Considerations in Selecting a Sperm Donor
Parents through sperm donation include choice moms (single women who choose to become parents), lesbian couples, and heterosexual couples who either have male factor infertility, or who are choosing donor conception in order not to pass on specific genetic conditions of the father.
Selecting a sperm donor can be an overwhelming task. Where do you begin? How do you choose the person who will contribute half of your future child’s DNA? What should you be considering?
Where to Start
Selecting a sperm donor is a highly personalized choice. It’s important to take the time to process what characteristics of a donor are most important to you and to your spouse/partner. It can be useful to speak with a mental health professional about your choices and values to help you feel most comfortable with your decision. It’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss all of the considerations in choosing a donor, so we’ll focus on one part – the benefits of choosing an anonymous, “identity-release donor.”
Pros and Cons of Anonymous Donors
In selecting a donor, the first question to ask yourself is whether you would ideally want a known or an anonymous donor. In sperm donation, it is far more common to choose an anonymous donor, because of the emotional and legal complexities of known sperm donors. In fact, most clinics specifically do not advise using a known sperm donor.
For these, and other reasons, the majority of individuals and couples choose anonymous donors. There are a number of national sperm banks providing anonymous donors. Your fertility clinic will provide you with a list of their preferred banks. Among the benefits of using an anonymous donor is the avoidance of any “family boundary” issues, as the donor is not a part of the parents’ lives. Additionally, it is easier for the couple to maintain their privacy regarding their family-building decisions. On the flip side, it may feel riskier to the parents-to-be because they have less information available about the donor. Further, there will be less information available to provide to the future child if he/she has questions about the donor in the future.
Identity Release Donors
Some of the drawbacks of anonymous donation can potentially be reduced by selecting what is known as an “identity release donor.” Most of the national sperm banks have a subset of donors who have agreed to be identity release donors, meaning that the sperm bank will disclose the donor’s identity if the donor-conceived child requests the information after the child has turned 18. The donor is not given information about the child or the recipients. In this scenario, you might never need or want to contact the donor, but you (and your child) will have that option in the future. Research shows that it’s common for donor-conceived adults to have questions about their donor, questions that can help the donor-conceived adult to have a more complete sense of his/her own identity and background. Additionally, many adults have questions about their genetic medical history. While the donors provide a medical history at the time of the donation, information changes over time, and it’s natural to be curious about these changes.
After you’ve selected a donor, you’ll need to think about how many vials to purchase or reserve. Your fertility doctor will tell you how many are recommended for each attempt, but it’s also important to look towards the future. You’ll need to think about whether you’ll want to try for a sibling in the future and whether it’s important to you for future siblings to be from the same donor.
These are some of the earliest decisions you will be faced with as you embark on a pregnancy with donor sperm. Later you might have other questions and face other choices. How will you talk to your friends and family about your family-building choices? Should you tell your future child about his/her genetic origins? How do you begin those conversations? What words do you use? How do kids react to knowing they were conceived with the help of a donor? When should you start having these conversations? What do kids want to know about the donor? What does the research say about the psychological well-being of kids born through sperm or egg donation? If you are a single mother or a lesbian couple, how do you answer questions from your child, such as “Do I have a daddy?” It’s natural to have these questions, but can be difficult to face these questions alone.
If you are growing your family through egg or sperm donation and you have some of these questions, I welcome you to come to my upcoming workshops where we will address these questions and you can meet other couples and singles embarking on the same journey as you are. The next workshop for Parents via Egg Donation is February 18th from 6pm-8pm in my Cary office. There will be a workshop for Parents via Sperm Donation on February 25th from 6pm-8pm. For more information, visit my website. Additionally, for those who don’t feel as comfortable in group settings, these sessions are also available in individual sessions. You can contact me via phone or email to register for an individual or group session.
An excellent resource on sperm donation is:
Vercollone, Carol Frost, Moss, Robert, and Moss, Heidi. Helping the Stork: The Choices and Challenges in Donor Insemination. Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated, 1997.
Dr. Ryan Blazei is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Cary, NC. She is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and counsels on infertility and family building options. Dr. Blazei can be reached at [email protected] (919) 720-1452 www.RyanWBlazeiPhD.com. She also facilitates a free drop-in support group on the second Wednesday of every month from 7pm-8pm in the lobby of Carolina Conceptions. All are welcome to attend.