When women decide to use donor sperm to become pregnant through donor insemination, they have a couple of options: Ask a friend or family member to donate sperm for their use or purchase donor sperm from a sperm bank.
Using a friend or family member has its plusses, not the least of which is that the donor’s qualities are known to the woman. But not everyone knows someone to ask.
Purchasing sperm from a sperm bank is a different adventure altogether. Some women prefer this path because they like the social and legal distance that using an unknown donor offers. Right away there are multiple sperm bank websites to visit and catalogs full of donors to scroll through. Where does she start? When there are no emotional ties to a donor, what decision process is used?
To begin with, partnered women-- lesbian or heterosexual-- tend to look for donors with traits that match their partners so that the non-genetic parent might share some basic physical characteristics with the child. Ethnic background, height, weight, hair and eye color are generally the first few features that women look at when choosing among available donors. Single women may also start the process of choosing a donor by selecting physical traits that they find desirable, or that their ideal partner might possess.
But finding the right sperm donor is much more than choosing a donor with a particular hair or eye color. Women search for a connection to the donor that somehow comes through in the variety of information that sperm banks collect and share on their donor catalogs.
Most donor catalogs include personal (but non-identifying) information obtained through interviews and written material including the donor’s:
- Level of education
- Personality traits
- Musical/Artistic talents
- Family health history
- Future plans
By supplying this kind of information about each donor, sperm banks allow a woman to sense when she has found the right donor.
Maybe a donor is a violinist (like her partner), or had a grandfather who was a pilot (like hers was), or shared that his most exhilarating experience was climbing Half Dome (which she did last summer), or maybe they just share a love of Pink Floyd, heirloom tomatoes or Henry David Thoreau. Something she reads will resonate with her, and she will know he’s the one.
Finding the right sperm donor is exciting! Today, donor conception has become less shrouded in secrecy than it once was. More parents are telling their children at a young age that they were conceived with the help of a donor. For this reason, when choosing a donor, many women seek donors who are open to the idea of sharing their identity with adult offspring. Nearly all sperm banks (and egg banks) now have an option for donors to agree to share their identifying information with the adult offspring who request it through formal means.
Donors who are willing to share their identity with adult offspring are in demand. Contrary to Hollywood portrayals, open-identity programs are not intended to form familial relationships between donors and offspring. Rather, they allow donor-conceived people to gain a more complete sense of their own identity and learn more about their genetic and family history.
Photo Credit: flickr