VIDEO: Queer Mama for Autostraddle Episode Three — Let’s Go Sperm Shopping!

A lot of things would have been so much simpler if Simone had sperm. We wouldn’t have had to do IVF, of course, but also we wouldn’t have had to choose a sperm donor. Oh my goodness was it hard for us. When people ask, which they often do, who he is and how we chose, it’s hard to know where to begin. How do I distill two years of conversations down into a column or a video, let alone a conversation over brunch?

You’ve probably noticed by now that I am a person who cares A LOT about things, especially this future baby of ours, and that I have passionate opinions. Simone, it turns out, does too. I believe that DNA matters, that our genes influence who we are and how we start in the world. I like to geek out on my 23andme results, read every article I can find on prenatal epigenetics, and trace genetic patterns in our large extended families.

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When we were first considering our donor options, we looked at a few Bay Area sperm banks and it seemed like every other guy was a filmmaker (maybe because independent filmmakers, like lots of artists, could pretty much always use some extra cash). I kept having this ridiculous vision of, say, five years down the line being at a filmmaker meet up, looking across the room and recognizing my child in a stranger’s face, being like holy shit, I think that’s our donor. It’s a little absurd, I know, but San Francisco is a pretty small town!

I felt weirded out, on so many levels, about using a sperm bank donor. I also felt like we had to use a known donor. So we grabbed our phones, pulled up our social media “friends” lists and proceeded to evaluate pretty much every person we knew with sperm.

What about that cute gay guy I went to college with? Nope, he’s a nihilist who doesn’t believe in procreating. What about Simone’s brilliant old friend from New York? No, his mom is schizophrenic, and so is one of my close relatives. What about the charming anarchist I used to live near? Maybe not, because I also used to sleep with him…

There are so many criteria that can be used to select – or eliminate – a possible donor. Looks, interests, smarts, family medical history, do we want them in our lives FOREVER, are they proximate?

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After more conversations than I could possibly recount, we eventually chose our donor. Smart, creative, attractive, emotionally intelligent, someone we would be delighted to have in our child’s life (and ours) forever. We approached him, discussing expectations, family history, process, all of it, and everything seemed to be going swimmingly.

Until he went to our fertility clinic to get his semen tested.

I sort of laugh at myself now because the one book I read about “lesbian conception” said, basically, “if you are going to use a known donor, get his sperm tested, right away, first thing, before you’ve committed or even fully decided.” I thought that was presumptuous, like “hey, dude, we’re not sure about you yet, but would you mind jerking off into a cup so we can see what we’re working with?” It also felt unnecessary. Our donor was young and fit and seemed plenty virile to me.

Turns out (duh) you can’t spot infertility by looking at someone. His semen analysis came back with low count, low morphology, and low motility, not good all around. If we’d been planning IUI we would’ve had to stop right there. But because we were doing IVF anyway, our clinic said we could just use a little process called Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) where a single sperm is injected into each egg to assist with fertilization.

What happened next (lots of additional tests and soul searching, mostly) is a story for another day, but to make a very long story oh so much shorter, we had our first IVF cycle, and then I had my miscarriage.

Simone and I could barely tend to our own feelings for a while after that, let alone try to attend to what this might mean for our friend, who we cared deeply about. Simone held onto most everything for a while, really, while I was pulled under by it all, under the covers, typically, hardly leaving our bed for months.

As we very slowly picked up the pieces of our hearts, we had to decide what to do about sperm the next time we tried.


In part because of the emotional turmoil we’d felt, in part because of the advice of a new fertility doctor, and in part to try to simplify things as much as we possibly could (a little ridiculous of an attempt, I realize, given that we were undertaking fucking IVF again…), we decided to try with an unknown sperm bank donor this second time — someone with proven pregnancies and impeccable sperm. Someone with tons of vials available for purchase, frozen and ready for our use, whenever and however we wanted to use them. For IVF or IUI, for this child, or any number of future children we might want to have. Nothing to do except pull out our credit cards.

And, of course, decide who this mysterious person would be. I wasn’t certain about this shift for some time, and I was still imagining the fictional filmmaker meet up I’d invented. I was thinking about how often people lie in their online dating profiles, about how you can’t really know someone without interacting with them through more than forms filled with text and written or even audio or video interviews.

