When a woman is ready to start her family, there are always logistics to consider; and for many, the process is fairly straightforward. However, when she is single or partnered with another woman, the process becomes a lot less straightforward (excuse the pun).
Lesbian-identified women often start the family-building process by thinking about sperm donors, be they known or unknown, from a sperm bank. Before choosing a donor, it is best to set up a visit with your OB/GYN and assess your fertility. Your physician will be able to give you some information about the kind of donor sperm preparation you will need. You can purchase either Intracervical Insemination (ICI) or Intrauterine Insemination/Washed (IUI) prep sperm. The ICI samples are placed onto the cervix for an insemination either in a doctor’s office or at home. The IUI samples are inserted through the cervix directly into the uterus for an insemination in the physician’s office.
If you use a known donor, he will still have to be tested and screened, similarly to a donor from a sperm bank. The FDA requires these precautions to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infectious diseases, like HIV/AIDS. Your physician will be able to direct you to a clinic or sperm bank in your area that provides this service. Bringing a third party into the intimate act of building your family is an important decision. Using a known donor requires that you be diligent about agreements that preserve your parental rights, and you should consult a lawyer.
Sperm banks have hundreds of donors available online, all of whom have given up parental rights as part of their agreement. Although it can be a bit overwhelming to look at so many donors, it can also be fun. When you go to the Donor Search feature on a sperm bank’s website, you will have many options on how to search for that perfect match. I recommend having a conversation with your partner and listing features or characteristics that are important to you. For example, you may want a donor who shares an ethnic heritage with you and/or your partner; or a donor who has similar educational values to yours; or someone who resembles you in height, hair color, or eye color. You can search using any or all of these criteria.
You also need to decide which type of donor you want: Anonymous or ID Option. Anonymous donor contact information will not be released to your child, whereas ID Option donor contact information will be available to your child once he or she reaches the age of 18. You will probably find more than one donor who meets your basic criteria. Sperm banks provide a plethora of supporting information, including baby and adult photos, essays, personality indicators, and audio interviews, as well as personal and medical profiles.
Once you settle on your donor, contact the sperm bank to arrange to order and ship the samples that you need for your insemination. You are now well on your way to building your family.
Michelle Ottey, PhD, is the Laboratory Director for Fairfax Cryobank, a genetics and IVF cryobank and a leader in the field of donor sperm. Since 1986, Fairfax Cryobank has provided the highest-quality, best-tested donor sperm to individuals and couples building their families.