Myth Busting Implications Counselling

by Tracey Sainsbury, Fertility Counsellor, Lister Fertility Clinic

The popularity of donor conception as a pathway to parenthood is increasing with many more people, in relationships and individually, embracing both regulated (in a clinic) and unregulated (outside of a clinic) options.

Donor conception refers to the use of donated sperm, eggs, or embryos to conceive a child. While this process can be a life-changing and positive experience, it is important to consider the implications of donor conception before making any decisions.

The Lister Fertility Clinic include counselling as a mandatory part of donor conception treatment, providing a safe space to explore the legal, social, and ethical implications, for the parent/s and for any child conceived, in the hope of a successful outcome. Counselling also provides a foundation of support with additional strategies for self-care as a fertility journey progresses.

Why is it important to attend implications counselling?

One of the most important reasons to attend implications counselling is to understand the legal implications of donor conception. In the UK, the legal rights of the donor, intended parents, and the child can be complex and vary depending on the type of donation used.

For example, if a sperm donor is known, and conception takes place outside of a clinic, the donor may have some legal rights to the child. However, if treatment takes place in a clinic and the sperm is from a known donor who has had the required screening and signed the appropriate consent forms, or a donor who had donated via a regulated sperm bank, with their identity only being available to a child in the future, the donor will have no legal rights or responsibilities. Implications counselling can help intended parents understand their legal rights and obligations, as well as the rights of the donor and the child.

The realities of donor conception can feel very different to how it might be imagined; especially for anyone who has thought about their journey for some time ahead of contacting the clinic. Finding out about your fertility can promote unexpected anxiety, and choosing a donor can be a very simple straightforward process or confirm that donor conception is not right for you if none of those available feels good enough, or the wait feels too long. Often finding a donor falls somewhere in the middle, being much harder than expected. 

Clients can be surprised by the small number of sperm donors, and/or longer waits for an egg donor match; sadly only 3-5% of men who apply to donate their sperm make it through the (approx.) 15 month process to become a sperm donor; it is a shorter process for egg donors, but they have often thought about the process for a year or more and researched ahead of contacting the clinic, owing to their research they often also have more awareness of the significance of their family history. 

When thinking about donor selection, I always suggest working backwards, thinking treatment will be successful, and how will you reply when your grown child asks how you chose their donor, what is important? Often a good familial fit, so physical characteristics, not necessarily your own, but a good match for your wider family. A large family photo can help to identify variations in height, build, skin tones etc. Next thinking about the donors profiles, are there themes in common, with hobbies, interests, occupations? If there is a feeling that you’d get on then great! When those questions are asked, we often do not have time to think about the answer, but if it felt right, we can quickly confirm that.

Other ways Implication Counselling can support you

Counselling provides a space to being to think about the narrative you will share with any child conceived, and those close to you. How will you answer ‘who is the real parent or other genetic parent?’, a question that often drives LGBTQ+ people nuts. Donors get asked questions too, they have to go through a long process to confirm they want to donate, and the law allows them to change their minds at any time. They too have counselling where we also acknowledge the importance of narrative. The children of donors can be as curious about genetic connections as children who are donor conceived.

We always promote an ethos of openness, sharing tools and resources to help parents prepare to share information in a way that feels manageable. We acknowledge that there are often concerns or fears that individuals and couples may have about donor conception. For example, some individuals and couples may worry about the impact of donor conception on their relationships, or how they will manage if treatment is not successful; hence ensuring access to tools and resources to navigate the emotional and psychological challenges ahead.

The team of counsellors at the Lister Fertility Clinic, headed by Caroline Spencer, provide an open-door service, with counselling available free of charge. Caroline shares "by meeting ahead of treatment, clients know they can reach out and ask for another appointment, it might not be until after their family is complete, and support is needed around what to do with remaining frozen embryos; it’s not always an extreme emotional rollercoaster, but knowing support is available can really make a difference."

In conclusion, implications counselling is a crucial step in the donor conception process. It provides individuals and couples with the opportunity to explore and understand the legal, emotional, and psychological implications of donor conception before making any decisions. By seeking implications counselling, individuals and couples can ensure that they are fully prepared for the journey ahead and can provide their child with the best possible start in life. Donor conception can be a positive and life-changing experience, hopefully life creating! Be prepared, get the most out of your counselling appointment, set yourself up for the journey ahead with support in place. 

More about our counselling services at Lister Fertility Clinic