Oh baby: When shopping for sperm, it's best to go overseas
South African sperm donors are so rare that most moms-to-be seek overseas variety
Although guaranteed of anonymity, sperm donors are far and few between in South Africa because of the “taboo” associated with it and, because unlike in other countries, donors do not get paid.
In fact, five years ago, one of the clinics in the country reported that it had only five donors, making the gene pool of donor babies in South Africa very small.
This comes as a story has emerged that a fertility expert who ran his clinic at Durban’s Durdoc centre during the 1960s and 1970s fathered at least five of hundreds of babies he helped conceive. When Walker ran his fertility clinic, the pool was probably even smaller.Times Select tracked down a man who was a donor at that time but who did not want to go public with his story.
“I certainly don’t need any more problems in my life right now,” he said.
But his ex-wife – and the mother of his two adult daughters – was prepared to speak.
“Dr Walker delivered my first baby in October 1973. He told me he was doing a fertility clinic, and would like my husband to be a donor, as he tried to match the fathers to the husbands of the women who were trying to conceive.
“He said he never took sperm after the first baby. He waited till the second baby was born, to see if they were both normal and healthy and then he would ask for my husband to donate his sperm. My second daughter was born in November 1976 and he then asked my husband if he would be willing to donate, and he said yes.“He must have been called four to six times in the next eight months from January to July 1977. We then moved away from the city. We have never been able to find out if the successes were boys or girls. That was secret information. I think there were at least two successes.”
A single mom, who used artificial insemination to conceive eights years ago, said she initially went “the local route”.
“I had several unsuccessful AIs [artificial insemination] – it was suggested the success could be linked to the donor sperm and that I should change donors to see if this worked. At the time, my specialist/embryologist was sourcing the sperm. He gave me little choice and information and I thought this was the way it worked. He was using the central cryobank and when I asked for more variety he gave me the web details and I saw how restricted the selection and information was.She said at that time there were four so-called “Caucasian” donors and the only details you knew were height race, eye colour and possibly qualification.“There were two reputable private clinics back then but their donor pool was also limited. You imagine you’d have a huge selection. Not four!”
She researched another clinic and found they only had 27 active donors so she decided to look overseas and discovered a “different ball game”.
“Here we’re not allowed to pay a donor (other than a very small stipend) and so if you think about it, what would be the motivation to donate.
“Whereas in the US, many students pay for their studies this way.”She said that there, there was a huge variety starting from university level and people could choose an open donor, who could be contacted by the child.
“I liked the fact that I could get a full profile on the donor (looks, baby pics, qualification, health, his parents’ and grandparents’ medical records etc.)
“It was online shopping at its most significant! I narrowed it down to three and went with the one due to his excellent health background.”
The mom said her specialists had never heard of this route and they were amazed that it was even possible.“I researched it all and had to apply, via the specialist, to get the ‘human tissue’ into South Africa. It was packed in dry ice in a huge canister and went in the cargo section. It travelled three continents to reach me and had a travel shelf life of six to seven days.
“It was delayed at the customs in Johannesburg and I battled for a few frantic days to get it released. Once open, the specialist had a few seconds to get it into freezer storage. There were so many things that could have gone wrong but they didn’t and I went through IVF and fell pregnant.”
She said it was the “best money ever spent”.
“What I liked was there was very little chance of ever having the problem of your child having a sibling in your own home town, which was a very real possibility with the limited SA donor pool.
“I used an anonymous donor which means there is no possibility of contact. This was not deliberate. There were ‘open’ options but when I looked into their medical records there were issues – and the donor I liked most happened to be anonymous.”