Selecting a Sperm or Egg Donor: Shopping for DNA on the Internet

While the idea of a donor may seem awful at first, it’s really an unanticipated blessing that provides some interesting options.

The decision to use a sperm or egg donor to build a family is a complicated one – and generally starts with a feeling of loss. Loss of control over one’s body, loss of the ability to make a baby “the old fashioned way,” loss of the child a couple has imagined who would be a blending of the two of them, loss of the traditional family one envisioned, etc. etc. … many losses.

Yet the possibility of using a sperm or egg donor is also a miraculous opportunity to have a family that might have been impossible a short time ago. “Third party reproduction,” which means using donor sperm, donor eggs or a gestational carrier, opens doors that didn’t exist 20+ years ago and offers hope to families. A loss and a gift. So it goes.

Different people, same motive

So who chooses to use donor eggs or donor sperm? Lots of people.

  • It could be a heterosexual couple in which one partner has a diagnosis of infertility, preventing him or her from conceiving a child.
  • It could be a single woman or a single man who needs “help” to have both of the parts necessary to make a baby.
  • It could be a same sex couple (women in need of sperm or men in need of eggs and a gestational carrier).

Patient Story: Two Dads, One Sister, Two Surrogates & One Beautiful Baby

In all cases, the motives are the same: to create a child to be loved, cared for and nurtured. When people consider using sperm or egg donors, they confront a big question: Do I want to be a parent or do I only want to be a parent if the child carries my genes?

For some, the option of non-genetic parenting just doesn’t fit, it doesn’t feel right, and these folks find other paths for their lives. For many people, especially the ones who frequent fertility clinics, the goal is to be a parent, even if not a genetic parent. And the opportunity to use donor eggs and sperm is a blessing they might not have anticipated.

Let’s assume that you are in need of donor eggs or sperm to conceive a child. The doctor gives you this news and, after you get used to the idea, you wonder how to proceed. The nurse or doctor refers you to  a list of sperm banks (for frozen sperm), egg banks (a new option, for frozen eggs) or donor egg agencies (to select a donor who will donate eggs directly to you).

Now what?  Where do you start?  What should you look for?

Shopping for traits you want in your child

These days, selecting a donor is like internet shopping taken to a whole new level. You are “shopping” for DNA, for the genetic material to conceive a child ­– your child. Most of us are not used to thinking in such a calculated way about our genes. Usually, we love our partners and we take what they come with genetically. But now you have the chance to choose, and you have to think about what traits are important to you in a donor.

Many couples start by looking for a donor who possesses physical characteristics that are similar to the infertile partner. Does your partner have blonde hair or brown eyes? Is s/he tall or short? Stocky or slim? What about curly or straight hair? Fair or darker skin tone?

It is common for couples to want to match the partner who won’t be represented genetically with the hope of having a child who looks like s/he belongs in the family. But this is not necessary. You can select the traits you want, whether or not they match your own traits.

For a single person selecting a donor, the field is wide open. What did you hope your partner would look like? You can try to match it. You can look for characteristics that match yours … or that complement yours.

Are you hopeless at math? You can select a donor who is a scientist or an engineer! While these traits aren’t purely genetically determined, many people express a desire to “give their child a chance” at things they have struggled with.

There are other traits that people often look for in a donor – athleticism, intelligence, artistic talent, etc., because those are traits that they admire in themselves. Most people are also concerned about the donor’s medical history. Major medical problems are screened out by the sperm banks and the egg donor agencies but it is wise to review the medical histories of the donors yourself and ask any questions you may have. Of course we must also keep in mind that we cannot “replace” our partners or find “ideal” DNA.

 What the research says

Research from the University of Colorado and Duke University concludes that using fresh donor eggs during in vitro fertilization (IVF) provides a higher chance of implantation when compared with using donor eggs that have been cryopreserved (frozen).

As you get further into looking at potential donors you will also have to decide how much information you want about the donor. Some banks provide photos and in depth interviews with donors. The choice of an “anonymous” or “open ID” donor will also be important. As part of your treatment at Advanced Reproductive Medicine, you will meet with a psychologist who will consult with you about your specific concerns in selecting a donor.

Good luck!