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My partner has a low sperm count and says he is OK using the sperm of a donor. But I’m not comfortable having a child that is not HIS genetic child. What can we do?

This month’s Ask an Expert question has been answered by our site creator, Dr. Judith Daniluk, a leading researcher and counsellor in the field of women’s sexuality and reproductive health. Learn more about Dr. Daniluk here

Given that you asked one of our mental health experts to answer this question, I am assuming that you and your partner have consulted with your fertility specialist and are aware of the various treatment options available to you such as IVF with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), and the relative odds of success if you elect to pursue medical treatment. So I’ll focus my answer on the emotional and social aspects of your question about using donor sperm to create a child with your partner.

Surprisingly, it is not at all uncommon for a man with male factor infertility to come to a place of comfort with using donor sperm faster than for a woman. Men often feel responsible for the fertility problem and don’t want to deny their partner the opportunity to experience a pregnancy. After working through their own feelings of being unable to produce a child, and sometimes even considering adoption (“If the child can’t be both of ours, then maybe we should adopt”), men often decide that they would rather be a father to a child that is genetically related to their partner and go through the pregnancy together, than live without children or go through the challenges of the adoption process.

Women, on the other hand, often struggle with letting go of the dream of being able to see the things they love about their partner reflected in their child, based on their partner’s lack of genetic connection to a child conceived with donor sperm. They wonder how they will feel carrying a child who has received 50% of his/her genes from a stranger. And they have fears about how their partner will feel about the child and wonder, “will he be able to bond with, and love the child as much as if the child were his own?”

When considering the use of donor sperm, both partners usually have lots of questions about donor selection, and how to deal with the issues of disclosure to the child and potentially to family members in the future. They wonder if their child will want to seek out or learn more about his/her paternal genetic roots, and they often fear that their child might reject his/her social dad, or in a moment of anger proclaim: “You’re not my real dad anyways!”

Coming to terms with infertility and considering using any kind of third party family building option (e.g. donor sperm, donor eggs, donor embryos) is a process. It takes time, commitment, and a willingness to move beyond genetics to the bigger purpose of creating a new life, and creating a family together. Think about where you’re getting stuck and talk honestly and openly with your partner about your dreams, your fears, and your hesitations. If you can open up your heart to the possibility of this option, I encourage you to make an appointment for you and your partner with a counsellor who specializes in fertility counselling to help you discuss and work through the implications of this choice. In so doing you’ll be able to make a decision that both you and your partner can accept and live with.

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