Motherhood

“The One Thing That Surprised Me About Choosing a Sperm Donor”

“The One Thing That Surprised Me When Choosing a Sperm Donor”

Starting a family always involves surprises and unknowns, but what if you’re using a sperm donor? Interested to hear what that experience is like, I talked to Caitlin, who lives in New York City with her wife, Clare, and their now three-year-old son. “It’s kind of like shopping for an apartment — you surprise yourself about what’s important to you,” she said. “We were thankful we were on the same page.” Here, she describes the biggest thing she’s learned as a mom…


Choosing a sperm donor for our child was a fascinating process for my wife and me.

We used California Cryobank, and you have a million factors through which you can sort these donors. They list the obvious stuff — height, age, ethnicity, eye color, hair color — but then they also have “staff impressions” of the person and “artistic contribution” (they can choose to draw a picture or write an essay). They share SAT scores and a full medical history. Most of them include childhood pictures.

It’s amazing but intimidating, frankly.

What was interesting for me was the shift in expectations. When we went in, I thought, ok, we’ll get a 6’2” Olympian with a Ph.D. Because why wouldn’t you? But then you start thinking, okay, what IS a barometer of success and potential, and what’s really just your interpretation? It turns out to be a real value test.

We were surprised by how much the subjective things made a difference, like the staff impressions saying, oh, he’s friendly or he was smiling. One guy seemed perfect on paper — he was on the Persian Olympic soccer team (my wife is Arab; I’m super athletic) — but the staff described him as moody. That was a deal breaker for us. The staff actually really got into their impressions and would say things like, “He has the soul of a poet,” and we were like geez Louise. And others weren’t as into it, and would say, “He’s efficient and seems upstanding,” and I was like, they’re doing these guys a disservice! They must be chosen a lot less.

Even the celebrity look-a-likes were on the forms. Our donor apparently looked like a combo between the Australian actor Liam Hemsworth and Jude Law. We were both like, oh, Jude Law!

We ended up with a college athlete but not an Olympian; a law student but not a Ph.D.; 5’11” but not 6’2”. There weren’t many Arab donors, so we ended up with someone who wasn’t. Honestly, we chose our donor mainly because he seemed nice. That translated across the page in an unexpected way. He seemed to have the capacity for love and happiness. Literally all being equal (because we can see all the stuff), it weighed out some of the more impressive credentials. You look at his baby photo from the 80s and you think, that’s a nice kid who’s happy. This person has some soul and light in their eyes.

We did understand that, in some ways, if we chose donor A versus donor B versus donor C, we’d have a different kid. That initially felt overwhelming. But in a way it felt like ordering from a menu. Do I feel like chicken tacos tonight? Is my life going to be changed in a subtle but real way if I get the veggie burrito instead? I don’t know? We’re rolling the dice with our lives anyway — can we keep it together as parents? as a couple? will our child be healthy? — that this didn’t feel like that big of a deal. Everything becomes such a crap shoot. Ultimately, how important is your choice? You have no idea and no way of checking. It’s a mystery.

After all, my brother, sister and I are all genetically of the same stock, but you could not pick three more different people.

I don’t think about the donor very much anymore, but there are tiny moments where I’m like, that’s my wife, and maybe that’s the guy, and maybe that’s me. Our son Peter is a lot like me, even though my wife carried him and I had no genetic stake in the endeavor. We have a very similar sense of humor.

If we have a second child, we’d use the same donor, 100%, no doubt. We’ve been paying the storage fees. Last month, I got the credit card bill and was like, what is this? And then I was like, oh, yeah, our sperm on ice. Some of these guys have a lot of stock. The bank can email you if it’s selling out, in case you want more.

Now that Peter is three, he’s completely his own person. It’s a good exercise in giving up control. For example, it was very important to me that we choose an athletic donor. When I was growing up, the minute I got onto any field for sports, I would be the best person there; it became a big part of my identity. But even though we chose an athlete as a donor, we’re starting to see that Peter might not be naturally sporty. He spends the first 10 minutes of every soccer class being shooed off my lap and wooed with yogurt-covered raisins. Yet I look at my son and he’s babbling about the moon and it’s awesome. We got a happy dreamer, and those are two wonderful things.


Thank you, Caitlin! Have any others had experiences with choosing sperm or egg donors? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

P.S. On being a surrogate, and 15 things I’d want to tell a new mother.

(Top photo by Cara Dolan from Stocksy.)

