Donor conception has been helping people become parents for decades – giving hope to couples facing infertility, same-sex couples and single women who choose to embark on their parenthood journey without a partner.
Whilst this incredible form of assisted fertility is definitely something to be celebrated, going down the route of donor conception can initially be intimidating and overwhelming. A growing community of parents with experience of donor conception are sharing their stories on social media, on a mission to show people that this route to parenthood is just as wonderful as any other – and offer encouragement and support to people on the same journey.
But the one thing that this community can’t quite do, is articulate what it’s like to be conceived using donor sperm or eggs. Enter Emma Grønbæk aka Donor Child – the young Danish woman sharing her story of being donor-conceived and becoming an author, public speaker and total inspiration in the process!
Emma’s Donor Conception Story
Emma’s story begins with her parents’ story, really. They were trying for their first baby for around 6 months when they realised that there may be an issue conceiving. Both working as doctors, they understood the potential for fertility challenges and took a proactive approach to identifying the problem. “I think my Dad got his sperm tested, as they had a feeling quite early on that his fertility was the main reason they didn’t become pregnant straight away.” Emma explains.
Back in the 90s, assisted fertility treatments weren’t what they are today and Emma’s parents acknowledge fairly quickly that using donor sperm may be the best chance of them having a child. They went to many fertility clinics over the years and after 6 years of trying they successfully conceived Emma through IVF. 25 years later, Emma is sharing her experience of being a donor conceived child and the approach her family took to talking about that with her as she grew up.
Transparency and communication
Many parents going down the route of donor conception, worry about how they will explain the process to their child – when is the right time to tell them? And how do you explain such a complex concept? For Emma and her family, transparency was key and her parents were always open and honest about how she was conceived. Emma doesn’t really remember a time she didn’t know she was donor conceived and her parents were always willing to have age appropriate conversations with her to explain. “They would tell me a story about how they wanted a baby but it wasn’t easy for them, and when they had almost given up hope, a nice man helped us become a family. He didn’t play a role in my life but he has always been mentioned” Emma recalls.
As Emma got older, her questions got deeper and less frequent – but her parents were always willing to tell her the truth and help her understand where she came from. “If anything popped up we would always talk about it openly as a family – I think honesty is key to a happy child and a happy family dynamic – and that’s definitely what I experienced.”
Love over genetics
Emma’s family proves what so many donor parents hope for – that a family can be just as close, even if they’re not all genetically linked. For Emma, the fact her parents fought so hard to have her only makes her feel more valued and adored by them. “You feel so loved. That’s what I always try to communicate – on my platform and in my book – that the most important thing, when creating a family, is love”
When assisted fertility treatments became more advanced, Emma’s parents went on to have twin girls through ICSI.The three sisters are just like any other siblings and the bond Emma feels with them is no different, despite the different ways they were conceived. “The fact that my sisters are my Dad’s biological children and I’m not doesn’t impact our relationship – and actually, we were quite old when we sat down and realised we were technically half-siblings!”
Sometimes Emma does notice the genetic differences between her and other members of her family – “I’m lactose intolerant, which I definitely get from the donor and my Mum often comments that my mouth is a little different!” – but for her, it’s love over genetics every time.
As Emma’s donor was anonymous she has never had any contact with him – and that’s not something that worries her. “I have never wanted to have contact or to know any more about him. I’m grateful towards him but I do not need him to be a part of my life. I If I ever want to try to get more information about him, I know I have my family’s support to go for it .”
Writing the Book
Being donor conceived had never formed a huge part of Emma’s identity – but that all changed a couple of years ago when she decided to start a blog and share her story. “I realised there
wasn’t a voice like mine out there.” she explains “There were plenty of stories about donor conceived children who had had a bad experience, so I thought that it was important for people to know that that’s not always the case”. Through her blog, Emma wanted to give hope to couples going down the road of donor conception, be a positive advocate for the process and show how happy donor conceived children and their families can be – but she never imagined the impact it would have.
After the blog came the book – Donor Child: a child of love – which has been translated from Danish to English – so Emma’s story can reach and help even more people. Her recent Instagram @donorchild was a result of wanting to interact more with people. Just as Emma’s family have been supportive of her opening up publicly about her experience, they played a key role in the creation of the book and Emma’s growing platform. “In writing the book I had to go a lot deeper with my questions and my understanding, but my family were there every step of the way” says Emma “My sisters even drew all the illustrations that are in the book and my parents helped me proofread the whole thing and also have joined me on my Instagram Lives, so parents can hear from their side of the experience too!”
Emma is now a huge public advocate for – not only donor conception – but fertility awareness in general. She uses her platform to have important conversations around different routes to parenthood and to educate people on the realities of a fertility journey. “I’ve grown up knowing how big of a struggle fertility can be and the huge loss people can feel when they are trying for years,” she says. “It’s really important that your people get educated on this sort of stuff and realise fertility is not something to be taken for granted.”
In terms of her own plans to start a family, Emma’s not quite there yet! But she is taking a proactive approach to understanding her fertility. “I’ve seen how hard it can be to conceive, and it has made me more aware of my on fertility – if I wasn’t in this space, I would probably not think much about it, but it is something I have in mind when I’m planning my life – I would love to have a family as happy as mine one day!”
Considering using donor conception but don’t know where to start? Check out our handy guide to finding a sperm donor!