Choosing a Donor: An Interview with Katy, Part I.

Katy, a creative director from Atlanta, froze her eggs at 35 and started reviewing sperm donors at 41. At 42, after agonizing over the decision for a few years she decided she was ready to become a single mother by choice. Katy has agreed to be interviewed throughout this process.

MS: Was 35 the magic number for you?

Katy: Yes, because the doctors all said that 35 is the year when your fertility drops off significantly.

MS: Why did you decide to freeze them?  

Katy: I read a magazine article about egg freezing in my early thirties, and it stuck in my head. I don’t even know why I was thinking about that at the time. I knew I wanted kids, but I wasn’t worried about it happening. I was having fun and wasn’t in a hurry to become a parent. I remember around 34 my biological clock kicked in like a switch. The term really makes sense to me now. So, at 35 when my relationship didn’t work out I decided, okay, I’m going to freeze my eggs and buy some time. So I researched different fertility clinics in Atlanta and found the best one and went for it. Luckily my insurance at the time covered one round completely.

My doctors recommended doing more than one round because I didn’t have enough eggs. They collected eight eggs and one didn’t make it, and they said you need six to have one good embryo, and often it takes multiple attempts to get pregnant. They were hoping I would have 18 eggs. So I tried a second round and my body didn’t respond at all, which was worrying, so they told me to take a break and try again in six months.

I didn’t want to do it again. It’s really hard on your body. You have to take daily hormone injections that stimulate your follicles to be able to drop multiple eggs. I remember having to go to the doctor’s office every other day to check my hormone levels. Once they see you are at a certain level, they give you a trigger shot that tells your body to release all the eggs at one time. It takes about 36 hours for that to happen, so 36 hours later you are in the operating room, and they are scooping up the eggs. You go under general anesthesia, they go through your cervix with an instrument like a straw that scoops them up. You are crampy for a day. That wasn’t a big deal, but I definitely noticed that after I got off the drugs I had withdrawal symptoms and was very teary and emotional for months, which was why I didn’t do it again.

MS: Did you have reservations about freezing eggs in first place?

Katy: I didn’t. It was covered financially. I would have a backup fertility plan. I didn’t have to commit to anything at that point in time. It seemed like a win-win.

MS: When did you decide you wanted to go ahead with fertilizing your frozen eggs?  

Katy: It happened in stages.

I was dating this guy when I was 39 and he didn’t want kids, but I was hoping he would change his mind, and he was hoping I would change mine but neither one of us budged. We broke up because of this. That was the spring before I turned 40.  At that point I decided to go ahead and have a baby on my own.  Meanwhile I had not researched what was involved.  I didn’t know about the Pandora’s box of the donor realm. I thought, I will just buy some sperm and that’ll be it. I totally underestimated that.

That spring I had an exam to ensure my uterus was in good shape for conception and low and behold I had a polyp on my uterus, so I had to have it removed surgically because it would prevent an embryo from implanting.

Around that time, I went under contract on a house. Then I lost my job at the same time and found myself with a new house and no full-time job, so I wasn’t wanting to jump on the baby thing right away, and I didn’t want to give up the idea of having a baby with someone I love. So, I decided to date online for six months and see if I met anyone and if not, then I’d do it. It felt lonely, the idea of having a baby alone.

So when I started dating a new guy in the winter, I told myself I won’t think about the baby thing for a while. He said in the beginning that he wanted another kid (he already had a daughter), so I relaxed.

Fast forward several months, I turned 41 and really start feeling the pinch. So I ended up having a conversation with my boyfriend in September where I told him that I was feeling that biological clock pressure, yet I didn’t feel like we were at a point where we could make a commitment to each other. He agreed. He also told me at this point, “I’m not ready to have another kid.” Then he said, “Why don’t you just go ahead and have a baby using donor sperm since you were considering it before you met me. Then we can continue dating and see if things are right between us and if they are I can become the step-father of your child, if not we’ll go our separate ways.”

For some reason, that made sense to me at the time. It was like a green light to get pregnant!  It was comforting to be in a relationship and move forward with having a baby, rather than doing it entirely on my own. I just dove forward, I was over the moon excited about it. It was the first time, where I felt this real desire to go for it. Of course, I had his companionship all the time, so I didn’t feel lonely, but shortly after that conversation we started growing apart and ended up splitting up.

MS: How did you choose a donor?

Katy: I had a lot of trouble selecting a donor. I didn’t realize there was so much involved. It was not as simple as I expected.