  1. Hannah says...

    I don’t usually leave comments (in fact, this may my first internet comment ever…), but I have to say how NICE it is to read about a different kind of birth story. I was born to older heterosexual parents through the help of a surrogate mother, I’ve anonymously donated my own eggs multiple times to couples who cannot conceive and now my (female) partner and I are beginning to think about our own path to parenthood. I’m very proud to be part of a modern family and help others be the same. Thank you for featuring stories like this. I hope there are many more :)

  2. Lucy says...

    My partner’s parents could not have children and so went with a sperm donor. They are Swedish, but wanted the sperm donor to be anonymous and untraceable by their child, so they went to Finland – where it is also significantly cheaper. When he was born they did a DNA test because he looked so much like his dad. When he was 8 and was told for the first time about it he became obsessed with being Finnish, but now he doesn’t really think about it. i think the fact that the option to contact the donor was taken off the table is quite a relief. no decision needed to be made about whether to or not.

  3. Teri says...

    I love that they thought “happy and nice” were the most important things. People have described me my entire adulthood as happy, nice, perky, kind, too nice, upbeat…and yet if someone asked me what I want my daughter to be? A bad-ass bitch…every time!
    Your child is going to be a wonder and a gift to you…whether they struggle with depression, or whether they people-please their way through life. Enjoy the agony and the ecstasy of it!

    • SO true Teri!

      Love this so much: “Your child is going to be a wonder and a gift to you…whether they struggle with depression, or whether they people-please their way through life. ”

      My kids are still small and none of them are depressed. But they’re all so different. I have one that charms the socks off everyone in seconds, and one that is a slower burner, but has so much depth and is so sensitive. And you’re right – all three of them are 100% wonders and gifts to me, and I’m in awe of them all.

  4. I’m a sperm donor kid (I like to call myself a ‘turkey baster baby’) and it’s been a journey for me. I first found out about my sperm donor dad when I was in 6th grade and a few years later actually reached out to him. We exchanged a few emails, and I got to ask him all the questions I was dying to know like where my penchant for writing and the Golden Girls comes from or where my milk allergy factors in, and he got to tell me about his life in New York City as a (get this) writer! I felt like a few pieces had been filled in that maybe weren’t missing but were certainly missed. It hasn’t changed my relationship with my Dad either and I think I’ll always be grateful that I got the chance to make the decision to reach out on my own.

    xx

  5. I have a 17 year old conceived with donor sperm. It was an anonymous donation and with the exception of a medical history and a brief description of his interests, this man is a stranger to me. But oh what a gift he gave me and I grateful every day for the blessing that stranger bestowed upon me. Thank you for this lovely piece.

  6. sue says...

    Wow this post is so sweet I want to cry right now. Thanks for sharing <3

  7. Tab says...

    I’m struggling at the moment with the debate over using anonymous or non-anonymous donors. I flip from being strongly of one mind but then sliding back to the other side. It was really nice to see the comments above from donor-conceived individuals who mention that they have absolutely no urge to know anything about their donors, that knowing they are wanted brings so much grounding into the family. But then I also like the idea that having the choice at least provides more options than not having the choice at all. It’s all very complicated…

    My partner and I are going to start the baby-making process next year and have been vaguely discussing what each of us considers the most important when getting around to choosing sperm – so this post is really great to read. From a concept that seems so simple in theory (you get some sperm, you have a baby), once you head down that rabbit-hole it opens up all kinds of heavy questions and internal AND external debates. For a bookish, science-loving person like myself, not having a ‘correct answer’ is quite excruciating, but I love the reassurance from the OP and all the other commenters who say that it’s more about feelings and intuition than necessarily picking the ‘right’ one.

  8. hank says...

    I love this. Several years ago I was newly divorced and rapidly approaching 40. I wanted a baby and was planning to do go it alone. Sperm donor profiles were everything that online dating profiles should be (which I was also doing at the time)! Staff impressions were the real glimpse into the personality. All with the ease of “add to cart!” I found the whole selection process to be almost amusing.

  9. Shannon says...

    This is SO fascinating. I’ve always wondered how that worked. I love that they chose the one who seemed happy and nice. Probably more important than anything else.

  10. Lt says...

    Love this. Thoughtful musings.
    3 is young, he still might be sporty! My little one was distracted and not into sports at 3, he was more interested looking around and watching others (dreaming too). At 5, he is now very interested and showing some skill at soccer and can throw reall well. But who knows, in another year he might be more interested in art or reading, and that’s fine too!

