When your sperm donor becomes part of the family: One couple’s IVF success story

Updated March 03, 2019 12:53:34

When Lia Di Virgilio and Izzy Ottavi were planning to become parents, they had to join a waiting list for a sperm donor.

Key points:

  • There is a shortage of sperm donors in Tasmania, with the state’s IVF clinics supplementing stocks with US sperm
  • The number of single women and same-sex couples accessing IVF has doubled in five years
  • Donors do not get paid and must agree to be identified once child turns 18

Things changed when a friend offered to step in.

“We had an opportunity with a friend who said that he’d be happy to help us out, so we discussed that for about 12 months,” Ms Di Virgilio said.

“[We talked about] what we expected, what he expected, and we realised we were both on the same page.”

The result was little Francesca, who is now three.

The Hobart couple’s donor, Aaron Willis, does not have any rights, but the couple decided to let him be part of Francesca’s life.

Ms Di Virgilio said he was known as “dad” and visited regularly.

“He was living [in Hobart] for the first year and a half of her life, but then he moved away for work in Brisbane, so now he comes down every three months for big things like her birthday, Christmas,” she said.

The arrangement is so successful he’s donated to the couple again.

They’re expecting their second child in April, this time with Izzy Ottavi’s egg and Aaron’s sperm.

“[Aaron] is gay and wouldn’t have had the chance to have kids himself, so … it’s kind of worked out really well,” Ms Ottavi said.

The couple were warned against a “known donor” and Ms Di Virgilio said they were told plenty of horror stories which she said “turned me right off”.

“But the stories were a result of people doing home insemination [where] you have no legal protection at all, so the donors are considered fathers, there’s no legal protection, they have to pay maintenance, they can take you to court and get full custody,” she said.

Despite the warnings, the couple have had a positive experience and have encouraged others to explore known donors, with the help of an IVF clinic.

“We got lucky. It’s hard to get a known donor and also especially when you’re a family and you have all these expectations around being a family without too much input from somebody else,” Ms Di Virgilio said.

“We were extremely lucky we were all on the same page.”

Sperm flown in from America

Tasmanian IVF clinics are reporting an increase in single women and same-sex couples accessing donor sperm.

Fertility speciality Irena Nikakis from Fertility Tasmania said they account for about 21 per cent of the clinic’s patients.

“I’m getting quite a few single ladies and same-sex couples come through. I think it’s because it’s more acceptable, it’s more accessible,” Dr Nikakis said.

Bill Watkins from TasIVF agreed.

“It’s quite common and it’s increasing,” Dr Watkins said.

“Over the last five years we’ve seen a doubling, and we now see approximately 50 single women or same-sex couples a year.”

But local sperm donors are in short supply.

Unlike in the US, they are not paid and have to be willing to disclose their identity once the child turns 18.

Dr Watkins said there were 15 Tasmanian donors available to his clinic.

“We used to do just Tasmanian donors but our supplies got so low, at one point we had a 12-month waiting period which is unacceptable, so we then started importing from the US,” he said.

Both IVF clinics in Tasmania offer women access to the Californian sperm bank.

Dr Nikakis said there were more than 80 donors to choose from.

“They have to meet the Australian standards in terms of screening and being counselled and in terms of revealing their identity once the donor conceived child turns 18, but in terms of logistics the ladies go online, select their donor and once it’s selected the sperm is shipped out to Australia.

“It’s very straightforward.”

But it does come at a cost — a cycle of donor insemination costs about $1,800.

If you’re flying in sperm from America, it costs about $800 to join the program, $1,000 per vial of sperm and $600 for delivery.

Medicare will not foot the bill for single women and same-sex couples unless there is a medical issue.

For Ms Di Virgilio, despite not using the US option, the choice of IVF still represented a significant financial burden.

“It is very expensive, and a lot of people can’t afford to do more than one transfer and will borrow money,” she said.

“We were lucky, I’d been saving up for a while because I knew I wanted to do it.”

More donors needed to make mother’s dream come true

Single mother Bessie Myors is 16-weeks pregnant with her second child via IVF.

“Having a child was very important to me, so I gave myself until I was 30 and then started the process,” she said.

Two-and-a-half-year-old Sadie and the new baby are both the result of an anonymous Tasmanian donor.

“I’m obviously very grateful for Sadie’s donor, getting really nothing for himself out of it and he has made my dreams come true,” Ms Myors said.

Dr Watkins from TasIVF prefers to use Tasmanian sperm donors.

“I think it’s better to have local donors so that the children of the future will have easier contact.

“We like to every now and again contact our donors, get a medical update, so we have that rapport with our donors which with the us ones we don’t have,” he said.

To be a sperm donor, you must be a male Australian resident, preferably between 20 and 50.

All donors are required to wait three months in what’s known as a ‘cooling-off period’ prior to donations. They must also attend counselling session and undertake genetic testing and screening for infectious diseases.

Sperm donors remain anonymous up until the child turns 18.

TasIVF maintains a secure register of all past donors, which the offspring of donors have the option to access when they turn 18.

Dr Watkins urged more donors to come forward.

“The more people who donate the better, just so we can give that variety and that choice.”

Dr Nikakis welcomed the changing attitudes towards single mothers and same-sex couples accessing IVF.

“What’s a family? It’s about giving love and raising children. Mother, father, two mothers, two fathers — it’s about raising a family,” she said.

Topics: reproduction-and-contraception, pregnancy-and-childbirth, family-and-children, children, community-and-society, hobart-7000, launceston-7250, tas

First posted March 03, 2019 07:55:51

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