Q2: Choosing A Sperm Donor

Queer fertility is riddled with decision making. When to start trying to have a baby? Who will carry? Start with IUI or straight to IVF? Whose eggs? Whose sperm? When to take a break? How much money to spend?

And if we shy away from any of those decisions, point blank there will be no baby. There are no accidents here. 

Looking back on our experience I realize that choosing a sperm donor is the first thing I did as a parent. While we had 2-3 characteristics we were hoping to find in a donor, the process was largely not about us and about what are the best decisions for our future children. 

  1. The first step was getting blood work done to determine our CMV status. I say we because we hope to also do reciprocal IVF someday so we needed to know mine in addition to Queer 1’s. This part baffled me because people who conceive without intervention do not get CMV testing before trying to get pregnant…they don’t even have to know about those risks until after a clinical pregnancy has occurred. This immediately narrowed down our search to only CMV negative donors and was also the beginning of my anger around how much more cautious we had to be compared to those who can conceive without intervention.
  1. After CMV status, we filtered out all anonymous donors. While an anonymous donor sounds ideal to me, we’ve read some research that suggests otherwise. We instead opted for Open-ID, where the donor has agreed to at least one form of contact when the donor born offspring turns 18. It scares me, and yet who am I to deny my children information about their genetics? Companies like 23andme and ancestrydna are popular for a reason. There is a human desire to know where our genetics came from. It would be unfair of me to keep that opportunity from my kid because I’m worried about whether or not the donor is an asshole and will respect our boundaries. I don’t know this person and someday my 18 year old might reach out to them and I won’t be able to prevent a possible disappointment. It would be easier to just take it off the table and use an anonymous donor, but like I said, choosing a donor was the first thing I did as a parent.
  1. Next stop was finding someone who had confirmed pregnancies. This was recommended by a friend because it means that the sperm is good and has worked before. 
  1. And now after all of that we can get to OUR small list of hopes for donor characteristics. The first one was a real whammy, finding someone who was at least a little Jewish. This put our list into single digit options and also completely took some sperm banks out of the running. I could live without our donor being Jewish which isn’t surprising considering I’m not Jewish, but it was the one thing the Queer 1 was hoping for, especially if we do reciprocal IVF in the future with my egg.
  1. By this point each potential donor is a carrier for some rare genetic disease. Yet another decision on risk. Again, I struggled with this because if we could make a baby, we wouldn’t be getting advanced genetic screening…but we did anyways only to find out that neither of us are carriers for anything and our small group of donors were all still on the table. 
  1. Next we looked into medical history, family background, and did our best to get a sense of who we might be comfortable with our future kids reaching out to some day. We found one or two surprises who had no Jewish background and almost selected a donor until we listened to an audio recording which for some reason was an immediate turn off. We ended up with someone who was CMV negative, a little Jewish, sounded mature and well spoken in their audio file, and shared similar interests as us.

At the end of this process, we were dumbfounded by both the money we had to spend to find out who we couldn’t use and how little choice we ended up with because of the CMV negative and Jewish combination. This would have been much harder if we wanted a BIPOC donor who are even more limited in supply.

It was a relief to have this decision made. Which was short lived because then came the next one…how much sperm do you buy for IUIs!? And how much do you buy if you want two kids from the same donor?

Our Dr. recommended 3-4 vials of sperm in hopes that we would get pregnant via IUI so we started off by purchasing 5 vials which was a big chunk of change for us. We shipped in 3 vials to the clinic (more money) and unfortunately went through it all and then some. Luckily, we seem to have picked a donor who is not a hot commodity and has donated at least a few times. I have a monthly event on my google calendar to check in on how many vials are left on the donor’s profile because this is my life now. Sperm manager. We have spent over $6,000 on sperm alone which hopefully will be all we need to create our family of 2-3 kids.

Looking back I am proud of how we navigated all of the emotional labor that goes into selecting a sperm donor. We discussed what we were hoping for in a donor well in advance of actually looking which gave us each other time to reflect on our thoughts. When we encountered unexpected decisions like following FDA recommendations around CMV status and genetic screening we did not make any fast decisions.

We made both of those decisions over a couple of days and allowed each other to waffle back and forth on what is acceptable to us both individually and as a couple. There were a lot of long dog walks where we both spoke openly about all of the possibilities, fears, and frustrations over choosing a donor.

As much as I wish we didn’t have to make any of those decisions, it helped us grow closer to each other as future parents. Any time I told Queer 1 about my selfish fears of not using an anonymous donor it provided the opportunity for her to quickly respond back with it won’t matter, you will be our child’s parent, no matter what. It is your baby just as much as it is mine.

And you know what? She is absolutely right. Her confidence and matter-of-fact tone without missing a beat gave me permission to feel the same way. I’ve heard of non-biological parents feeling worried about not loving their child as much or feeling as connected and honestly I have yet to feel that way. I’ve never wanted something so much. We’ve put in so much time, hope, and money. Every time we get a positive beta I get more worried about getting TOO attached. I know and trust my capacity to love. As a non-binary queer, love from chosen family has been my primary support system in life.

Every step of the way we are choosing to continue because we have so much love for what will become of those frozen embryos and it is enough, just enough some days, to sustain us through this time. It is the kind of persevering love that is only the beginning of what will always supersede genetic material and that is more than enough to wash away my old insecurities around biology. 

-Queer 2

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