  11. breanne says...

    it’s interesting to read that so many people base their choices on the staff impressions, as we tend to disregard them because they are often just describing his outfit or hair…who cares? we tend to consider donors based on the sound of their voice, their medical history, the things they say about their families, and if they answer questions thoughtfully. it’s amazing how the sound of someone’s voice can make your intuition say, “nope!” or “hmmm, that’s nice.”

    my wife and i are currently sifting through california cryobank’s options. after choosing a donor that we really felt connected to a year ago, and several attempts at pregnancy failing, we are back to the drawing board for several reasons. mainly, our donor has run out at the bank (no email when his sperm was low included), and after so many attempts at pregnancy, we’re running out, too. i think that there is a misconception out there (or at least in my experience) that once you choose your donor, then it’s a just a trip the doctor and hooray! but it’s so much more involved and complicated. attempting pregnancy through iui only gives you a 15% chance of conceiving. every. time. and sometimes at the end of another failed cycle you’re looking at each other and crying, “but we just want a baby.”

    in any case, thanks so much for highlighting here the multitude of experiences that people have when growing their families. :)

    • Kara says...

      I hear you! We struggled so much to conceive with our donor sperm and IUI. Each failed cycle is such a disappointment. I tried 8 rounds of IUI before moving to IVF, and on our first try with IVF we found the problem––I produce a lot of eggs, but they are slightly off (like microscopically misshapen) and doctors don’t really know why, but an abnormality like that most likely means my eggs would never fertilize, even under the most careful lab conditions. I was devastated at first, but I’m lucky enough that my wife was open to donating her eggs to me and I did eventually get pregnant that way.

      Trying to conceive when you can’t, for whatever reason, is so difficult and can be so lonely and isolating. I just wanted to say there are so many who have been there, and we’re with you! I hope for the very best for you and your wife going forward and I know it will work for you––you’ll look at each other soon and say “we’re having a baby.” :)

  12. Jamie says...

    What an insightful essay. I’ve always been curious to know if they ask the donors why they chose to donate. I’d imagine that I’d be very curious about that answer.

  13. Lovely post, and how lucky he is to have you as parents. I was (and still am) incredibly unathletic, and I grew up in a (well-meaning!) family where sports were a non-negotiable throughout my entire childhood. Rarely has anything made me feel more inferior than my peers than my ineptitude at catching or throwing balls, or running fast. I wish there had been less of an emphasis on athletics and more on the things I was good at (reading! writing! nerdy stuff.) I’m happy you’re able to recognize that your son may not have the exact same interests as you.

  14. Mary says...

    I read your blog every day but I have never commented. THANK YOU FOR THIS. My fiancée and I just selected our sperm donor (we are getting married in March and wanted to get things out of the way so that everything would be ready to go when the time is right). All of our friends are heterosexual couples who are getting pregnant the old fashioned way, and sometimes it feels isolating to go through this scientific and coldly evaluative process. But we chose our sperm donor for the EXACT same reasons as Caitlin and Claire. Despite his great credentials, it was the baby picture, and his choice of favorite animal (dog!) that got us. Something about choosing sperm for those reasons, rather than just his genetics, made it feel more natural.

    • Holly says...

      Congratulations :)

  15. Kara says...

    I can really relate to this––my wife and I started looking for a sperm donor thinking the defined search parameters would easily narrow things down for us. But in the end we also went by “feel”––the staff impressions, the childhood photos, and his answers to even the sort of asinine questions they ask on the surveys (“If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?” Randomly he chose Michael Jackson?!) made us feel he had a gentleness and a kindness that came through amid all the other details. Of course, his and his extended family’s medical history was also a big priority! Now I’m due in a week with our baby, conceived with his sperm and my wife’s egg (I’m not able to produce my own viable eggs), and we are so looking forward to meeting the little one.

  16. This is fascinating! I have never thought about it. Its like a high tech tinder but for a potential child.

    I loved the idea of staff impressions.

    • Kate Dixon says...

      Late to this thread but had to laugh, I have just gone through the process of using Donor sperm & after 2 years of hard work am now pregnant with my first baby. When friends ask me what choosing the Donor was like, Tinder with more far reaching consequences is exactly how I describe it! :)

  17. Lola says...

    In my country paid surrogacy is illegal. I am amazed by the inequity where women can browse sperm donors and single men or gay couples where I live have to endure a much more round about method to parenthood. Nothing is ever fair but I’m this a lot about this!

  18. karen says...

    Hi Joanna! What a great post. Could you please write a post about couples having a child with the help of a egg donor? How do they feel about the process and once the child is born how do they connect with the baby? I’m in the process of reading up on egg donors and the science of epigenetics. It’s fascinating but also scares me to death. Maybe cup of jo could help and inspire us on this path?

