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VIEWS: Alternative conception
by Kim Flowers

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A lot of media focus has been given to alternative forms of having children, yet there are two options that have not received much attention—sperm donation by a man who is well-known to the couple and surrogate motherhood.

Other than adoption, these are the best options for a gay couple; infertile straight couples may consider these choices as well. My son was conceived through donor sperm. I know who the donor is and one day my son will know, too. Like most mothers, I would never want to cause my child unnecessary pain or confusion about anything, including the subject of his origins.

When my wife and I started planning our family, several social, economic and even political factors influenced our decision. We both felt adoption would be wonderful, but it costs thousands of dollars. Also, in our state of Indiana we cannot co-adopt the same child. We made the surprising discovery that it's legal for one of us to adopt a child the other gives birth to, with fewer fees, even though it's not legal for us to wed. We felt that this would be the best option for our family. We have a trustworthy donor who currently wishes to remain anonymous to all but a few people. He wants the focus of others to be on my wife and me, and wants the baby considered "ours" not "his."

As an adoptee, I know what it's like to have questions about a biological parent. My biological father signed away his rights and I was adopted by my stepfather. Even though I wanted no contact with my biological father, I still wanted information about where I came from, which I found as an adult. I think everyone deserves that, including my own child. He won't have to question if he could be at risk for an unknown disease or wonder if there are other relatives out there whom he has no knowledge of. For those who cannot afford high adoption costs, cannot both adopt the same child, or who need sperm for whatever reason, this is a fantastic option.

Some couples, both traditional and non-traditional, face different problems with conception. Kerri Donovan was a surrogate mother 13 years ago. The couple she helped had healthy eggs and sperm, but the wife was born without a uterus. Throughout the course of two years and only one in vitro attempt, Kerri became pregnant with twin girls, now teenagers. She regarded the whole process, including when the twins were given to their biological parents, as a positive experience, and said: "I had a super support group and the mother and I took every step together." The twins refer to her as Aunt Kerri and know the story of their birth. Kerri has a husband and two children of her own and said this experience helped them all, and that they also gained an extended family.

Kerri's advice to any couple thinking of finding a surrogate was to deeply investigate the chosen woman and her family life. All parties involved will be subjected to medical and psychological exams. The surrogate and the biological mother will both take hormone shots to sync menstrual cycles, followed by several sonograms and more tests. The procedure itself then takes four days—one for harvesting eggs, one for collection sperm, a day for fertilization and implantation on day four.

For the woman who is thinking of becoming a surrogate, Kerri advised: "Be sure that you are very comfortable with where you are in your life. I know what I believed to be right and wrong and I knew that I was very happy with my life at the time. I also knew that I did not want more children." She also said that a surrogate should make sure she is doing it for "all the right reasons," not for any monetary benefits she may receive. For a male couple, the woman will probably not only be offering the use of her uterus, but her eggs, which will be even more cause for consideration.

When it comes to choosing your own sperm donor, there are no required exams. All parties involved must trust one another. It's a good idea for the donor and the prospective mother to be checked for fertility or health problems. Other than that, you only need the privacy of your own home, a cup, and a syringe. Ovulations test kits are available at many supermarkets and pharmacies, and I can attest that they are extremely accurate. Knowing the exact dates of ovulation will help take most of the guesswork out of the process, and will save time and unnecessary sperm injections.

Some couples may consider going to a sperm bank or may wish to keep the identity of their donor a secret. There are many people who believe that anonymous sperm donation should be abolished in the United States, as it already is in many European countries. An organization called The Donor Sibling Registry, run by Wendy Kramer, helps donor offspring contact their other relatives. Kramer said: "It's always the rights of the parents, the donor, the clinic. Why is it that the rights of the donor-conceived people aren't even considered in the equation?"

An article by David Crary entitled "Sperm-Donor Kids Seek More Rights, Respect" goes into more detail about this organization, and also explores the lives not just of those conceived through anonymous donation, but also the lives of sperm donors who have been tracked down by their children years later.

If a couple is thinking of using a sperm bank or already has, the main thing to consider is that honesty is best. Just like any other important information you give your child, tell them what they need to know based on the questions they ask, their age, and maturity level. If you're thinking of donating sperm anonymously and are uncomfortable with the possibility that one day you may have a child or children who try to find you, donate plasma instead. A trusted friend of the couple or a relative of the person who is not getting pregnant would be a much better option for everyone involved.

If anyone wishes to donate sperm or become a surrogate mother, a legal contract is recommended. For a donor, the contract will state that even if his identity is to be revealed, he will never sue nor be sued for custody or child support. For the surrogate mother, the contract usually involves a monetary agreement. Typically the couple who wants a child will pay for all of the surrogate's medical bills and perhaps an extra sum besides. There will also be clauses as to what should happen if more embryos than expected implant or if the surrogate's life is perceived to be in danger throughout the pregnancy.

Planning a pregnancy using alternative methods isn't simple. But I believe that no matter what the controversy surrounding different options for having a child may be—adoption, sperm donation or surrogate—critics should know that every single one of these children are wanted, planned, and loved. Perhaps Kerri said it best of her own involvement:

"For me, it turned into one of the best times of my life. I helped someone's dream come true."

Kim Flowers is a freelance writer from Fishers, Ind. To learn more about Kerri Donovan's experience as a surrogate mother, you can read "The Impossible Dream" by R.B. Smith, Woman's World magazine, Sept. 9, 1997.

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