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July 15th 2013 print

Philippa Martyr

The facts of life

The child is the father of the man, but it's still handy to know a little about his grandfather's DNA. Single mums by choice, please take note


According to The West Australian this morning, WA family planning GP Dr Angela Cooney has heard anecdotal reports that some Australian women are considering travelling to eastern Europe to get donor sperm because they do not want ‘their child’ to have contact with his or her biological father. Ever. At all.


There seems to be no shortage of anonymous sperm in WA at present, especially not on a Friday night (or payday) in any nightspot across the State. But apparently this system, though often effective, is fraught with dangers. Also the candidates have not been screened for genetic and other diseases, and they may not have the eye colour you want in a child, and goodness only knows where they went to school, because Ptolemy/Ottoline must have what it takes to excel at Alsatian College (where you’ve already enrolled them, pre-conception).

I mean, you don’t just want any old sperm.

I think we need to get back to some basics here: Sperm. Makes. People.

I’ll say that one more time: Sperm. Makes. People.

Sperm doesn’t make foetuses, or embryos, or babies, or toddlers, or teenagers. Sperm makes people. People just like you.

Interesting, isn’t it?

Australian law insists that a person – someone like you or I – has the right to know where that sperm came from. But apparently Australian men are a lot less willing to share the wealth since the law was changed to allow a person to know who contributed the sperm that made them, and also to make contact with him.  This is because these men know that their few millilitres of transitory good time can turn into someone 5’ 10” with a shy grin, or with long brown curly hair just like their own dear mum’s. They know that sperm makes people.

Dr Cooney said that the women in question “want to get sperm ‘no questions asked’ because they would actually prefer an anonymous donor … These women don’t want an identifiable person who might be chasing them down the track, so the issue of not wanting to get involved or have ties seems to be the case for women as well as men.”

So naturally these women – who I suspect are not the sharpest tools in the shed – are going to places where there’s a huge demand for entry to countries like Australia, and where there’s lots of corruption, so Grigori can slip the clerk a few bucks to make sure he knows exactly where his sperm went, so that in future he can arrive in Australia with a happy smile and a completed visa form.

What these women have also forgotten is that sperm makes people. This is funny, really, because in the pre-Pill days it was the other way around. Women were the ones who had to remember that sperm made people, because men tended to forget this out of sheer joie de vivre.

Sperm also doesn’t make ‘their child’. ‘Their child’ is too often a project initiated to compete with other women, or compensate for loneliness or heartbreak, or fulfil themselves, or challenge themselves, or prove something to a hostile world, or because they weren’t mature or responsible enough to get a cat or dog and be happy without stretchmarks and varicose veins, and be rude right back to people who are rude enough to ask when they’re going to get married.

‘Their child’ will also allow them to do a pregnancy photo shoot and later on dress the poor moppet in uncomfortable clothes for display. At present, these poor women are also fantasising about pureeing all the baby food themselves, banning television, and using flashcards to have Ottoline speaking Japanese by 18 months. Oh, poor deluded fools.

‘Their child’ will also only last 18 years, which is a bit longer than a new car. Babies turn into toddlers after two years, then school kids, then teenagers, and then adults. And while you’ve ensured that you’ll be ‘safe’ from some stranger intruding into ‘your’ life with ‘your child’, that adult person you created – and can no longer control – is going to live for around 80 years.

Or possibly not. After all, you chose to get anonymous sperm from Eastern Europe – a place not famous for hygiene, efficiency, policy adherence, safety and scruples. Think Chernobyl, bride-trafficking, the Mafia, Ukrainian orphanages, Vladimir Putin, and political murders.

So when Ptolemy develops mystery mental or physical symptoms, it’s really quite handy to know that his uncle on his father’s side spent most of his life in a mental institution, and that his paternal grandfather died in middle age of bowel cancer. When Ottoline starts smashing up cars under the influence of expensive private-school-kid drugs, it will also be very helpful to explain to her that you chose an anonymous sperm donor from Kaputistan because you thought a father would mess up her life.

Contrary to popular belief, I am not a heartless cow. I know exactly what it’s like to want a child and not be able to have one. But because I have had extensive experience with Brand Baby since I was 10 years old, I also have no illusions about the amount of work, heartbreak, blood, sweat, tears, consistency, self-sacrifice, discipline and headaches that are involved in raising one. 

Sole parenthood is twice as hard as normal parenthood. When it happens in an unexpected way, it’s manageable if you have plenty of support. But if you deliberately choose it, to the point of being willing to break the law to achieve it, then you a mug, plain and simple.

One more time: Sperm. Makes. People.

Philippa Martyr blogs at Transverse City. She has a cat, is happy without stretchmarks and varicose veins, and is extremely rude to people who ask her when she’s getting married.