    • Kelly P says...

      I would be very interested in this, as well. It’s the only way I’m likely to ever get pregnant and I find it intimidating too.

    • Sarah says...

      My husband and I just selected an egg donor and I’m happy to share more about our process! It’s quite the journey. It’s an amazing option to have to build our family.

    • Jessica S says...

      I’m literally reading these comments while sitting in a hotel room in Vienna killing time before our embryo transfer (created with a donor egg). We decided to go overseas for a variety of reasons but seeing this thread while I’m here was definitely heartening!

    • Karen says...

      Hi Kelly, Sarah and Jessica
      First of all I am so happy to read that I’m not alone here at cup of jo with these questions! But far more important: good luck to all of you, right now especially to Jessica. I hope everything goes well for you in Vienna- believe it or not: I was born in Vienna. :-) Would you be willing to tell me about your clinic? (We live in Europe) Sarah is there any way you would be willing to talk or write about your experience? I would love to know more as I am scared and confused. Thank you!

  19. Emily says...

    What a lovely post. We conceived my now 5-year-old son thanks to the generosity of an anonymous egg donor. I’ve told my son the story of the special way he was made since the moment he was born; it starts by telling him how much we always wanted him, even before he was a twinkle in the universe.

    I had cancer when I was a teenager, and am now celebrating my 19th year as a survivor. When I was treated for cancer, the potential impact of chemotherapy and radiation on fertility was not openly discussed with teenage girls. Even still, because of science, I am alive and healthy and so is my wonderful son.

    • RG says...

      I’d love to hear more about how you told your son and when you started? We’ll be facing the same thing shortly!

    • Karen says...

      I’m so glad about your happy outcome! And the story for your son sounds just lovely! ❤️

  20. Katie says...

    This post is making me crazy curious about the donors themselevs – what motivates them, how much do they get paid, any open donors end up having relationships with their offspring??

    • Karen says...

      Same!! Emphases on the “what motivates them”

    • t says...

      The sperm bank we used asked the question of the donors and they would come up with thoughtful insights (close with their family or appreciate their family or couldn’t imagine wanting kids but not being able to have them, etc) but the banks go to fraternities and other organizations and put on presentations to entice them and of course the donors get paid. I think it is around $1k per donation (which results in several vials of sperm for the bank). When we bought our sperm it was around $800/vial.

      So if you are a college kid doing this I would imagine it is for the money with the added benefit of helping people.

  21. My wife and I conceived our kids with a sperm donor more than ten years ago. I have a lot of fondness for our donor, whom we’ve never met (although our girls can contact him when they are 18). We like to blame anything annoying or difficult on him, like our girls not sleeping through the night when they were babies, or their cavities, or hay fever. “Thanks, donor!” we say, and have a big laugh. Our kids laugh about it too. It’s been a good way to keep it all in perspective: the fact that someone kind and generous helped us become who we are, and he’s not a dad or even a member of our family, but he’s with us–in amazing and annoying ways–forever.

    • Janet says...

      This is adorable <3

  22. Karin says...

    So interesting! I definitely feel that nurture is as important as nature. My sibs and I are all adopted (not biologically related at all) but we have the same sense of humor and even sound alike on the phone.

    • Zoe says...

      This reminds me of a post CoJ did about family traits or identities. That we could choose how to define our family by what was important (kindness, humor, strength, for instance). Maybe humor was a defining part of your family so you all ended up with a similar sense of humor!

  23. RG says...

    I completely agree with this post! My partner and I had a very similar experience. We ended up really choosing a donor based on how we “Felt” about the donor which had so much to do with staff perspectives and how the donor came across in their written essays and answered to questions. I definitely thought I would care more about things like occupation/height etc which I ended up still caring about but less than I thought. In the end you want your children to be good people and when you’re searching and choosing, you try you best to find someone who gives you that feeling.
    While I agree that it can be complicated as one of your other readers implied, once you’ve decided to find a sperm donor then you’ve usually gotten past some of those hurdles. Also, what really helped us was speaking to a reproductive therapist. This therapist was crucial in helping us make a decision and talking about when/how to tell our future child about the donor. I highly recommend this for couples who want to delve into the more complicated issues around donation. There are people who do this for a living and can help you! She really emphasized to us that babies/children don’t care about genetics and its only what we as adults care about. The child really cares about love and attachment and will always think of us as his parents regardless of the genetics behind it. She stressed the importance of honesty which I agree with so that it never feels like a shameful or secretive thing to him. We’re due with our little guy in a couple of weeks and can’t wait to meet him!

