'Single and desperate to have a baby, I slept with a sperm donor'
Leila Knox, 47, opens her heart about her quest to get pregnant at any cost
Ever since I was a little girl I've wanted a big family. I'm from the UK and my parents split up when I was three and I was an only child until I was 11, when my first half-brother was born. I'd always had this fantasy that having lots of children would be wonderful.
I married when I was 24 but as time went on, our relationship deterioriated and I left when I was 30.
Unfortunately my second marriage also broke up within a few years, before we had a chance to have chilren.
I hoped that I would meet someone else but, with time ticking by, I started to panic that I was heading towards the end of my fertility, so I began looking into various options.
Egg freezing was too expensive and had limited success, and IVF seemed too dramatic, with all the drugs involved. Then in 2006 I got into another serious relationship and assumed this to be the man I would have children with. When it suddenly ended, I felt as though the ground had been ripped from beneath me.
Eventually I found a fertility clinic willing to treat single women. In 2008 I had my first attempt at IUI (intrauterine insemination) using donor sperm, and was thrilled to become pregnant. I never expected it to go wrong, but soon after I had a miscarriage.
I was devastated, but my way of coping was immediately to try again. I had three more unsuccessful sessions of IUI at the clinic, but I was so uncomfortable with how little information they could give me about the donors that I started to wonder if subconsciously this was stopping me getting pregnant.
By this point I had spent more than €12,000 on treatment. Despite being 45 at the time, the specialist said that my eggs were better than many a 35-year-old.
At first I had no idea that there was an alternative to the clinic, but then in September last year I came across a website that offered to match women with potential sperm donors.
I have done a lot of internet dating over the years so, although this had an entirely different purpose, I put up my profile and photo. I discovered that some donors offered artificial insemination (AI) -- the syringe method -- and others "natural insemination" (NI); in other words, sex.
My immediate preference was AI: it seemed neat, clean and clinical, but as time went on I became more open to the idea of NI. From researching the subject, and from the donors' stories on the site, I believe that you are far more likely to conceive that way. But I knew I'd have to meet the donor first to decide. All of them claimed to be doing it for altruistic reasons, but I'm cynical enough to realise that many simply wanted free sex.
One guy I met, Seamus*, wanted to be a full co-parent. He was fairly attractive in his photo and seemed intelligent, so I agreed to meet him. I met him three times before we did the AI. He came to my flat six times over the five days I was ovulating.
I found the whole experience traumatic. It was weird having this guy masturbating in my bathroom. He didn't feel comfortable doing it with me in the flat, so I'd have to walk my dog around the block about 300 times until he texted me to say that he'd finished. Being handed this specimen pot was disgusting. I did conceive, but immediately miscarried. In a way it was a relief, because I never wanted to see him again.
After that I was reluctant to do AI again and started to move towards natural insemination. I reasoned that sex is the natural way and for animals the purpose of having sex is procreation rather than pleasure.
Then in October last year I found the website co-parentmatch.com, which is for women looking for sperm donors or co-parents.
I received 50-100 messages from potential donors, but I replied only to seven. Some sites ban all mentions of NI, but with this one you are allowed to tick it as a preference, although it recommends taking your donor to a licensed fertility clinic.
One donor who stood out was Paul*. He was 33, single and had joint residence of his two children by a past girlfriend.
I liked that he was an involved parent and he said that he wanted to help others who couldn't have children. Over several emails I made it clear that I couldn't decide about NI until we met. I bought an AI kit just in case. Paul met me in a pub. We spent three hours talking about ourselves.
It felt partly like a date, partly like a business meeting. Eventually he said: "OK, I do have to go back to work soon, so what's the verdict?"
I told him that I still didn't know if I could go through with it, but that we'd go back to my flat. I'm not sexually promiscuous and even on a first date with someone fantastic, it's unlikely I'd sleep with him straight away, so this was a big deal. But once we got to the flat I thought: "I've come this far, NI is so much simpler and more likely to work than AI."
Of course, it still felt odd to have sex for the purpose of getting pregnant with someone I had just met. Until the last second I wasn't sure if I could go through with it. I was battling my own desire to say no with my goal to become pregnant.
Sensing that I was still unsure, he said, "Let's make it like a normal date", and then I kind of relaxed into it. I was on autopilot at first but, surprisingly, the sex turned out to be quite good. It was a bit like having sex with a friend.
Afterwards, he quickly showered and put on his suit and we thanked each other profusely, which I found funny. After he left, I felt euphoric, thinking: "That was so easy." I invited him back the following night, just to make sure that it worked. It was still pretty awkward the second time.
When I found out a few days later that I was pregnant, I was thrilled. To my amazement, an early scan showed that I was expecting twins. Then at eight weeks I had a miscarriage.
I focused on this being the farthest I'd managed to get in a pregnancy. To make it to eight weeks felt like a big step forward. When I emailed Paul to say that I'd miscarried, he replied saying: "Sorry to hear that, good luck."
I've had a few months off, and now I'm emailing two other donors. Once I've met them, I might consider NI with them. One is a blond, blue-eyed man who lives in Montreal.
The other is a Danish guy in his twenties, 6ft 4in, and seems articulate and intelligent. I'm prepared to travel to meet them.
I still hope to meet Mr Right and have children with him. I'll be honest about my experiences and if he's the right man he'll understand. I'd be honest with my child, too -- children appreciate love and honesty.
I know that some people might find it hard to understand what I do. My mother was shocked when I first told her. My father doesn't know. I do care what others think, but I won't let that govern my decisions.
Not having a child, when all your friends are married with children, can be socially isolating. I just hope one day I can become a mother too.
* Some names have been changed
Interview by Emma Elms In Ireland there are five clinics that offer sperm donation and Artificial Insemination. Morehampton Clinic, Donnybrook, which was the first to introduce donation in Ireland in 1979, has now been joined by The Kilkenny Clinic; ReproMed Consultancy Services, Sandyford; The Northumberland Clinic, Dun Laoghaire; and SIMS International Fertility Clinic, Dundrum. Costs range upwards from €650. Online sperm donation sites for AI such as Free-sperm-donations.com, a global network of more than 3,000 donors, also operate here while Natural Insemination and Co Parenting sites like co-parentmatch.com has a database of Irish donors.