There has been a lot of publicity in the UK recently about the new national sperm bank only having nine active donors. Let’s leave aside in this post the topic of whether nine donors is a triumph (given that extremely few of the men who make initial enquiries are eventually accepted) or a tragedy. Laura Witjens, one of the Directors of the bank, wants to increase the number of men coming forward to donate by appealing to their egos and competitive spirit. ‘Men, prove your worth, show me how good you are’, then I would get hundreds of donors,” said Witjens.
Not surprisingly, men who have found themselves infertile object to the inference that they are somehow ‘less’ than others simply because there is a malfunction with their sperm making machinery. It’s not their choice and certainly not their fault. As Renlau Outilie, author of an article in the Guardian earlier this month says, ” The truth is that sperm doesn’t always work. Do we really wish to pose this inevitable fact as a thing of shame? From shame can arise the urge to hide. If Dad has “failed” as a man, maybe it should be concealed, from friends and family, possibly even from the child.”
Some men who find themselves in this position will go on to be fathers by donor conception. Others will not. They may adopt, foster or choose to remain without children. All will go through dark times. Those who choose to become parents by sperm donation will have thought long and hard about the consequences. Renlau Outilie again, “The thing about assisted conception is that it’s an elective, considered act of parenting. There’s nothing accidental about it: you get tested; you are evaluated and assessed with some rigour; you sign forms, you go back and forth, you jump through hoops – you actively make that child happen. The commitment to J (our son) started at the fertility clinic.”
Nobody is a perfect parent. We all make bad decisions and judgements but the real challenge to being a parent is to be there everyday for your child, physically and psychologically present in their lives. The dad by sperm donation proves himself a real man by doing just this, day in, day out.
I think many of us would echo Renlau Outilie’s puzzlement and wish for an alternative when he ends by saying, “I understand sperm banks feel a need to be more bold to increase donations – without them I wouldn’t have a son. But it is odd for a medical organisation to associate manhood with sperm count. It might be good short-term PR, but there must be better ways to get more men to masturbate into a cup.”
Think again Laura.