  24. Lily says...

    Beautiful story, Caitlin. thank you for sharing.

  25. Julia says...

    My twin sister and I are sperm donor babies and it was anonymous so we don’t know anything about our natural dad. However I feel very strongly that this is right. My dad is the man who loved and cared for me all my life. There is no part of me (or my twin) that wants to know about our sperm donor! My wife and I are considering having kids and a sperm donor is one option. In the U.K. the laws have changed so that it’s no longer anonymous so we’d look at a danish sperm bank! It is great reading posts like this, thank you!

  26. Sarah says...

    What a lovely piece. I just found out I’m pregnant for the first time, and I’m overwhelmed by the idea and process of bringing a baby into this world!

  27. SuzieQ says...

    I realize this is meant to be a snapshot of one couple’s experience and I am glad it was an easy process for them; however, I believe it does a disservice to those reading it by not delving into the pros, cons and complications of donor conception. It also doesn’t at all address the legalities, lack of regulations, options (anonymous versus open donors), or impact on the donor child(ren) or the donor.

    I have two perfect sperm donor children but it is a much more complex decision than this piece portrays.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i hear you, suzie, thank you so much for your feedback. this piece was more focused on one woman’s realization that you have a false sense of control everything when choosing a donor, but i hear you that if we’re talking about donor conception for the first time, it might be worth going into more of the complications around it. thank you again for your feedback.

  28. Emma says...

    My cousin adopted my cousin’s baby and the now 3 year old looks just like his dad (his adopted mom is the one he’s actually related to genetically). Some things are just meant to be. :)

  29. Caitlin McGuire says...

    Funny coincidence… my name is Caitlin and my son’s name is Peter… and his best friend’s name is Clare :)

  30. Megan says...

    I went to a genetics talk the other day and the scientist made the conceptual point that if an American couple had 1000 kids, their children would encompass 50% of the genetic variation found in all of humanity. It’s amazing and humbling how complex we are– and it’s something that most parents don’t tend to think so much about. Thanks for sharing this interesting perspective!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s incredible, megan!

  31. Morgan says...

    What a beautiful story! I have two children from my first marriage and my current husband and I often remark and how much our oldest is like him. I know part of him is sad we never had biological children together, but I also know he get still gets so much joy out of seeing himself in the children we are raising. Families truly do come in all shapes and sizes.

  32. rebecca says...

    So beautifully written. It brought tears to my eyes and reminded me that the most important quality we instill in our children is kindness.

    • Anna says...

      This is exactly how it made me feel too. I’m literally sitting here blinking away a couple of tears.

  33. Summer says...

    “We got a happy dreamer, and those are two wonderful things.”

    This made me smile and precisely sums up everything I hope for in my future children. Cheers to you and your sweet family. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

  34. Capucine says...

    I think it all centers on love, in the end. Our close lesbian friends used a donor, our babies were born the same week. My daughter turned out exactly like her father, as if I weren’t even part of the equation. So there has been a lot of dealing with HIM, essentially, in her – there are two of them. I sometimes joke it’s a good thing I like him so much, if he had been a donor I would be blindsided by the boggling deep need to be in water all the time, or the morning person gene they share, or not being a talker, or being strong as an ox. Like, that’s not me, what the hell is this?! Because I know her dad, I know those odd traits and how to react. One of my friend’s twins is like a xerox of her mother, the other one takes strongly after the mystery father. Ten years in, it’s like that man is there, a kind ghost beside their family as their son grows into a man much like who fathered him (presumably). A more real and profound choice I can’t imagine. I’m grateful to that generous man for giving his part of life to the kids that are my daughter’s closest friends, in a way I never think about in standard-issue kids. I didn’t think about him at all at first, but now – the gift of life, truly.

  35. Giulia says...

    What a lovely, sweetly written, and interesting post! Thank you for sharing this, it adds something important and it manages to make me feel like I listened to an intelligent, warm conversation with friends. Hug to Peter, and cheers to the two of you! :)

    xxx Giulia

  36. Caitlin says...

    Thanks for this post! I’m single and 33. In the last year of failed dates (and one pretty rough relationship) I’ve started thinking about how I might start a family without a partner. I’d love to hear from people who were conceived through sperm donors- how do they feel about it? Do they wish they knew their father? I’m thinking about what my future kid could want and what my obligations to them might be. I still hope I don’t have to do parenting solo, but its nice to know there are options out there, and so nice to read about other people who are going different routes.

    • jjmoore says...

      Isn’t it Denmark where it is totally commonplace for single women to have babies on their own? Not sure which country but it is super inspiring – although I think they have a LOT more governmental support then we do in the US and without the stigma that is here as well.

