Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How We Picked Our Sperm Donor

I haven't really talked much about the donor sperm aspect of our upcoming cycle. I've been so deep in the fears of stimming again after doing DE that was apparently not entirely necessary that I've focused mostly on that, especially because of the cancelled cycle in April. (The good cancelled where I had too much of a good thing, if there can be such a concept as a good cancellation.) It's not really doing a service to the incredibly fraught decision to do a split cycle -- half my husband's sperm and half the donor that we chose. I think it's because we still have that other half and we are hanging desperately, despite 8 cycles of evidence to the contrary, to the hope that a new lab will solve our problems and we can truly have children that are genetically both of ours. We focus on Bryce's half until we have to make the decision to go with the donor, because we both believe that we need to have one more try before we make that leap. Even though the leap was partially made when we had the cryopreserved vial of sperm sent to our clinic in Buffalo. Half my retrieved eggs will be fertilized with our sperm, and half with the donor. All kept separate so we can do ours first and the donor second. This has truly been a weird and wild journey through nearly every aspect of infertility, and the switch from donor egg to donor sperm is definitely among the strangest. It is our final frontier of medical treatment. The last stop on the train to tiny people living in my belly, for a while.

When we thought we needed to use donor eggs, we went through a whole process to be matched with an egg donor. Now that we are facing a possible donor sperm cycle, we had to go through the process of choosing a cryobank and then choosing a donor. Very, very different. For us, at least, because the egg donor matching was largely out of our hands.

It went like this: Fill out a profile for myself. Note all the things about me that make me physically me -- hair color, eye color, skin tone, hair texture, height, weight, build. Then note a few things about my personality. Now, fill out what felt like a doll order form for the donor. Same information, but now make it so that it's clear where you have wiggle room. Is there a range in eye color? Hair color? skin tone? Ethnic background? What personality traits are most important? What should be starred and double starred to be clear that some things matter more than others, like proven fertility? Then, mail these scary scary documents to the clinic and wait to be sent a profile of a potential donor, chosen for you by the doctors and the donor coordination nurse out of the pool of donors that have been approved. Approve your donor and wait for a schedule, or say no thanks, please find me someone else and keep the matching process going. It was incredibly difficult. I held on to those papers for months before mailing them because it was just too scary to finalize our decisions. What if we chose wrong on one element? What truly gets passed down? A lot of heavy conversations. A lot of tears. A lot of mourning and feeling like a total failure. 

So when we had to make decisions for a sperm donor, the fact that WE GOT TO MAKE ALL THE DECISIONS was kind of novel. We had a choice of three cryobanks. We went with Cali.fornia Cry.obank because they gave A LOT of information, had great reviews, and had extensive childhood photos. 

It was very important to us that we make this decision together, but that Bryce had final say. Just because we'd had all the discussions about genetics and whether or not they were all that important when it was my material that was being swapped out for donor didn't mean that we were done having these discussions when it came to his material. It's different for men. For women, assuming you are doing the carrying, you get to experience pregnancy. You get to have influence through epigenetics -- your blood transfer actually impacts the genes of the growing baby. A man has one contribution, from the physical aspect. It was (and is) pretty devastating. However, we do this because the experience of pregnancy as a couple is important to us. The prenatal environment, the preparation, the nesting, the birth story -- we want all that. I probably want it a bit more, but we are agreed that if we can be pregnant, we'd like to explore every avenue for that to happen. (Although at this point we are too exhausted to attempt donor egg/donor sperm. No more funds for that; we need to save our funds for pursuing infant adoption if the donor option we've chosen is a bust, because we will be parents. We will.) While donor sperm is a difficult pill to swallow, it could be our best option. Of course we hope that the first cycle with all our material works first, but even with that on the table we have to be ready to use the donor sperm embryos. It took a long time for Bryce to come to grips with this decision, truly. I worried, a lot, because we weren't on the same page. There were a lot of emotions to work through -- the sense of having failed was tremendous, especially since this was all happening on the cusp of Bryce's 40th birthday. It was a lot to take in and a lot to acclimate to, even after the decision had been made (I could relate, because I also went through a period after we'd made the decision to do egg donor where I knew the decision was made, but I felt just awful about it and mourned. A lot.) But before we could choose a donor, we needed to be 100% okay with this option and ready to start looking at our choices with open minds and hearts. 

One exercise that we did before going to the overwhelming sea of online profiles was to treat it a little like the egg donor process. Bryce and I sat down with a notebook each and wrote down all the things that we wanted our donor to have. All the things that could be passed on by the sperm physically, and then some personality traits, because who knows? There's nature and nurture and sometimes it seems like a bit of both (although I hold tight to nurture or crapshoot for a lot of the personality components). We made our lists separately, and then shared them a few items at a time. It was kind of surprising to Bryce (but not to me) that we picked nearly identical attributes. All the things that Bryce finds most important about himself are the things that I love so dearly, so I would actually be a little worried if our lists were too disparate. We were both thrilled that we were so synchronous in our "wishlist."

