Seven Questions to Ask Before Choosing to Use an Anonymous Donor
Written by: Kenzi Locks, LCSW, HWC
Bringing a child into the world can be a profound journey filled with joy, anticipation, and many unknowns. It’s essential to be well-informed of the options and implications when considering your pathway to parenthood. For those exploring the avenue of donor conception, the weighty decisions that come on the way to a baby are often challenging to make.
There are many reasons folks build their family through donor conception. With LGBTQ+ couples, single parents by choice, individuals and couples with infertility or other medical conditions using donor gametes, there are easily tens of thousands of children being born via donor sperm, donor eggs, or donor embryos every year. While choosing to step into donor conception as your pathway to parenthood is already a huge decision, the next step - deciding if you’ll be using an anonymous donor versus an open-ID or known donor - is also very big. However, most don’t even know they made a decision.
How is that possible? Simply, the professionals involved often gloss over the choice - the reproductive endocrinologists, the fertility clinics, the cryobanks, or the surrogacy agencies. Sometimes, professionals present the options well and properly counsel future recipient parents about the implications of each - and sometimes not.
In hopes of fully exploring your choices before choosing an anonymous donor, I invite you to pause and reflect on seven crucial questions beyond the immediate anticipation and nervous feelings. As you embark on this journey toward parenthood, I encourage you to delve into the depths of your intentions, values, and expectations. While this decision may feel like just one in the domino effect to a baby, it may have ripple effects for your family across the lifespan.
1. What brought me to the idea of an anonymous donor?
It’s essential to know how you came to this place. As someone who sits across from future and current recipient parents quite often, I’ve heard many stories about why they chose an anonymous donor. The most common is, “My doctor said the next step was to find a donor. They pointed me to a list of potential donors or a specific cryobank. Then, I chose the best donor for me. No one told me there were options beyond anonymous donors.”
It is often after creating embryos, conceiving, or even giving birth that folks realize that they have made a massive decision for their family beyond just using donor gametes. Ask yourself, how did I begin looking at donors? Was I counseled that there were multiple types of donors?
2. Do I have any unexplored or secret fears around donor conception that may be nudging me further toward an anonymous donor?
If you just rolled your eyes and thought, “Nope, not me!” hear me out for a moment. Unexplored or secret fears on this topic are wildly common. I’m on the receiving end of “little confessions” all the time, and, truth be told, there are rarely ones I haven’t already heard.
These fears look like this:
- “It will be confusing for my child if the donor seems so “‘real.’”
- “It shouldn’t matter to my child that they were donor-conceived. It doesn’t make them any less my child.”
- “I’m not planning to tell my child they’re donor-conceived until they’re much older - if then. I don’t want them to feel different.”
- “I am worried my child will try to find the donor if they have more information on them.”
- “I’m concerned that the donor will come looking for my child if we are connected.”
- “It’s far too complicated for everyone if I use a known donor or open-ID donor.”
- “My child has parents - they don’t need this extra person in their lives.”
- “If my child knows who their donor is, when they’re a teenager, they can say that I’m not their ‘real’ parent when we argue. I won’t be able to take that.”
Whatever brings you to this place, it’s essential to be aware of and name it. Fears can make us put up walls and defense mechanisms. They can stop us from fully exploring the lifelong implications that come with donor conception. When considering your fear-based beliefs, be aware that there may be worst-case scenarios, misconceptions, and outdated information. It’s all worth exploring.
3. What resources and knowledge do I have already to make this decision?
Inventory who you’ve spoken to and what you’ve read/listened to/watched on donor conception. Who told you what? I recommend writing this out. Organize your thoughts. So many of our beliefs came from somewhere or someone, but we just take them to be fact. Once you have that, the next question is easier to navigate.
4. Do any of the resources I’ve used have a stake in my decision that I’m not considering?
This is a complicated question but an important one. We often think everyone is centering our family’s best interest - particularly when we’re about to make such a big decision. However, there are some pieces to consider. Here are a few reasons I’ve seen folks decide on an anonymous donor based on information provided by those with a (often financial) stake in the game:
- A lesbian couple watched a free webinar about how to grow their family. The webinar was hosted by one of the largest sperm banks in the U.S., which offers almost entirely anonymous donors. No other pathways to parenthood were discussed.
- A straight couple going through infertility and treatment for the last five years is considering donor eggs after their doctor recommended it. When the couple asked how to tell their child that they used an egg donor, the doctor said, “You never have to tell them.” Their doctor is affiliated with a clinic that matches recipient parents directly with anonymous egg donors.
- A hopeful singlemother by choice listens to an excellent podcast for others like her. Guests of the podcast speak about their journeys. The podcast has ads throughout, all to large cryobanks focused on anonymous donors.
While it’s not impossible to glean helpful information from sources that have a stake in your decision, it’s essential to be aware of biases before you make a choice.
5. What resources and knowledge do I still need before I make this decision?
After making conscientious note of what viewpoints you do have and where they’re coming from, it’s time to consider what you still need.
Some viewpoints to make sure you’ve considered are:
- Donor-conceived people: they are the experts on being donor-conceived. They can offer you insight into your future child’s possible lived experiences.
- Parents of donor-conceived children: they’ll tell you what they’ve learned since making the choice you are facing. They’ll also tell you what they think about the decisions they’ve made in retrospect. Speak to those who have used an anonymous donor and those with an open ID or known donor.
