How to not obsess over choosing a sperm donor

by | Jul 15, 2018 | Donor conception

Since having my daughter as a solo mum, one of the most common questions I get asked is how the sperm donor process works, what I know about the donor and how I chose them. I thought I’d share the process I went through, to explain my thoughts and hopefully help others in the same situation.

I need to highlight that each country and each clinic or sperm bank may do things differently. This was my experience but others may not be the same. Each clinic has a different process when it comes to sperm donors, so other people may have had varying experiences. Also different countries have different practices and legislation. I had my treatment at Manchester Fertility Clinic and this is how they manage the process.

Many people contact me to explain that they have a massive decision ahead of them to choose a sperm donor and they feel very stressed about it and ask for tips on how to make the choice. I looked at this decision slightly differently. I am a strong believer in nurture over nature, so I believe that for the most part my baby will be shaped by how I bring her up. If you believe this to be the case, it takes some pressure off your decision.

Basically, in my mind the only thing you can really choose with a donor is physical characteristics. Hair colour, eye colour, height, build etc. You might also have the option to choose things such as religion and education, but personally I believe these things develop based on your upbringing, rather than to do with your genes.

The clinics will have screened the sperm, so you will be able to ensure that it is free of genetic diseaseschromosomal abnormalities and sexually transmitted infections. This is a good starting point already. 

In my case, I completed a questionnaire which provided me the choice of both physical characteristics and also some lifestyle choices such as education and religion. I answered the questionnaire with my ideal man in mind! Maybe Ryan Reynolds had popped by Manchester Fertility Clinic between filming, you never know!!

I basically asked for a tall, blue eyed, brown haired athletic man. Whether he had a degree or what religion he was seemed irrelevant to me.

Once I had submitted the questionnaire, I got sent the details of 2 donors that matched the criteria I had chosen. Now, you might think, only 2, that’s surely not enough to chose from. But at the end of the day what are you really choosing? They both matched the criteria I had picked so what more choice did I want. In some ways, only having 2 makes things much easier than having 50 to choose from.

Each donor had written 2 letters. One to me and one to my baby, explaining a bit about them and why they had decided to donate their sperm. In my case they both sounded totally lovely so it was hard to choose. In the end I went with the one that said they liked travelling, as this is a passion of mine and it was the only thing that differentiated one over the other. Again, I believe it’s somewhat irrelevant as I don’t think you have a ‘travel gene’, a love of travel comes from how you’re brought up, but I needed something to help make the decision between the two options.

Sometimes you can see a picture of the donor as a child, in my case this was not how it was done. Again, I’m not sure what great help this is. I’ve seen pictures of some of my friends as babies and you’d never even know it was them.

My daughter will be able to find out the identity of the donor when she turns 18. Although for me, that might be quite hard, for her I think it will be better to have the option to meet him if that is her desire, so I’m happy that is how it works to give her the option. She will also be able to trace if she has any half siblings which might be quite interesting for her.

A few things to think about to help take the pressure off your decision:

  • In the end do we really care what our children look like, aren’t we all more concerned that they grow up to be kind, caring, considerate and independent, all things that will be determined by how we as their parents bring them up? I want my daughter to be the most lovely little human she can be and thats not based on what she looks like, but how she acts, which I believe is mainly down to my parenting skills. Eek…no pressure!
  • Have you ever heard of someone having a baby and being horrified by what they look like? I’ve not, I think all children look gorgeous to their parents, regardless of their background.
  •  Why is what the sperm donor looks like even relevant? To me, all people are attractive in their own way and personality has a massive influence on how attractive people are, not looks alone.
  • Sometimes two absolutely gorgeous parents produce an ‘unique’ looking baby, there is no logic with these things. I decided I couldn’t control it, so didn’t even try. I see children grow into their looks based on their lifestyle. A happy, healthy baby is a great looking baby.
  • I’ve heard quite a few stories about people getting told their child looks just like them when both a donor egg and sperm was used. Like we say dogs grow to look like their owners, I think children start to look like their parents over time due to lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, style and hobbies.
  • I will share my interests with my daughter which will help shape her preferences based on how I bring her up and what we spend our time together doing, not on what sperm I used. If the donor is athletic, but my daughter is brought up indoors playing computer games all day long, she is unlikely to be athletic. Again, it’s influenced by lifestyle and upbringing.
  • I read an amazing booked called Bounce, by Matthew Syed. In this book, he claims that anyone can learn a skill with enough hours of practice. He believes you are not born with talent, it is something that is learnt. Therefore if you are hoping your child will be good at something specific, it’s not about what sperm you use, it’s about how much exposure and time they spend practicing that particular skill. I’d love Daisy to be into dancing like I am. I didn’t look for a donor who likes dancing, instead I spend loads of time dancing round the house with her. In the end she’ll enjoy it or she won’t, but I don’t think having chosen a different donor would change that.
  • There are things that we can control and things we can’t. I decided to focus my time on the things I could control. Rather than worrying who the donor was, I focused on getting ready for the arrival of my mini human and preparing myself to the best of my ability to be the best parent I could possibly be.

Please don’t take this to mean I didn’t care. Of course it’s important. I just felt that the clinic had already gone through a rigorous selection process, so all donors they offered would be suitable.

I know it can feel like a massive decision, but really try not to make it into more than it is. If you’re choosing a partner then it’s different as they will be responsible for bringing your child up and have a massive influence on shaping their life. If you’re choosing a sperm donor, pick your favourite physical characteristics and then be comforted in the knowledge that you will be responsible for shaping the rest in how you bring them up.

This is where the real pressure should lie, ensuring that you are the best parent you can be and bringing them up to be an amazing human, not what their eyes or nose looks like!

I’d love to hear your views on choosing a sperm donor in the comments below. Let me know if you’ve got any hints and tips for others going through the process and how you found making the decision.


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Photo by Christian Stahl on Unsplash



  1. flou

    I chose a donor who has my religion. My reasoning is not that I think religion goes through genes. My reasoning is that I hope when father and child meet one day, neither one will be shocked.

    • Mel Johnson

      Yes, this is a really great logic for your choice.

  2. Dan Johnson

    Religion is a strange option to include. While there’s some evidence that intelligence may have a genetic factor, does anyone really think that religion is genetically determined? Newborn babies have no beliefs. Religion is 100% enforced (or not) by parents.


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