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Contact with Gamete Donors

Contact with One’s Donor

When mutually agreeable to both the recipient(s) and the donor, some clinics and agencies allow for recipients to make arrangements for some type of contact with their donor. This could involve a phone call, an exchange of e-mails (either directly or through the clinic’s intermediary), a face-to-face meeting, or the preservation of an avenue for future contact.

Face-to-Face Meetings

Such meetings are typically allowed once the cycle is well underway and are not intended for use as a way to further screen a donor. In some cases, a facilitator is required to be present. The facilitator may be a clinic/agency representative or mental health provider affiliated with the clinic/agency.

When such an individual is involved in scheduling and/or facilitating the meeting, the donor and the recipient(s) have the option of meeting in a neutral location, such as at the clinic, but not exchanging any identifying information or any contact information. Thus, aside from knowing what one another looks like, the basic elements of privacy and anonymity are preserved. In cases where there is no facilitator to schedule or help guide the meeting, donors and recipients typically exchange e-mail addresses or phone numbers and set up meetings at neutral locations, such as a coffee shop.

What is the Role of the Facilitator?

The facilitator talks with the donor and the recipient(s) ahead of time, independent of one another. The purpose of this is to clarify hopes and expectations for the meeting, to identify any boundaries to be aware of, to ascertain what (if any) agreements there are regarding future contact, and so that the facilitator can serve as a liaison between the parties, if needed.

For instance, a recipient may wish to have a photo taken with the donor but may not want the donor to be put on the spot at the meeting and may, instead, wish for the facilitator to ask her about this ahead of time. During the meeting, the facilitator supports each party and the process, helping the meeting proceed smoothly along the lines of each party’s stated priorities for the meeting. After the meeting, the facilitator may check in with each party to give them the opportunity to debrief and process any feelings they have about the meeting.

Why Have Contact Up Front?

The primary goal that recipients often have for contact with their donor is simply to get a better sense of who she is, or, in the case of embryo donation, who they are, beyond that which they learn from the profile. Recipients often ask about aspects of the donor’s profile that drew them to the donor in the first place or that they are particularly interested in,such as how the donor chose a particular field of study or what she enjoys about a particular hobby. Other questions may focus on things not covered in the profile, such as what the donor was like as a child.

Sometimes recipients use the meeting as an opportunity to share some non-identifying information about themselves, such as what kind of work they do, what types of pets they own, or what hobbies they enjoy. They may wish to take the opportunity to thank the donor more directly or to check in regarding her experiences during the cycle.

Ideally, recipients who choose to have contact come away from the experience with an increased sense of normalization and “humanization” about the path they are on, a greater feeling of comfort and familiarity with the donor, and a sense of validation and “rightness” about their selection. They also may feel better equipped to answer questions their future child may have about the donor. If the contact has been face-to-face, recipients may report feeling positively that they will be able to tell their future child that they actually met and talked with the donor.

Risks of Contact Up Front

One risk of meeting one’s donor is the possibility that there will be some aspect of the donor that the recipient doesn’t like (such as a tattoo, her choice of dress, or his tone of voice) that will result in second-guessing about one’s selection after a great deal has already been invested in the cycle. For couples that feel a need to minimize the role of the donor, another risk is that meeting the donor will “take up more psychological space” in one’s thinking about the process and that “humanizing” the donor will give the individual too much of a presence as another real human being involved in the creation of one’s child. However, it is important that parents honor and value the role of a donor, for it means they will honor all aspects of their children.

It may be tempting to deny or diminish the donor’s contribution to the family, but that risks denying the totality of one’s children. Without the donor, there would be no child. Recipients who worry that they will think about the donor’s face too much if they see a picture or meet in person would benefit greatly from talking with a mental health professional to help them resolve lingering apprehension, grief, or fears about donor conception.

A third risk involves the compromising of complete anonymity. The fact that the donor is able to see what the recipients look like means that there is no longer the same level of anonymity that there was before the meeting. If the recipient(s) and donor live in the same city, there is the chance that they will run into one another and recognize each other. For some recipients, this would be an uncomfortable situation. However, it is important to realize that most donors are quite attuned to the privacy needs of recipients and also have their own desires for privacy.

