Donor Fatigue

May 8, 2006 at 9:58 pm | Posted in First Comes Love - Then Comes... GonalF? | 9 Comments

A number of people have written about the difficulties of choosing a sperm donor. (And there are lots more, but I’m too lazy to link them all)

That decision is one of the things that people are most curious about when they hear about our family-building plans.

Looking through the sperm donor catalogs on line forced us to think about a lot of uncomfortable topics.

Why is it important to me that at least part of my future child’s genetic heritage be ethnically Jewish? Should we defy our culture’s bias against short people and go for the donor who sounds great – except that he’s 5″6 – and no height is being passed on from either Pili or me. And how important is it that the donor says he’d be willing to meet the kid when s/he is 18? Do we owe our child at least that?

What is inherited anyway? Does it matter if he can speak six languages or hates math? Do academic achievement and SAT scores say more about the person or the socio-economic opportunities he’s had?

When we fall in love, we don’t get to cherry pick like this. I fell in love with Pili, the person. The smart, social, engaging, thoughtful person – who would also, I swear, forget her own name if it wasn’t on her driver’s license. She fell in love with me – g-d only knows why – and I came with a lovely medical pedigree of diabetes, depression, and a family history of obesity.

But we did get to pick. And without the context of a real person and a real personality, these small details took on lives of their own. This one was great – except he prefers dogs over cats. This one was great – except he had hazel eyes, not blue. And so on.

We made charts: +/-, mitigating factors. We bought audio interviews and long profiles and facial feature profiles. We debated the wisdom of including a unibrow in our future child’s genetic make-up. And finally, we made a decision. We bought six vials, so that (ha!) we’d have some for a future sibling.

Fast forward a few IUIs.

This wasn’t working. Perhaps it was his fault. Since we had to order more liquid gold sperm anyway, and we were switching doctors, why not switch donors?

This time, we went through the process in a few weeks a lot faster. No longer so certain that this was going to work, it seemed less crucial that we get every little detail right.

And it didn’t work.

When we moved onto IVF, our criteria changed. Instead of wanting a donor who looked sorta like me, we wanted a donor who looked more like Pili. Our options were pretty limited, and frankly, we just didn’t have that much confidence in it. And until very recently, it seemed like that lack of confidence was entirely justified.

A few days after the plus sign showed up on the pee stick, one of us asked the other, do you remember which donor we used?

And neither one of us could.

We had to go back and look at our tax files for 2005, since we spent enough money on this business for Pili to take the medical expenses deduction (!), in order to figure it out. And then we started looking for the long profile.

The long profile, it turns out, that we never bought.

I don’t think this was a conscious choice. I think we were both just so sick and tired of this whole business, that this choice felt inconsequential. The idea of actually getting a kid out of this seemed (seems?) like an hallucination. Would you like your soda with or without ice, the traveler stranded in the desert imagines the waiter asking him, as his tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth from thirst. And what difference does it make, which he chooses? The obsequious waiter is just an illusion. Reality is the sand blowing into every crack of the traveller’s skin, the hot wind stealing what moisture remains from his eyes…

A tangential story: At one point in this journey, I was eating brunch with soul_brother and his family and talking I believe, about the ridiculously high cost of donor sperm. His dad asked a question, which coming from anyone other than him, would have been incredibly offensive. Coming from him, I almost wet myself laughing.

“You’re both good-looking girls,” he said. “Why don’t you just go out to a bar and find some handsome fella, and do this the old-fashioned way?” Surprised to find his son, his son’s friend, his two younger sons and his wife all displaying their half-chewed waffles, he persisted. “What’s the matter with that? Why are you all looking at me like that?” Once we’d all closed our mouths and stopped laughing, we managed to explain to him why, in the age of HIV, a) this might not be such a good idea, and that b) the whole reason we were in this situation to begin with was that neither one of us had any interest in “doing it the old-fashioned way.”

However, it seems like Papa Soul_Brother gets the last laugh after all. Because (minus the trivial questions of disease, custody, and infidelity) what have we done? Pretty much picked out a donor on the basis of the information that could be gleaned from a somewhat stilted bar conversation. If everything goes well on Wednesday, we will order the long profile. And hope that his family tree isn’t loaded with type I diabetes, depression, or anything even more unpleasant.


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  1. I think one thing that I’ve learned from Frances’s genetic syndrome (whatever it is) is that genes matter both more and less than you think. Who would have looked at Erik and I and predicted we’d have a daughter topping out at four feet tall? No one.

