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  • Writer's pictureMaia Dunkel

How Tall is Your Sperm?

Updated: Apr 29, 2018

I love my sperm. My sperm has a great sense of humor, likes to rap and is good at math. My sperm plays basketball and is always smiling. My sperm’s favorite food is pizza.

Without a doubt, the most common question I get asked about having a baby on my own is about my sperm. People want to know where I got it and how I chose it. Well, like most anything about procreation it is both simple and complicated at the same time.

I went through this process four years ago so my fear, confusion and sense of being completely overwhelmed is not going to come through in this first post. I am writing now having come out the other side. But it is a BIG deal. Right now, though, I want to walk you through the process step-by-step and make it as simple as I can.

Sperm comes from Sperm Banks, also known as Cryobanks. They are all over the country. Not to worry, you do not need to live near a sperm bank. Sperm is shipped straight to your fertility doctor. You’ll never unpack and hold your sperm. You won’t need to clear freezer space for it. The only time you’ll be near your sperm is the moment it’s being put inside you. Even then, you will never actually see your sperm.

Picking a Sperm Bank is much like choosing which dating site to join: match, Bumble and OKCupid all have things to offer: the men being the sperm in this scenario. Some sperm banks are more well-known than others simply because they are bigger or have been around for longer. When I started the process I kept hearing about California Cryobank, “CCB.” Their tagline is “America’s Largest Sperm bank.” Sounded good to me. I’m not one to overly research these things. I did consider Fairfax Cryobank in Minnesota as my mother’s family hails from there but then I figured the LA-based bank would have a more diverse set of men. The truth of the matter is your fertility specialist will recommend a sperm bank they’ve worked with before. Ultimately, though, the decision is yours.

Like any dating site, the first thing you have to do is register. It’s free to join and you only pay when you actually buy the sperm. Once you register, you can start perusing the donors. I suggest grabbing your beverage of choice (Cabernet for me) and get acclimated to the fact that you are not looking at men showing you their abs but rather babies gum-smiling in their Sunday best. Just like in the dating sites, you’ll see faces that speak to you and others that aren’t quite your taste. I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot to take in.

The next question: “OK, but how do you actually pick the donor?” Well, at some point during the process, your fertility clinic will likely insist you meet with their counselor. This is your chance to ask any non-medical questions and for them to make sure you aren’t a lunatic making a rash decision. When I met with the counselor at my clinic she said, “You can pick whomever you want!” I told her I like Indian men. She smiled and then suggested three approaches:

  1. Pick someone who looks like you (in my case he'd be caucasian, have blonde hair and blue eyes). Think about when you are at the mall and a random lady says, “Cute kid. He looks just like you!” Nice, right?

  2. Pick someone who has the traits of a man or woman you are typically attracted to. If you tend to date tall and dark, you could go that route. Have you always imagined you’d be impregnated by an Italian Catholic? You can if you want!

  3. Pick someone who resembles your own father or a man you admire in your life. That’s what I did. I picked someone who had traits similar to that of my father.

Every donor profile comes with a short description written by the staff at the Cryobank. Those profiles will give you a glimpse into his personality and what celebrity he most resembles. It’s a great way to get a sense of what the donor looks like today because you only get to see a baby picture. You might read “the next George Clooney” or “eyes that light up a room.” Perhaps “sense of humor to match Chris Rock” tickles your fancy? My donor was described as “always having a smile on his face” and “super positive.” This was especially important to me since depression runs on both sides of my family. I wanted to do any thing to stave that off.

Physical appearance is just one piece of the puzzle, though. You’ll need to think about religious affiliation (or lack thereof), heritage, education and medical background. I made a list of what I wanted in order of importance. Maybe I would hit them all but I said to myself that if I hit the top three, I’d be content. It is kind of like finding an apartment in NYC: you may want big closets, lots of light, laundry, A/C and a balcony, but you might have to settle for only a few of those things.

My list was something like this:

  1. Ethnically diverse. I wanted someone who shared in my Eastern European and/or Scandinavian background. I didn’t wan’t a “purebred” anyone. The same applied to religion.

  2. Tall and thin. I’ll admit it: I wanted someone to balance out my slow metabolism, another fabulous trait that runs in both sides of my family. I mean, why not give my kid a leg up if I can?

  3. College-educated...or at least in the process.

  4. Seemingly happy and positive.

There are a couple more very important factors when choosing a donor. Some donors are listed as “Anonymous.” This means that your child will never be able to contact them. Ever. Others are listed as “Open.” This means that when your child is 18 years old, he or she will be able to track them down. This was something I thought very seriously about. I'd urge people to really take the time to think about this from all perspectives. There is no right or wrong answer here, only what is right or wrong for you (and your future child).

As for me, I picked an “Open” donor. Why? I felt that it would be important for my child to make her own decisions as to whether or not she wanted to contact her donor. I thought about myself as an 18 year old and I'm pretty sure I would want the chance to know who my “father” was. I didn’t want to have to say to my child she couldn't because I picked "anonymous." I feel good about my decision today, but talk to me in 15 years. It could be a total disaster. I'll just have to wait and see.

There is one other thing to note: your CMV status. You will get tested for CMV whilst going trough your treatment. Here’s a little except I pulled from the Seattle Sperm Bank website for clarity.

“Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is a member of the herpes virus family that includes cold sores, chicken pox, and infectious mononucleosis. It’s a common virus that affects 50 to 85% percent of American adults. There is currently no vaccine for CMV.

How does this affect my choice of sperm donor?

Since so many people carry the CMV virus it can be difficult to find donors with a negative CMV status. To reduce the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, any woman planning to use donor sperm to conceive should have her CMV status tested. If the donor sperm recipient has never been exposed to CMV, her status should be negative. This means she does not have the antibodies and resistance to the virus. In order to reduce the risk of infection to her unborn child, she may want to select a sperm donor whose CMV status is also negative. If the recipient’s test results come back positive, meaning she has experienced prior exposure and subsequent immunity, she can select a sperm donor who is either positive or negative.

This may sound troubling to women using a sperm donor to conceive, but it’s important to point out that while the risk of contracting the virus from a CMV-positive donor is not absolute zero, it is extremely low. The chance of transmitting congenital CMV to a developing fetus is also extremely low. That’s why CMV-positive donors are declared acceptable.

In a nutshell, if you do not have CMV pick a donor that is also negative. If you do have CMV, it’s not a big deal at all. You can pick a positive or negative donor. If you are negative, your search is automatically narrowed down.

The hardest part about choosing a donor is actually deciding once and for all. Initally, you will probably constantly doubt your choice. I’m sure I spent months deciding but eventually you just have to pull the trigger. It’s a question of time.

A funny story: I had actually first chosen a different donor. After I purchased two vials of his sperm (which costs about $1,300), I also bought a “Donor Conversation” MP3 file which is an “add-on” you can get for $25. I opened up iTunes and listened to him being interviewed by one of the staff. The more and more I heard his voice, the more I didn’t want to listen. I can’t really explain it but his voice bothered me. I called the cryobank in a panic asking if I could change to my back-up donor. “Certainly,” the said the operator, “for only $150.” Just like on an actual date, occasionally you get a feeling something is not quite right.

Oh and my sperm is 6 feet 2 inches tall. How tall is your sperm?

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