Donors give the gift of life

By Martin Johnston

It’s a subject that is usually marked by embarrassment or schoolboy jokes, but sperm donations are in desperately short supply. Health reporter Martin Johnston hears the personal stories of a sperm donor, and a woman whose daughter was born through this method

Yem Braid with daughters Honor (left) and Jordan. Photo / Richard Robinson
Yem Braid with daughters Honor (left) and Jordan. Photo / Richard Robinson

Grant Triplow is 43 and describes his build as athletic. He is 178cm tall and weighs 90kg. His hair and eyes are dark brown and he has olive skin.

These facts, without his name attached, along with his occupation and medical history are how he will first be encountered by clients of a sort - clients sizing up his reproductive powers.

Mr Triplow is a sperm donor - a good one according to a medical assessment of his sperm's motility and quantity.

"I was told it's strong and the count is quite high."

He has Maori ancestry and this may be his most attractive feature, given that amid a shortage of sperm donors overall, the scarcity is most acute for women and couples who want a Maori, Pasifika or Asian donor.

Grant Triplow first donated sperm for lesbian friends. Photo / Greg Bowker
Grant Triplow first donated sperm for lesbian friends. Photo / Greg Bowker

An Aucklander, Mr Triplow said he had thought of becoming a donor for many years and, as a press photographer in Britain, met couples struggling with infertility and going through IVF treatment.

"Having met so many people that have found it hard to [conceive] I thought, why not?

"When I came back to New Zealand, a lesbian couple I know, they were looking for a donor. I was asked and said yip."

He made his first donation last year through Fertility Associates' Auckland clinic and the couple are now expecting a baby.

"They are a mixed race couple which is why they were looking for a mixed-race man."

They want Mr Triplow to be like an uncle to their child.

"I said 'That's fine; if you think that's best, I'm happy to do that'. It's a bit more than what I anticipated but that's what they see is best for the child. Because we have mutual friends, I'm going to see them socially."

After his personal donation for the couple, Mr Triplow became a general donor on the clinic's books, involving around eight to 10 visits to donate sperm.

He will soon have his final medical screening blood test timed to coincide with the end of his frozen donations' six months' quarantine. As with his first donation, he is relaxed about any future offspring meeting him if their families decide that's best for the child.

How does he feel about possibly becoming the biological father of up to 10 children in five families?

"It doesn't faze me at all and for me it's not about ego.

"I'm not the one nurturing them, I'm not there."

He hopes to have children himself but is single - "recently single". His decision to become a donor was at first a source of conflict in the relationship.

"She finally saw my reasoning, plus she didn't want to have children with me anyway."

His siblings were happy with his decision, but his mother, father and stepmother, had reservations.

"[My mother] is from the generation where she's, 'Okay, but I would prefer it was my grandchild so I can look after him'."

Mr Triplow acknowledges there is potential for embarrassment in being a sperm donor - "you get ushered into a room, there's some magazines" - but says the clinic staff "were amazing, it's quite a lovely process there, they completely understand".

But what's it like to know your vital statistics are being weighed up by unknown patients?

"Maybe it's like shopping for a new Mac. It's just the way it is."


Openness the policy for this family

Yem Braid with daughters Honor (left) and Jordan. Photo / Richard Robinson
Yem Braid with daughters Honor (left) and Jordan. Photo / Richard Robinson

When Honor Braid turns 18, she may be able to learn the name of the donor who anonymously helped to make her. Honor, now 8, was created from donor insemination.

Her mother, Yem Braid, said she had not made a secret among friends, family and Honor's school of having relied on a fertility clinic donor whom she had never met. She was open, especially with Honor, to the extent appropriate for her age, about her not having a father in the usual sense of the word.

"We haven't done the birds and the bees. Maybe when that happens I will be able to better explain it to her.

"I have told her that she doesn't have a real dad like her friends do. And she knows she was conceived with the help of the hospital [Fertility Associates' Auckland clinic].

