So I mentioned that the donor search raised some issues for me. Another long post, what can I say, dem’s big thoughts.
Advised by the embryologist to do so only in the knowledge that I’d probably be wasting my time, I sat down for what I thought would be a quick look at the sperm bank’s website and, of course, ended up scrolling through profiles until the wee hours. I defy you to resist the temptation to do the same.
This is the world’s largest bank with “Always more than 500 donors on stock free of quarantine ready to deliver”. There’s a section for private patients, one for clinics and one for those who would like to store sperm for later eg cancer patients. Clinics can buy semen and “complementary products” – I’m not even going to see what those products might be. Designer scent, branded changing bags, kaftans for that post-baby belly… who can guess. Oh, and they’ve produced over 20,000 babies since 1991 apparently. I’m hoping that includes both Europe and the US – that’s a lot of Scandinavian half-sibling offspring knocking around a small continent hoping not to bump into each other when the dating begins.
The basic search categories are ethnicity, race, eye and hair colour, height and weight. There are three options that I ignore, called:
- usage (ICI-unwashed v IUI-ready – not sure if this is relevant for me but either way it makes me feel queasy)
- standard (seems to be about national standards, once again not sure if relevant [enter desired national stereotype here about US sperm wanting to be number one to the egg, British sperm requiring a stiff upper lip, German sperm having to be punctual and an exact length/diameter etc etc etc])
- quality (about motility, as far as I can tell – you’d assume they’re all pretty nifty)
You can select a basic or extended profile, and an anonymous or non-anonymous donor. At the moment, there are 514 donors. Selecting non-anonymous reduces these to 74, and adding extended profile to the mix whittles these 74 down further to 22, just as the embryologist said. I’m surprised to see that most of the extended profile donors are anonymous: selecting extended profile but anonymous throws up 147 donors.
On the basics, I’m not going to specify hair and eye colour or weight. I had tossed around whether it would be better to choose my own hair and eye colour. It might be nice for the baby’s sake if he looks like me. And I do have a tiny, tiny fear of being freaked out after labour by a baby who looks very different to me – but basically I know that after carrying a baby with love for all those months (and those baby hormones raging aforce post-partem) that’s not going to happen. Specifying these would be no guarantee that the baby has those characteristics anyway, plus it would narrow an already slim range.
However, in the ethnicity stakes, I am going for Caucasian (I’m Caucasian). If I had a black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern or Asian boyfriend, I would be delighted to have a black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern or Asian baby. And who knows what the future may bring. But if it’s just me and baby for the foreseeable, I think it would be easier for us to be the same ethnicity. Not everyone will feel the same about this and I respect everyone’s choices here. As it happens, there are only about 25 non-Caucausian donors in the bank – so let’s not use these up for the recipients who need Asian, Hispanic or Middle Eastern donors (no one of African origin in the bank at present, surprising). Race I’m going to ignore – most are Danish or Scandinavian I think anyway.
Call me shallow, but I am going to specify a minimum height. Turns out to be kind of academic anyway. I’ve been to Copenhagen and remember feeling like a Hobbit standing at the bar, so it’s no surprise to see that, of the 514, there’s barely a donor below 5 ft 8. There are 87 lofty dudes between 6 ft 2 and 6 ft 5 and three behemoths above 6 ft 5. Nearly twice as many in the 5 ft 9 – 6 ft 2 category as in the 5 ft 5 – 5 ft 9 group. I’ve just Googled this and the average male in my country is 5 ft 7. I’m enriching the gene pool here, people.
Non-anonymous v anonymous
Non-anonymous is non-negotiable for me. Again, different women will have different opinions on this. In some countries, it’s not an option any more: you have to have an identifiable donor. My feeling is that choosing anonymous is a decision you cannot reverse. The child can do nothing about this when he is grown up if you close that door for him. I don’t believe it’s up to me as a mother to make that decision. He may not be interested in pursuing the donor and the donor may not be alive or available if he does, but selecting non-anonymous at least gives the child the option. The donor could be an embarrassment, a let-down, an interference in our lives, a saint, an enrichment to the child, an irrelevance – who knows. But it’s up to the child to decide if he wants to find this out. I will already have made the decision to make the child a donor child, with all the implications that may bring.
Extended profile, though – is this narrowing the choice too much? There are 74 other non-anonymous donors who are probably just as lovely as the 22 with extended profiles – I’m just lacking the information on them. And the competition for the 22 is probably pretty fierce. The choice may be out of my hands anyway.