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I thought a lot about the child we were trying to create. This new way forward felt right and simple to us, but how would it be for them? We were doing something that felt so much easier in the short term, but would it be harder in the longterm for our family? I looked at every donor conception site I could find. I read studies and personal accounts. How did these kids turn out? Did they hate their parents?

I came to the conclusion that our kid might very well have some questions, but that they would also probably be just fine. They would, in all likelihood, consider the two of us their parents, being the people who not only raised them, but also chose to bring them into the world at all.

We did decide, however, to only look at “willing to be known” donors, so our kid would have the option of contacting their donor at age 18. I’m guessing by then they will have already found a mess of their half siblings online thanks to all the DNA testing services out there, but who knows.


Thus began, again, the question of how we would decide. I wanted someone who seemed like us, someone with a creative and intellectual seeming family and similar interests, someone I imagined would fit in with us culturally. This is such an abstract thing to figure out from a series of questions on a form, and it became more absurd the longer we looked.

Hours into looking at yet another bank, I actually suggested ruling someone out because his favorite food is spaghetti. (What’s wrong with someone’s favorite food being spaghetti? I really can’t recall.) I also refused to consider anyone with a police officer in their family. I really don’t like cops.

Simone gravitated towards someone a little less like us, someone she thought would balance us out, perhaps someone with a degree in business or more of an interest in athletics. She also just could not choose someone whose voice she found grating (incredibly auditory and musical person that she is). We both had our sticking points, and sometimes they were weird.

It’s a weird process, really, this hyper focus on the semi-random details of a person, those details being the only pieces of information you get to form a picture of who they are. It’s easy to nitpick in a way I don’t think most of us do when choosing a partner. It never once crossed my mind, for example, that Simone would somehow be a less suitable parent because she wears glasses. But if I had a choice between a donor with perfect vision and one without?

You should probably watch the video to get a sense for how it went, how ridiculous and exhausting it really was, but eventually we did it. We found someone we were both excited about, someone who ticked a lot of our boxes but, more importantly, someone we just felt good about. It was a huge relief.

We called the sperm bank, placed the order, and put another $7,400 on our credit card. As you might have guessed, I’m hoping Tiny Dancer isn’t our only child.

haley has written 12 articles for us.

41 Comments

  1. I completely understand the donor-choosing process! I, too, am amorphously bitter that our child can’t have both of our genes (especially as I’m convinced that this scientific miracle will happen later in my lifetime). And we also had to narrow down our donor options by making some seemingly arbitrary decisions.

    • Caitlin,

      I’m glad you feel our pain in choosing a sperm donor from thousands! We feel so grateful to have been able to have the credit to afford this process (not all can!) but sometimes, choice can feel like more like a burden. Now that we have plenty of sperm in storage, we hopefully don’t ever have to look at hundreds of donor profiles ever again! At least we have it on camera to prove to our children that it actually took a lot of forethought and time.

      All my best to you, stay in touch, and keep following Queer Mama!

      Simone

  2. Ha, I can imagine if I ever had to choose a sperm donor my process would go about the same way. I’m so nitpicky and I would totally obsess over every little detail. But it’s an important decision! Thank you for sharing your process with us.

    • Hi Ariel,

      Yes, it was quite the challenge! So happy to have made it through the process. Now,
      we can focus on preparing for the coming of our first baby!

      Thanks for reading and watching! Please stay in touch!

      Simone

    • Emi,

      So glad we have you along for the ride! It’s been an emotional journey so it means a lot that you connect with it and us. And to think we don’t even have a baby in our arms yet!

      Keep following, share our story, and stay in touch!

      Simone

      • And me! And I don´t either, but I still find myself getting all emotional over Haley & Simone´s posts and fervently wishing everything goes well for them and their baby. Funny old world!

  3. My wife and I know we want to have kids one day, but we aren’t ready yet. (Well, she’s not 🙂 so I watch vlogs and read blogs to get me through.) We think we’re about 2-3 years away. I’m 31 so I guess a clock of some sort is ticking. Anyway, this post (and others) are making me wonder – if we want to have a kid in 2-3 years, we know I am going to carry, and we want an anonymous donor, should we start looking and researching options now? It seems like it takes so long to even get pregnant, much less the following 9 months, that it makes our 2-3 year timeline seem like we should get started tomorrow! Thoughts?