I won't share it all, but we totally agreed on physical -- light-to-medium skin tone, light eyes (actual color doesn't matter because he's green-hazel and I'm gray-blue, so we could have any permutation of those), tall (6' or more), and adult hair color blonde or brown but definitely, definitely a towhead as a child. Bryce was a towhead and we've always imagined this little child with whiteblonde ringlets running around. This is where childhood photos are important--we care what the donor looked like as a kid. We couldn't care less what he looks like as an adult, because so many outside factors go into how you look as an adult--hairstyle, coloring, facial hair, build--all of that is malleable depending on lifestyle and choices, and as an adult you don't necessarily look like your parents. But we kind of hoped for a child that looked like one of us or a combo of both of us. That's the original hope, at least. Not the most important thing in the world, and even if it was both of our genetics in the mix we could end up with a surprise, like several friends of mine who sprouted adorable carrot-topped children despite not being even remotely redheaded themselves. But, if we're starting off at a bit of a disadvantage using someone else's genetic material, we could at least stack the deck to try to make the match as close as possible.

Then came the personality aspect. We both were looking for the same thing -- math/engineering/architect background, with musical/artistic/creative tendencies or hobbies. That mix of math/science and arts/music is crucial to us. Bryce is an engineer and reads math books FOR FUN (yes, you read that right, I don't personally understand it but he loooooves his complex math books that literally make me twitch), but he also is a talented guitar player who learned entirely by ear, he has a vast appreciation for all types of music, and he is quite the artist. In terms of drawing design plans for woodworking projects and also creepy little doodles that grace my birthday/anniversary cards (I had an anniversary werewolf on my envelope and it was fantastic). That balance is very, very important. Also, outdoorsiness. A sense of humor. At least a master's degree (not for the "pedigree" crap that articles on "designer genes" from sperm or egg donation tout, but because it takes perseverance and a desire to learn and continue after a passion to get a graduate degree.) Plus a few other things I choose to keep private. It's so weird to think of all these qualities hanging out in a microscopic sperm head. But, just in case, we wanted to look for those things. 

Once Bryce was ready to start actually looking, we got our subscription to the cryobank's information. That's what they call it, a subscription, like a magazine or access to online content or something. We paid for the largest subscription--because you just got SO MUCH. You got childhood photos and a description. You got facial feature analysis. You got an essay written by the donor on his reasons for donating and who he is as a person. You got to hear the donor being interviewed by a staff member, so you could hear his voice and see if he was a decent person--does he treat the interviewer like an equal? Does he sound douchey? Does he sound pretentious? There was a host of information available with the superdeluxe subscription, so we went for it.

The website itself was just surreal. Like the way we met, on Match, only instead of searching for your soulmate you're searching for half the genetic material to make your long-awaited baby. Very, very strange. And very, very overwhelming--hundreds and hundreds of profiles to go through. We tried putting all our criteria in at first, and that turned up NOTHING. So, we scaled back significantly. I don't remember what parameters we put in were, but Bryce tells me it was just "towheaded pictures." The very first person we saw was THE DONOR.

He had virtually everything on our list. Like, a CREEPY amount of everything. He had a childhood photo that was very similar to one of Bryce's childhood photos -- towheadedness and facial expression and all. He was in the type of field that we were looking for and had advanced degrees and he both played guitar and was an artist for fun. He sounded like a really nice guy (if a little bit impressed with himself, but we were kind of like, BRAVO, MAN. BRAVO, because he really was impressive). Which was also kind of a nice boost for us, because I could be like, "See? See how impressed you are with all these accomplishments and hobbies and interests and everything? THIS IS HOW I FEEL ABOUT YOU!!!" It was eye-opening. The most bizarre moment in parsing through the considerable amount of information we had on this person was when we found out that his favorite guitarists were the same as my husband's favorite guitarists. Like, really esoteric acoustic people, one of whom has been dead for like 20 years and was never universally popular, and the other who actually came to Rochester a few years ago and we saw live. And who wrote our wedding song. That was the clincher.

But, we felt like, "Should we go with the first profile we view?" Was that good consumerism? Did that matter in this situation, where it felt incredibly strange that we were essentially BUYING semen and if we did enjoy this person enough to make him OUR donor, then all we had to do was "add to cart?" How do you add a PERSON to the cart? There were many jokes about how the "cart" should be uterus-shaped or vagina-shaped or something, because it was weird. Seriously weird. So we looked around, but no one came close to the first donor we saw. So we decided to sit on it, because we didn't need it until probably April and it was only late January.