I’m knocked sideways by the amount of information in the extended profiles, though. You get:
- the sperm bank’s impression of the donor as a person
- multiple pages containing info on:
- basics such as year of birth, blood type
- physical characteristics eg build, skin tone, shape of face, colour of hair as child, shoe and clothing size, whether they wear corrective lenses, dominant hand
- education and occupation, past and present
- personality eg sports played, strengths and weaknesses, marital status, languages spoken, drinker or smoker, countries visited
- dreams, favourites and experiences eg childhood dreams, current goals in life, values, favourite film/book/colour/animal etc, most memorable experiences to date
- health issues if any (usually none)
- family tree, including both sets of grandparents
- a baby photo – O-M-G!
You can also check if they are available in your country and see if they’ve had any pregnancies yet. And for some, there’s:
- an emotional intelligence rating based on a questionnaire
- an audio recording of their reasons for donating
- a handwritten letter on their reasons for donating
So, there’s a world of difference between the extended and basic.
Extended profile angst
Against all advice, I work my way through the 22 and make a shortlist. For what it’s worth. This process makes me question my own values in an unsettling way. For example, is education important? I would rather not have a donor of low intelligence but education doesn’t measure this. Given different circumstances, many people might have gone on to third-level education and having been to college doesn’t make someone more intelligent or a better person. Having said this, would I date someone who hadn’t gone to university? Possibly not. Is this snobbery or about having more in common? I’m not sure. Argh.
I find myself drawn to donors nearest to my age or a little older. Fifty is the cut-off, apparently. Maybe I’m being stupid in wanting a donor the same age as a potential mate. Doesn’t this also increase the chances that they may not be alive if and when my child seeks them out? Younger guys’ sperm is probably of better quality (actually, is this even true? I’m not sure). Somehow though, the idea of the donor being only 19 or 20 years older than the child makes me cringe a little. One of the extended profile guys is still in high school, lawks.
But maybe I need to stop thinking in terms of a potential mate. This isn’t internet dating. If you think of the guy as Donor, rather than Daddy, age is irrelevant. Whether values, education, personality and the rest are also irrelevant is a nature v nurture discussion for another day.
A word or two on the “Staff impressions” section. These are one-paragraph summaries from the sperm bank staff. They are beautifully written in English with a Danish twist. They are all very warmly worded and some are plain hilarious. I give you:
“[his big beard] also makes him seem so full of wisdom and I can easily imagine that he is good for a story or two.”
“you simply can’t help smiling whenever he is near.”
“ loves to hike… Maybe his good humane values and benevolent, broadminded personality is the aftermath of this mind clearing hiking.”
Also, we know Danish people are cute, but the number of these guys who allegedly look like famous Hollywood actors (Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson, Keanu, they’re all here) is pushing it a tad.
Last thoughts on extended profiles. How on earth do you resist passing on this information to a child wanting to know about their donor? Or is it acceptable to tell them? No one wants to build up this mythical Daddy figure who loves opera, travelled South America for two years and repairs boats in his spare time. He’s not Daddy: he’s a donor. But keeping this information to yourself with a little face in front of you desperate to find out where he came from can’t be easy. I already feel guilty about depriving the child of a father. How would you withhold a baby photo of their donor if you had one?
And we all know that newborns are supposed to resemble their fathers to reassure the innate cavemen that they are theirs – how big must the temptation be to compare that baby photo against your new baby’s with a close friend in those early days? Having initially thought I would go through these profiles with a friend over a bottle of wine, this now seems like a betrayal of the future child. It’s his information, no one else’s.
Also, does picking an extended profile increase the chances of the child having multiple siblings around the world and is this too weird? You may have seen the TV programme about Donor 150, who donated about 500 times and fathered 14 donor children. Might extended profile sibs even bump into each other without searching? When I mentioned to two people the other day that I had been looking at donors, both of them independently raised the phenomenon of half siblings being physically attracted to each other, while not knowing about their shared parentage. That’s more than unsettling. I live in a small country where everyone seems to be only a couple of steps removed from everyone else and that’s without adding donor sibs to the mix.
Maybe I’m overanalysing. The donor children I’ve read about, including JoEllen in the documentary above, do seem largely fine about all this, as long as their parent(s) were open with them from the start. Maybe that’s the key.
I have some time anyway. The embryologist mentioned that he’d just placed an order with the bank and wouldn’t be ordering again for three or four weeks (I bet the UPS guy loves those deliveries). A bit of breathing space then to get test results back and see what the treatment plan is.