Reporter: Allison Langdon
Producer: Jo Townsend
They're the newest and most controversial operators on the fertility scene.
Private sperm donation websites operate like online dating services, matching up would-be mums with donor dads, for free.
Unlike traditional sperm banks, the woman actually gets to meet the potential dad. And he's encouraged to become involved in his new baby's life.
This is a do-it-yourself method of getting pregnant so it's light on romance and there are possible health risks.
But as Allison Langdon discovered, it's also produced lots of little love stories and some very modern families for the mums brave enough to try.
Brisbane mum Alison Rodgers has written a book about her experience, titled Making Roma. It can be found online at Amazon.
Emma Hartnell-Baker’s website has assisted thousands of women find a sperm donor online. Visit www.sperm-donors-worldwide.com.
There is also a Facebook group, DIYBaby.
ALLISON LANGDON: All Alison Rodgers has ever wanted is to be a mum. Now with her beautiful 16-month-old daughter, Roma – she lives a busy life in suburban Brisbane. But, it hasn’t been an easy road.
ALISON: As each relationship ended before it led to children and marriage, I would think, “Well, when’s this going to happen?”
ALLISON LANGDON: So you were becoming desperate?
ALISON: Yes I was definitely desperate. Being single and desperate, you know, it shows - and I didn’t like who I was. I didn’t want to be that person. I had to relieve this urge, I had to become a mother so that I could then be happy with myself and my life again.
ALLISON LANGDON: With no man on the scene, Alison decided to have a baby on her own. Man, she looks like you. A dead ringer for you. But, she wanted Roma to know who her dad was as she grew up - which meant the conventional route of an anonymous donation from a sperm bank wasn’t going to work. So, as you do, she went online.
ALISON: I wanted Roma to know who her biological father was so that she could answer any questions that came up during her life, as she grew up. You know, “What’s my donor look like?”, “What does he do for a living?”, “What - does he love me?” And fortunately, I found that someone in Wil.
ALLISON LANGDON: Wil Seilor and his wife Megan are organic farmers, who live four hours north-west of Brisbane. With three grown-up children and no plans to have more babies of their own, Wil started looking into becoming a sperm donor. Why did you decide to do this?
WIL: Because our kids were just so brilliant and we thought, you know, everyone should have that opportunity if they want to have a family.
ALLISON LANGDON: There must have been a bit of jealousy there at the start.
MEGAN: I think it was a very subconscious jealousy and it was probably society telling me that this shouldn’t happen. But it’s not like he’s gone out and had an affair. It’s just a gift. So you have to work through all those things in your mind, but I have come back to thinking, no, this is just perfect – it’s great.
ALLISON LANGDON: It might be unconventional, but it works. Alison and Roma often visit Wil and Megan on their farm.
ALISON: That’s a sheep, Roma. A sheep.
ALLISON LANGDON: It’s a very modern way of making a baby isn’t it?
ALISON: Yeah but it works!
ALLISON LANGDON: Obviously! Look at the joy that she’s bought into your life!
ALISON: That’s right.
WIL: That’s the thing, I think we are really winners, it has just enriched our lives and our kids’ lives - it has just been brilliant in that respect.
ALLISON LANGDON: Do you understand what you have done, Roma? Alison found Wil through a controversial Australian-based website called ‘Free Sperm Donors Worldwide’. It’s run much like an online dating service – but instead of looking for love, these women are looking for men to father their children. You do have to be careful, because I guess, going onto a website to find the father of your baby - you’re going to come across some loonies.
ALISON: Yes, yes and I did. I did - one in particular, he suggested doing it the natural way, which I quickly dismissed.
EMMA: I just think it is amazing when a man can think, you know, I am going to help an infertile couple to build their family. Now I have got over 4,500 men registered to help for free – no sex. Yes, absolutely, and I think there are such big moral, ethical issues.
ALLISON LANGDON: Emma Hartnell-Baker runs the Free Sperm Donors website from her home on the Gold Coast. And thanks to her site, there have been almost 3,000 little success stories. You’ve created thousands of families.
EMMA: I’ve facilitated it, at the end of the day, it is these men - these amazing men, who I couldn’t thank enough.
ALLISON LANGDON: I understand why women would sign up, but I don’t get what’s in it for the men?
EMMA: Actually, what motivates them is that they want to help build families. But they want to know who they are donating to.
ALLISON LANGDON: Once Alison and Wil decided to make a baby together, they left nothing to chance. They had Wil’s sperm quarantined for six months - where it was screened for HIV, STDs and genetic disorders. Did you feel a little bit like a stud bull?
