Emilee Rausch always wanted kids, but she wanted the timing to be right. She figured she would hold a steady job, find the right partner and then prepare for motherhood. By her mid-30s, she was ready—but a partner hadn’t yet materialized. When Rausch confided this to an ex-boyfriend, he surprised her by offering his sperm.
“I don’t think I’d ever thought it was something that I could do on my own,” says Rausch, an HR manager living in Saskatoon. “But just him getting that idea in my head was enough to start the wheels turning.”
She and her ex met up a few times to see if they could make the arrangement work. But soon after, he started dating someone. It was too complicated. She then made an appointment with a fertility clinic to explore intrauterine insemination (IUI), but that felt too medicalized for Rausch. In the end, she opted for a more independent approach: Facebook.
In 2021, she joined a group called Canadian Sperm Donors and Recipients and posted a blurb: She was single, 37, living in Saskatoon and looking for sperm. She wanted a written contract, but details like travel, method of insemination and contact after birth were all negotiable. Within a day, a dozen or so men had responded. Some were creepy, she recalls, but one stood out as promising. He was 33, from Winnipeg, and had a child of his own with an ex-girlfriend.
The two began messaging back and forth about their expectations, talking almost every day for about three weeks. They agreed on a lot. Neither wanted the donor to play a role in the future child’s life, for instance, or to be named on the birth certificate. But they both wanted the child to have access to him, to be able to ask questions when older. Rausch agreed not to identify him until the child was 14—earlier if the man consented. The donor asked about her financial stability. (Good.) She asked how many women he was planning to help out. (Only a few.) “We were just on the same page about a lot of things.” Over the weeks, without involving a lawyer, they pieced together a contract they were both comfortable with.
The donor agreed to drive the 800-odd kilometres from his place to hers. “We sat down and chatted and signed the agreement,” says Rausch. It was the first time they’d been face to face—they hadn’t even had a video call. “Then we went out for dinner at a local burger place.”
The visit was carefully timed to when Rausch was ovulating. That night and the next morning, they did what is known as “natural insemination”—sexual intercourse. “As a heterosexual female with no known fertility issues, it’s just the most efficient and natural way of doing it,” she says. “Anything else just seems so unnecessarily complicated.” He stayed at her place for two nights. Unfortunately, she didn’t get pregnant.
The next month, he was going to be in Regina for work and wondered if she wanted to give it another try. She did; the timing in her cycle was good. She drove down and got a room in the same hotel where he was staying with a co- worker. He slipped down to her room that night. “I would say it was more mechanical the second time,” says Rausch. “I was definitely there to get it done.”
And she did. Her son, Simon, was born in May.
Rausch is among a growing number of people turning to social media to meet sperm donors. And there’s no shortage of platforms promising to match people like her with men like her donor. Beyond Facebook groups, which often have thousands of members, there are apps and forums, such as Just a Baby, Co-ParentMatch and Known Donor Registry. Some have even turned to dating apps like Tinder. It’s impossible to know exactly how many would-be Canadian parents are creating their families this way each year, but it is easily in the hundreds and possibly in the thousands.
Many Canadians seeking donor insemination use sperm banks. In Canada, there are only two: ReproMed in Toronto, which currently has 29 donors on its roster, and Clinique Ovo in Montreal, which has 22. As a result, about 90 percent of all official donor sperm used in Canada is imported from U.S. banks.
A major reason people turn to social media to connect with donors is cost. Sperm purchased through a bank or fertility clinic rings in at about $1,000 per vial, and it can take several tries to get pregnant. Then there’s the cost of IUI, which involves a doctor placing sperm inside the uterus with a long plastic tube; that can be about $1,000, depending on the province. That doesn’t include the cost of any medications or other procedures. All told, getting to conception using a fertility clinic can set a person back several thousand dollars.
Rausch’s insemination, on the other hand, was free.
Cost was also a factor for Chastin and William Carriere, a couple in Hamilton, Ont. They were already raising three children, aged 14, 12 and 3, from Chastin’s previous relationship, but they wanted another child together. It was no longer safe for Chastin to carry a baby, so William, who is transgender, agreed to do it. “There are people who can afford to have children,” says Chastin, “but cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars making that child.”
