At ExSeed it’s always our aim to help you improve your sperm health as you embark on your fertility journey. But we also know that there is no one way to build a family and that your journey can take you in many different directions. Over the last few years we have been lucky enough to meet, collaborate and partner with so many incredible people who have all had their unique road to parenthood.
If you are one of the 1 in 7 couples that are facing infertility, sometimes it might feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, but we wanted to highlight all of the options you have available to you and remind you that there is no one ‘right’ way to build a family.
The world of assisted fertility is pretty incredible. Whether you are struggling with fertility or are in a same-sex couple, medical advancements mean there are now so many different ways you can conceive. When you first decide to go down this route, it can be a bit overwhelming – especially with all the new lingo and acronyms. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common terms you might hear.
IVF is one of the most common assisted fertility treatments. It can be helpful for couples who are experiencing issues with ovulation, egg quality or if the sperm is struggling with count or motility. It’s also great if you are using donor sperm or eggs. Through IVF, eggs are harvested from the female partner or donor and combined with a sperm sample in a laboratory. The sperm are then left to fertilise the egg on their own. Once a viable embryo has been created, it is placed back into the womb where it hopefully implants and develops into a healthy pregnancy.
IVF can be a tough process and involves a lot of hormonal medication for the female partner. Success rates vary but IVF has been helping people become parents for over 40 years, and the number of babies created through IVF is increasing all the time!
You know those pictures you always see in articles about IVF, with the needle going into the egg? Yeah, that’s actually not IVF, that’s ICSI. The process of ICSI is almost identical to IVF but the doctors take a single sperm cell and inject It into the egg. It can be very useful for people with low sperm count or poor motility.
IUI and ICI
IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) and ICI (Intracervical Insemination) are both forms of artificial insemination. The difference is that with IUI the sperm is inserted directly into the uterus (and must be done at a clinic) whereas with ICI it is inserted into the cervix – it’s possible for this to be done at home.
Both of these procedures can be supported with fertility drugs, but generally speaking, they closely mimic natural conception. It is often the choice favoured by people using donor sperm as it’s more affordable than IVF. It’s important to know the difference between ICI and IUI when thinking about the sperm sample you are using. Washed sperm has to be used with IUI, whereas unwashed can be used with ICI.
If you are considering assisted fertility treatment, here are some helpful resources for you.
Our ExSeed Talks webinar on sperm health and assisted fertility
Advice on going abroad for IVF
Advice on what to do when waiting for fertility treatment
Our thoughts on why a sperm test can help you on an assisted fertility journey
Donor Sperm & Eggs
Using donor sperm or eggs can be something that many couples struggle with at first – as it will involve one or both of you not being genetically linked to the child. However, in our experience, we have seen so many beautiful families created in this way and are constantly reminded that it is love that bonds a family – not genetics.
There are lots of decisions to make when it comes to using donor sperm (or eggs) – from what kind of donor you want to how you want fertilisation to take place. For some people, they choose to go with a private donor (someone they know) and conceive through ICI (at home insemination). For others, you might buy sperm from a sperm bank and go through an IVF process.
If you are considering donor conception, here are some helpful resources.
Advice on where to find a sperm donor in the UK
Our interview with Emma Grønbæk aka Donor Child
Our ExSeed Talks with Shaun from Knackered Knackers
Our EXseed Talks with Gareth Landy aka Pretty Fly for XXY
You can also check out the Knackered Knackers community, where Shaun shares more about his experience of becoming a father through donor sperm.
Surrogacy can be a wonderful way to build a family – and people consider this route for a few different reasons. Potentially you are a same-sex couple where neither of you has the ability to carry a child, or you could be in a heterosexual relationship but the female partner is unable to carry for medical reasons. Whatever brings you to surrogacy, there can be a lot to get your head around at first, but it’s a brilliant way to grow your family.
Surrogacy often brings together all of the above in terms of conception. You may be using donor eggs – or even sperm – and it’s likely you’ll go through an assisted fertility treatment to actually conceive. From a legal perspective, surrogacy laws differ quite dramatically from country to country. In the UK for example, you are not allowed to pay surrogates, so many people partner with someone they know who is willing to carry their child for them. In the States, however, you can pay somebody, so the set-up is slightly different there.
If you are considering surrogacy conception, here are some helpful resources.
Our advice on surrogacy and sperm health
Our partnership with Two Dads UK
You can also join the My Surrogacy Journey community run by our friends at Two Dads UK
Adoption is also an option to consider. When moving through a fertility journey, some people realise that for them being a parent is about raising a child and helping to shape a life – rather than having a baby. If this sounds like you, adoption could be an amazing route to family life.
For some families, this might mean adopting a child already within a familial unit – like a step-child – but for others, you might have to go through the process of being matched with and legally adopting a child who needs a family. Whilst this might not take the same physical toll as conception and pregnancy, it is rarely straightforward and can have an impact on your emotional wellbeing whilst you wait for the process to complete. There’s a lot of support out there, so make sure you invest in it.
If you are considering adoption here are some helpful resources.
Advice on adopting a child from overseas
This lovely book on explaining adoption to kids
However you build your family, and however long it takes, the journey will make you even better parents. The hardship and the effort you go through will be reflected in the love you have for your kids – and the love they have for you! – and that will make it all worth it in the end.