Two to Tango…?

Men, watch out, sisters really are doing it for themselves. For independent women, sperm donation and adoption appears to be the future for starting a family. Should women concern themselves with seeking the wrong relationship simply to avoid losing out on family life and motherhood? As a healthcare service, should we encourage this bold move within our society? What are the potential psychological impacts on all parties involved? Is it our business to have an opinion?

For generations upon generations, women have watched their biological clocks ticking away from them whilst waiting for the man of their dreams. Many have settled in unsuitable relationships in the quest to start a family. Many have had to accept that they will never have a family.

For the lucky ones, they find their partners and reproduce. Two point four children and a blissful family setting within which to raise children. Yet modern day life sees the ‘ideal’ occurring less often. The American programme ‘Modern family’ depicts perfectly how diverse family life can be in our current era. It demonstrates a gay partnership with an adopted different racedchild and a family comprising an older divorced dad with young glamorous mum and mixed race son.

So why should women wait for what is statistically unlikely to occur; the ‘perfect’ family.
In the past 6 months, I have witnessed four patients inform me that they are in the process of freezing their eggs. This, with the consideration of later taking a sperm donor. One patient jumped the process of freezing eggs to simply seeking sperm donation and progressing with her family life.

On the 30th of October 2014, the Daily Mail released an article titled, ‘NHS opens first sperm bank to help single women, gay couples and those left infertile by cancer treatment conceive.’The article detailed how some local NHS authorities will fund individuals with small opportunities for future conception, fertility treatment with sperm donors. Other centres will offer this service at a reduced fee of three hundred to four hundred pounds depending on location.

Therefore the NHS, a struggling, considered broke system, feels it is important to prioritise women in need of fertility treatments – even if they are to be solo parents. Perhaps this is because the NHS believe in equality? Perhaps this is because the NHS believes the psychological impact of at least trying for a family is important for the future mental health of aging single women?Perhaps the NHS are trying to move in to the modern world of family life?
Perhaps the NHS is only trialing this new servicewith no ideas for its outcome and success. An online health forum1 documented many women actually opposing the system, arguing that this was poor use of tax payer’s money. It was not recorded whether these women were single themselves.

What has yet to be proven is what psychological impact this will have on mother and child should fertility through sperm donors be successful. In the UK, although sperm donor fathers have no rights over the child (unless the mother wishes for them to) the child may, at the age of 18, seek the identity of their biological male senior.
Sperm donation offspring may mirror traits of those who have undergone adoption. Although these children are considered ‘wanted’ and ‘loved’ they still suffer the uncertainty of a large part of their heritage and genetic background. This may have a dramatic impact on their mental health as they grow…

Adopted children

There are vulnerabilities shared by all adoptees. In those most vulnerable, a distinct pattern of behaviors can be seen. Some have labeled this the “Adopted Child Syndrome.” (Kirschner)
Adoptees are more likely to have difficulties with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as, eating disorders, attention deficit disorder, infertility, suicide and untimely pregnancies. (Young, Bohman, Mitchell, Ostroff, Ansfield, Lifton and Schecter)
Alarmingly high numbers of adoptees are sent to disciplinary/correctional schools or are locked out of their homes [adoptive]. (Anderson and Carlson)

It would be incorrect to assume that these statistics will also apply to those with sperm donor fathers, but it should be considered as a potential ‘risk’ to the process.

The mother will also need some consideration. It is common to document a family as a ‘single parent family’ with its connotation being of hardship and physical and emotional difficulty. Although single parent families are now common, should we be putting families’ knowingly in to the positon of having only one parent to raise finance for her offspring as well as be there for mothering duties? Has the mother really considered how she will cope alone? Is the chance of post natal depression higher in these women when she realizes she has no partner to turn to when times get tough?

Conversely, the women undergoing a process such as sperm donation are more likely to be further in their careers, older and wiser, more confident and more able to ask for help where needed – the attributes that come with age.

A patient of mine Gillian Brunton, opted to freeze her eggs in Spain. She realized in 2014 that her biological clot was ticking away and following an earlier diagnosis of endometriosis wasconcerned at her ability to mother children, ‘Something clicked when a few areas of my life, namely relationship and career, were also changing. I realized I could potentially be in a good situation to make good out of bad!’
Gillian has spent 6000 pound to freeze 11 oocytes and can have them inseminated for up to 5 years. Sperm donation is a very real consideration if she fails to ‘be whisked away on a steed to a huge country mansion.’ Gillian remains very positive about her experiences and now acts as am ambassador for other women who are considering the process.

There is the speculation that sperm donation and single mothers using insemination of a stranger’s sperm may actually alter the entire evolutionary process in years to come. Women may be drawn to men for their sexuality and friendship, but choose other attributes from sperm donors for someone to father their child.

Could this totally alter the way men and women interact with one another? If there is less ‘need’ for a typical family scenario? What will happen to marriage rates? Will women start ‘wearing the trousers’ if men actually need them in order to have children – rather than women needing to find her man before her biological clock runs out? Will women continue to increase the age at which they have children if they carry a ‘back up card’ to start a family via this process?

There are millions of questions, millions of maybes as to what we may be opening up with a process such as single parent sperm donation and there is no question that is it becoming more common.
If I were able to reach a conclusion on my thoughts, it would be that I believe this to be an inevitable step. Our entire family life is re-structuring, whether it be for better or worse, the change is occurring around us. In 50 years from now, provided we are still alive to see it, I am curious to see whether family life as we know it is almost extinct. It is with a heavy heart that I doubt many will enjoy the family life that I personally was brought up with, yet I know – if I was in Gillian’s shoes, I would be sat alongside her picking my donor and receiving my IVF injections.

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