"She knows when she's 18 she's allowed to see or find out who the man was who has helped to make her."

But that will depend on the man's willingness to be identified.

Fertility clinic donors who provided sperm, eggs or embryos on or after August 22, 2005 are listed on a Government register, as are the resulting children. For earlier donations, registration is voluntary, although Fertility Associates has long encouraged openness and says a degree of managed contact, typically sending letters and sharing photos, is fairly common between donors and recipient families.

The donation used by Ms Braid pre-dated mandatory registration, but she has listed Honor voluntarily.

She said Honor's wishes would be her future guide on whether to seek information about the donor and any other children born from his donations, but at present her daughter wasn't curious about her origins.

"As she grows up knowing about this she might decide at 13 or 16 she wants to find out more and it's something we will do. If I did find out tomorrow who the donor is, that would not be an issue for us. I think sometimes it's nice for the donor to be proud this is the girl I made, and she's a really lovely girl.

"As she gets older I would like her to find out more about his history, more for the medical side. My big concern about this is any medical history that comes up. I know that at Fertility Associates if there's anything major that comes up they do tell the donors."

Ms Braid, 46, has an older daughter, 10-year-old Jordan, who was conceived naturally.

Ms Braid owns Hairplus, a business that supplies wigs, hairpieces and hair extensions.

Originally from Britain and of Nigerian parents, she moved to New Zealand with her Kiwi husband around 2000. The marriage split up and she met the man who became Jordan's father. They have no contact with him.

She wanted another child, partly to have a sibling for Jordan. She considered adoption and it was her GP who suggested donor insemination.

"I know people say find a donor online. I wouldn't have gone through that route. Using a clinic, where it is more controlled, was the option I wanted to go through.

"You're given a profile about the donor, no pictures. It's just about family, parents' history, ethnicity, age, how many children and siblings, his religion."

She chose her donor, a New Zealander, mainly on gut feeling. She was influenced by his being a Christian, like her, and that one of his siblings had adopted children, which suggested he knew what it was like not to be able to have children and was doing something to help others in that regard.

"Every day I'm grateful that someone has done that for me and let me have this family."


Sperm donation

What is sperm donation?

A man provides semen, either through a fertility clinic or through private arrangements directly with the recipient. Clinics manage both personal donations, in which a patient brings a potential donor who is known to them, and anonymous donations from men on their books whose sperm has been frozen.

Are donors paid?

No, it is illegal to pay for sperm donation, although donors can be reimbursed for travel costs. Clinics report that many potential donors ring up and ask if they will be paid.

How many babies are born following donor insemination?

From 2009, on average 137 births a year have been registered as resulting from sperm donations at fertility clinics. The number born following privately arranged donations is unknown.

How many donors are there?

Since 1987, 2,000 men have donated for the patients of Fertility Associates, New Zealand's largest network of fertility clinics. The business currently has around 50 donors who have completed donations and whose frozen sperm is available for patients. It needs a further 50 donors, but typically only half of the men who offer to become a donor are deemed suitable.

How long do women have to wait for the treatment?

Up to a year at Fertility Associates.

Who can be a sperm donor?

Men aged 20 to 45 with a good sperm count. Men must disclose any personal or family health condition that could affect a child born from their donation. Failing to do this would leave him open to a damages claim from a child born disabled.

Can donors put limits on the types of patients to whom their sperm will be given?

Yes, to an extent. Some restrict its use to heterosexual couples, but insisting on its being given only to patients of a certain ethnicity would most likely lead to the man's rejection as a donor.

Who is the legal father?

The donor has no legal rights or responsibilities regarding the offspring. The recipient woman's partner is legally recognised as a parent, as long as he or she gave consent to the insemination procedure.

How big is the risk of unintentional incest among offspring who don't know they are siblings?

Tiny. In Britain, whose population is much greater than New Zealand's, it has been estimated that donor insemination could lead to four incestuous marriages per century.

- NZ Herald

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