    • Hi Becks,

      Thanks for writing! I think one thing that complicated our process was our initial indecision between using a known donor vs. an unknown donor from a bank. Once we finally committed to using a sperm bank, things started moving much faster. It can’t hurt to get familiar with various banks. What’s great about the sperm banks is that the sperm is there waiting for you as soon as you are ready to use it. Whereas using a known donor is a much more complex process with a lot to research and navigate.

      I think you guys have some time. Once you know you want to start the process, you will be more ready to move forward with considering donors.

      Thanks for following Queer Mama and please share our story!

      And let us know how your journey is developing in the coming months and years!

      All my best,
      Simone

    • Well Simone gave you her thoughts, here’s mine! (You can guess who is the planner in the family 🙂 I’d say start looking for a sperm bank donor maybe about 6 months before you think you want to start trying. That way you have the luxury of some time if you don’t find someone you both like right away (new donors come up fairly regularly).

      Sperm storage is usually charged on a yearly fee, or else I’d just tell you to choose whenever so you have it all set, haha. But yeah, as Simone mentioned, it’s really with known donors that things can get super dragged out (or if you can’t decide which route to take).

      But also yes, as I think you’ve noticed, things can take a lot longer than planned! So always good to give yourself some extra time.

      Stay in touch, always here for support/resources!

    • Start soon! It took us two years with getting allll the tests done, choosing a donor and being on a wait list for the sperm & then trying to conceive. Get the ball rolling by getting your tests done or looking for a donor- it’ll help make it more real all round too 🙂

  4. I love hearing how other people created their families!

    We tried for a while with sperm from one bank that was nicer, but also further away. Can’t remember how we chose that donor, but their catalog was not vast.

    After a few failed cycles we decided to go with the local sperm bank, which, while more convenient, was also more expensive and had annoying, snotty staff. The choice there was pretty easy. We narrowed it down to the two gay guys who were willing to be known and picked the funny one. Another 4 or 5 cycles with that and I was finally pregnant.

    When we went back for the second pregnancy they informed us that of 6 confirmed pregnancies there were only 2 live births. While they couldn’t pin it on the sperm, they had removed it from the catalog and we would have to sign a waiver if we wanted more of it for a sibling (though they would still charge an exorbitant amount of money for it). Since our first turned out fine we decided to move forward and it worked out beautifully.

    • Erin,

      Wow. So glad everything worked out so beautifully for you and your family. Your kids are adorable! We can’t wait to join the club – despite all the tales of it being so challenging in that first sleep deprived year!

      Thank you for following our story and please keep posting!

      Simone

    • Wow, what a story. Thanks for sharing. And especially for the photo. So super sweet, look at those two happy kiddos!

      Also, out of curiosity, how did you know they were gay??

  5. Loving this series! My partner is trans, and we want to start a family. It sucks that he doesn’t have sperm because he is the most amazing person and I want to have his biological child. I wish his doctors had mentioned that he should have had his gametes harvested before he started T 4 years ago. At this point, egg retrieval is not an option and his gametes might not even be viable. We’ve started talking about known donor vs sperm bank, and I think we’re going to go through a sperm bank because all the legal issues with known donors scare the shit out of me. Luckily, we’re in New England, and Fenway Health, where his PCP is, also does an insemination program that is queer-friendly. I’m looking forward to going through this process at a place familiar with trans folk. I had my IUD taken out earlier this year and I told my gyn why, it seemed like it was hard for her to understand. I guess in this one medical thing I really need my queerness to be a non-issue. I never wanted kids until I met my love, and now I can’t imagine anything better than having a family with him.

    Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy. Your family is already so beautiful and so full of love!

    • Thank you! And oh goodness do I feel for you. And I’m so glad you brought this up. Trans care providers should totally address this with clients if/when they are considering going on or starting hormones. There is still so much fucking work to be done when it comes to trans and queer-knowledgeable healthcare. I’m glad you have a solid place to get your inseminations done though, that’s worth a lot.

      And I wish you so much luck and love on your journey. And I hope and imagine you will get to see your partner in your kid(s) in so many non-genetic ways too – facial expressions or mannerisms, interests or sayings. In any case, it sounds like you will have a family filled with so much devotion and love and that is really just the sweetest thing.

      Stay in touch!

