You may be reluctant to have a baby with someone else’s DNA, but the child can still have your or your partner’s DNA and is always going to be your baby to love.
When you first pictured having a child, what kind of person did you imagine he or she would be? Maybe you imagined a little girl or boy who shares your physical attributes: your brown eyes, your wavy hair or perhaps even your nose. Maybe you also pictured a child who resembles you, not just in appearance, but also in personality and talents. Perhaps you thought your child might have your athleticism, or a similar taste in music, or your gift for solving puzzles.
This very normal tendency to idealize what your children will be like is one reason that deciding to use an egg donor or sperm donor can be so daunting. Many of our patients initially worry that by using donated sperm or eggs to get pregnant, they will lose some of that connection to their child that genetics provides. But, as I often remind them, a child who doesn’t share your DNA will still feel like your child.
Fortunately, when it comes to choosing an egg donor or sperm donor, a wealth of options are available. Prospective parents have access to databases with thousands of donors to choose from, all of which are searchable by the donor’s physical characteristics and background.
Because of the myriad of options, selecting a donor can be overwhelming if you don’t have a clear strategy in place. My advice to individuals or couples who are starting the process of selecting a donor is to consider what they want to prioritize. Does the donor need to resemble you or your partner? What personal characteristics would you hope he or she have? Do you want the donor to be someone you know? Carefully considering these questions can help you find connections to your child before he or she is born.
So, who actually uses egg donors or sperm donors?
Egg and sperm donors are used more often than many people think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 10 percent of all IVF (in vitro fertilization) cycles are performed using donor eggs. The number of babies conceived using donor sperm is not as closely tracked, but this practice is probably much higher and more common, as American family structures have grown more diverse.
Donor sperm and eggs are also a viable option for LGBTQIA individuals and couples. These couples often use one partner’s sperm or eggs along with donor material to conceive a child with some of their genetics.
A small percentage of our patients elect to use donors because they don’t wish to pass along unfavorable genes, such as those that could cause cancer, genetic diseases or other conditions. This is a rare occurrence, and in some cases these concerns can be addressed through preimplantation genetic testing of embryos.
What is the process for finding an egg donor or sperm donor?
Before our patients start the process of selecting an egg or sperm donor, we have a candid conversation with them about their chances of getting pregnant without one. In some cases, patients may try treatments with their own eggs or sperm before deciding that using a donor is their best option.
Our patients then consider if they would like to use a known or an anonymous donor. Known donors are often family members or friends, while anonymous donors can be selected by reviewing profiles from a sperm bank or egg donor center.
Patients who want to find an anonymous sperm donor are referred to banks with long-standing reputations for good customer service and a wide range in characteristics of donors. Those needing anonymous egg donors first review our in-house egg donor options to see if we have a donor who matches the characteristics they have in mind. If we don’t have the right donor for a patient, we have relationships with other egg donor agencies in the area that comply with American Society for Reproductive Medicine guidelines.
What qualities should you consider when selecting an egg or sperm donor?
There are many things to take into account when selecting an egg or sperm donor. Some patients are quick to make a decision. Others may take a month to three months to find the right donor, simply because they want to be thorough in their consideration of the candidates.
The characteristics that a person values and looks for in a donor vary. The single most important characteristic in selecting a donor is the donor’s age and reproductive history. Egg donors between the ages of 21-34 with at least one child or previous successful donation cycles are preferred but not absolutely required. Sperm donors range from 21 to 35 years old.
Typically, most people want to select a donor who has physical and genetic characteristics similar to themselves or their partners. These characteristics often include ethnicity, race, height, eye color or hair color.
Many donor databases are searchable by specific donor attributes, so these basic characteristics can act as a good starting point for narrowing down search results to a few potential candidates.
After considering the physical resemblance, most prospective parents will weigh the importance of:
- Academic achievements
- Similar skills, talents, interests or personality traits to one or both parents
- Evidence of determination and work ethic.
I encourage my patients to take their time during this process, because it is one of the few aspects of their fertility journey they can direct. The selected donor should be one that makes them feel confident they have found someone who feels like a good fit for their family.
Selecting an egg or a sperm donor can be a complex and challenging process, but it can also be a very rewarding journey.
Most often, taking the initial step and choosing to have a baby using donor sperm or eggs is the most difficult part. Some of our patients take several months or even a year considering whether donation, adoption or not having children is the right choice for their family.
Other people’s perceptions of egg or sperm donation can prevent some from ever truly considering using a donor. It is your choice to share your fertility journey with your friends or family, and the single most important decision you make is how important it is for you to have a child in your life. Patients who do use this service always reiterate how grateful they are that this option exists and that some person out there was willing to give up his or her time and genetic material to help build another person’s family.
“If you don’t choose to go the path of an egg donor, you might have to say goodbye to your dreams of having a child. And that was not something I was willing to do,” says Debbie. Read her story and how she compares finding her egg donor to shopping.