Use this guide to help in choosing a sperm donor
Choosing a sperm donor may be one of the craziest things you might ever have to do in your life. It can also be a deeply personal journey and one of the most important decisions for individuals or couples who are seeking to start or expand their families. With advancements in reproductive technologies, the process of choosing a sperm donor has become more accessible and customizable.
Situations in which a sperm donor is needed
There are many reasons why a sperm donor may be needed to conceive. When male factor infertility is affecting your ability to get pregnant, your reproductive endocrinologist may suggest using a sperm donor before doing an intrauterine insemination or to use during an in vitro fertilization cycle. Additionally, a single mom by choice or a lesbian couple will need to use a sperm donor to conceive since their bodies only produce eggs.
If you fall into one of these categories, you will be faced with questions about where you will get sperm needed for conception. Some patients already have a known donor, for example someone biologically connected willing to donate sperm. However, most patients needing sperm will turn to a commercial sperm bank to purchase from their database of donors. When this is the case, the task may feel daunting at first. Where to begin? What bank should I use? What do I look for in a donor?
Step-by-step guide to choosing a sperm donor
Your team at Fertility Answers can provide valuable insights, discuss your options, and help you understand any potential risks or complexities associated with using donor sperm. Use our step-by-step guide to help you navigate the process.
Step 1: Define your priorities and preferences
Your first step is probably the most personal and crucial to your journey to choosing a sperm donor. The most important question to ask yourself and your partner are what characteristics are most important to you and your future family? Most individuals and couples will first want to consider physical traits. Do you want your child to look like your or your partner physically? Database information on donors will list such physical characteristics as their hair color, eye color, ethnicity, and height.
But physical characteristics only tell part of the story. Think about what other less tangible attributes you would like your child to have. Would you like your donor to have a certain IQ, be athletic, or artistic? Attributes such as athleticism, musical ability, artistic ability, education level, occupation, languages spoken, interests and hobbies can provide a full picture of the type of person a prospective donor is.
Other preferences may include medical history and overall health. For example, do you carry a genetic disease that you need to screen for? What diseases are listed in the donor’s medical history? Does the donor appear to live a healthy lifestyle? These are all preferences that you and your partner should discuss before you begin your search.
Now that you’ve discussed what attributes are important to you, make your list and rank according to importance.
Step 2: Research sperm banks
Your next task on your mission for choosing a sperm donor is selecting and opening an account at a sperm bank. You should look for a sperm bank that stringently screens its sperm donors, has extensive quality controls, and is inspected and accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB), the Federal Drug Administration, and if located in a state that regulates sperm banks to be certified by their state department of health. Fertility Answers uses many different sperm banks across the country and our team can help you narrow down the choices depending on some of your preferences. For instance, some banks have more inventory of certain ethnic backgrounds while others may have certain health screenings that are important to you.
You might also want to work with a sperm bank that has a large selection of donors, is highly selective of donors with stringent pre-screening, and highly trained laboratory and genetics staff to help you with the process. Companies with extensive pre-screening assures you the best donor samples. All donors should be screened for:
- infectious diseases, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis, HIV and syphilis.
- Zika – donors should be ineligible to donate for six months after travelling to regions the CDC has identified at-risk for mosquito-borne Zika transmission.
- Heritable genetic conditions – information about the health of the donor, his siblings, his parents, his grandparents, his aunts, his uncles, and his cousins. The family medical history is carefully evaluated for any birth defects or known genetic conditions.
- Psychological assessment – look for donor programs that require donors to complete a personality assessment inventory (PAI) or who are interviewed by a licensed mental health professional.
- Criminal background check
Step 3: Narrow down your search
Once you have a good understanding and feel comfortable with the level of screening done by a sperm bank, the real process of choosing a sperm donor comes into play. First, use the preferences you listed in step one to begin narrowing the list of donors in the donor database. If physical characteristics you want your child to have are at the top of your priority list, then your search may begin by looking for donors who look like you or your partner. This includes eye color, hair color, ethnicity and other physical characteristics such as height.
With a narrowed list, you can then apply your next highest priority. For example, you or your partner may be a carrier of a certain genetic disease. In this instance, you would then screen out any donors with that in their health profile. Keep narrowing down your list using your criteria from step one until you feel like you have a manageable pool of possible donors. But be careful not to be too specific on the first go rounds, as you may end up eliminating donors who meet most, but not all of your criteria.
Step 4: Make the final choice
With a pool of donors who meet your initial search criteria you can now get more specific in your task of choosing a sperm donor. Read through each one’s profile, look at their family medical history, assess any notes made by staff, and read each donor’s personal essays. Some banks may also have sound recordings of the donor’s voice, childhood photos, and even hand-written letters answering questions about themselves.
This stage of the process is where it gets very personal for you and your partner. Make sure you are both in full agreement on which donor to finally select as this decision will last a lifetime.
Step 5: One last consideration
Finding and agreeing on the perfect sperm donor is a difficult process, one that you probably don’t want to go through again. That’s why it’s important to make sure your donor has enough “straws” or vials of frozen sperm that will last through your entire treatment. Most people need a few fertility treatments to get pregnant. Therefore, it can be a good idea to reserve some extra straws for your entire fertility treatment. Additionally, if you plan to have more children, you may want to use the same donor for any subsequent fertility treatments. Reserving sperm straws costs a little extra, but it is definitely worth it if you are set on a specific donor.