    • J says...

      There is a great podcast on this subject called Not by accident, highly recommend!

    • CoCo says...

      I am the result of a sperm donor. Ah. It’s complicated to be honest. I didn’t find out until my early 20s so perhaps if I had been told earlier I would have had a different perspective. Maybe better, maybe worse. I always grew up with a love for science and did well in school but didn’t think I had what was needed to make it as a doctor (my mom was a school teacher and my father was a tradesman). I later found out that my sperm donor was a doctor so maybe I would have had the confidence to pursue medicine had I known earlier. My biggest wonder is the sperm donors ancestry. I am much darker skinned than the rest of my family but unfortunately 23andme did not give much assistance on that topic.

    • Cait says...

      At single and 33, after a long string of terrible dates and false starts, I finally met my dream guy and we just moved in together. Not saying you shouldn’t pursue having a child on your own, but don’t give up hope! :)

    • Lea says...

      I was conceived with donor sperm when my then-35-year-old mother decided she needed to have a kid and wasn’t going to wait to find the right person. And I have to say, I have absolutely zero interest in learning anything about the sperm donor. My mother always framed it that she “picked me” because “I was the best one the angels had,” and told me often how much she had wanted and loved me even before I was born, and I think that attitude – that I was wanted, and perfect, contributed to feeling more loved and secure than many kids with two biological parents. I also had so many people loving me – my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, my mother’s friends, one of whom was my “other mama” and one who was father figure, and who was my “daddy,” while his partner was my “uncle,” that I never even for a second wished I had a “real dad” or any bull like that.

      From my mom’s side, I know it was hard, and part of the reason she could do it was because she had a huge support system when I was very young, before we moved overseas. I know she didn’t date a ton, rarely introduced me to anyone, but part of that was being a single parent, and part of that was being overseas in a situation where dating was difficult to begin with. But I am so grateful and happy she made that choice.

  37. Jackie says...

    Great post- definitely resonated with my experience! When my wife and I started the process to pick out sperm, I started (somewhat compulsively) asking all kinds of people in my life what qualities they would look for if they were in my shoes. It clarified my values and was a fun conversation topic. :)

  38. Callie says...

    This post brought tears to my eyes–so lovely. Thank you for sharing!

  39. The really lovely reminder I enjoyed from this was the “letting go of control” part. I think many people shy away from adoption or sperm or embryo donors because they have to let go of so much perceived control. But when you really get into the weeds of having kids, absolutely zero is guaranteed no matter how they come to you.
    We have two adopted kids from two different birth moms, both closed adoptions and we only met one of the birth moms for a few minutes. We know the bare minimum about our kids’ histories and only know what one of the moms looks like, but that was a risk we were willing to take and are glad we did take.
    I was surprised that my daughter was a year old before I realized I was putting immense pressure on myself that she be perfect, sort of in order to justify having taken a risk on knowing nothing about her history. She’s not perfect (although pretty close! ;), but no kid, biological or donor or otherwise, and no matter how much you know about their history or how much “control” you have over the situation – is going to be. It was really helpful to take the pressure off myself and off of her (and later her little brother) that she had to be perfect to prove that the risks we took were justified. The risks are justified even though they aren’t perfect, because they are perfect for our family just the way they are.
    We had the odd situation of meeting our son’s half-sister recently, who is five years older and adopted through the same agency in a closed adoption. It was very strange to think about him having a half-sister and my daughter potentially having many half-siblings out there in the world. My vision and idea of what constitutes family is ever changing and I’m so grateful that I’ve been pushed to be more open and flexible about what family means through adoption and infertility.

  40. sarah-mai says...

    This is so very interesting, lovely insights on a topic I know literally nothing about :)

  41. Katie says...

    Thank you for sharing this. It opened my eyes to an experience I haven’t been through myself, and what a fascinating one. I especially liked this part: “Ultimately, how important is your choice? You have no idea and no way of checking. It’s a mystery.”

  42. Helena says...

    This is so interesting. My husband and I have three children. We fell in love in college and have been together for 17 years now. When I fell in love with him I never thought about his background, family, health or traits. I just fell for him. After we had our first child a few years ago, suddenly I started wondering about all those things. Health especially. My husband comes from a family with pretty bad health record honestly, lots of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis etc. My family have excellent health and all but one relative have died suddenly at 90/95+years. I would not have chosen anyone else but my husband if I could do it again, but for sure, it seems so great to be able to give your future child the best family health record there is!

  43. j f says...

