Man fathered 16 kids as a uni student
BACK when Haydn Allbutt donated sperm, it was a relatively simple process - so simple that he did it about 20 times over the space of a year.
It was 1997 and the then 21-year-old student would pop into a nearby clinic, do his business, collect $25 for his troubles and continue on his way.
His semen was to be used for a variety of research purposes, but he knew it could also be offered to women who wanted help having a baby, which didn't phase him.
"I didn't have a girlfriend and I didn't think there was a likelihood I would ever get one, so I thought it was the only way to pass my genes on, I suppose."
He laughed: "I think you get a bit dramatic when you're young."
Fast forward more than two decades and Dr Allbutt, a medical research scientist and university lecturer, has helped father 16 children from 11 families with his donations.
The eldest is 19 and the youngest is five, with an even split of eight boys and eight girls.
Sperm donation in Australia has changed dramatically over the past 30 years, with legislative changes banning anonymity, stricter psychological pre-screening and the banning of payment.
It's perhaps for these reasons that the country is in the grip of a severe sperm shortage.
It has led to lengthy waiting lists for hopeful families and forcing many to look abroad, or in extreme cases, to the internet where a black market of sorts has popped up - away from regulations that experts say exist for good reason.
Associate Professor Peter Illingworth, medical director at IVF Australia, said the rising trend of finding a sperm donor online is "extremely risky".
"I think it's a growing problem. Any woman who goes online looking for a sperm donor is taking a huge risk for the rest of her life.
"There have been a couple of cases in Australia where informal arrangements have led to claims of parental rights. In those instances, no one wins."
There are also genetic implications for not limiting the number of offspring born from a donor's sperm. These days, it's capped at between five to 10 families, depending on the state.
A UK man recently claimed to have fathered 65 children from his off-the-books donations, which he conducts in the back of a van he drives around the country.
And a 2012 investigation into the practices of a renowned fertility clinic in London found the doctor who ran it used his own sperm to father 600 babies, without his patients' knowledge.
Last year, Sunshine Coast woman Hayley Chapman took to Facebook to find a sperm donor, posting messages in various groups until she found a candidate.
"Once I felt ready and my fertile window aligned, I flew interstate to meet him in the flesh and proceeded with the insemination," she wrote in an op-ed for ABC at the time.
"Two weeks later, and to my absolute shock, a pregnancy test confirmed I was pregnant after just one attempt."
Regulations are important, Prof Illingworth said, and have been crafted in Australia from the mistakes of the past.
"The screening steps are there for a reason. One is the safety, ensuring infection and genetic screens are properly conducted, the second is setting the basis for a long-term relationship.
"A man who gives his sperm through a formal donor process has been counselled and that gives a couple more security and certainty."
That focus on a long-term relationship between the children conceived and the donor is only a relatively recent development, in the grand scheme of things.
Once upon a time, men could remain anonymous. Changes since the 1990s means most states are not on the same page when it comes to known donation.
Prof Illingworth said anonymous donation was a "disastrous idea".
"The consequence of that was children grew up not knowing where they came from. We had a generation of very distressed people who went through emotional turmoil."
Michael Griffiths was conceived with the sperm of an anonymous donor in 1975 and by the time he began his search for information about the man, it was too late to find a credible lead.
"It was part of a university trial and I was conceived a year after the donation. It was all new, there were no laws around it and it was all very secretive," Mr Griffiths said.
Like many operations of that era, the clinic that took the donation had come and gone, and there were no records kept.
"I'd called the hospital where I was conceived and made a lot of inquiries and was told by many different sources that there was no way I would ever find out."
It wasn't until he was 28 that he discovered his parents had used a sperm donor after battling infertility. It came as an enormous blow.
"I was house-sitting for my parents while they were overseas and I literally stumbled across it. Mum had been writing about her life and she'd been emailing me the odd chapters.
"When I saw unread chapters, I didn't think I was snooping or reading something I shouldn't be. I read a story about her infertility and anonymous sperm donor conception.