- Donors: It can be beneficial to hear why donors donated their gametes, their contact expectations with their genetic offspring, and about their experiences.
- Family-building coaches and therapists specializing in donor conception: They can offer insights into the lifelong possibilities for your child as they grow from baby into adulthood, help you sort through your values and how they align with your decisions, iron out any misconceptions you may have, and offer resources.
The information these other groups and individuals may give you will likely expand your opinion beyond what medical professionals have explained. While it may be helpful to have direct conversations, there are many wonderful organizations, podcasts, and social media accounts to engage with. Thankfully, plenty of people are working to support future parents of DCPs. Many offer their opinions and recommendations for making this critical decision.
[We’ve included a list at the end with some suggestions from Sensitive Matters of people and organisations to look up or to follow.]
6. What does the research on donor-conceived people say
Donor-conceived people offer a unique perspective that you “putting yourself in your child’s shoes” doesn’t - because they already have the shoes and have been walking around in them all their lives. One place I highly recommend spending some time is the “We Are Donor Conceived” survey. They survey large groups of donor-conceived people annually and publish the results on their website. This is a fantastic opportunity to look at the practices donor-conceived adults wish were different and how they view their conception. If you value qualitative data, this is a great place to start.
7. How realistic is it that an “anonymous” donor can remain anonymous?
In the end, if you still decide to pursue an anonymous donor, I want you to acknowledge the reality of the time we’re living in. Accessing one’s genetic relatives is an “Add to Cart” button away for all of us - including donor-conceived people. Even if your donor - your child’s genetic parent - isn’t on Ancestry.com or 23&Me, other genetic relatives - like same-donor siblings likely will be. Commercialized DNA testing has effectively ended the promise of anonymity in donor conception. According to the 2020 We Are Donor Conceived survey, 78% of respondents had successfully found biological relatives using DNA tests.
8. Have I fully explored the lifelong impact of an anonymous donor on my child and our family?
This question plays further into the knowledge and research you’ve done on anonymous donors and the impact that using one can have on the donor-conceived person. So much conversation at your stage is about making the baby. There’s far less thought to having a donor-conceived child, adolescent, and adult. It’s essential to think about the impact across the lifespan on multiple topics:
- The donor’s changing family medical history that may impact your child’s health
- The possibility of large sibling groups across the globe and right in your child’s city
- The chance that your child could unknowingly enter a romantic relationship with a genetic sibling or other genetic relative
- Your child’s identity development over their lifespan
- That your child may have questions that you’ll be unable to answer
- Your child may question why you chose an anonymous donor when known donors were available.
- What would it be like for our family if my child wished we’d used a known or open-ID donor? How will our relationship change?
Choosing the type of donor to create your child can feel like a small decision. A quick checkbox to choose from, seemingly insignificant in a sea of complicated decisions and procedures to become a parent. Examining the weight through the lens of your future child’s identity, the kind of parent you hope to be, and the relationship you desire with your child is essential.
You are on a unique journey, probably asking yourself many questions (and now seven new ones!) By choosing to be well-informed of all of your options, you’re far more likely to make decisions in the best interest of your future child.
I wish you well as you take the next steps to grow your family.
Kenzi Locks, LCSW, HWC, is the creator of Growforth Family Building, an organization dedicated to supporting hopeful future parents on their journey through donor conception, fertility treatments, adoption, or surrogacy. Learn more at growforthfamilybuilding.com or @growforthfamilybuilding on Instagram.
Here’s the list from Sensitive Matters of people and organisations to look up or to follow:
Donor Conception Community is a US based charity providing peer support, education, and resources for people navigating donor conception. DCC provides support for DCP as well as parents.
U.S. Donor Conceived Council strives to increase awareness of the needs, interests, and challenges of donor conceived people and advance change that promotes and protects their health, welfare, and human rights. They provide several resources for parents that are worth looking at.
We always appreciate Hayley King’s voice as a DCP and an RP All Things Donor Conception.
donorconceivedaustralia.org.au provide support for donor conceived people, information on donor conception for current and prospective parents, donors and the wider community, and advocacy for nationally consistent legislation.
Parents of DCP:
Donor Conception Network is a supportive charity network of over 2,200, mainly UK-based, families with children conceived with donated sperm, eggs or embryos, those thinking about or undergoing donor conception procedures and donor conceived people.
Paths to ParentHub run by Defining Mum is a subscription platform providing support and connection for donor conception. In partnership with Hayley, the hub is providing support tailored towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Follow @dannyrepsch for an insight into the world of bringing up DCP.
We did a survey of donors in March 2023 that gives an insight into some of the feelings donors experience.
@donordylan is a sperm donor with 97 biological children.
Family building coaches:
Author of this blog, Kenzi Locks, LCSW, HWC, is the creator of Growforth Family Building, an organization dedicated to supporting hopeful future parents on their journey through donor conception, fertility treatments, adoption, or surrogacy. Learn more at growforthfamilybuilding.com or @growforthfamilybuilding on Instagram.
Jana Rupnow is a US based fertility counsellor and the author of Three Makes Baby, a well-reviewed book for parents of donor conceived children. Jana also runs a podcast which discusses issues around donor conception.
Lori Metz is a psychotherapist who works with individuals, couples, and families, specializing in fertility and relationships.
Take a look at our resources to support parents. This includes Donor Conception Resources – communities that provide answers and support.]