    This is so timely for me! My partner (a dude) was asked by a some acquaintances to help them start a family (he says that its the biggest and best compliment he’s ever been given). We were really open to the idea, but wanted to make sure that we could navigate a potentially complicated or awkward situation, especially since we have a kiddo. We decided to all hang out and have a glass of wine and talk more details. I had only met one of them once, but the minute they walked in the door, I knew that it would be lovely to be connected to them through this strange process and that we could navigate through it together. They are still working on getting pregnant and I can’t wait to meet their little person when it happens. Even more exciting will be getting to introduce my son to his “cousin”. There are so many ways to be a family these days, and I feel so lucky to be asked to be a part of theirs.

    • Pam says...

      That is so wonderful. I am curious about the term “cousin” though. Are you worried that it will be a giant shock when he finds out later in life that they are technically half siblings? Or will he know that his dad donated his sperm from an early age but that you all decided to call them cousins?

    • j f says...

      All of our children will know the story and will know that they are biologically siblings, but we’ve all decided that we will be aunt/uncle/cousins in name and essentially in relationship.

    • Pam says...

      I LOVE that! Such an absolute blessing you are to that family.

  44. Stephanie says...

    My wife and I have a toddler conceived using donor sperm and so many of Caitlin’s remarks rang true for us during our search. We were surprised that the more subjective info in the donor profile was ultimately what held the most weight.
    Also, early on, we did an exercise where we imagined how we would look on paper if described in a donor profile. The answer, of course, was nowhere near perfect, but this freed us up to choose someone we felt good about in spite of “flaws” like an uncle with cancer, a bout of mild acne in adolescence, or a non-Ivy-league pedigree. We followed our instincts and today are lucky to be the parents of a happy, healthy child who will show us who he is in his own time.

  45. Melissa says...

    My wife and I just went through the same process of choosing a sperm donor online! This resonated so, so much with me and I’m happy to hear of another couple who decided what was important in a similar way we did. I just started the IUI process, so we’re hoping for the same wonderful outcome as these two!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wishing all the best for you and your wife, melissa! xoxo

  46. Sarah says...

    I REALLY love this post – thank you. We had a surrogate carry our embryo because carrying was not healthy for me, so the baby was genetically ours, but the extremely important process of nurturing our little girl (we didn’t know at the time, so, um, “it”) fell to the gestational carrier, and, as with the author here, there were SO many factors that we could see and select based on. Thank goodness, my husband and I were on the same page, as this isn’t something you talk about or even think about prior to experiencing it. I mean, think about the first conversation: hello, I just met you, will you let a doctor insert our genetic material into you and take very very good care of our baby for 9 months?!? :) It’s surreal, but a very beautiful and hard to explain process. We didn’t care about (though we don’t judge others who do) religion, sexual orientation, height, weight, athleticism, political views, marital status, economic situation, educational status — these are just a few of the factors we could look at. We cared deeply about the personal essay the carriers wrote and, yes, to some degree the surrogacy agency staff’s impressions, though our own were more important (we were able to meet a candidate we’d “chosen” and could back out, as could the carrier – thankfully, neither of us wanted to). We chose someone who just seemed like an extremely good person and where I felt this sense of calm reading her essay like yep, she’s cool. And while the beginning times together were lots of heartfelt awkward moments, we grew together and she and her family are like family to us. Our baby is OURs through and through, but it’s neat that she had such a good other caretaker ahead of us. Anyway. Loved this post and hearing about someone else’s different experience in the world. Hats off to the author and her wife!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      love this, sarah. it sounds like it was a beautiful experience.

    • Alexandra Marie says...

      I have often thought about being a surrogate, and I loved being pregnant, however we just gave birth to our first who was an IUGR baby– a little girl 4lb 12oz born at 38 weeks. She was (and is) as healthy as a teeny tiny ox, and is now a perfect 8lb 10 week old, but since they don’t know the cause of her growth restriction, I most likely wouldn’t be considered as a good surrogate. We are celebrating her little life, but I’m giving myself room to mourn the opportunity to be a part of another family’s story in that way.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      you sound like an amazing, kind and generous person, alexandra marie. congratulations on your sweet daughter — i love how you describe her as a “teeny tiny ox”! :)

  47. t says...

    Our donor selection was not at all enjoyable. We had a hard time agreeing on the donor and it is so difficult because this is your future CHILD! Like what can be more important? As there isn’t an emotional connection with the donor no one was good enough.

