Many LGBTQ+ parents-to-be consider using a known donor to help grow their family, like a close friend or even a relative. But what are the pros and cons of using a known donor versus an anonymous donor? Here's what you should know before making your decision.
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Donor Conception 101
If you’re researching biological family-building options, you’ve probably already realized that the process can be rather overwhelming - and unexpectedly costly! With the price of donor sperm and eggs costing anywhere from $700 to $15,000 on average, it's understandable why some parents-to-be want to pursue a journey with a known donor.
While using a sperm or egg donor you know personally is certainly a great option for some, there are a few important things you should consider before asking a friend or family member to be your donor.
Terms to Know: Known vs Anonymous Donor
Before we get started, it's important to fully understand the terms we'll be discussing. What is an anonymous donor? How is an anonymous donor different from a known donor? Some differences are obvious, but others are less so. Let's explore why.
What is a known donor?
A known donor can be a family member or friend who is willing to contribute their genetic material (egg or sperm) to help conceive a child. This person is typically someone already in the intended parents' lives before they start their family-building journey.
However, if the known donor is a relative, they should not be linked to the genetic intended parent. Here's a quick example of how this might look in real life:
- Sarah and Alice (a same-sex, cisgender couple) want to have a baby. Sarah will be the one genetically-linked to their future baby. They know they'll need a sperm donor, and want to use a known donor.
- Sarah's biological brother offers to donate his sperm to help them have a baby. Unfortunately, this arrangement won't work, since Sarah and her brother share the same set of genetics.
- Alice's biological brother offers to donate his sperm to help them have a baby, and their doctor approves the arrangement (after screening him), due to the fact that Alice's brother and Sarah are not genetically linked in any way.
What is an anonymous donor?
An anonymous donor (sometimes referred to as an unknown or de-identified donor) may be found through an egg donor agency or a sperm bank. You will typically have access to information about this person’s physical characteristics, family history, genetic background, academics, and potentially, their hobbies and interests.
Note: All anonymous donors have already been pre-screened by the agency or bank during the donation process, and have been counseled on their release of parental rights.
What else do you need to know about using a known donor? Here are the five most important aspects to consider as you make this important decision on your journey to parenthood:
1. Expectation vs Reality of Choosing a Known Donor
For some LGBTQ+ parents-to-be, choosing a known donor is a viable option. If you're a dad-to-be, one of your friends could choose to donate her eggs, and then one or both partners’ sperm (if applicable) could be used to fertilize those eggs and create embryos via in vitro fertilization (IVF).
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.
If you're a mom-to-be, you could similarly use known donor sperm to fertilize eggs via IVF or complete an IUI procedure. It's important to note that if the known sperm donor is biologically related to one of the partners (for example, a brother or cousin), then we would counsel you to move forward with IUI or IVF utilizing the other partner’s genetics to avoid any genetic issues.
Is it simpler to work with a known donor?
Oftentimes, hopeful parents assume that it will be much easier to use a known donor than an anonymous one - but even known donors have to undergo the same level of screening as every other donor. In either case, it’s important to understand the screening process and 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 fertility clinics have the same rules and regulations that they must abide by. This includes infectious disease screening, medical screening, and genetic testing. Your known donor would have to come in and actually become a patient at your fertility clinic 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.
a note on donor-child relationships
It’s critical to establish how you will navigate your own relationship with the donor and your donor's relationship with your future child before starting fertility treatment or attempting pregnancy.
How much contact will your donor have with your child? What will you tell your child about their donor? All of these questions are important things to consider before you think about using a known donor.
2. Known vs Anonymous Donor Costs
Cost considerations are a major factor for many intended parents considering asking a friend or family member to be a known donor. Here's what you can expect:
- For moms-to-be, using a donor from a sperm bank can cost anywhere from $700 to a few thousand dollars, as your fertility clinic will likely counsel you to purchase more than one vial of sperm 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 smart cost-saving option to ask someone you know 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.
Note: If you ask a 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.
Another thing to carefully 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 for all parties. 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 a reproductive attorney would help you navigate, and this, in turn, protects you and your future family.
4. Anonymity & Genetic Testing
Many intended parents make their choice to use an unknown vs known donor based on the concept of anonymity.
On the other side of the spectrum, some intended parents are happy to grow 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.
Some parents-to-be worry that if they use a donor from an agency or a sperm bank, they will never have full access to their child’s genetic information or their donor's family history.
Is any donor truly anonymous?
However, in the age of ancestry.com and 23andMe genetic testing, even in an "anonymous donor" arrangement, no donor is 100% anonymous anymore. This is something we counsel patients on every day - and it’s important to remember.
As you have likely seen in the media, children conceived with the help of egg and sperm donors are now able to connect with members of their biological families through different genetic websites. An increasing number of donor conceived people strongly advocate for open donor arrangements, and some studies show the various impacts of donor conception on children.
Although neither “unknown” or known donor relationships are objectively good or 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
This is perhaps the most important thing to consider when choosing your donor!
As you now know, your future child will most likely be able to find out information about their genetic background as technology continues to progress. So, think about what you want to be able to say to your child about their personal conception story, and maybe even how you decided to make your donor choice.
Rather than saying, "We picked your donor because they were tall and good-looking," you may choose to 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. Or perhaps you and your partner use a donor from an agency or sperm bank and connect with the traits or hobbies listed in your 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!
The Choice is Up to You
Armed with these five things to consider when using a known vs anonymous donor, we encourage you to relax, take a deep breath, and remember that each family-building journey is unique. Every path to parenthood has its own pace.
Your family's story is your own, and the final decision is yours to make!
Dr. Mark P. Leondires is the Founder and Medical Director of Illume Fertility, an inclusive, award-winning fertility clinic with five locations in Connecticut and New York. Dr. Leondires is board-certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. Dr. Leondires is also the Founder of Gay Parents To Be, a leading family-building resource for the LGBTQ+ community - a passion project created after undergoing his own journey to parenthood as a gay dad.