A lesbian influencer couple have sparked intense debate today after announcing a donor sperm giveaway on Instagram. Pairing with a sperm bank in the US, the Canadian couple known as Allie and Sam online offered followers the chance to win a credit for a viral of donor sperm of the winners choice.
‘We are so, so excited to be partnering with Fairfax Cryobank to (hopefully!) help one of you grow your family,’ they wrote on Instagram. ‘Winner will receive credit for 1 vial of donor sperm (of your choice) from Fairfax Cryobank and free shipping, and will be announced and contacted via DM on August 20th. Contest open to residents of Canada + the US. Not affiliated with or endorsed by Instagram.’
While the competition has been well-received by many followers, some are raising concerns. As expected, tabloids covering the news have also been decidedly critical of the competition, with the Daily Mail headlining their article with one hate comment stating ‘Imagine telling your child you won them in a raffle.’
Now, the Instagram comments are flooded with similar sentiments, such as one saying ‘Imagine telling a child that they came from an Instagram giveaway’, and others joking that they ‘couldn’t wait to win a child’.
But what these people aren’t focusing on is all the wonderful comments of people grateful for the opportunity to start a family without the huge cost of sperm donation, which because of the IVF postcode lottery, can change dramatically depending on where you live. ‘We just started our IVF process,’ one follower commented. ‘This would be a dream [and] big time saving in the already huge bill. Thank you for the opportunity ladies!’
And when we spoke to lesbian women about this, they agreed. ‘From experience of friends I am aware that the journey to sperm donation is fraught and weirdly hard to find information about,’ says Amy Peterson, a teacher from Liverpool. ‘Even in this day and age I've heard it is a bit of a secret society of finding fertility clinics that know how to deal specifically with the needs of same sex couples.
‘So I'm all for a company putting themselves out there - in an albeit unusual fashion - to broadcast that they are a fertility clinic for lesbian women, because I couldn't name a clinic, could you?’ Amy continued. ‘Plus, for low income women or those lacking access or resources to trawl the world of fertility, the fact they’re actually being given an opportunity to access it is great. It’s all usually so expensive and generally caters to those who are not low income, disabled or people of colour.’
Sophie Wilkinson, a journalist from London, agreed too, not just because of the high cost to lesbian women, but also because said cost means they’re already resorting to potentially unsafe ways to conceive children.
Poorer lesbian women are finding sperm donors in less formalised ways.
‘As grim as it seems when it’s presented via an influencer’s peppy promotion page, the monetisation of fertility is happening on and offline, in far less sugar-coated ways,’ she says. ‘I know of lesbians who, due to the IVF postcode lottery, are paying upwards of £10k just to get access to NHS IVF that’s meant to be available to all infertile women for free. And for those who can’t afford it, they’re finding sperm donors through less formalised ways.
‘These men may not be in it for the right reasons - demanding “natural insemination” for example - and will also have rights over any child born, which makes things very complicated.’
And while she wouldn’t enter a giveaway like that herself, she knows it’s because of her privilege. ‘I wouldn’t ever compete for sperm online, and I’d like to tell myself because I think it’s a gross prospect, and that something as important as sperm - priced up a fair bit, I’d say - shouldn’t be part of a competition, but it's probably because I know can afford to have a child by other, slightly more socially acceptable means,’ she explains. ‘Poorer lesbians who want to be mums may turn to this, and so much worse, out of desperation to have a child.’
Ultimately then, given how fraught this process can be, something as simple as taking the cost of the vial of sperm for lesbian women can be a saving grace. Of course, there are still important things to consider before embarking on this journey.
'Before attempting to conceive through sperm donation it is important to first make sure you fully understand the regulatory framework involve, including legal parenthood aspects, and take the time to have all queries answered before signing consent,' explains Dr Geeta Nargund, Medical Director at CREATE Fertility. 'For some it can also be helpful to seek out counselling to make sure you are comfortable and fully prepared for the process.
'Crucial to ensuring both you and your future child’s health and safety is to only pursue sperm donation with specialist fertility advice and supervision at all times,' Dr. Nargund continues. 'This includes making sure you have undergone proper fertility checks and consultations, secure your donor sperm through a registered sperm bank, and that insemination is undertaken by a trained fertility specialist.'
According to Dr. Nargund, official sperm banks will undertake appropriate medical and genetic screening of donors, protecting the health of both the mother and her potential future offspring. You may also have to change your lifestyle to ensure you're healthy enough to conceive.
'When preparing for insemination it is also advisable to pursue a healthy lifestyle to help ensure your body is fertility ready,' Dr. Nargund adds. 'This includes eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy body weight, taking folic acid, addressing any existing medical issues, and trying to reduce stress where you can. All of these simple steps will help increase your chances of successfully falling pregnant.'
So, while an Instagram competition may seem a somewhat whimsical and blasé way to begin an attempt to conceive a child, for some women winning this prize could feel like a life changing opportunity they can't afford to pass up. And with that in mind, isn't it high time we reassessed just how inaccessible, expensive and exhausting the route to parenthood has become for some people?