Should I Ask a Friend to Help Build my Family? | 5 Things To Consider When Using a Known Donor

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So the holiday season is coming up, and you know that nosy Aunt Doreen is going to be asking (yet again) when you’re going to start your family.

If you’ve started researching biological family building options, chances are you’ve probably already realized that the process can be rather overwhelming - and potentially costly! Many LGBTQ parents-to-be consider using a known donor to help building their family, like a close friend or even a relative not linked to the genetically-intended parent (more on that later). While using a sperm or egg donor you know is certainly a great option, we’ve come up with a list of the top 5 things to think about before asking a friend or family member to be your donor (before dropping it in casual conversation over mashed potatoes). Check out the list below, and click to read more!

Terms to Know: Known v. Anonymous Donor

Before we get started, it's important that you understand the terms we'll be discussing. What is an anonymous donor? How is that different from a known donor?

Known Donor vs. Anonymous Donor definition

What is a Known Donor?

A known donor can be a family member or friend, and typically is someone already in the intended parent’s lives before they start their family building journey.

And what is an Anonymous Donor?

An anonymous donor may be found through an egg donor agency or a sperm bank - typically you will have access to information about this person’s physical characteristics, family history, genetic background, academics, and potentially their hobbies and interests. Anonymous donors have already been pre-screened, and have been counseled on their release of parental rights

1. Expectation v. Reality of Choosing a Known Donor

For LGBTQ parents-to-be, choosing a known donor is a viable option. For dads-to-be, your friend could choose to donate her eggs, and then one or both partners’ (if applicable) sperm could be used to fertilize those eggs and create embryos. In another scenario for same-sex male couples, if one of you has a sibling or cousin willing to be your egg donor, then the other partner’s sperm could be used to create embryos -- this is a beautiful way to have both partners’ family trees represented in the genetic makeup of your future child.

For moms-to-be, you could similarly use known donor sperm to fertilize eggs via IVF, or to complete an IUI procedure. If the known sperm donor is biologically related to one of the partners (say a brother or cousin), then we would counsel you to move forward with IUI or IVF with the other partner’s genetics.

Oftentimes, singles and couples have a preconceived idea that it will be much easier to use a known donor than an anonymous one - but even known donors have to have the same level of screening that every other donor has. In either case, it’s important to understand the screening process and to consider the relationships you are creating for your future child.

The process of using a sperm or egg donor is regulated by the FDA, so all practices have the same rules and regulations that they must abide by, and they include infectious disease screening, medical screening, and genetic testing. Your known donor would have to come in and actually become a patient at your fertility center in order to have those tests done.

In addition, your known donor would meet with a social worker, and then you, your donor, and your partner (if applicable) would meet with that social worker together. It’s very important to establish how you will navigate your own relationship with the donor and with your future child before starting fertility treatment or attempting pregnancy. How much contact will your donor have with your child? All of these are things that need to be considered before you think about using a known donor.

2. Known v. Anonymous Donor Costs

Cost considerations are a main factor when many intended parents consider asking a friend or family to be a known donor. Using a donor from a sperm bank can cost anywhere from $700 to a few thousand dollars for moms-to-be, as your fertility center will probably counsel you to purchase more than one vial if you find a donor that you like. For dads-to-be, egg donor compensation typically ranges from $8,000-$15,000.

In both cases, it seems like a clear cost saving option to ask a friend to be your donor -- plus, then it’s someone you love and trust who helps create your future family! However, it is important to remember that sperm banks and egg donor agencies assume some of the responsibility of pre-screening and testing those donors. If you ask your friend to help build your family, you may incur more costs in order to pay for the screening, counseling, and legal fees associated with using a known donor.

3. Legal Aspects of using a Known Donor

We mentioned above that you, your partner, and your donor would all meet with a licensed social worker to discuss the responsibility of becoming a donor and the way that the choice would affect your group dynamic. One other thing to strongly consider is the legal work that goes into a known donor agreement. Here at Gay Parents To Be, we require that all intended parents work with a reproductive attorney, in order to have legal agreements in place on both sides. This will not only protect you, your donor, and your future child, but will lay out certain parameters such as:

  • How often will your donor have contact with your future child?
  • What if your child has a medical or family history question down the line? Is your donor comfortable providing that information, and staying in touch for the next 18-25 years in order to be available to answer questions?
  • When will you tell your future child that your donor contributed to their genetics?

All of these questions are things that your licensed social worker and reproductive attorney would help you to navigate, and to protect you and your future family.

4. Anonymity & Genetic Testing

Many intended parents make their choice of unknown v. known donor based on the concept of anonymity. For some parents-to-be, they worry that if they use a donor from an agency or a sperm bank, they will never have full access to their child’s family history. For intended parents on the other side of the spectrum, they are happy to build their families using an unknown donor because they want the person to be truly anonymous, and separate from the new family that they are creating.

However, in today’s day of and 23-and-Me, even in an “anonymous donor” arrangement, it probably isn’t 100% anonymous anymore. This is something on which we counsel patients every day - and it’s important to remember. As you have probably seen in the media, children conceived with the help of donors are now able to connect with members of their biological families through different genetic websites. Although neither “unknown” or known donor relationships are objectively good, nor bad, the growing popularity of mainstream DNA testing is an important thing to consider when making your donor choice.

5. Your Child's Creation Story & Your Donor Choice

This is perhaps the most important thing to consider when choosing your donor! As you now know, your future child will probably be able to find out information about their genetic background as that technology continues to improve. So, think about the things that you want to be able to say to your child about their individual conception story, and maybe even how you decided to make your donor choice. Rather than being able to say, “we picked your donor because they were tall and good-looking,” perhaps you can tell your child that you had a personal connection to your donor and they offered you a great gift - by choosing to be your known donor. Perhaps you and your partner use a donor from an agency or bank, and you connect with the traits and hobbies that are listed in that donor’s profile.

Not only may this make your donor choice easier, but the research actually shows that donor-conceived children do far better if they have more information about their biological (donor) parent. Knowledge is power!

Armed with these 5 things to consider when using a known donor, relax, take a deep breath, and remember that each family building journey will happen at your own pace. And if Aunt Doreen has any more nosy questions, you can always tell her that she can read more here, on Gay Parenting Voices.

Are you interested in learning more about selecting an egg donor? Read more here. What about a sperm donor? Learn more about your sperm donor options here.

Dr. Mark P. Leondires

Dr. Mark P. Leondires

Dr. Mark P. Leondires, Medical Director and lead infertility doctor with Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut (RMACT), is board-certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.

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