couples

How to ask a family member for their sperm or eggs - without the awkwardness.

If you’re looking for advice about options surrounding fertility, pregnancy or counselling, always consult your doctor.

‘Family’ are the people who are your kin, your closest, the people you trust more than anyone else. They are the ones who forgive you when no-one else could, and support you when no one else can. They are your bank loan, your counselling session, your personal chef, and careers guide all in one.

Indeed, many of the people you call family won’t always be related by blood.

But when it comes to infertility, this concept of ‘family’ becomes even more complex than it already was. For a couple looking to conceive, the emotional implications of family can be overshadowed by more scientific definitions: genes, eggs, ovaries, sperm.

There is a strong desire from many couples to have a child that comes from their own gene pool.

Emotion and genetics tangle together to form an impossible task: asking a sibling, cousin, or other relative to donate their own DNA through sperm or egg donation, or surrogacy, to help you start a family.

So where do you possibly begin?

Would you know how to ask your family for help conceiving a baby? (image:istock)

As the world of surrogacy and IVF becomes more and more advanced, the options for women struggling with infertility is more exciting than ever. Eggs can be frozen and used many years later, sperm donors are legal and plentiful, and surrogacy is no longer hidden in the shadows. Struggling to fall pregnant is no longer a dead end street. There are options.

But for many people, the concept of conceiving a child either with a stranger's egg or sperm, or grown in a stranger's body (often in another country, as paid surrogacy is illegal in Australia) is unfathomable. It is at this point that many couples look to their immediate family for help.

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Most commonly, that help comes from siblings of the same sex. Sisters giving sisters eggs, brothers giving brothers sperm. For the couple, it is the closest thing to having their own biological child as possible.

But here comes the tricky part: how do you ever ask your family to help create a child that will never be theirs?

Listen: Have you ever wondered who donates sperm? And why? We ask comedian Toby Halligan, on the This Glorious Mess podcast (post continues after audio...)

The New York Times has published an article, 'How to Ask Family Members to Donate Sperm or Eggs', as a how-to guide for asking your kin for that impossible favour. It's a mammoth request to make, one so scary in its size many people never bring themselves to ask. As the article points out, “This needs to be a decision that lasts a lifetime."

The questions that arise are inevitable: what if they say no? Or worse again, what if they feel like they can't say no?

"Your donor may back out during this process. Allow for that" says The New York Times.

"Go over the minutiae: When and how will we tell the child? What will the donor’s future partners think? What if prenatal tests suggest fetal abnormalities?"

Clearly, communication is paramount. But apart from that, what else should you keep in mind, when asking your family to help create your family?

Ask in a way that is more statement than a direct question.

"So as not to burden your relative with undue pressure, state that you are seeking a donor and that you’d prefer that person be a family member. Give reassurance that you have the option of using an unknown donor if his or her participation does not feel like the right choice."

Avoid any donorship that could be, or is, incestuous.
Although this feels like the bleeding obvious, non-related family members (adopted parents, grandparents, step parents etc) can create awkward family networks.

"Don’t request sex cells from any family member whose involvement would lead the child’s parentage to appear (or be) incestuous. Donation between same-sex siblings (the transfer of eggs between sisters, say) is the most common and often least complicated exchange."

Don't ask anyone young.

Whilst it is probably the younger members of your family who would be the quickest to agree, it is a massive commitment to make for the rest of their life. NYT reckons you should avoid donors younger than 21.

Choose someone who is strong and grounded.

Don’t ask financial dependents or those with psychological conditions that might cloud their ability to think through consequences. While the physical requirements of donating are not equal between men (masturbation and ejaculation) and women (hormone injections, regular monitoring, a surgical procedure), the emotional weight tends to be.

“The common presumption is that men have fewer feelings about their gametes than women do,” Braverman says. “That’s not true.”

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Get professional help.

"Even if a family member agrees, go to counseling to talk through expectations in detail."

There is no right or wrong way to start a family. (image:istock)

When struggling to conceive, the strangest of situations become very normal. Situations you may have never considered to be a possibility suddenly become an option. The pull of a woman and a man to become parents is powerful.

But what about your family? They will never share that intense feeling. How could you ever ask them to welcome a child they never actually asked for?

It is these psychological questions that, truth be told, have no answer. It is directly associated with the individual involved, and their relationship with their family.

The New York Times offered some beautiful words of advice in tackling the minefield of family donation.

"Remember, combining a sperm and an ovum to create an embryo is the easy part. Building a nurturing, safe environment to raise a child is the real work. A family tree turning in on itself, tangling in unexpected ways to create new life can be a beautiful thing if all parties approach the task with open hearts."

And then again, we see that same stretchy, complex concept of family coming into play.

'Family': a bond that is much more than just genetics, much more than labels; but a connection that is about nothing more complicated than pure, unquestioned, love.

Mamamia's Infertility Week shines a light on the joy, the pain and everything in between when it comes to creating families. To read more from Infertility Week, click here.

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