One of the questions I get asked most frequently is how we went about choosing a sperm donor. And understandably why! Choosing a sperm donor can be such a mixed bag of emotions. I remember feeling excited, anxious, overwhelmed, AND underwhelmed all in the same day when we were in the thick of our search. It’s a big decision and a decision that may seem to rival “picking” your partner, but trust me when I say it’s definitely not as stressful as it may seem once you get down to the basics.
To make this seemingly daunting decision somewhat more tangible, I’ve broken this blog into sections which can sort of function like a decision tree. This is by no means the algorithm that you have to use to make your decision, but the sections are basically the big deciding factors that will hopefully help guide you in figuring out what sperm donor is right for you!
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to go about choosing a sperm donor. Every person and couple has different reasons for selecting this and priorities in mind when thinking about that, so what worked for someone, may not work for you- and that’s okay! After all, this is YOUR family so you need to make decisions that suite you guys best!
Also, since you guys have expressed knowing our personal story, I’ve sprinkled it in throughout the post.
Someone You Know vs. Someone You Don’t
This is one of the biggest decisions you may have to make as a couple when it comes to choosing a sperm donor. Some couples have a friend, acquaintance, or even a partner’s brother in mind that they hope to use when they start family planning. Others don’t. It may be important that you actually know the person for various reasons, so utilizing sperm from a bank is out of the question. If this is the case, make sure all involved parties have clear expectations about what everyone’s role (or lack there of) will be when the baby is born. Do you plan on telling your child who their donor is? If so, when? Will the donor be heavily involved in your child’s life? Are they even open to having a relationship with your child? Are YOU open to the donor having a relationship with your child? These are all things to think about and talk over with your partner and potential donor.
Additionally, it may benefit all parties, including your future child, to get some things down in writing with a lawyer. I’ve heard horror stories and trust me when I say, it’s definitely better do all of this before any major decisions are made. Set expectations and/or boundaries early on so there are no surprises.
Micaela and I didn’t have anyone in mind that we wanted to ask, so we pretty much knew from the start we would be heading to the sperm bank! Which brings me to the next big decision…
Anonymous Donor vs. Open Donor
If you decided to go with a sperm bank, deciding on an open vs anonymous donor will help you refine your search very quickly. This is one of the biggest forks in the road so to speak when it comes to choosing a sperm donor.
If you choose an open donor, your child has the ability to contact their donor when they turn 18. This may be important to you for your future children’s sake as they yearn to know more about the genes that make them up, or it may not. Having an open donor doesn’t necessarily mean that your child is going to have a relationship with their donor down the road, but it might. Essentially, choosing an open donor gives your child the opportunity to seek out their donor and consequently get more information than what is listed in the donor profile should they be curious when they become a legal adult.
Choosing an anonymous donor on the other hand, prevents that. Your child won’t be able to contact their donor at any point- even if they really want to**.
I really struggled with this one. Growing up without really having a relationship with my biological father, I definitely went through stages of my life where I wanted to know more about him. It was these feelings I had as a teenager and young adult that really made me consider selecting an open donor. However, I wasn’t sure I wanted a donor to be involved in our lives. Ultimately, I was on the fence with this one and so was Micaela. So, we decided to focus our search on other things and if he happened to be anonymous fine! If he was open that was fine too!
Many sperm banks also have a Sibling Registry which allows genetically linked individuals to find one another. Even if you decide to go with an anonymous donor, you can still register your children (or they can register themselves) on the platform so they can find other individuals with the same sperm donor. This may be a great option for your children if you decide on an anonymous sorry donor but down the road they decide they want to know more.
**Food for thought. With the upsurge in all the genetic testing services like 23 and Me, Helix, etc. even if you select an anonymous donor, there may be a chance that his identity is found out. For example, if your donor, a close relative of your donor, or even your donor’s future children get genetic testing done and register themselves on the public platform, their information is fair game for anyone to find. So if some day down the road your child decides they want to learn more about their genetic history and use one of these services, there is a possibility they may find their donor, your donors family or even other half siblings. Ultimately the decision of anonymity may be obsolete.
CMV positive vs. CMV negative
Somewhere along your search you will find the “perfect donor!” No seriously, he is the perfect fit for you gals in EVERY way possible except…WAIT! He is CMV positive. What does that mean?!? And more importantly, can we still use him as a donor?
The answer? It depends. If you are CMV positive, then yes, it’s an easy green light and you are totally okay to use the sperm. However, if you are CMV negative, it’s not going to be as straight forward.
Let’s back up.
What is CMV anyway? CMV or Cytomegalovirus is a member of the herpes virus family that include other well known viruses like chicken pox and the ones that give you cold sores. It’s transmittable through bodily fluids, (so things like saliva, breast milk and semen) and effects approximately 50-85% of the population. You may have gotten it years ago and have no idea you even got infected since symptoms are sort of similar to that of the common cold, but once you have it and form antibodies against it, the virus lays dormant in your system forever.
If you get tested and find out you are CMV negative, your doctor may advise you against using CMV positive sperm and here’s why. If your first exposure to CMV is during pregnancy there is a 30-40% chance of your fetus becoming infected as well. The majority of babies born after becoming infected are healthy. However, 10-15% may have complications. Things like decreased motor skills, hearing loss and other neurological deficits like seizures and severe developmental delays.
