Donor Unknown

The film Donor Unknown premiered on the PBS  series Independent Lens this week. This documentary follows the journey of Jo Ellen Marsh, raised by two moms in Pennsylvania, and her an insatiable need to discover the identity of the anonymous sperm donor Number 150, who contributed half of her DNA.

Jo Ellen signs up with a donor sibling registry and begins to connect with her half-siblings. Many half-siblings, it turns out. As the count rises, NY Times writer Amy Harmon picks up the story and eventually Donor 150—Jeffrey Harrison—recognizes himself and comes forward. Mr. Harrison has likely fathered 150 children. A similar story is featured on the Donor Sibling Registry website, in another documentary, Sperm Donor, which premiered on the Style Network in September. In this one, sperm donor Ben tells his fiance Lauren that he may have fathered 70 children. We get to meet several of them.

These are fascinating stories and very emotional journeys. Since we used donor eggs and sperm, this possibility is part of our story. Is it part of yours?

The decision to create a child using donor sperm and/or egg has ethical, legal, psychological, and deeply personal implications we must consider when creating our families. Getting to Baby is only the beginning. We always have to remember that there is a life that comes after the infertility. How we navigate life after the baby arrives is a lifelong journey.

The PBS website has a good list of resources for donor-conception issues.

Check it out here.

Let us know what you think about the implications of a generation of children conceived through a donor process.

Different paths to adoption

Most couples who struggle to have a child undergo fertility treatments, which are often successful. In those cases where they fail, however, many hopeful parents turn to adoption.

With an open adoption through an agency, or with the help of an adoption facilitator or attorney, the first step is matching with a birth mother. An open adoption means you might have the chance to experience her pregnancy with her, going to doctor’s appointments, seeing the sonograms and being in the delivery room when the child is born. It also means the birth mother may be a part of the child’s life, even after the adoption.

However, there is always a risk with adoption that the birth mother will change her mind and decide to keep the baby. Regardless of any contracts or agreements you have in place, many state laws protect the biological mother, leaving the intended parents heartbroken and without a child. Although this worst-case scenario is possible, and does happen, most adoptions go through as planned.

Another path to adopting a child is to work with a foster agency. There are many, many children in the foster care system without parents who are able to care for them. These are kids of all ages, and all races, and each is in need of a loving home. Not all foster children are available for adoption, however. Some are in the system because their parents have temporarily lost custody. Once the situation leading to that loss of parental rights has been resolved, the parents often regain custody. However, most foster agencies are happy to work with intended parents seeking children who are available for adoption.

Many couples also adopt children from another country through an agency that offers international adoptions. The agency handles the paperwork and legal issues, which can be quite complicated, to give you the best odds at a successful adoption.

No matter how you go about adopting, both child and the adoptive parents are getting a precious gift: the chance at a better, more fulfilling life as part of a loving family.

Considering the options

You don’t have any qualms with the different methods of getting to baby that are out there. Infertility treatments, donor sperm or eggs, adoption, surrogacy — as long as you end up with a child you can love, you don’t have moral qualms with any of the alternatives on the table. Your partner feels the same way. …Right?

Don’t be so sure. It’s overwhelming to face the options available if you’re having trouble getting pregnant, but you might be able to strike a few from your list at the outset. You and your partner should talk honestly and openly about the choices available, sharing what you truly think of each. No alternative is simple — under the headings of infertility treatments, adoption and surrogacy fall a myriad of other choices to make. Whether to seek a child or surrogate by yourself or through an adoption agency or surrogacy agency, which websites to browse, which fertility treatments you’re willing to try and which you aren’t — both of you need to have open, honest input. Even if your reasons for preferring one method over another — or flat-out not wanting to go down one of the roads available to you — aren’t necessarily politically correct, it’s important to lay them on the table.

Some couples find that one or both parties have a natural aversion to the thought of raising a child without a genetic bond. If you’re having these feelings, it will probably be very hard to share them with your partner because the mere concept of distinguishing between children on that level is offensive to some people. Sharing will be even harder if your partner is very open to the idea of adoption, or even prefers it.

Even if it’s tough, err on the side of sharing. It’s not fair to either of you to pursue an option that makes you uncomfortable, and shelving emotions early in the process can lead to resentment down the road.

If your own emotions and preferences don’t narrow your options for you, find a way to work through them together and pick a path. Write pro and con lists, talk to professionals, seek advice from friends and family. Do what you must. It’s in your best interest to choose a pursuit and stick with it, giving it your full attention, rather than trying to go down several roads at once. No matter your multi-tasking abilities, getting to baby isn’t a process you should apply them to.

Sperm selection

Selecting donor sperm

If you and your partner have to seek a sperm donation from another person to make pregnancy happen, there is a lot to consider. Will a friend or family member agree to help you? Will you get it through a bank from an anonymous donor? How much will you purchase?

Sperm banks have websites with profiles of available sperm donors, outlining everything from height and weight to SAT scores, along with family medical histories. You can search by characteristics, in an attempt to give your child a better chance of looking like a combination of you and your partner.

As with other choices you might make in your “getting to baby” journey, you should consider not just your own desires, but also what your child might want. Some sperm donors allow their identities to be released when the child is 18, while others forbid any contact.

If you choose to seek help from someone you know, it’s probably best to draw up contracts outlining how exactly the process is going to work. A little work on the front end can avoid expensive and upsetting legal problems down the road.

Artificial insemination

If you’ve decided to take the leap from traditional attempts to become pregnant to seeking help for infertility, the options can be mind-boggling. Take, for example, artificial insemination. It’s a process many people erroneously think is relatively simple — you go to a clinic, sperm is inserted, and you become pregnant. Right?


If you’re seeking donor sperm, you must consider what you’re looking for in a donor. Everything from medical history and scores on intelligence tests to physical attributes, like hair and eye color or height, can be included in donors’ profiles. What must a sperm donor have? What options aren’t as important? Do you want your child to be able to find out who his or her biological father is, or would you be okay with a donor who chooses to keep his identity a secret?

What about the sperm itself? How much do you want to buy? Do you want to keep some on hand for future attempts at parenthood, or is this a one-shot deal? What kind of quality are you seeking? Sperm comes in washed and unwashed varieties — that doesn’t mean one is clean and one is dirty, it means washed sperm has been separated from the semen, while unwashed sperm has not. Did you know that unwashed sperm can cause cramping?

Decide from the outset, as well, how many times you want to attempt insemination, and how you want to go about it. Physician assisted insemination is the most common method, but in some states, you can try by yourself at home, armed with a special device provided by a doctor’s office and a little education. Use caution, though. This option isn’t legal in all states.

Each procedure and sperm procurement method carries with it a price. Do your research from the outset — some couples might become pregnant on the first try, but for others, the artificial insemination process involves many, many attempts. Some clinics offer flat fees for all attempts, while others charge for each try. Get straight from the outset what the charges will be and how many attempts you’re going to go for. Health insurance, in many cases, won’t help. There are financing options available to cover the tens of thousands of dollars these processes can take.

Starting to get a picture of how much there is to learn about methods for becoming pregnant? You can learn more about each option, including insight from us on our experiences with methods we’ve tried, by reading “Getting to Baby.”