Taking the donor route: How to safely select a sperm bank/donor

Taking the donor route: How to safely select a sperm bank/donor

Certified Genetic Counsellor, Fairfax Cryobank.
Originally published at Fertility Road Magazine, ISSUE 57.

Selecting a Sperm Donor

Considering using a sperm donor to create your family is a big step. You might have questions regarding which sperm bank is right for you. Once you begin to look at all your options, it might feel a bit overwhelming. A quick list of helpful tips is a good place to start. I am the Genetic Counsellor at Fairfax Cryobank, an international sperm bank with more than 35 years of experience helping clients worldwide achieve their family building dreams. In this article, I would like to share some insights and tools to make your journey easier.

Which sperm bank is right for me?

A sperm bank must meet rigorous standards in how they screen and test their donors. Compare sperm banks based on how well they meet these high industry and regulatory standards. Note, some banks do more genetic and infectious disease testing than others. Processing samples in a safe, reputable facility is also very important. Consider if they have the experienced staff needed to deal with the complex questions that arise in evaluating the health of the donor, his family medical history concerns, and what happens once a child is born. It is important that they know how to screen donors so that only those with the lowest health risks for your child are available. The best sperm banks exclude all but a few applicants, at our sperm bank less than 1% of applicants are accepted into our program.

You can ask for a recommendation from your doctor or talk to others who have used a sperm bank and find out about their experiences. Many sperm banks have blogs, newsletters, and forums where you can learn about the process and connect with others. You will realize there are many others who are going through this as well and are happy and willing to give you the encouragement you need. Once you have a short list of sperm banks that meet your high standards for safety, expertise, and community – it is now time to look for that ideal donor.

How do I find the right donor for me?

If you were to review the information on all available donors, it might take you months. Finding a donor does not need to take that long or be that difficult. I have some suggestions on how to make the search easier. Some clients want a sperm donor with their same ethnic background; others want a sperm donor who resembles a partner or family member. For others, a sperm donor’s education and talents are the most important factor. When it comes down to it, finding the perfect donor means finding the one that possesses the characteristics that you would want to contribute to the creation of your child.

Decide on your short list of criteria that matter to you most

Sperm banks allow you to sort their donor catalog according to a variety of factors. The most common options include ancestry, hair colour, eye colour, height, education level, adult photos available, and if a donor is willing to be known to your child. All UK donors are ID donors, who consent to being known to children when they reach the age of 18. Non-ID donors do not wish to be known. Since 2018, our sperm bank only recruits ID donors. Mental health professionals advise families to disclose this information to donor-conceived children. As families contemplate how best to approach this, an increasing amount of literature, both lay and medical, is being published to assist them.

Ask your clinic what vial types they can use for your cycle

One type is washed, called IUI, and is ready to be used in intrauterine insemination. The other is unwashed, or ICI, and can be used for intracervical insemination or IVF. Some clinics can use both types for any procedure because they can process vials at their location to make them ready for you. The more options you have, the more donors there will be to look at. They may prefer one type over another. If the donor you like best will still work for your cycle, it is good to know that as soon as possible.

I suggest avoiding donors where no vials are currently available

The wait for those vials could take days, weeks or even months. It is also possible that vials may never become available. It is always best to create a list of your favourite donors and consider if they can be used for your upcoming cycle without delay. If your first option sells out while you are looking, you have a second choice ready to go.

While you are discussing options with your clinic, also ask them about any other issue you should be considering

This might include a question about your CMV status. CMV is a common virus that once you are exposed, produces antibodies. Those who are positive for CMV antibodies can use any donor. Those who are CMV negative may need to look exclusively at CMV negative donors, to help reduce risks in a future pregnancy. Your clinic will know if this applies to you.

Have you had genetic carrier screening done? If not, would it be possible to get testing done on yourself if your preferred donor is a known healthy carrier for a genetic condition? Your clinic can help you navigate your choices. If a carrier donor is not an option, keep in mind that will significantly limit your donor choices. Once you have your criteria established, you can now look through the donor list much more efficiently and quickly. I suggest making a list of several donors that might work and then ranking them. That way, when you are ready to move forward you can count on one of these donors being available.

What information about the donors can I see?

Sperm banks present this information differently. If there is a format you prefer, start at that sperm bank first. You might want to exhaust all options at that first sperm bank before moving over to the next one. It is easier to recall your favourite donors and compare them.

There will be free information as well as donor informational products that come with a fee. If there are options for prepaid access packages, that will make looking at the donors run much more smoothly. You can open all the products you want without having to pay for them separately. In talking with many of you looking at donors, I often hear how childhood photos make that first meaningful impression. One of the most popular is listening to the donor audio clips just to hear his voice and create a connection. Full audio interviews, essays, and personal profiles give a detailed view of his personality. Things like how much education he has pursued, his goals in life, his hobbies, along with all the other personal information you have viewed, will give you an overall view of what kind of person he is.

If you want the donor to resemble someone you know, some sperm banks give you that option. Our free online tool FaceMatch® uses cutting edge technology to help clients “match” a photo of their choice to find the most resembling donor. Donor consultations with staff at the sperm banks offer a personalized approach. Many donors will have adult photos available to also help you with your choice.

It is also important to review the donor’s medical information, including his medical profile and genetic testing, before finalizing your choices. If you have a medical history of concern, keep that in mind and try to avoid certain issues in your donor’s family history.

While finding a good donor match means keeping as many of the must-haves on your list as possible, also consider how much you like the donor. When you describe him to your child in the future, you want to be able to highlight those human qualities that make him the right donor for you. Your doctor is a good resource for looking at your preferred donors. If there are any issues, they can be addressed before your cycle begins. Many clinics prefer to be involved with your final selection so work closely with them as you near the finish line. After all your searching, you will have a list of donors you like. It takes some effort, but it is well worth it. You are looking for the sperm donor that will help you create the family you have been dreaming about. There are very few things in life more important.

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Suzanne Seitz
Suzanne is a genetic counsellor with 30+ years of experience. She has worked in the fields of pediatric genetics, prenatal genetics and has been a gamete bank genetic counsellor for almost 20 years. She works with families who are making the important choice of using a donor and addresses their concerns about hereditary conditions. She also helps access donor candidates to determine if they should be accepted into the program. She uses her expertise to create patient literature that makes difficult concepts easier to understand.
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