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My partner and I are planning to use a sperm donor to have a child. We’ve spent some time reading the profiles of the donors on the sperm bank sites and we’re feeling overwhelmed with all of the choices. What tips do you have for how to select a suitable donor?

Written by our mental health expert, Dr. Emily Koert, Registered Clinical Counsellor.

Many find the donor selection process a daunting one, because this is a very important decision: deciding on the genes that will contribute to the characteristics and development of your future child. It can be overwhelming because of the sheer amount of information and options, but also because despite your best efforts and hours of research, there will still be a degree of the unknown involved. It’s important to remember that you can do all you can to make an informed decision, but at some point, when you’ve narrowed down the options based on the things that are most important to you and your partner, you’ll need to get out of your heads and trust your instincts. When you’ve found a donor that “feels right”, you’ll ultimately need to take a leap of faith. Trust your decision, knowing that although genes matter, as the parents of the child you are choosing to create, you’ll both have a lifetime to shape your child’s world and development through the loving environment that you provide for your child.

Before going onto the sperm bank sites again, have a conversation with your partner and distinguish between your “must have”, “would be nice to have”, and “doesn’t really matter” criteria.  The two of you may feel differently about the “must haves”, so this process may involve some give and take in determining what is most important to both of you. Make a list under each of these headings. Try to focus on the “must haves” as it’s easy to get caught up in the “would be nice to haves” when you’re going through a lot of profiles, and lose sight of what’s most important to you both. When you’ve identified your “must haves”, narrow down the pool of possible donors by only looking at those profiles that offer these “must have” options.

Below are some common and important questions that can guide you in your selection process:

  • Do you want an open identity or anonymous donor? With an open identity donor, at the age of majority, your child will have the option of contacting the donor for further information.
  • What ethnicity is your partner and is it important to you both to find a donor with a similar ethnic background? If there are not many donors of this ethnicity available from the bank you’ve selected, you may need to look for a sperm bank with a larger selection of ethnic donors.
  • What attributes and features are most important to you and your partner in terms of general appearance (e.g., height, eye colour, hair colour, etc.), disposition, education, interests, hobbies, religion, etc.? Given that one of you will be contributing 50% of the genetic material to your child, you may want to consider which characteristics and features of the other partner you’d both like to see reflected in the donor’s profile.
  • Are you hoping to have more than one child?  If you believe it is best to use the same donor so your children have the same genetic roots, you will want to be sure there is sufficient stock available for the donor you select, and ideally you’ll want to purchase sufficient straws to ensure you have access to the same donor sperm for future pregnancies.

When you’ve narrowed down a short list, you can purchase the extended profiles that offer additional information on each donor. At this point, it can be helpful to go to your “would be nice to haves” list to narrow down the selection even further. Finally, once you’re down to 2 or 3 acceptable donors, it is common for the genetic partner to defer the final choice to the non-genetic partner. Ultimately, irrespective of the donor you choose, if you engage in this selection process with open hearts, you will both love the child(ren) you choose to bring into the world through this family building option.

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