Early menopause meant Olivia* (29) and her partner started on their parenting journey earlier than they anticipated.
“I always had really weird periods. They might last for 10 days or I’d get two in one month. I’d always go back to the doctor and once she sent me for an ultrasound, but it came back all clear. I also had smear tests and they all came back clear too."
At 29-years-old, Olivia* found out she was going into early menopause. She found out after she paid for a full fertility check last January.
When the nurse rang her with the results, she couldn't believe the news.
“I was like 'she's got the wrong person here'. I really wasn’t expecting her to say that.”
The average age for going through menopause is about 50. Premature or early menopause is considered a relatively rare condition. There are currently no figures available in Ireland. In Britain, one in 100 women under the age of 40 have the condition and one in 1,000 people under the age of 30, according to the National Health Service (NHS).
We’re two women, so we knew we would have to go down the sperm donor route.
For Olivia, early menopause meant having to make a swift decision around parenthood.
“I wasn’t planning on having a baby really, but I decided to do it now rather than wait. I never wanted to look back thinking that ‘I should’ve done it’,” Olivia explained.
“We’re two women, so we knew we would have to go down the sperm donor route,” she said.
Olivia’s fiancée also wanted to have a child, so the couple decided to do an IUI treatment using a sperm donor. If IUI wasn’t effective after three to six rounds, they would try IVF.
IUI is a less invasive process than IVF and involves placing sperm inside a woman's uterus to facilitate fertilisation.
“I absolutely loved picking our sperm donor, but my partner wasn’t as into it. She found it kind of weird, but I loved it,” recalled Olivia.
The couple used a website to pick their sperm donor.
In Ireland, there are no licensed sperm banks and most sperm is imported from two donor banks in Denmark.
Many sperm donation websites offer home delivery of the sperm sample. This means it a person or couple can administer the transfer themselves. A Supreme Court decision in 2009, rules if a child is conceived in this way, the birth mother and the donor will be recognised as the legal parents. Therefore, couples looking to both be the legal guardians must undergo the sperm transfer in a clinic.
In Ireland, there are no licensed sperm banks and most sperm is imported from two donor banks in Denmark. In a recent submission the Irish Fertility Society (IFS), which represents professionals in reproductive medicine, asked the Department of Health not to prohibit anonymous donations of genetic material, such as sperm, for at least 10 years, claiming that this would cut off supplies from outside Ireland.
The Government is planning to ban anonymous gamete donations and set up a national register of donor-conceived people as part of new regulations to protect the interests of children born through donor treatments. These children would be able to access the register after they turn 18.
This means that although the person using the donor cannot receive identifying information about the donor, at the age of 18, the child conceived can.
Non-anonymous donors, like anonymous donors, have no paternal rights and are not allowed information about the recipient or child.
This website Olivia and her fiancée used gives a lot of information about “non-anonymous” sperm donors, although none of these makes them identifiable. They even use false names. However, it does provide information such as their race, ethnicity, hair colour, eye colour, weight, height, blood type, occupation and education.
The minute I saw the profile of the guy we chose, I knew that this was my baby.
“Also, you can see pictures of them as a baby,” explains Olivia.
“It’s kind of weird but I loved it. The minute I saw the profile of the guy we chose, I knew that this was my baby.
"When I looked at the picture of the man as a child and I said ‘that’s my baby, my baby is going to look like that’. It was really weird," she added.
The couple chose a man who was three-quarters Irish and one-quarter German and who had some physical characteristics similar to the couple.
The couple could only order the sperm if the donor hadn’t donated to Ireland more than three times. Each country has a different quota of how many families one donor can donate to.
Their donor had never given sperm to a family in Ireland, so was approved to donate to Olivia.
“We gave the fake name of the donor we wanted to use to our clinic, they ordered it and when it came in, we were all ready to go.”
Olivia received her first IUI treatment in March 2018, just three months after her initial fertility test. Before she began the treatment, she had to take vitamins and administer injections containing different hormones at home, to ensure she had the best possible chance of conceiving.
“After my very first attempt at IUI, I got pregnant,” Olivia said with a huge smile, her six-month-old baby boy bouncing on her lap.
Olivia was lucky to conceive after her first attempt. On average, a woman under 35 has a 10 to 20 per cent chance of getting pregnant with each IUI. A woman over 40 has a two to five per cent chance.
“It’s so weird because at 29, I just wasn’t ready to have a baby.
"I wanted to hike Machu Picchu for my 30th birthday, but I was pregnant on my 30th birthday instead! But I’m so glad.”
Image: Sushyeon Cho via Unsplash
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