    So don’t get too caught up in the donor profile. It might be that nothing recognizably “his” shows up in your child. Who knows, maybe your baby will end up just like his mother. Goodness knows lots of Frances’s traits seem to have come directly from my mom, like her love for shoe shopping.

    I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m telling you not to get the long form, or not to care. I guess what I’m trying to say is that ultimately while trying to figure out what came from whom is fun, your child’s uniqueness is going to matter to you much more than their similarities either to Pili or to the donor.

    (And I can just see you knocking the hell out of every piece of wood in a five minute radius after how I’ve written this comment.)

  2. Art-sweet, thanks for the visit and comment. Your idea is a great one, and if I trusted the cashier at Wendy’s, I would do that. But if you saw these people, youo would be loathe to leave any money with them for any purpose. It is too bad, really.

    Good luck in your search for a donor.

  3. Well written – it’s nice to know that we’re not the only ones who have agonized & looked at every detail only to throw up our hands and exclaim “What’s really important here?” I think, for us, what became the deciding factor was finding a donor with a stellar family medical history. Granted, that doesn’t guarnatee anything, but it does give us what little peace of mind is for the taking during this crazy process.

  4. We picked a donor relatively easily. We didn’t pull our hair out or go mad. We wanted a steallr health history, not too tall, and green eyes. We got that. We found him and made the decision in a matter of hours from when we had started searching.
    And we got a very sick child.
    I’m not saying this to scare you. But what I am saying is that the ‘profile’ means nothing. Our man was solid gold. And our child is perfect in every way, shape, and form, but he’s not ‘healthy’ in the classic sense.
    And, unfortunately, we went looking for siblings too late and found out that all of them have the same problems.
    Check the DSR. That, IMO, will tell you much much more than any long profile will. Get the profile still, just to have it, just in case. But more about your child’s health, personality, and appearance from the father’s side will be found on the DSR than at the bank.
    Part of me wishes I would have checked beforehand, and part of me is glad I didn’t. If I had checked, we would have used a different donor, and Charlie wouldn’t be here. But by not checking, I used this donor and had a sick child. But he’s here, and I don’t regret it. I’m glad I didn’t know, because the baby we have is the baby that was destined to be ours.
    You’ll see Pili and yourself in this child. Charlie looks exactly like Jean, but he ACTS just like my father. And looks a bit like him too.

  5. Your donor will be fine medically or he wouldn’t have made the cut. As far as personality goes, that is a mystery remaining to unfold. I have no idea how much my daughter came with and how much we have nurtured.

    Actually I believe there is a strong element of “cherry picking” in relationships. I know a very small butch who will only date women who are smaller than she is, and she finds them! I continually amazes me that any of us end up mating when ultimately people are just plain picky about who they will fall in love with.

    Have you ever noticed how often couples look alike? I read an article once about studies being done, showing that the vast majority of couplings happen in mirror imaging.

    When I was dating, I tried eliminating my preference that my partners not smoke from my list, and it was a miserable failure the first time I let a smoker smoke in my house (fortunately we never got to the kissing stage).

    Even if we are from different ethnic backgrounds, we tend to be pretty evenly matched regarding socially accepted norms of beauty (the couple in that sit-com The King of Queens, well it happens, but not that often!) This was true for my relationships with women of color anyway.

    My spouse and I could be related with our looks and ethnicity, so it was easy to browse through the catalogue and find a donor who matched us. It crossed my mind but I never took seriously the possibility of cooking up a mixed-race child. I can’t even articulate the reasons, I just didn’t think it made sense.

    And yet it makes perfect sense for us to be parenting Hindu-born Indian children who have been/will be been converted to Judaism by nature of her adoption. (I think plan A would have been fine with us too, if it had worked out. But I wouldn’t change a thing.)

    There are tons of contradictions in how we become parents–and as for the why? Makes no sense at all. Expensive, exhausting, relentless work (and I am talking after you finally score!) but my life has never felt so focused and meaningful.

  6. I loved this post…….some really gorgeously-written insights into what this process has really been like for the both of you. Thanks for letting us peek in.

  7. I can’t imagine how hard this whole road has been for you. I wish you two the best of luck 🙂

  8. Terrific post–great writing and insight. Keep us posted.

  9. All I can to this post is, yeah. Us too!!!! (I mean, given that we haven’t tried anything yet; I mean our experience in looking for donors.)

    And I would echo what others have said: everything is genetic and nothing is genetic. So, in many ways, you won’t know ’til your kid is born, and isn’t that how it is for those straight people, too???

    I’m curious what bank you used (though feel free not to answer).

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