

    • oliviasview says:

      As I indicated in my reply to Christabel, our vision is of something a bit more regulated than ‘known donation’ as it currently exists in the UK (private arrangements completely outside of HFEA regulation). I know some arrangements work really well but too many seem to end in bitter disputes as unanticipated feelings take over.

  3. Maddymoo says:

    I would have loved to have met our donors, this reminds me of a project I read about in the US, I think it was “The Snowflake Project” which brought donors and potential parents together.
    I too hope that this option is available for future donors and recipients.

  4. oliviasview says:

    Snowflakes, which I think still operates in the States, is for what they call ’embryo adoption’ when people have embryos they no longer want to use following successful IVF cycles. I think the principle of bringing donors and recipients of embryos together is a good one but personally I do not feel comfortable with the rather right wing Christian philosophy behind this particular project.

  5. sandra says:

    Rainbow Flag is not ‘known donation’ in the traditional sense. Donor and Mother are matched without meeting and only find out each others identity when the child is three years old. Legally, the man is a donor and Rainbow Flag is a sperm bank, not a matching service. The parents then work out the relationship. The only obligation for those using the service is that the donor and mother connect before child is year old.

    From their website: We are the only sperm bank in North America to actively recruit Gay and Bisexual sperm donors. Whether Gay, Bisexual or Heterosexual our donors wish to have children in their lives but do not wish to raise children. (Or, some men who already have children do not wish to raise more children.)
    We are the only sperm bank to tell the mother who the donor is when the child is three months old. We ask that the mother contact the donor by the child’s first birthday.
    We limit our donors to have children by only 4-6 different women. Other sperm banks use a donor to produce children by 10 different women! Some banks have no limits!

  6. sandra says:

    Sorry. Typo. Three months, not three years!

  7. oliviasview says:

    Very interesting Sandra. Thanks for posting.

  8. gsmwc02 says:

    Am I understanding this correctly that it’s similar to a true Open Adoption where there is an Open Relationship?

  9. Liz says:

    There’s no internet matching site for altruistic donors and recipient parents in the UK?

    One of my acquaintances is good friends with her donor who has contributed several times. They met when she was searching for an egg donor. The only costs paid were for travel and child care expenses. They became close friends during the cycle, and chat frequently on the phone.

    I spoke to another woman who was searching for recipient parents. She wanted to find a known donation situation because she thought it would be a lovely experience and was looking forward to baby pictures.

    • oliviasview says:

      The crazy thing is that egg donors and recipients can advertise for each other but surrogates and intending parents needing a surrogate mother cannot!

  10. marilynn says:

    People just need a venue. A resource so they don’t feel so all alone. So they don’t feel that their only alternative is to adopt but if they don’t adopt look for a responsible person to have that kid with whose in the same/similar boat they are who has a spouse or whatever.

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