They started with a post in Canadian Sperm Donors and Recipients. Chastin and William are both white, but their older kids have a Black dad, and the couple wanted their next child to share that racial background. They hoped the Facebook group would give them better access to Black donors—sperm banks notoriously lack diversity—but Chastin recalls that the group had only three.
One Black donor messaged them. After chatting with him on Facebook for 10 days—about his work, how many people he was helping out and his history of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—they decided to go ahead. Unlike Rausch, however, the couple was not interested in physical contact—and they made that clear. The process they chose, known as “artificial insemination” (AI), typically involves a man ejaculating into a cup and leaving it for the recipient to self- inseminate. Some recipients use a special syringe for insemination; others ask the man to put his semen into a specific type of soft plastic cup that can be inserted for insemination.
But after the Carrieres’ donor arrived and signed the contract, he took William aside and quietly suggested sex was an option if he was interested. William was most definitely not. “I grabbed the cup, put it in his hand and said, ‘The bathroom’s upstairs,’” he recalls. “‘If I wanted to do it a different way, you would already have known that.’”
William did not get pregnant that time. And despite the drawbacks of that first encounter, the couple tried with that donor again. “We were at a point where we really need this; we really want this,” says Chastin, “so we’re going to take what we can get.” This time, they received the cup of semen through their car window in a Walmart parking lot.
Being pressured to have sex when everyone has already agreed to AI is more common than one might think. It’s especially a problem for women who are in their late 30s who feel their chances might be running out. Chastin has heard the same: “I just feel for those women that are pushed to have sex with donors, because they want this baby so bad.”
Sometimes it’s hard to read a donor’s intentions. One Toronto woman, who spoke to Chatelaine on the condition of anonymity, was waiting for a semen drop-off one morning when she got a text from the donor asking her to come to his house instead. She could just inseminate herself there, he suggested. “I got the chills when he said that,” she says. “I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? I’m not going to go into your house. I don’t even know you. Who’s in the house with you?’”
For Chastin and William, it took two more donors before they got lucky. One was a Black gay man, whom they found after an appeal on an LGBTQ+ site that was not specifically for donation. They tried four times, and adored the donor, but William did not get pregnant.
In the end, they got pregnant with a white donor, who we’ll call Andrew. He’s 41 and lives about an hour away from the Carrieres. They had communicated with him early on in their search, and he’d given them a sample contract to work with. After trouble with their first donor, the couple had tried with Andrew, got pregnant and miscarried, and then moved on to the next donor. But when that didn’t work, they went back to Andrew.
They liked the fact that the first time they met, Andrew arrived at their house with a photo album full of his own childhood photos. He also shared his medical records. “We went over everything,” says William. “And we talked for a while before we even moved on to anything.” It took two more tries, but William got pregnant, and the Carrieres’ baby, Carter, was born in June.
So far, Andrew’s donations have resulted in 13 live births, with two more on the way. Although he doesn’t want any role in raising the children, he maintains close contact with most recipients and encourages them to chat with one another. He even has a private Facebook group for his recipient families.
“My plan is to set up informal family gatherings on a semi-regular basis,” he says. He wants the children to have the opportunity to know their half-siblings, at least as friends. That way, he says, they’ll understand a little bit more about their background, know their extended family and, importantly, be able to avoid accidental incestuous relationships.
It’s also, Andrew admits, a “hedge” for him. He’d like to start a family of his own but doesn’t feel he has the financial and personal stability to do that yet. This arrangement allows him some of the benefits—like “being able to see these children developing into happy and productive adults”—without the primary responsibilities of parenting.
Indie sperm donors all have their own motivations, but many say they do it for the same reasons they do other good deeds, like donating blood or volunteering their time. They see themselves as good Samaritans and often use words like “helping” or “assist- ing” to describe the act of providing sperm, even when it involves sex. Fertility counsellors often take a dimmer view, wondering if they aren’t just a little narcissistic (the men do tend to remark on their quality genes). If there’s one sentiment that seems to come up more often than any other, it’s that they feel needed—and that they like that.