To be honest this was something I had NO idea about before we started this process. However, because the likelihood of your fetus actually contracting CMV through donor sperm is extremely low, most doctors will still allow you to use CMV positive sperm even if you are CMV negative. This is just a risk you and your partner will need to weigh out when making your selection.
Traits and Characteristics
Now the fun part! Without sounding too crude, I always felt like this part was a little bit like shopping for car. You pick the make, model, year and BINGO! It’s a match! Kidding. But kind of not.
There may be certain traits that are non-negotiable. Maybe you are the one carrying and it’s really important to you that your donor seems to closely resemble your partner in almost every way possible so that your children look like both of you. Or maybe you just care about height, hair color and eye color. Or maybe you care more about their medical history, academic achievements and personality traits and could care less about their physical characteristics. Whatever you decide to me most important, let your number one and two priorities be your driving force in your search. You can set filters to see exactly what you are hoping to find. These filters will screen out your non-negotiables and leave you with potentials. From there you can decide what you are okay with and what you aren’t.
Since Micaela and I knew we both wanted to carry, we wanted our donor to be a genetic blend of the two of us. He was half Hispanic and half European. He was my Briggs-Myer personality type and shared Micaela’s musical interest. He had Micaela’s hair and skin tone but my eye color. Ultimately, we wanted all our children to share the genetic link of their donor so we ended up just choosing one donor that fit the bill all the way around.
Spend some time with your partner figuring out which traits you are willing to bend on and which ones you aren’t.
Number of Vials
You may have already decided that IVF is the way to go, or you may be holding out hope that IUI, the cheaper but still expensive route, may do the trick. If you are planning on doing IVF, you will need to purchase far fewer vials than if you are planning to do IUI. Of course, you may have NO idea how you will end up conceiving and that’s okay! If you are unsure, I would say edge on the side of caution and buy more vials than you think you need if you find a donor you really like. They say it takes an average of four to eight times to get pregnant through IUI and since you use one vial per try, you may want to find a donor that has a large store of vials, especially if both of you plan on carrying or you want to have more than one chid. For reference, we purchased 15 vials and used seven to have two pregnancies- twins were a bonus!
The Waiting Game
You may find that the particular sperm bank you are using doesn’t have what you are looking for. Don’t be afraid to look at other places, different banks carry different donors! Also keep in mind that there are always new donors coming in. Don’t get discouraged when choosing a sperm donor if what you see doesn’t feel right, something will eventually come along! I think it took us four to five months before we found someone who felt right to us.
It’s also important to keep in mind that you may never find “the perfect” donor. It may be possible that you will never find someone who meets every single criteria you are hoping to find. Just remember that while genetics are ultimately needed, they don’t fully determine your children’s fate. So many different things determine what your children will turn out to be like. After all, you (or your partner!) will be contributing half of the genetics as well.
Finding The One
We spent a lot of time and effort into choosing a sperm donor that felt right to us. Our sperm bank allowed us to upgrade our subscription so we could get more information about our donor, which we did. The more we learned, the more connected we felt. Something just felt right and our excitement upon landing on “the one” was palpable. When we found him, we just knew.
Our priorities and non-negotiables shifted some over the course of our four to five month search and it is interesting to note that this donor was available from the first day we started looking, but because we were prioritizing different things, we missed him.
If at any point during your search you feel like you are just spinning your wheels and not making any progress in finding someone, don’t be afraid to take a step back and create space. Sometimes a little time and fresh perspective can be the best thing when choosing a sperm donor.
The Elephant In the Room
I feel like I would be remiss without mentioning the elephant in the room- the fact that we can’t reproduce as a lesbian couple. I remember a point in time during our search where I was so sad that Micaela and I just couldn’t have a baby together. I remember wishing that science would just catch up and allow us to mesh our own genes. I had fears of whether or not I would be a good mother to the child Micaela carried and how she would feel about those that I carried. I worried that a lack of complete genetic blending would some how make us less valid as a family. But I’m here to tell you, all of those fears and worries became insignificant once we had our children. It didn’t matter that we used a donor, these were our children. Our entire world and I can’t imagine loving them any differently had they been created otherwise.
At the time choosing a sperm donor was a big deal, but now that we have our children, I hardly ever think about him. I’m so grateful that he gave us the ability to create a family and helped our precious children come in to our lives, but beyond that he rarely crosses my mind. All this is to say, picking out a donor seems like such a heavy massive decision, but ultimately, it’s not something you will probably ever think much about once you have children.
As our children grow up and become curious about this part of them, Micaela and I plan to be as open as possible. We want them to know everything we know. The sperm bank we used gave us the option to buy things like voice recordings, baby pictures and responses to questions that we thought our children would want to see some day. We plan on putting together a book with all the information we have from their donor and giving it to them when it feels right.
As mentioned above, there is NO right or wrong way to go when choosing a sperm donor! Go with your gut on this one and have fun with the whole process knowing that it is the first major step in creating your family!
If you have any more questions in regards to choosing a sperm donor, comments or stories about how you went about choosing your own donor, leave them below! Hearing other people’s stories always helps!