by Ashley Fetters
July 9, 2018
“My hope is that people think about how this is more than a transaction,” says one family therapist.
Sperm donation offers a tidy solution to an aggravating problem: When a person or a couple wants a baby and needs a different ingredient than what they’ve currently got to make one, a man with viable sperm swoops in to help.
…As simple a transaction as sperm donation can seem to be, though, some find it to be stressful or isolating—and because assisted reproductive technology is a relatively new, rapidly developing field, the social and emotional challenges that can arise between the participants in a sperm donation are, for many, uncharted.
There are two well-established ways to go about the process of sperm donation: Prospective parents can use a sperm sample from a friend, acquaintance, or family member (often called a “known” or “directed” donation) or arrange to use a (usually heavily vetted) stranger’s sample through a sperm bank or fertility clinic.
Even decades after these practices have become common and their intricacies should theoretically be common knowledge, many of those who opt for sperm donation are still consistently surprised by all the ways it can shape—in some cases straining and, in others, enhancing—family dynamics.
One such consistently surprised group is made up of infertile men. Aaron Buckwalter, a Los Angeles-based marriage and family therapist, has spent 15 years specializing in fertility challenges and what he calls “men’s issues.” His job often includes helping men cope with the cultural expectations attached to traditional manhood in the context of reproduction.
… When Buckwalter counsels heterosexual couples who are weighing their options as they deal with infertility, he finds male partners to be “much more attached to these ideas of ownership and [the child being] ‘mine,’ and much more tied to the genetic connection in terms of what it means psychologically or what it means emotionally” than female partners considering egg donation.
These men are often grappling with the question, Is this my child or someone else’s? “That’s a tough struggle for a lot of guys when I meet them,” Buckwalter says.
One reason for that may be that it’s the female partner who has a biological connection to the child, through pregnancy.
Buckwalter also mentions a sort of “primordial jealousy” that can arise when men are unable to procreate—one based in an evolutionary response to the threat of another male impregnating their partner or mate.
This seems entirely natural, and so, Buckwalter says, many men have to make an effort to shake it off: “Oh, I’m being a Neanderthal here. I shouldn’t think this way.”
… But Buckwalter says men should be encouraged to acknowledge any anxiety, pain, or shame they feel throughout the process.