There are known and unknown donors. Known is just how it sounds. You’ve met the donor, he could be your best friend or introduced to you through someone you know. One day someone suggested to me, “You always speak highly of your male friends, would one of them be willing to be a donor?” At first I thought absolutely not, but then I started thinking about it and became interested in the idea. On one hand, I could imagine a harmonious parenting scenario, but I knew they didn’t want kids. I decided not to ask them, just to process it. Then I met with a lawyer about the ramifications of using a known donor. She said if you have a child with a known donor and that child never sees the donor until adulthood, you can be pretty much be guaranteed that the donor can’t claim custody of your child. Also this route is very expensive, you have to go to court several times to tidy up paperwork. But if the donor sees your child, it opens the door for the donor to get custody of your child. As much as I would like to believe that would never happen with my friends, everyone I talked to had stories about harmonious situations like this, until the donor becomes really interested all of a sudden, wants custody of the child and it becomes a mess. I thought, oh my god, that sounds like a bad idea. So in the end I never talked to my friends about it, I went forward with an unknown donor. I feel good about my choice.

An unknown donor is through a cryobank. The benefits of an unknown donor are that they are pre-screened for HIV/STD’s, their entire family medical history, genetic diseases… information you might never know about your spouse. They have profiles set up, which is a lot like online dating, they list information such as their eye and hair color, height, weight, race, blood type, interests, occupation, education, social tendencies, family dynamics, etc. You can listen to an interview where they answer pointed questions about themselves, and most of them provide pictures. The information you get is pretty detailed. And, you know with an unknown donor that your child is legally yours. There’s no threat of the donor claiming custody of your child.

There are anonymous unknown donors and “willing to be known” unknown donors. Anonymous means your child will never meet or be able to make contact with the donor. Willing to be known means when your child is 18 the cryobank will set up an arrangement between your child and the donor. It can be a personal meeting, a phone call, or an email depending on the donor’s choice. They guarantee one meeting and then it’s up to your child and the donor beyond that. That was without a doubt a “must have” for me. I think it’s so important for my child to have contact with the donor. Of course, children are going to be curious about the biological father who’s not in their life, especially in their teenage years, and I want to grant my child the right to contact him. This led me to look for a compassionate donor. I was really looking for clues into his character. I wanted some assurance that he’s not going to bail out years down the road and go MIA.

MS: What concerns did you have about using a sperm donor?

Katy: I didn’t realize how hard it would be for me to accept emotionally. For a while there I was having an issue with the whole idea of a stranger’s sperm mixed with my own eggs and inserted into my body. I would be having a baby with someone I’ve never met!

That was really hard to accept. I changed my donor twice. I kept having little issues with the first two donors. It seemed like nitpicky stuff, but I think part of it was my process of getting comfortable with using a donor.  The first time I selected a donor, I was not ready yet. I started my IVF cycle before I had even picked out a donor, which is not a good idea. I didn’t realize how much there was to process emotionally. Ultimately I had to accept my circumstances. Okay, I thought, these are my choices: I can use a sperm donor, I can adopt or take my chances that a relationship will work out where we have children together. I finally reached a point where I felt like I not only needed to move on it but I was ready to.

I learned over time that I had to reframe how I thought of this donor, so that I could feel comfortable with it because I knew in my heart it was important to me to have a genetic child. If I couldn’t have a genetic child I would happily adopt or foster, but I had those frozen eggs waiting for me giving me the chance for a genetic child.

I was also focused on finding a cryobank with a low family limit. When you use a donor through a cryobank they have limits on how many families they sell one donor’s sperm to. The average U.S. limit is 25 families which could easily mean 50 kids per donor, sometimes more. And there’s no great monitoring system in the U.S. The scary part about using an unknown donor is not knowing how many half siblings exist and wanting to make sure your child won’t become romantically involved with a half sibling one day.

There is a network called the Donor Sibling Registry. They set up an international registry for donor-conceived kids to connect with other kids conceived by the same donor. The parents can find out about any genetic health problems other half siblings may have. It’s also a good way to see how many other half siblings are out there and where they live. A lot of these extended families are getting together and having their own family reunions. When I was first reading about this, I was thinking, there’s something kind of cool about this… these extended families.

MS: What characteristics did you look for in selecting a donor?

Katy: Someone who has a clean medical record, no history of cancer in his family, is well educated, seems like a warm-hearted good person, has a similar ancestral background to mine and is attractive. And these are all qualities that my current donor has.

The first donor I picked out looked like my ex-boyfriend, and initially I liked that. But I ultimately became worried about looking at my child and seeing my ex-boyfriend in his face, so that was one reason I changed to a new donor.

Ideally, I wanted someone who was not just doing this for the money but also wanted to help people conceive. Of course, money is what drives someone to do this so that was hard to find. These guys are mostly college students, my guy was a law school student. He was an accountant preparing for the bar when he donated.

His spirit was the thing that made him stand out against the others. He sounded like someone I would naturally be attracted to.

He was also compassionate. He spent a summer in Costa Rica saving sea turtle eggs. I got to witness sea turtles laying eggs when I was in Costa Rica, and it’s really magical. There’s this whole thing about sea turtles returning to the beach where they were born to lay their own eggs. My point is something that seemed magical to me was important to him, so that drew me to him.

I was left with a good feeling about him, I stopped questioning what I was doing and felt comfortable using his donated sperm.

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