    One thing that was really important to us was selecting an open-ID donor. That means when our children turn 18 they are able to find out his name and his contact information. He is not obligated to anything on his end but at least they will have that information if they desire. I did a good deal of research on donor kids prior to getting pregnant and many of them really wanted that info but their parent(s) didn’t select open-ID donors. Not knowing is always worse in my opinion.

    When we finally selected a donor our top choice was sold out. So then we had to wait for more supply to become available.

    At the time we bought our sperm the sperm bank (Xytex) limited the sperm sold to 20 family units (meaning maximum of 20 families reporting live births using that donor’s sperm). However, they upped it after we bought it and now they are at 60 families reporting live births!!

    That means 60 different families have used this donor’s sperm for at least one child (we have two children with that sperm). We have an entire donor sibling facebook page set up and people schedule meetups.

    It’s such a weird thing. We rarely talk about the donor or the donor siblings (diblings) but they are a reality of our lives. All in all I am very grateful but certainly don’t think highly of xytex.

    • t says...

      I want to add that one thing I really liked was our sperm bank offered an audio interview so we got to hear him speak. It felt so much more personal because you could hear him laugh at some points and get serious at other points.

      I was grateful for that.

    • S says...

      Learned so much with all the comments about sperm banks, donors…so if one donor potentially has 60 offspring and they are siblings…and if all the recipients don’t keep track, these siblings wouldn’t know they are related if they happen to meet as adults as potential mates…wow, had no idea that a single donor’s sperm is used more than once, let alone 60 times.

    • t says...

      @S it is used MORE than 60 times. It is 60 family units and each family can have multiple kids with that donor. Let’s average that each family has 2 kids with that donor our donor could have 120 offspring!!

  48. mv says...

    not sure if ive missed this, but would love a similar post about an egg donor process!

    • Carolyn M says...

      yes!

    • Sarah says...

      Definitely! I may not be far off making that decision.

  49. lydia says...

    this was so interesting to read. yet i wonder sometimes if the sperm donors ever wonder about their “offspring” out there. .. like if they ran into someone who looks like them years later, would they wonder, does he/she have my genetic make up? and what about when the kids are grown and they find themselves dating someone, who also had a different start to their lives, down the line would you wonder did they also have the same sperm donor? my mind would go bananas! not saying it’s wrong just all the possibilities, my imagination could go crazy.

    • t says...

      It’s a real possibility as nothing is regulated in the US! Our kids are just starting to learning their sperm donor number. I am assuming if they ever date anyone who is also a product of sperm donor conception they will have to ask about donor bank and number.

      The good news about sperm donors are the recipients are located throughout the world (you don’t have to be local to the bank) so people are pretty spread out.

    • Amanda Billings says...

      I never imagined this. Glad you brought it to light in your comment. I wonder if it is something that the bank discusses during the selection process? Just incredible.

    • You can do genetic testing for siblings, it’s an easy cheek-swab test that gets sent away. So if you we’re conceived via sperm donor and your partner was too and you want to make sure you aren’t related, you don’t have to track down the donors, you can just be tested yourselves.

    • Dalia says...

      you should check out this movie! It made me laugh so hard!
      Its about a fictional story about a sprem donor.
      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1756750/

    • ANON says...

      Hi Lydia yes they do. I recently found out I was conceived via sperm donor and was able to meet the donor. He had tried to find his offspring for years. While this is difficult for many, it has brought me much peace. I now know where a lot of my interests and personality come from as well as my nose! I am just getting to know this man but it is fascinating that we are in the same field-like down to the same sub-specialty and are both gifted at playing piano. One day, I plan to share our story but I wanted to answer your question. Best, baster baby

  50. Meredith says...

    I had 10 listings selected and 4 of my best girlfriends came over for a ‘dinner and donor’ party. It was really fun; we had it down to 3 ‘finalists’ relatively quickly but the argument over those 3 was fierce. The essay mattered a lot to me as well as the staff impressions. My ultimate goal is a happy, healthy baby who grows into a happy, functional adult. (A bonus of using a donor, the health backgrounds on these guys are AMAZING! Who doesn’t have cancer in their family anywhere?!?!)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that sounds really fun!

  51. Sarah says...

    great post, thanks, jess! i helped my friend and her husband choose a donor, because they found out her husband is infertile. it was fascinating, too. i liked the staff impressions, some were actually very funny! it was hard to narrow down and in the end they literally flipped a coin between the final two.

  52. k m says...

    this is so great. the best/funniest advice I got was “this is not online dating” which is true. however, I also chose because of the staff impressions, genetic make up, and a specific kind thing he said in his written statement… and I see my future child in his childhood photos.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “I see my future child in his childhood photos” = so, so sweet.