      • Just because your partner started T 4 years ago doesn’t mean his eggs aren’t viable. My partner was on T for 10 years prior to going off and had normal-for-his-age fertility measures. He did egg retrieval for IVF. There’s tons of cases like this – check out the Birthing and Breastfeeding Transmen and Allies Facebook group.

  6. I absolutely understand. If I get to “pick” the father the way I would never pick a partner, I would be choosey as hell! I’d prefer a donor who didn’t want to be known though.

    I am not an artistic or overly emotional person and having a child who is is my worst nightmare, so I would be looking for the math nerd type, perhaps someone in the military in *hopes* that our combined child created an INTJ mini me :p.
    Good health of course, and on the shallower in, someone whose features I think are not only attractive, but that I believe would combine well with mine.

    • right?! (re: the choosey as hell comment)

      And I love how specific you are about what you want, and I so hope you get your little INTJ mini you!!!!

      all my best and do stay in touch

  7. This is fantastic! I stress out just thinking about picking a sperm donor…I’m such an indecisive person and it’s SUCH a big deal. But, at the same time, I browse through sperm bank websites when I’m bored.
    I was an egg donor, so I’ve done a lot of reading on the topic of donor-conceived children and adults, and all signs point to the importance of children knowing their genetic origins and having access to them. Sperm banks are much better about this than egg donation agencies (I donated to a Dutch couple, and I’m quite sure there’s zero possible way the resulting child(ren) could ever find me, law changes or no. It’s yet another inconvenience that straight people usually don’t have to deal with, the presence of donors out there, intimately connected to our kids, which is irksome.
    Have you looked at the Donor Sibling Registry? I’ve known quite a few lesbian-headed families that have really benefited from it and raved about it.

    • You might be surprised about the 0% chance. I’ve worked with many adult adoptees who’ve found out in their 50’s/60’s/70’s and with DNA testing have managed to find their biological roots despite all the efforts to make sure they wouldn’t. If the child ever suspects that they aren’t completely biologiclally connected to their parents, or even random happenstance like “hey I did this cool 23 and Me DNA test to show our lineage” can show up the results.

    • haha, I love that you browse sperm banks when bored! And yeah, SUCH a hard decision.

      also, yes, totally what you are saying about donor-conceived children, which is a big reason we only wanted willing to be known donors. Though of course there is no guarantee unfortunately… Thanks for sharing your experience, I’ve considered being an egg donor, too.

      Or a surrogate. Right now I just want to be pregnant forever, I feel amazing!!

      And yes, I’ve checked out the DSR. Very cool resource! No sibs of our kid up there yet, but I’m guessing there may be at some point!

  8. My wife and I took the absolute OPPOSITE approach. We have only tried one cycle so far and when we try again later this summer, we will potentially be choosing a different donor due to possible availability issues at our sperm bank. I think it’s probably a little New Age/hippie/out-there of me but I have this belief that we will… end up with the baby we are supposed to get? Like I feel like our baby is just waiting for us to bring it in to existence and we will end up with the right baby for us, regardless of the donor. When we picked our donor, we first looked at critical things, like blood type and CMV status, and then picked physical characteristics that my wife has (dark hair, blue eyes, short, etc). It is really important to her that the donor has a similar ethnic/nationality as her; she wants a donor that is German and Norwegian. We did check out family history (what did the parents die from, basically) but other than that, we didn’t obsess or drive ourselves crazy with details. In fact, there was only a handful of donors that met that particular set of criteria and we just… picked one. I think what they went to school for, their interests, hobbies, etc. are just irrelevant. Maybe I just believe in nurture more than nature? Not sure.

    Also if you knew me in the real life, you would know that NOT obsessing over details is SO against my nature. I have OCD, am prone to anxiety, and am a massive control freak. I really don’t know why this isn’t more of an issue for me. 🙂 Maybe just because when it comes to baby, everything is so unpredictable. You can make all the right choices and do all the right things, have a perfectly healthy egg and sperm, and things can still go all wrong. Conversely, you can pick two random people with zero preparation or tests or foreknowledge of anything and end up with a perfectly healthy baby. It’s out of our hands completely.

    • Interesting! I know a lot of people like y’all. People who mostly cared about ethnicity or looks with a quick check to the health history. You’re right, we were the total opposite! We didn’t care about ethnic background (well, not entirely true, we felt we should choose someone Caucasian because we both are, but other than that). We didn’t care about specific physical characteristics either, though we wound up with a blue eyed donor by coincidence and we both are, so that’s kind of fun.