But then, a few weeks later in February, we looked up the donor's profile again and there was only a few vials left. PANIC ensued. We didn't know--we simply didn't know that particular semen just flies off the cryofrozen shelves. We didn't know that if you find a donor you like, you'd better pounce. Bryce freaked out. All of a sudden, it was painfully clear that THIS DONOR was THE DONOR, and ohmygod if we missed out that would be completely horrific. So much regret. The process was already pretty rife with regrets and worries and feelings of sadness and loss, but to find the perfect donor and then lose him because we didn't act quickly enough? BAD.

I jumped on everything and called the cryobank, asking if we could put a vial on hold. Which apparently you can do for 24 hours. I called our clinic to see if we could have it shipped to them this early and have them store it frozen properly--which they could on all counts. I went to complete the transaction online but apparently when there's less than 5 vials available you can only order it over the phone. This whole process of ordering was really freaking me out a bit, because it felt very much like retail and I don't want to feel like we are BUYING our genetic material, but let's face it--we are. It's not quite the same as egg donation. However, the screening at this bank was impeccable and the information we had made us feel good that this donor was not just out to make a quick buck and spread his genes across the country. So I got the info together to fax over so that we could order over the phone and faxed it through Sta.ples. It was a bunch of pages, information from us, and a contract stating that we won't try to contact the donor and a bunch of other things.

Once the information was received I could make the purchase over the phone. They tried to upsell me with their Family Completion program, called "Family Today, Family Tomorrow" (which I'm not going to lie, made me giggle because it sounded like something from Catching Fire, when Katn.iss says, "Panem today, Panem tomorrow, Panem forever"), but one vial with shipping was nearly $1000. Somewhere someone made it sound like donor sperm was cheap(er). Like it would be $500. I was not expecting this incredible bill! So, uh, NO. We decided we would take our chances with the one vial and if more became available later we would cross that bridge when we came to it. I could not in good conscience spend several thousand dollars on multiple vials of semen when I wasn't even sure we needed the first one.

Which brings me to our interesting situation. Our wonderful donor's goods are safely frozen in our clinic's cryofreezer, we have breathed a sigh of relief that we didn't miss the boat on this particular donor, and we are now headed into the surreal point where it actually gets used.

Our plan for this cycle was to do a 50/50 split. Which means, we take all the mature eggs that I produce and they retrieve, and then we fertilize half with our sperm and half with superdonor's sperm. Which is a little scary, because we are using up a whole expensive vial on just half my eggs, and go figure they don't make it easy to split the vial while still frozen, so it all goes to this one cycle. The fertilized eggs will be kept separately, so that we know whose are whose. Barring some bizarre state of affairs, we will have blasts from both sets of sperm. The first fresh transfer will be Bryce's batch (two max). We want to give those the absolute best chance possible. But then, then what? What if there are additional embryos from Bryce? Do we use those next if the first one fails so that we close that out, or do we say, "hmmm, they failed again, time to move on to donor" and transfer donor ones next? It is a sticky, sticky, icky wicket. We are giving Bryce's sperm another shot because we are at a new clinic, with a new lab, and he's been on some new supplements. So, maybe that will do the trick. Maybe all this business with my lining was a bigger part of our issue, and that's being addressed effectively now. (Just FYI, my lining was a whopping 9.1mm today, which I have NEVER EVER had, so I'd say we're in a better spot from the getgo.) But if it fails, we have to decide if we give it another shot or we move right on to donor. The other scenario is also sticky -- what if Bryce's get us pregnant? What if we are successful, and then we don't have any more Bryce embryos because we split with the donor? Do we do another fresh cycle with all Bryce's sperm for a sibling? Or do we embrace our thought that genetics aren't as important as everyone thinks they are and embrace the donor-created embryos? Oh, and don't forget, we still have those six 2PNs from the egg donor with Bryce. I JUST DON'T KNOW! There are so many additional people involved in our genetic mix!

Luckily for us, we don't have to worry about all those what-ifs quite yet. We just have to hope that we end up with blasts from Bryce to transfer next week, and then go from there. Just worry about those making it, and worry about the what-ifs later, when we actually have to make those decisions. I don't think it's a bad idea to let them marinate a little bit in our brains though, so that we are somewhat prepared for this bizarre, biological and ethical dilemma we may or may not find ourselves in. I laugh, laugh, laugh when I think about where we were five years ago when I was going to my OB/GYN's office and letting them know that my beloved husband-to-be had low sperm counts and maybe we could get a referral to a fertility clinic for a wedding present? THIS TYPE OF HEAVY DECISION MAKING NEVER CROSSED MY MIND. I don't think I even thought these types of dilemmas were truly possible outside the Lifetime Movie realm.