Arrangements to Preserve an Avenue for Future Contact

Some recipients elect to make arrangements to preserve an avenue for future contact. Typically this is done on behalf of the anticipated child. That is, parents choose to preserve an avenue for future contact with the donor so that if the resulting child grows to be curious about the donor and desires contact and the parents support this,, the parents have a way of accessing the donor. Currently, this is often done through having both parties mutually register with the Donor Sibling Registry.

With help from the moderator or clinic/agency staff, each party receives a username, one that does not necessarily contain one’s name or other identifying information. Once both parties are set up, usernames can be exchanged with one another through the moderator or clinic/agency staff. Through the registry, the two parties can communicate with one another at pre-determined points in time. Often the parties agree to update one another if relevant medical information arises and if/when the future child reaches a certain age if the child is interested in contact. From that point, the parties can negotiate what form the contact will take (i.e. e-mail, phone, or face-to-face meeting).

Risks Related to Future Contact with the Donor

First, it is possible that you could negotiate with the donor ahead of time to preserve an avenue for future contact only to find that when you try to take action so many years later, they are at a different point in their life and are no longer willing to have contact. However, while feelings definitely change with time, we have found that much more often donors and recipients tend to change their minds in the direction of wanting contact when they initially did not want any, not the other way around. It is important to enter into such an agreement in the first place, with the understanding that it cannot be legally binding and that it only represents an individual’s current thinking and intentions at the time.

Second, you or your child could meet the donor so many years later and she may not live up to expectations, leaving feelings of disappointment. It is also possible that your child would end up really liking the donor and wishing for more than a one-time meeting, which may be different from what the donor is willing to accommodate or from what you as a parent were hoping for or expecting. However, these risks may be outweighed by the potential to help your child feel more grounded in all the pieces that comprise his or her identity.

Why Make Arrangements For Future Contact?

It is difficult to predict for any one child how significant access to the donor will be in terms of satisfying curiosity about his or her genetic origins and providing a more complete sense of identity. Sometimes recipients decide that they will worry about this later or will try to obtain access if/ or when it becomes important to their child. However, the ideal time to make such arrangements is at the time of the cycle, before a donor moves to a new address, gets married and changes their name, or otherwise becomes harder for a clinic or agency to locate to ask about such an arrangement. In fact many clinics will not participate in locating a donor to ask about contact if the initial arrangement is an anonymous one.

If you really want to be prepared for the potential that your child will feel meeting her donor is important in consolidating all of the pieces of where she came from, it makes sense to plan for this ahead of time. If you later decide that it’s not in your child’s best interest to have access to her donor, you never have to pursue the matter any further. But at least you haven’t closed the door on maintaining the option.

What is the Role of the Facilitator?

The facilitator talks with the donor and the recipient(s) ahead of time, independent of one another. The purpose of this is to clarify hopes and expectations for the meeting, to identify any boundaries to be aware of, to ascertain what (if any) agreements there are regarding future contact, and so that the facilitator can serve as a liaison between the parties, if needed.

For instance, a recipient may wish to have a photo taken with the donor but may not want the donor to be put on the spot at the meeting and may, instead, wish for the facilitator to ask her about this ahead of time. During the meeting, the facilitator supports each party and the process, helping the meeting proceed smoothly along the lines of each party’s stated priorities for the meeting. After the meeting, the facilitator may check in with each party to give them the opportunity to debrief and process any feelings they have about the meeting.

Why Have Contact Up Front?

The primary goal that recipients often have for contact with their donor is simply to get a better sense of who she is, or, in the case of embryo donation, who they are, beyond that which they learn from the profile. Recipients often ask about aspects of the donor’s profile that drew them to the donor in the first place or that they are particularly interested in,such as how the donor chose a particular field of study or what she enjoys about a particular hobby. Other questions may focus on things not covered in the profile, such as what the donor was like as a child.


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