By Alice Crisci
My mom is the queen of catalogs. Her catalogs served as our first internet, really. Want to know why you need a “As seen on TV” watermelon slicer? Ask mom’s catalog. Do you need a funny, thoughtful or personalized gift? Check her catalogs. New dress? No problem. Something knitted, crocheted, double breasted, faux leather, bedazzled?
She has a catalog for that too.
In fact, I dare say, there is only one catalog in the US she has never and will never receive:
A sperm donor catalog.
You have to be a certain kind of unique to receive this precious, multi-page, double-sided, stapled, full-color, printed display of the cream of the crop (pun intended, however bad) DNA- from-around-the-world catalog.
That was my one and only catalog from the year 2008.
I had just been diagnosed with cancer three weeks prior to that fateful day in the fertility clinic. And I learned that my fertility would be at risk from chemo a mere five days before the very moment I am writing about.
That moment, when someone you don’t know hands you a catalog of statistics and you wonder if she needs your help recruiting her basketball team for one of those weird fantasy sports leagues you just don’t understand.
But instead, it’s for me. The catalog is for me. . . and I just keep staring at her and at the cover, wondering how the hell I just got here?
I am embarking on the biggest responsibility of my life: hand selecting, or rather, vial selecting, the very best possible sperm donor to fertilize my eggs with the hope of becoming someone’s mama someday.
Whoa. I think I eventually erupted into some maniacal laughter, especially when my friend Jen declared it would be so much fun!
As of the night before, I was a single, 31-year-old and given that vitrification (flash freezing) had not yet sprung on the scene, slow freezing my eggs had only a 2 -3% chance of success. Hence, the sperm donor. Healthy frozen embryos had a better chance at success, so our hope was that I could split my cycle and freeze half unfertilized eggs and half fertilized.
But I only had five days to pick a donor so I could hand carry the tank to my egg retrieval appointment. Without the luxury of time on my side, I decided to approach the process like you do in basketball tryouts. Day one, you cut.
I crossed anyone off the list who didn’t have every available potential piece of information. If they didn’t have an essay, buh bye. No baby photo? No thanks.
Next I crossed off any ethnicity I had never, ever felt any attraction to. Sure, I may find them attractive to look at but if I didn’t want to bone a blue-eyed Swede in real life, why would I want to procreate with his DNA in a lab?
Believe it or not, those two steps alone narrowed down my list from 300 to 30!
Next I crossed off anyone who was an open donor, meaning they would be allowed contact with my child at 18 years of age. At the time, I could only see my side of that equation and felt that would be intrusive and unwelcome, like they would show up on my doorstep one day - “Hey we share DNA – you’ve got my nose!”
It felt threatening to my perfectly manicured life I was envisioning with that perfect DNA. But that was naïve, and today, I would choose open donor in a heartbeat.
With the 30 profiles, I was still feeling pretty overwhelmed, so at this point, I got clinical:
Step 1: keep those with athleticism and music in their background
Step 2: discard profiles with cancer in their family (sure didn’t need a double whammy)
Step 3: read their written essays – bad grammar and you’re out, not to be confused with your out, ‘cause see, that would eliminate a profile fast
Step 4: listen to audio interviews and see if you feel something . . . anything
Step 5: GO WITH YOUR GUT.
So my clinical approach didn’t make it through all five steps, but those 30 profiles got down to twelve, which got cut to six, then cut again to two. One tall. One not so much. Both incredible-on-paper men.
In the end, one had a spotless health history and a very personal story of grit.
Even though they haven’t discovered (yet) a specific gene tied to resilience, determination and grit, I knew I had those qualities too. And I knew if my future child could know both sides of his DNA had it too, he would be ok in life, no matter what he faced.
Because after all, there is a human behind that donor vial, and he gave me the most amazing gift of life . . . my son Dante.
Alice Crisci is a cancer survivor, entrepreneur and activist. She founded MedAnswers to help infertile people in crisis connect with the specialist they need. Available on the iOS store, she has reproductive endocrinologists, urologists, embryologists, geneticists, genetic counselors, psychologists and reproductive attorneys answering unlimited, patient questions for free. She is raising capital to expand into genomics and oncology. She also founded the oncofertility charity, Fertile Action, three weeks into her breast cancer diagnosis at 31-years-old. She co-sponsored the first fertility preservation bill in the country and oversees the prospective regulatory changes across the country in reproductive medicine. She deployed an online oncofertility course for both men and women on the udemy.com platform with almost 2,000 students. She has regulatory relationships across multiple sectors and within both the US Congress and California Legislature. She is a strategic advisor to other start-ups in the health tech space including oncology companies, genomics ventures and educational institutions. She is the ecstatic mom of her fertility preservation miracle, Dante (3.5-years-old), a cat Dante named Josh, a Shih Tzu he named NayNay and a fish he named Sunny. She may or may not let Dante help name his baby brother someday.
You can find Alice here: