When Using Assisted Reproductive Technology and/or Donor Gametes, Do You Conceive and Tell?

In the past few months, I’ve written several posts regarding later-in-life celebrities celebrating their brand-new, always-healthy children simply as “miracles.”  Most of these individuals will have required help to conceive, and, without revealing that they used assisted reproductive technology (ART), they lead their millions of fans to believe that it’s possible to delay childbearing—and, as we’ve seen with numerous celebrities, to create an instant family with twins.

My hope that more celebrities will be open about having used ART doesn’t extend to the personal, private intricacies—what specific treatment(s) they used, how many cycles they underwent before experiencing success, whether they did pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) of their embryos, how many embryos they transferred, and whether they used donor sperm, eggs or embryos.

I know from personal experience that the decisions to reveal the personal details of ART and/or donor conception, once a child is involved, aren’t easy ones.

When I was 35, I decided to pursue single parenthood via intrauterine inseminations (IUIs) with donor sperm.  I chose to go the sperm-bank route, and my reproductive endocrinologist would only work with Fairfax Cryobank, stating that the sperm bank did more testing on its donors and semen samples than any other facility.  At the time, Fairfax Cryobank only had anonymous donors.  And, at the time, this increased guarantee of the medical health of the donor, sperm and resulting child outweighed, for me, whether the donor was “open” or anonymous.

From the start, I was honest with everyone about how I was trying to get pregnant—with IUIs and anonymous-donor sperm. 

I thought I was doing IUIs simply because that’s one way single girls using donor sperm can get pregnant, if they decide to not go the do-it-yourself-at-home route.  It wasn’t until after my fourth unsuccessful cycle that I found that I required ART to conceive—and might never conceive at all—because of my T-shaped uterus, the result of my exposure to the synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) when I was in utero. 

But, even before I knew exactly what my reproductive problem was, I knew the problem was me, for the sperm donor had a proven track record. 

So, try after try, when I didn’t get pregnant, I revealed my disappointments.  I was comfortable sharing what I was going through, and, not having an infertile partner or infertile known sperm donor to protect, I could.

So, I understand why some individuals or couples wouldn’t want to shout, “The problem is my low sperm count,” or “My uterus is deformed,” or “That STD I contracted in college made me infertile,” to the world. 

My body was the reason for my infertility.  And, being single and using an anonymous donor, my decision to reveal my infertility and subsequent treatments in detail was my decision—my decision alone.

Trying to conceive as a single woman, I also shared, from the start, that I was using donor sperm.  I went so far as to announce it to all of my Catholic relatives in my 2003 Christmas letter, feeling that they required some advance notice, rather than the shock of 35-year-old single me getting pregnant.  I knew, if the more negative ones found out after the fact, they would assume that my pregnancy was accidental, regardless of my claims to be a “single mother by choice” who actively pursued pregnancy via donor-sperm insemination. 

So, I was proactive, instead incurring the wrath of those family members who agree with the Church’s stance on using both ART and donor gametes.   

Regardless of the judgment of the Catholic Church and my Catholic relatives, I have never questioned using ART—or my honesty about using it—to conceive my son.  However, after he was born, I did question any future openness about having used donor sperm.  (Not in relation to him, because I’ve told him his special story since his birth.)  It was fear about others’ judgment of my son that led to this questioning.

My fear was precipitated by my now-husband, then my boyfriend, and I moving to the Chicago suburbs to be closer to his two sons.  Shortly before our move, I was told that his ex-wife referred to my son and me as “That woman and her mutt,” and I became terrified that she would reveal how he was conceived, with her negative spin, to people I hadn’t yet met, not giving me the opportunity to decide what to reveal and to whom.

Then, a long-time resident of the area to which we were relocating discouraged me from telling the truth, warning me that people might make fun of my son because he was conceived in a test tube.  He wasn’t, but I was scared about my son being mocked nonetheless.    

So, I struggled with being worried for my son, then concerned that hiding the truth would be, in effect, acting as if there were something wrong with how he was conceived, something that should be concealed in order to protect him.

And, there isn’t.

I knew I likely could get away with telling no one because everyone in our new community would assume that my then-boyfriend/now-husband was the biological father of my son.

But, for my husband and me, living a lie wasn’t an option.  As we’ve gotten to be close to new neighbors and friends, we’ve told them our story, which includes my husband and I meeting nine days before I got pregnant with my son during my seventh IUI. 

And, their responses have ranged from exclaiming that it is “the coolest story they’ve ever heard” to thinking that the fact that my son is donor-conceived is “no big deal at all.”  If anyone has a negative opinion, they haven’t shared it.

But, although we’ve been open, we don’t feel it’s right to make our son, whom my husband adopted after our marriage, the poster child for anything, whether being a donor-conceived child or having white-blonde hair.  He’s only 4.  So, I never mention him by name on this website, and the pictures of him posted are either unidentifiable based on what he looks like now or profile shots that, once again, make him unrecognizable.

But, I’m not a celebrity.  Paparazzi aren’t outside my home, clicking away at every opportunity.  So, my husband’s and my decision to be honest about my son being conceived with donor sperm isn’t the same as celebrities being open about the same.   Their stories would be splashed across every tabloid, online gossip site, television and radio outlet, etc.  And, having their children’s origins on front pages across the globe would be detrimental.

So, from personal experience, I don’t think celebrities have to reveal exactly how they created their miracle families.  But, if they could share that it took ART—and that ART is costly—it will educate aspiring parents that it’s difficult and expensive to outrun your biological clock—even if you’re rich and famous.

  1. HeatherW
    June 29th, 2010 at 16:07
    Reply | Quote | #1

    We have not told anyone yet that we conceived with donor egg. If we did tell, I suspect we would constantly hear from other people “why didn’t you just adopt instead?” But I believe my child has a right to be here on this earth, just as much as anyone else. Society does not yet fully accept donor egg/donor sperm. There is also the bigoted idea that only perfectly fertile couples should be entitled to have children. This is why celebrities cannot be honest – they would be flamed, called names and judged.

    Also, I don’t know if I want my child to know she was conceived by donor egg, because I am worried when she tells other kids at school, that she may be taunted. And I can’t tell her to keep the donor egg a “secret”, either. We are leaning towards waiting until she is an adult to tell her.

  2. mk
    June 29th, 2010 at 18:56
    Reply | Quote | #2

    I know your exact fears. On one hand, I don’t want to act as if my son needs to be secretive about how he was conceived because I believe he is a miracle, and I don’t want him to ever be ashamed of being conceived with donor sperm and adopted by my husband. Yet, on the other hand, I know that not everyone believes the same, including those who are cruel enough to make negative comments. My husband’s ex-wife, for example, called us “that woman and her mutt,” upon hearing that I had my son via donor-sperm insemination, while I have heard that others have praised themselves for accepting me and “my sperm-donor baby,” as if accepting us were difficult and worthy of awards.

    On Amazon.com, I found four books that were enlightening to me in making the decision whether or not–and if so, when–to tell my son about his conception. The latter two of the four are related to donor-sperm-conceived children, yet their issues are the same as for those conceived with donor egg. In case you’ll be interested, they are:

    Experiences of Donor Conception: Parents, Offspring and Donors through the Years by Caroline Lorbach

    Mommies, Daddies, Donors, Surrogates: Answering Tough Questions and Building Strong Families by Diane Ehrensaft, PhD.

    Sperm Donor Offspring: Identity and Other Experiences by Lynne W. Spencer

    Lethal Secrets: The Psychology of Donor Insemination by Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor

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