My winter of love: Scrolling through sperm banks wasn’t sexy – but it was surprisingly intimate

Surrounded by glittering Christmas lights, in between sips of red wine, my friend made me a very decent proposal. “My sperm,” he said. “You can have it if you like.” We’d been catching up over festive drinks and the topic of kids came up, as it does when you are in your 30s. My partner – now wife – and I had started thinking about having a family, I’d told my friend. We had two wombs and a bunch of eggs; we just needed to figure out the rest of the baby-making equation. So he offered to sort that bit out for us, no strings (or body appendages) attached.

My wife and I thought about that offer a lot over the next few months. No offence to heterosexuals (some of my best friends are straight), but I don’t envy you most of the time. However, I am jealous of the fertile straight couples who don’t have to do anything more complicated than jump into bed when they decide they want kids. Instead of getting undressed, my wife and I went online. We researched, researched, researched. Should we go for a known donor such as my friend? Or would it be better to go to a sperm bank?

There’s no right answer when it comes to this decision – it all depends on your individual circumstances. But in the end we decided that a sperm bank was less complicated. “Your sperm is off the hook,” I texted my friend, after we’d made our decision. Unfortunately, he was at work at the time and the message popped up on the computer screen he was showing his colleagues. “It’s not what you think,” he told them.

Having decided to go via the sperm bank route, my wife and I spent much of that winter in New York curled up in front of the glow of the computer, trawling through donor profiles. While cosy nights scrolling through cryobanks may not be as sexy as old-fashioned conception, it was intimate in its own way. Donor profiles are incredibly detailed: you can access personal essays, childhood photos, medical histories, voice samples, personality tests, etc. Reading through all these profiles sparked long conversations about the things we found important, the sort of values we wanted our child to have. The donor who said his greatest ambition in life was to flip houses? Probably not a quality that can be passed on genetically but we discarded him anyway. The 9,987 donors who said their dream dinner-party guest was Elon Musk (I was amazed how many donors seemed obsessed with Musk) were also out. Again, I’m not sure a propensity to worship extremely irritating billionaires is a trait that can be passed on genetically but I wasn’t going to take any chances. As for the guys who said they were donating because they wanted to “spread their genes”? They were definitely out.

Of course, we didn’t spend the entire time having deep conversations about whether values can be transmitted genetically and who our own ideal dinner-party guests would be. Some donors provide their adult photos and these started rather more superficial conversations. There was a lot of ooh-ing and ah-ing over cute baby photos and a lot of laughing over some of the answers in donor Q&As. While shopping for sperm could have been a very transactional experience, the hours and hours we spent doing it actually brought us closer together.

About three years and $10,000-worth of sperm later, my wife and I have a beautiful daughter. (To be clear: my wife was the one who did all the heavy pushing.) It may have been an unconventional route to parenthood but I wouldn’t change a single thing about it – any other route to parenthood, after all, wouldn’t have resulted in the daughter we have. She’s not half of two people: she’s fully herself. She may not share my genes but she has absolutely all of my heart. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after going through this process, it’s that love and family are about far more than biology or blood.

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