      And you’re so right, gene combining and baby making ARE unpredictable. It will serve you well on this ride if you can lean into that part of yourself that isn’t a control freak, that has that “new age” 🙂 faith you are currently holding onto! Best of luck on your baby making journey and do stay in touch!!

      • Well, thank you! And I’m glad you know others with a similar approach to us… I read the responses on here and definitely felt like the odd one out. 🙂 I hope to continue leaning into the the non-control freak part of me, but history tells me that it will not last throughout an entire pregnancy. During our first 2WW, I was an anxious wreck, googling every single symptom or non-symptom and emailing my midwife like, daily. Ha.

        I’ve been following along with your journey. You know how it is when you have babies on the brain… you want to read everything about every lesbian who’s ever been pregnant, ever. 🙂 Best of luck on the rest of your journey. Looking forward to following along.

    • I think it’s probably a little New Age/hippie/out-there of me but I have this belief that we will… end up with the baby we are supposed to get? Like I feel like our baby is just waiting for us to bring it in to existence and we will end up with the right baby for us, regardless of the donor.

      Just wanted to say I firmly believe in this. What’s meant to be will always find its way! Best of luck on your journey <3

      • I’m not religious and haven’t even been very spiritual, but for having a kid it does feel like what is meant to be will be. I’ve always loved babies, got my advanced degree in child development and for the last almost ten years have cared for other people’s children in my home including eleven babies. My wife and I have been trying for the last year to use her gametes and mine. Our three tries with IUI didn’t work. There’s one vial left from before she transitioned. We’ve been saving money for the possibility of IVF. But my wife lost her job and I’m unhappy with mine. So maybe we will wait to make a kid, or not have a kid, or adopt. I just don’t know. Part of me loves reading these stories about making babies. At the same time they make me sad.

  9. Just wanted to drop by and say this article appeared for two weeks on a Friday and then last week it was GONE and I was so sad! I know you guys are busy but I truly did miss a week without any new details 🙂

  10. I can’t like this series, your column, or the videos enough!!! Thank you for giving us this thoughtful overview of your choices in using a known donor, then a sperm bank donor, and how those choices were made within your partnership. Also shout out to the person who has perused sperm banks for funsies because I’ve done that too! I am 29, want babies, but not in a partnership yet where I could make babies. There’s definitely so much to think about, and I’ve always felt like I wanted a child who was a reflection of me and my partner, but much of that thinking has been around physical attributes. So cool seeing how you and Simone chose a donor that matched your lives together, even if it was a long process. Thanks again for sharing this journey with us!

  11. My kids are 6 and 3 now. I remember 7-9 years ago spending so much time thinking about sperm donors and reviewing profiles. But now it seems so unimportant, at least to us. In fact, I put all the donor information, profile pages, etc, in the safe deposit box so I’m not tempted to pull it out every time the kids do something unexpected to see if maybe that “came” from the donor.

  12. This is a super late response, but I’m just now catching up on all your videos — they’re so great! This topic is so interesting to me, because my mom and dad actually used a sperm donor to make me and my brother (2 different donors, actually, so we’re “technically” “only” half-siblings). It’s funny what things are similar and different when comparing your experience to theirs. Like as a straight couple, obviously people assume the baby is biologically yours until informed otherwise, which is both easier and harder in some ways! It def. means they had to give us a speech at a certain point telling us the truth, which was a huge moment and probably a little different from how that speech would go for a kid with two moms.

    I don’t actually even know 100% which piece of paper (which is all the info they gave back in the olden days before these fancy schmancy online profiles and videos) is “my” donor, because I think my mom did IUI with a 2 different sperm…idk what the right noun is here. 2 sperms? 2 different donations? And they never did any kind of DNA test after it took to figure out which is the one that did the trick. And I can obviously only speak to my own experience, but I never felt the desire to meet my donor at ALL, and I totally believe in nurture > nature and that I take after my dad in some key and obvious ways.

    So I guess I sorta take the chill approach of, it only really matters for medical reasons and aesthetics, and your parents are the people who raise you, but we’ll see how/if my perspective changes if/when I get around to going through this with a (theoretical, future) female partner!

    Anyway, just wanted to weigh in with my perspective. Good luck and thanks for sharing your story!

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