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When it comes to selecting your sperm donor, swiping right just won’t cut it

woman checking phone on street - selecting your sperm donor
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Once you have made what feels like the biggest decision of your life—becoming a single mother by choice—the second biggest decision is likely to be selecting your sperm donor. And speaking from experience, it’s not as easy as swiping left or right on a dating app. The search for my ‘perfect’ donor was an overwhelming experience, to say the least. At times it felt like an even bigger decision than deciding to become a single mother by choice. I agonized over the options and ruminated on huge, impossible questions:

  • What if I pick the wrong donor?

  • How will I know which is the right donor for me?

  • What criteria is important to consider?

Here’s what I learned along the way about selecting a sperm donor.

What to keep in mind when selecting your sperm donor

Choosing a known vs. unknown donor

At first, I contemplated asking men I knew to be sperm donors. However, it quickly became apparent that this option had complications if I didn’t want the donor involved in the child’s life.

Additionally, I discovered that in Canada, sperm from a known-donor will only be inseminated when the sperm is frozen for six months in an approved setting. As someone eager to start the journey, this waiting period was also a deterrent. So, I ended up going with an unknown donor.

Going for an open vs. anonymous donor

Another crucial decision to make was whether to choose an open or anonymous donor. Initially, I was hesitant about an open donor.

  • What if my child wanted to contact their donor when they turned 18?

  • What if my child was disappointed in my choice?

  • What if the donor doesn’t live up to my child’s expectations or treats them poorly?

It was clear that fear was keeping me from choosing an open donor. I spoke to my fertility counselor and another single mom by choice (SMBC)  at the time and their responses were the same: It is very much a personal choice. Now, I would agree; there is no right or wrong way to go. I spent a lot of time journaling and meditating on this decision and I realized that this decision should ultimately be up to my child. I chose an open donor to provide my child with the opportunity to know their biological father, should they desire it in the future. I wanted to respect their autonomy and give them the freedom to make that decision when the time came, because I knew I would want that.

(Editor’s note: Given the widespread availability of DNA testing, some experts argue that having a truly “anonymous” donor is now a thing of the past. This is something else to consider when making your decision.)

Considering personal factors

I found myself browsing through countless profiles on various sperm bank databases. I easily read over 70 profiles in detail: there was the athlete, the chef, the med school student, the pharmacist, the engineer. I never knew so much about a person until I started reading these profiles. Forget about the guys I’ve dated in the past—I barely gleaned a quarter of the stuff I had to consider when it came to potential donors.

It became a daily project for me, going through a few profiles at a time. At first, I had lots of  filters set up. But as time went on, I realized I needed to narrow the list down to just a few factors I wanted to prioritize.

Here were some factors I considered during my initial selection process:

Physical attributes

Height, weight, hair color, eye color, etc. I always thought I was going to have a boy, so height mattered to me. Or there was the first time I came across a donor with glasses and thought I don’t want my child to need glasses if I can avoid it, though I had no problem dating guys with glasses in the past. Again, this will be a highly personal and, yes, superficial process.

Medical history

I wanted a thorough understanding of the donor’s medical history. It wasn’t just about knowing my donor’s medical background, but also their parents’ and siblings’ as well. I looked for information about any hereditary conditions or genetic disorders that could potentially be passed on to my child. It was crucial for me that the donor had undergone a comprehensive genetic assessment that I could compare with my own.

CMV (Cytomegalovirus) status

Understanding whether you are CMV positive or negative before selecting a donor is important. This information may influence your choice of donor. I’m not an expert on this, so it’s best to consult with your doctor about it.

Information you want to pass to your child

This includes pictures, a well-written essay, family information, reasons for donating, personality traits, values, and interests. Not all donors take the time to provide all the information or share adult and childhood photos, so it became one of the ways I filtered out a lot of profiles. It was important to me to have this information available to pass on to my child, so they could have a better understanding of their biological origins and the traits that may have shaped their identity.

Education and background

Having grown up with parents who instilled in me the importance of a good education, it became a value I wanted to pass on to my child. So naturally, the donor’s educational background mattered to me. I understand that this may not be a priority for everyone. Also, I considered their interests and personality traits, as finding a donor with similar values and aspirations could create a sense of connection and compatibility.

A note on selecting your sperm donor as an SMBC

In the end, selecting a sperm donor is a deeply personal and individualized process. It took me months to make my choice. I wish I could tell you that I had this “aha!” moment where I saw a profile and instantly knew he was the one. But nope, it wasn’t that easy for me. I realized that there wouldn’t be a perfect donor who ticked off all the boxes I had in mind. Instead, I focused on finding someone whose words resonated with my values and whom I can confidently explain to my child as the kind-hearted man who helped bring them into this world.