Guest Post by Courtney Maddox
The thought of finding a sperm donor can feel like an overwhelming task considering there are hundreds of qualified donors available through sperm banks in the US. We’ve put together a list of considerations to think through before you start your search!
Physical & Psychological Characteristics
Grab a notepad and start by making a list of what your top priorities are in a donor. Physical features are an easy place to start! Ethnicity is commonly included at the top of this list, and it is understandable that you might want your future child to have the same ethnic background as you or your partner. Eye color, hair color, and height are all reasonable preferences to include as well. Education level can vary from donor to donor. Do you prefer someone with a science-based career, or are you more drawn to donors who are musically inclined? What about any other lifestyle values that you have? A sports enthusiast, world-traveler, or health conscious? It can be important at this stage to divide these preferences into a “non-negotiable” and a “nice-to-have” list.
Open ID vs. Anonymous
Based on FDA definitions, all sperm donors that you do not personally know are considered anonymous. However, the amount of contact that future offspring can have with their donor may vary depending on the sperm bank and the type of donor that is chosen. If the option for your child to have future contact with their donor is important, you will want to use a sperm bank that offers Open ID donors (these types of donors are also sometimes called ID Donors or ID Disclosure Donors). Sperm bank policies vary, but here is how this is handled by Seattle Sperm Bank (SSB). All SSB donors are Open ID and have committed to at least one contact with any donor conceived child, after the child reaches the age of 18. The contact must be initiated by the child; customers’ identities are confidential and are never released to the sperm donors. While there is no obligation that the donor commits to any sort of long-lasting relationship with the child, the donor and donor conceived child may arrange for future communication based on their own comfort levels. Donor conceived children who are born from a sperm donor classified specifically as Anonymous or non-Open ID would not be privy to these types of future connections via their sperm bank.
If having contact with your sperm donor is an important item on your list, you might also consider using a Known Donor. This would be someone in your life who is not a sexually intimate partner, but who is open to donating as a sperm source. Known Donor relationships can be very meaningful, but it is important to consult a third-party attorney and take additional steps to draft legal documentation with details of the arrangement. You will also want to contact a local sperm bank or fertility clinic for further guidance on screening samples and freezing samples for future treatment use.
Most reputable sperm banks in the US are doing extended genetic screening on their donors these days. SSB was the first sperm bank to offer extended genetic screening in 2015, and the technology has evolved significantly since then! If you are a known carrier of a genetic disease, then you will want to eliminate any donors who are also a carrier of that condition. If you have not been tested, consider speaking with your doctor about being screened. The panels can vary from 20 to 285 or more conditions, and there are a variety of companies out there that offer this service. The chances of you being a carrier of a genetic condition that does not impact your daily life is likely and common with people being screened on the more extensive panels. It’s not something that should cause alarm when using donor sperm, and free genetic counseling services are available through major genetic carrier screening providers if your clinic does not have one on staff.
Donor Sibling Families
You may also want to consider using a sperm bank that will enable communication with half-siblings. Sibling registries give donor conceived children the choice to learn more about their genetic heritage. Contact with half-siblings can provide valuable medical and genetic information, satisfy curiosity, and even establish valuable life-long relationships. Facilitating these connections can also assist parents who want to offer their children all available information about their shared biological lineage. While there are many options online and through social media platforms to connect with other families who have used sperm donors, we strongly encourage you to go through your chosen sperm bank’s sibling registry program to safely and securely connect with other families. Going through your bank is the only way to accurately ensure you are connecting with families who have in fact used your same donor. For example, at SSB, you can reach out to other families through SSB Connects. Access is limited to SSB clients with reported births, and postings are not accessible to a Google search or to the general public. Additionally, the platform is completely anonymous, which allows families who have used the same donor to share information at their own comfort level before deciding if further contact is desired.
Purchase an All-Access Pass
All sperm banks have some form of an “All-Access Pass” allowing you to see extended profile information for their donors. Costs can vary anywhere from 7-day free trials, to $50 for 3 months, to $499 for a club level pass. Most sites will show you basic information (ethnicity, height, hair color, occupation, etc) for free, but access passes include more desirable content like baby photos, audio interviews, extended profile information, and handwritten letters from the donors. Most banks do offer the option to purchase à la carte items for individual donor profile information (ex. $30 for photos, $25 for audio interview), but you often may be better off just purchasing a pass for full access to all of these items if you are just starting your search.
Looking for your perfect donor may come down to having a helping hand. Supportive services at different banks can include consultations with the Client Services Team, Photo Matching, or meetings with Genetic Counselors. Sperm bank staff will have access to waitlists and are knowledgeable about donors who may be available in the upcoming months. If available, Genetic Counselors on staff at the sperm bank can review all of the donor genetic screening results and can help narrow down donors that are medically compatible with your results or facilitate additional genetic testing with a donor if needed. If you anticipate needing extra help looking for a donor, be sure to factor in potential fees associated with each service. Some sperm banks charge extra, while others include these services with the purchase of an access pass.
The key to your search will be flexibility! Holding tight to your non-negotiables can serve you well to get a pool of potential donors together, but being more flexible on nice-to-have items will broaden the number of donors to choose from. We wish you the best with your search and are confident that good things lie ahead!
Courtney Maddox is a Clinic Relations Manager of Seattle Sperm Bank and is based in Charleston, SC. Seattle Sperm Bank was founded on a simple mission: to help create happy healthy families, to always advocate for our customers and our donors, and to become a global leader in the scientific advancement of sperm distribution. To date, SSB has helped create over 10,000 families across the world and is one of the nation’s leading and most recommended sperm banks. SSB is also a proud, long-time supporter of Resolve New England and their mission to create community and support for those struggling with fertility and family building.