IVF Veritas: A Great Post!

Posted in General Fertility on September 27, 2011 by Gail Sexton Anderson

Here is a great post from Holly Finn who also wrote The Baby Chase.  I think the most important point she makes is the need for us to be open with our children and each other.

You can enjoy Holly's original piece from The Wall Street Journal.

Get out the Screwpull! I've found another reason that red wine is good for you. A few months back, I was having drinks with a friend from Google at the Four Seasons Silicon Valley. It turned out that both of us were planning an IVF cycle. Both of us were going to use sperm donors, and our donors happened to come from the same cryobank.

I sipped Syrah, pulled out my Android and held up a downloaded photo of my donor. My friend nearly slid off her chair. The fella I'd chosen had been her runner-up. And her first choice was, actually, my second. If either of us had changed our mind, we might have had children who were half-brothers or -sisters. They'd definitely have crossed paths, possibly become friends, and then who knows.

Had we not met for drinks and been up-front about what we were up to, we could have walked, womb-first, into a twisted little plot. So red wine isn't just an antioxidant: It may help to prevent "unknowing consanguinity," or accidental incest.

The children of sperm and egg donors are a growing percentage of our population. Many believe that this shifting reproductive scene requires governmental regulation, and it may. But people find ways around the law. This week in the U.K., where the number of children per donor is strictly limited to 10, a man was discovered to have fathered 17 children. What's really needed now is something more effective than an edict: honesty.

There were 142,241 IVF cycles done in this country in 2009, and that number is rising. Somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 children of sperm donors are born in the U.S. every year; nobody knows the exact number. Egg donation is increasingly popular, too, used in 1 in 10 IVF cycles, though no one admits it. In some cases, both egg and sperm are donated.

Should we fret? To mitigate the risk that siblings might unknowingly meet, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine advises that an individual sperm donor be restricted to 25 births per population of 800,000. That's a guideline—each cryobank makes its own rules. Most reputable sperm banks do seem to limit pregnancies to 10 per donor. But our Silicon Valley scenario was still possible.

This would not be good for my secret start-up idea, the Toddler Matchmaking Program—Tomapro, for short. Yes, it sounds like a crop fertilizer. And in a way, it is: extremely early intervention to make pairing up a breeze for the next generation. Unknowing consanguinity could throw a real wrench in the works.

Seriously, though. When the science isn't straightforward, people have to be. Today, recipients can be remiss: Fewer than half of mothers with babies created by donor sperm report the births to their cryobanks. And when donors cap out at one sperm bank, they sometimes go to another. Eric Surrey, a doctor at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, told me, "It really all falls on how honest the donor is." It's not just men. The ASRM recommends that fertility centers limit female donors to a maximum of six egg donation cycles.

I called California Cryobank to get the most current stats for the donor I used during my IVF attempts. It could only tell me if he had more than five pregnancies reported, or fewer. Mine? "He has more than five pregnancies reported." Does that mean six? Ten? The Duggar family?

There should be a national donor registry to keep track of these numbers, of course, and egg and sperm banks should be vigilant. But the solution isn't medical, it's moral. The cost of fibbing about fertility is going up, and the longer we bow to outdated societal taboos—parents keeping their IVF and donor experience not just from friends but from the children who happily result—the more we put others at risk.

Those who are quick to judge the infertile should realize their own complicity in this silence. Every good opera, play and TV miniseries teaches us that secrets are corrosive. That's true whether the relationship is between a man and a woman, or a sperm and an egg.

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