"I felt very much like a rug had been pulled from under my feet. But conversely, it very quickly made sense. I'd never questioned my origins or doubted them, but in hindsight it just kind of clicked. It was strange and unsettling. I never imagined this could be my story."
It was a few years of "stewing on it" until Mr Griffiths confronted his parents about the discovery and, as part of that, sought their blessing to find his donor.
"After mum was given sperm, she was told not to talk about it and not to think about it again, to go home and pretend it never happened. It was thought to be in everyone's best interests back then, but the world has changed."
With the secret out in the open, Mr Griffiths pushed ahead with finding his donor. And that search required totally up-ending his life.
At the time, he was a leading musical theatre performer, part of major productions like Jersey Boys, Priscilla Queen Of The Desert and We Will Rock You.
He moved back to his home town of Adelaide in 2013 to continue his mission on the ground.
When Dr Allbutt made his donations, doing so anonymously was no longer an option in Victoria and so the children born as a result have the opportunity to contact him.
"I've always thought it's a bit unreasonable for people to want to keep their donation absolutely secret from the people conceived by it," he said.
"Why do it if you're going to be so ashamed of it that you want to hide it? What's in it for those people who now wouldn't do it because of the legislation changes?"
So far, Dr Allbutt has heard from three of the kids - two are siblings and the other an only child. He described the experience as "incredible".
"They all look the same. I've got pictures of my dad when he was young and pictures of me at the same age. There are strong resemblances.
"They've all got an interest in maths and science, which is so interesting. One of them is genius-level in mathematics. It's fascinating the extent to which things are transmitted biological, without any environmental influence."
He's only met one of the three in person but has connected with each on Facebook and gets regular updates on how they're doing.
It's one of many happy outcomes that demonstrate what the "beautiful and generous donation of sperm" allows, Prof Illingworth said.
"We see a lot of very positive, long-term relationships developing. It's always done very carefully and very gently, with the involvement of the parents of the child."
For Mr Griffiths, it was a series of chance encounters that led him to tracking down his donor against all odds.
He was asked to take part in a documentary about sperm donation via a support group for donor kids he was part of, and through that there was some press in the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper.
"It was Boxing Day and so probably a quiet news day, because my story wound up on page three with this huge picture," he said.
"My donor's partner saw it and thought, oh, that looks like our son - they have two sons - and bless my donor, he'd always been very open about the fact that at uni he'd donated his sperm three times."
The show organised a DNA test, which confirmed a biological link, and the pair met for a coffee, which Mr Griffiths said was surreal.
"It was a strange first meeting. I thought I would feel something profound and moving, but I laughed. This kind of bizarre laughter about the oddness of the situation.
"But he was familiar with me. He watched footage of me from the documentary … he went to see me perform at Adelaide Fringe. I didn't know he was there."
It wasn't until his donor's third visit to the clinic back in the 1970s that he was told it could be used for fertility purposes.
"He was told it was just research," Mr Griffiths said. "Something was said on the last time that it could be used to make a baby and it wasn't what he signed up for, so he never did it again."
He has a "fantastic" relationship with the donor and his family.
"I've come to terms with it and it's not something that bothers me as it did. What bothered me was the shame and secrecy. Not knowing is very difficult. That's gone now.
"It's a little difficult for my family. It's still something we're navigating. But I'm very grateful to be able to have what was a mystery essentially solved."
For Dr Allbutt, he would recommend sperm donation to men who are interested and meet the criteria, describing it as "a beautiful gift to help someone start a family".
"I think people get overwhelmed unnecessarily. I'm not sure what men are fearing - it just seems to be this random worry.
"You can have as much or as little contact as you like. We donate for these people who need help conceiving and so it's up to them and the kids how and when they manage contact.
"The original ads that I answered spoke about helping couples that can't conceive on their own, and that was a nice idea and a big part of it as well."
Sperm donation is open to healthy men aged between 21 and 45 and requires medical and psychological screening. Donor details are registered after a baby is born using the semen.