With an IVF retrieval only a few weeks away, we need to choose a new sperm donor as soon as possible. Deciding on Don as our original sperm donor was easy; he’s a close friend who would be present in our child’s life but has no desire to usurp our parental roles. We can’t think of anyone else that suits this description, and we don’t want to spend what little time we have before our retrieval trying to scout and screen possible donors knowing that it might not work out. Instead, we decide we’ll use an anonymous donor through a well-regarded sperm bank.
I have concerns about this plan, after falling down a Google hole and spending hours reading studies and personal accounts of how donor-conceived children struggle, and often resent the circumstances of their conception. Now I’m wondering whether our choice of donor is going to have a negative impact on our future child’s life. If we had stuck with Don, our child would be able to ask him all the questions they wanted about genetic background, family medical history, and the less tangible but equally important traits that parents, whether biological or not, can pass on to their children. They wouldn’t have to experience the stress that many donor children report of looking at people on the street wondering which one might be a blood relative, or waiting until their eighteenth birthday to send their donor a letter that might never be returned. They would have a relationship with Don and any future kids he might have – their biological half-siblings. Is it fair of us to deny our child this relationship? When our baby asks why we chose an anonymous donor, are we really going to tell them that we made the decision that affected the course of their whole life because of a scheduling conflict?
I am panicking. This is not unusual for me; I’m very good at finding things to panic about.
Charlie tries to calm me down. First of all, he points out, no one grows up in a perfect family. “And people mostly turn out fine. Look at us.” It’s a fair point; my parents are divorced, and Charlie’s father died when Charlie and his sister were very young. We’re awesome anyway, and so are our siblings. I know amazing people who are adopted, donor-conceived, children of single parents, foster kids, and every other imaginable shade of family situation–not to mention people from presumably ideal families who grew up to be fucked up and miserable. Your circumstances don’t define you; it’s what you do with them.
The second thing Charlie points out is that most of the people reporting negative outcomes for donor-conceived kids–both the kids in the studies and the ones writing impassioned anti-sperm-donation arguments on their blogs–were raised by hetero couples, and many of them were misled to think that their legal fathers were also their biological fathers. Finding out later in life that what you thought about your family wasn’t true could obviously be traumatic and confusing. Our child isn’t going to go through that. They’re going to grow up knowing they were conceived with help from a donor.
As far as we can figure out, there has never been a study focusing exclusively on children with gay parents comparing donor-conceived children to adopted children or biological children from previous relationships. So who’s to say that our child won’t have a wonderful and happy life? Besides, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what statistics predict. There will be no way to protect our child from all the hardship they might face growing up in a family that isn’t strictly “normal.” What matters most, I believe, is that we do the best we can by our child and never let them forget that they are loved and wanted.
So anonymous sperm donor it is. We spend a lot of time looking through the available candidates, making notes on our favorites and discussing pros and cons. The sperm bank we choose has some of the most rigorous medical screening anywhere and includes detailed background information on siblings, parents, and grandparents. It feels strange to select for family medical history in choosing half of our child’s genetic makeup–if you were looking for a romantic partner to co-parent with, you’d feel pretty crappy dumping someone because his grandfather had diabetes–but at the same time, with all this information at our fingertips, why wouldn’t we pick the healthiest possible gene pool for our baby?
We look for donors with a similar ethnic background to mine–Irish and Norwegian–and blue eyes. Charlie and I both have blue eyes, so if it were possible for us to have a biological child together, that child would be blue-eyed as well. I’m not attached to being related to our child by blood, but it would be nice if they looked at least a tiny bit like me.
The donor we choose is Irish, Norwegian, and German, with four living grandparents, and has never had glasses or braces. We pay extra to look at his extended profile and his baby pictures. He was an adorable, smiling, chubby-cheeked toddler. In his personal essay, he talks about loving music and skateboarding, which reminds me of my brothers. I feel like he’s someone I would like in real life.
Once we’ve selected our donor, we order a vial of sperm and have it shipped to Tucson to await our retrieval appointment. The sperm bank is running low on samples from this particular donor – he’s popular, apparently. Our hypothetical future baby could have a lot of hypothetical future half-siblings out there. More to the point, if we want multiple sperm vials we need to order them now – we might not get another chance.
Is it worth the additional expense to give us a shot at siblings down the road? We decide against it. Money is tight, and we’re confident that we’ll end this cycle with more than enough embryos frozen and stashed away to give us the family of our dreams.