When a woman needs to turn to artificial insemination to become pregnant, a sperm bank is a common solution. However, a San Diegan is now telling the world that it's not the only option.
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Inside a sperm bank, the personal assets deposited there stay frozen until their DNA attracts a buyer. Recipients can learn about a donor's medical history and favorite movies, but the only part of him they get to meet in person is the part that comes in a vial.
"You don't get a sense of who that person is," said Beth Gardner. "Everything is inheritable to a degree -- personality and all of that."
When Gardner, a business analyst in San Diego, and her partner started looking for a donor, they tried sperm banks but the anonymity of the donors wasn't for them.
"Very important to me to get to talk to this person and meet them and feel like they're a good person," said Gardner.
The cost can also quickly add up, as a woman needs one or two vials a month until she becomes pregnant.
"Our vials go anywhere from $300 to $500 per vial," said Joseph Richard, clinical director of the Fertility Center of California in San Diego.
"Realizing that we were going to spend $5,000 plus to get pregnant, we really had to talk a lot about was that money better used toward raising our children," said Gardner.
When they started looking for alternatives to the sperm bank, a friend told them about a Yahoo list online where people exchanged sperm for artificial insemination privately -- for free.
"One of the things that we found is there's not really a lot of resources out there that give a lot of information or really kind of summarize what is this about and do normal people do this and is it safe? How do you make it safe?" said Gardner.
After a lot of self-education, Gardner posted a donor-wanted message.
"Someone who's willing to have their identity known, someone who's willing to sign a contract and who obviously doesn't want to be a parent or who doesn't want to be involved," said Gardner.
Then they interviewed and checked out donors and their health, just like the sperm banks do.
"We start testing him for infectious disease and sexually transmitted disease," explained Richard of the San Diego sperm bank. "He goes through a physical and goes through a complete health screening."
Gardner acknowledged sperm banks can be more secure regarding STD testing because they are required by law to freeze and quarantine a donor's sperm for six months and then test the donor again.
"You're taking on the legwork yourself," said Gardner.
Obtaining a history of STD tests, running a background check and doing a genetic screening are some of the safety precautions Gardner said individuals can do.
In the midst of this, Gardner helped create a website called Free Sperm Donor Registry
to share everything she had learned.
"We thought, 'Well, we might as well start collecting this information and putting it in one place.' So that's what we did," said Gardner.
That effort got her a starring role in a cover story in Newsweek magazine (http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/10/02/free-sperm-donors-and-the-women-who-want-them.html
). It helped spread the word about the website, where you can browse for donors, look for advice and join discussion boards. Private donors can register on the site to get a donor number, which can later be used to connect children of donors.
"We are now looking for people, for some people who are passionate about the subject who can contribute, who can help some. It's all volunteer; it's a nonprofit site," said Gardner. "I'd really love to have an 'Ask the expert' corner where we could have women's health advocates or maybe an attorney."
The attorney is important because one of the most frequent questions asked of Gardner is about legal protection. In California, if a donor donates to a sperm bank, he does not have any parental rights or responsibilities by law. Individuals choosing a private donor are advised by Gardner to talk to a family law attorney and have a contract.
"It may be that it's really important for you to know who you're having children with, but you also want all those protections that come with a sperm bank," said Gardner. "So you may want to meet somebody and then have them go donate to a sperm bank and use it from a sperm bank."
Gardner and her partner recently found a local donor through the website -- someone they've gotten to know and met in person.
"And if our children -- if it's important for them to know who their biological father is, we will be able to give them that answer," said Gardner. "We have the whole story."
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