WIL: Yeah, I try not to think about that too much.
ALLISON LANGDON: You’re having a giggle, Megan.
MEGAN: It was just such a clinical, awful process, so far removed from actually having the end product. We had to laugh about it.
ALLISON LANGDON: Do you consider yourself to be Roma’s dad?
WIL: No, I think Alison says grandparents. I try to think uncle and aunt, probably because that is a bit younger than grandparents.
ALLISON LANGDON: While being a sperm donor has been a one-off for Wil, for Trent Arsenault in California it’s his life’s work. Who’s this cutie?
TRENT: Tatiana. She’s coming up on two-years-old.
ALLISON LANGDON: The 36-year-old is America’s most prolific online sperm donor. And so, do most of the parents keep in contact with you?
TRENT: Emails, Facebook.
ALLISON LANGDON: He’s fathered 16 kids - has three on the way - and Trent wants a whole lot more.
TRENT: It brightens my day, every time I hear something that’s positive about one of the babies.
ALLISON LANGDON: Is this your way of leaving a mark on the world?
TRENT: I’m not setting out to make millions and millions of copies of myself as a donor. That’s not my motivation. I think there is always going to be haters or people who are - see this all creepy.
ALLISON LANGDON: Is it not a little creepy?
TRENT: I don’t think it’s weird to want to help people in the way that I do. These are families who have been struggling for years to have a baby, and this is - this can be their only option to conceive.
REBECCA: Trent! Hey, how’s it going? Long time no see!
TRENT: Rebecca, yeah, it seems like it has been forever.
ALLISON LANGDON: Rebecca and Josh Ludikhuize are the latest parents-to-be that Trent has helped to conceive.
REBECCA: Almost four months ago now.
TRENT: Yeah. The beginning of the year, I think?
ALLISON LANGDON: Oh, so the last time you saw each other was when you made the baby?
REBECCA: Yeah, yeah!
ALLISON LANGDON: Just four months ago, with no more fanfare than delivering a pizza, Trent handed Rebecca a jar of his sperm. And using a do-it-yourself insemination kit, half an hour later the job was done.
ALLISON LANGDON: A driveway is a pretty strange place to make a baby!
REBECCA: Doesn’t matter, as long as it works!
ALLISON LANGDON: Happily, it did work. But it’s been a long, hard eight years getting to this point. Josh is infertile. Two years ago they adopted a son, Jonah, but still Rebecca couldn’t silence the yearning for a child of her own. Then they found Trent online – offering free sperm, with a remarkable quality-control guarantee. This father of 16 is - wait for it - a virgin.
TRENT: The safety of these mothers and the unborn children is my utmost concern and I don’t want to pass on sexually transmitted diseases - and I think remaining a virgin helps that part - the safety part of what I do tremendously.
ALLISON LANGDON: Do you not think it’s strange that he’s a 36-year-old virgin who has fathered 16 kids and has three more on the way?
JOSH: How can I sit back and say that - one of the most difficult things in fertility has been the judgement of other people on me - and then me turn around and pass judgement on someone else, for them trying to help other people.
REBECCA: Babies aren’t bad – babies are a miracle, they’re a blessing, they’re a gift, and I don’t understand why people would judge the way a baby comes into this world.
ALLISON LANGDON: While this do-it-yourself sperm-donor industry is booming – it is almost completely unregulated. There are no compulsory medical checks and no legal protection for the men who donate the sperm. They can be hit with child support claims. And for the mums, donor dads can suddenly change their minds and seek custody. Everyone involved is rolling the dice – and just hoping for the best.
EMMA: I do everything that I possibly can, but ultimately it’s up to those people that use the site to get their donor tested - to really look into who they’re using. But I don’t want people to think this is all rosy-coloured and easy and safe and whatever. Of course it’s not.
ALLISON LANGDON: Enter into it with your eyes open?
EMMA: Absolutely, and then open them even more.
ALISON: Here you go, look, there’s your storybook. There, who’s that? That’s you, Roma. That’s Wil! That’s your donor Wil. Wil lives on a farm.
ALLISON LANGDON: All the dangers, all the complexities of finding a donor dad online, are nowhere to be found when it comes to Roma and her extended family.
There’s no doubt, they’ve been lucky. And they’re further proof of just how quickly this world is changing what it means to be a family.
ALISON: There was a lot to it and it’s been a long journey but definitely worthwhile. She’s in my life every day. There’s happiness every day. There’s love every day.
ALLISON LANGDON: Did you underestimate what it was going to be like becoming a mum?
ALISON: How much I love her? Yes, yes. I do love her very much and I don’t regret a single minute.