I hope that all of this information is helpful and not overwhelming. Bless you if you've made it all the way to the end, because this was A LOT of information. But, it's information that seems pretty lacking out there. Also, this is just one experience, from one cryobank, and not all cryobanks do things the same way. Our experience is also kind of weird in a way, but maybe not... maybe there are others facing this decision the same way. I'd love it if you'd leave a comment if you are in a similar boat, or if this was helpful to you! Peace to you all, especially as we make decisions we never, ever, EVER dreamed we'd have to make when hoping for a baby. 

12 comments:

  1. So many things to consider!!! Hoping that yours and Bryce's stuff does the trick and all the rest is just "insurance."

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    1. Thanks, Kelsey! I hope so too. :)

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  2. Thank you for sharing! I am so hopeful that, whatever decision path you'll have to follow, you and Bryce will be ok. You've thought everything through, you've felt everything through. It will continue to be challenging but I am comforted by the fact that you sound prepared and ready. So impressed and so proud of you for your strength!

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    1. Hi Lady! Thanks for your comment! I put on a good show I think, where strength is concerned... We are as ready as we're going to be. Decision day is Friday, so off we go! I could throw up, but it's exciting. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. This is fascinating. Thank you for sharing! I am very impressed at how you've navigated such a complex series of decisions. But I understand that we will do anything for our future babies.
    If you do end up with the donor sperm embryos, it sounds like you have the perfect donor.
    I keep checking your blog because I am in suspense about what will happen! Wishing and hoping for the best for you and Bryce.

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    1. Thanks so much! We picked pretty carefully (even if he was our first view, after seeing others it was a no brainer) and couldn't ask for a better match. A Bizarro Bryce as it were, although no one could be quite as awesome as he is! This guy is a close second though. I hope the suspense leads to a happy ending... thanks for stopping in!

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  4. Oh, I'm going to do a post on my blog and link back to this. In part because you are a much better writer/explainer than I am and in part because I think your experience is so much more of the norm. Can I split my comments into parts? Yes, I think I will.

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    1. Wow, I am flattered! Thanks so much for the incredible compliment. Link away! (Me being the norm is a novel concept... I feel so fringey it's not even funny, but maybe in this arena we're closer to norm than fringe!) Thanks again.

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    2. I know, I know! And when did any part of this become normal?!? I'm not sure when the link will happen, but it will, I promise. And sorry that it took me ages to get the below written, not just because it was long, but I kept getting interrupted by work.

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  5. OK, now that I have my enthusiasm for what a good write you are out of the way, I can get back to my thoughts. So, I found the process for choosing your DE fascinating and I'm going to reference this if/when the time comes. But our DS choice was so different. We were not as systematic as you were, but our top three characteristics were ethnic background (East Indian in Ca Cry.o lingo), height and intelligence basically in that order. When we filtered by ethnic background we were left with 20 choices. Then we had to filter by height, which left us with maybe 5. Then I didn't want anyone mixed, so green eyes and brown hair were out. I mean, beautiful, right? But B is 100% Indian, so if we had a blue-eyed child (I have blue eyes) people might ask questions. This left us with 2, maybe 3 choices. Our first choice, and the one we eventually went with, luckily had similar interests to B. Somewhat disappointingly, our donor didn't have the mischievousness that B has, but with the limited pool we had, we're very happy. But like you, I felt like we had to consider other options, but objectively and emotionally we picked the right one. We didn't get the subscription, we just bought the two profiles we were considering and ours didn't have the interview, but it did have the extensive background history. We bought ours almost a year ago, because we were pre-warned that good donors in our ethic group go fast (I documented some of this on my blog--but I thought we lost our preferred donor I was heartsick, luckily more became available). And we overbought, by a lot, and so we'll likely take advantage of the return policy (you get 50% back on unused vials that stay on site), but I just didn't know how many we need and I would rather have too many than too few. But in hindsight, I could have gotten half. That said, our donor is sold out and they do not anticipate that anymore will become available (they limit how many times a donor can donate I believe). So I'm glad that we have what we have. Who knows what the future will bring, but we should not run out. That said, one of these days I'm going to have to collect my thought about donor siblings. That, to me, is one of the hardest things to wrap my mind around. What makes a family--I suppose it's nature and nurture. Will my kids see the donor siblings as family? Something that I'll have to bring up to the therapist. Anyway, thank you for sharing your DS selection process. And I'm glad that you were able to joke about it--we joke about much, but not about this...yet!

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    1. Wow, thanks for sharing your story! Looking at the pictures, I wondered how challenging it would be if you were searching for a particular ethnicity. Not a ton of diversity but I guess better than it used to be. Yeah, donor siblings. That's a whole other ball of wax. I'm not sure if our donor is sold out at this point, but we decided to take the risk. You have invested a lot! But, given your parameters, that definitely makes a ton of sense. Oh for all this to cost nothing more than a fancy hotel room and a bottle of wine... :)

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