Confessions of a sperm donor

What drives a handsome, educated man to father more than two dozen children?

What drives a handsome, educated man to father more than two dozen children? Guy Kelly meets the star of a new documentary on British television.

If you were to ask Mitch Kennedy how many children he has, the answer, depending on how he takes the question, is either precisely one or somewhere in the region of two dozen.

“I prefer to think of it in terms of the number of families I’ve created,” the 35-year-old says, “which is 20, all spread out around the country.”

For the past six years, Kennedy has operated as a private sperm donor, travelling around Britain supplying women he meets online with the means to have a child via artificial insemination (AI). And in return, he receives no payment, just personal gratification.

“Nothing I’ve ever done in my life has provided me with so much joy or satisfaction. I can’t even imagine something being better.”

Kennedy is one of a group of men who appear in 4 Men, 175 Babies: Britain’s Super Sperm Donors, a new Channel 4 documentary exploring the motivations – and gritty practicalities – behind an increasingly popular option for fertility-challenged couples and single women.

Motley crew

They are a motley crew.

We meet Clive, a 65-year-old retired maths teacher who produces his samples in the back of his van outside clients’ houses, despite his wife’s disapproval of his “sideline” hobby.

We meet men for whom the practice appears to err slightly on addiction and clearly serves as a bizarre ego boost.

We meet men for whom the practice appears to err slightly on addiction and clearly serves as a bizarre ego boost.

And then we meet Kennedy, a thoroughly respectable, warm and articulate man from Aberdeen, who seems to just want to make other people happy.

“I’m often asked about my motivation for doing this. I’m not a wealthy man at all so I can’t afford huge sums of money for charities. With my [sperm] donations, though, it’s something absolutely huge I can do for someone,” he says.

When he was 18 and a student at the University of Aberdeen, Kennedy spotted an advert asking: “Could you be a superhero?” It was for a regulated, hospital-based sperm clinic at the university. He signed up right away, yet a combination of red tape and further research meant he never did donate the “official” way.

Instead, he came across private donating, an entirely legal (albeit greatly discouraged by legal and medical authorities) method, which allows donors and their matches to vet one another, as well as meet before and after the insemination process.

“It’s a far more organic, natural way of doing things,” he says.

“I know what’s involved in the clinics with frozen sperm and that, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy – it can cost thousands, the success rate is very poor, you’re drugged, and the whole thing is so impersonal.”

Kennedy, who is single, made his first online profile late in 2011, joining one of the numerous sites connecting donors with couples and women looking for sperm for AI or natural insemination (NI) all over Britain.

The unregulated nature of these forums mean men simply looking to have unprotected sex aren’t uncommon, but the vetting process between hopeful parents and donors can be as thorough as they please.

Kennedy now posts on several different forums, receiving 10-15 donation requests per week.

One, a Facebook group called Sperm Donors:), currently has almost 8 000 members.

On all of them, he describes himself as he is: attractive, degree-educated, a non-smoker with no known genetic conditions and no family history of cancer, white Caucasian, athletic and willing to undertake a health screening test to prove his sperm is healthy.

“I instantly had contacts. But first I had to come up with a protocol, a policy,” he recalls of the early months.

A geographical spread, to lower the chances of children meeting and accidentally starting relationships in the future, is encouraged by all donor sites.

He then committed to being AI-only, meaning no sex would be involved at all (in addition to NI, which is sex as we know it, some donors offer “partial insemination”, where there is penetration at the latest possible moment, and “assisted artificial insemination”, where the donor receives manual encouragement from the hopeful mother, for no clear scientific reason).

He would also only donate to same-sex couples or occasionally single women, reasoning that heterosexual couples might end up never revealing to their children that their child was conceived from a donor. And he would look for people who were healthy and financially solvent, who could go to a regulated clinic but simply wanted to get to know their donor.

Stable families are preferable for all sorts of reasons, not least as unlicensed donors remain the legal father of any child born under UK law and could find themselves liable for maintenance payments.

“Everything I do is about what’s best for the child, with the lowest risk. That goes for vetting the parents to make sure I trust them, to making sure I’m as honest as possible.

“All the children know my name, or will do, can all independently contact me when they’re 18, and there’s never a cloud about their father for them,” he says.

“I am very much opposed to anonymous sperm donation, which is still allowed in some countries. The best thing for the child is to have as little mystery as possible.”

The first time he donated – to a same-sex couple in Aberdeen, coincidentally – Kennedy nervously produced his sample in a Tupperware sandwich box. It’s fair to say his operation has since professionalised somewhat.

In the documentary, we see not only the range of supplements he takes to keep himself and his sperm as healthy as possible, but also the “starter packs” he sends couples for a small cost-covering fee, including insemination equipment (a kind of large syringe) and, for an added £4 (R66), a head torch (so both partners can have their hands free).

Kennedy always gets to know the women he donates to, fully aware that he could be in contact with them for the rest of his life.

He speaks to them for hours on the phone, sometimes meets them for dinner or stays at their houses, and now has 20 WhatsApp groups, one for each family he’s helped create, called “[Surname] – Team Baby” so they can share photographs and keep in touch.

A "pretty good success rate"

“I have a pretty good success rate but, even now, I’m still always amazed when it works and they become pregnant. It makes my head explode a little bit.”

He has a six-year-old son from a relationship just prior to his first donation, who he says allows him to keep an emotional distance from the other babies.

Kennedy’s parents are surprisingly supportive of his decision to donate – “I think my mum knows she’ll be dead by the time any of them are old enough to contact her . . . which is a practical way of looking at it.”

Girlfriends have been less approving, but that hasn’t stopped him.

I want it to be a manageable number, no more than 50, where they could feasibly know the names of all their half-siblings if they traced each other."
Mitch Kennedy

“In the next year or so, I will reach a number where I stop taking on new couples and instead focus on the families I’ve got.

“I want it to be a manageable number, no more than 50, where they could feasibly know the names of all their half-siblings if they traced each other,” he says.

It is an unusual lifestyle, for which he has an equally singular rationale: “Imagine someone wanted a gearbox for a 1963 Corvette, and you had one at home that you weren’t using. To you it means nothing, but to that person it could be totally life-changing, and they could make you feel amazing in return. You would, wouldn’t you?”

4 Men, 175 Babies: Britain’s Super Sperm Donors is on Channel 4 on Tuesday at 10pm. – The Daily Telegraph