Indie donation is not risk-free for either side. On donation groups, members have detailed various abuses—from fake profiles to insincere offers to bailing at the last minute. Some donors are asked to travel long distances without compensation or are blamed when the recipient doesn’t get pregnant. Some recipients are pressured for sex or worry about their physical safety.
There are also disease risks. Sperm sold in Canada through banks is subject to a lot of regulations. Donors are extensively tested for STIs, and, after donating, their sperm is frozen and quarantined. It’s only released after the donor tests STI-free again six months later. There are also genetic tests that scour the donor’s genome for both recessive and dominant genes that might lead to illness in a potential child. (Many indie donors pay for their own genetic testing and share the results with recipients. Many also do STI testing, though it won’t pick up any infections contracted after the test took place.)
Then there are the legal uncertainties. Recipients worry that a donor might someday try to be a parent. In one Ontario case, a donor sued for parental rights. In the end, he settled without being made a legal parent, but the dispute was financially and emotionally difficult for the two moms. In another, a donor who originally said he had no interest in parenting won limited care and custody rights. In both cases, written contracts said the donor would never try to be a parent.
For their part, donors worry that the recipient might someday sue for child support. One Ontario woman sued her donor, a friend she’d met in medical school, for support, despite the contract they both signed that promised that she wouldn’t. As part of the settlement, the donor paid $230,000.
For Rausch, legal uncertainties have been the greatest challenge. Her family doctor and a doctor at her fertility clinic said one thing. A lawyer she hired said another. People online were reporting something else altogether. In the end, she’s left hoping for the best. Donors are hoping for the best, too. Andrew, for instance, has one recipient who claims he is more than just a donor and has the Children’s Aid Society involved.
To complicate matters, each province has its own laws around parenthood. “In many provinces, if you do this through sex, you’re the parent,” says Sara Cohen, a Toronto fertility lawyer. But that’s not true everywhere: Both Ontario and Saskatchewan recognize sex as a legitimate method for donating sperm, she says—so long as you have a written agreement in place before it happens.
Before 2017, laws in Ontario made it risky to use a known donor in any kind of arrangement. But after the All Families Are Equal Act passed in December 2016 and changes were made to the Children’s Law Reform Act, not only does sex with a known donor not confer parentage when you have a contract say- ing otherwise, but also artificial insemination using a donor doesn’t require a written contract spelling out intent. “I don’t know any other jurisdiction in the world where you can do this,” says Cohen. “It’s very unusual.”
Most provinces, given the right combination of insemination method and contract, will recognize known donors as non-parents, says Cohen. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario all do. But she says New Brunswick stands out as a jurisdiction in which known donation may be risky.
Donors are still left wondering which jurisdiction is the one that matters. Is it where you sign the contract? Where you produce the sperm? Where the insemination takes place? Where the child is born? Or where the child resides? It’s not always easy to know what a court would determine as the jurisdiction, says Cohen, but she’d put her money on where the child lives. Parental intention, she says, will be a major consideration in how disputes are resolved.
Cohen says she would advise clients not to do indie insemination unless the jurisdiction supports it. She would also advise having a contract in place even if it’s not necessary—it’s good to have your intentions written down.
Amira Posner, a Toronto fertility counsellor who runs Healing Infertility, asks what DIY donation will mean for the child. She says that many people who do donor insemination intend to disclose when the child is older, but during counselling, they learn that it’s best to start the conversation while the child is very young. “You should start when they’re a baby,” she says. “Or even during the pregnancy.” She worries that par- ents who don’t get counselling at the beginning could end up causing emotional problems for the child down the road.
For her part, Rausch intends to tell her son, Simon, as early as possible. She’ll use simple language and lots of books. “I will tell him right from the start,” she says. “Specifically how? No.”
In fact, he’s already heard her tell others about how he came to be—like the nurse who’d read in her notes that she was a single mother by choice and said she admired her.
Simon arrived almost six weeks early, after Rausch developed pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy-related condition that can make blood pressure soar. In an email shortly after his birth, she wrote: “I am over the moon in love and cannot wait to bring him home.” That day finally came after 23 days in the neonatal intensive care unit. She and her grunty, farty, blue-eyed, red-haired, super-alert son have now started their new life together, she says. And she can’t imagine it having happened any other way.
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