By: Andrea Stratton, Client Depositor Services Manager
I had just finished college and was looking forward to the next phase of my life. It began as the Donor Coordinator for California Cryobank, the nation’s largest reproductive tissue bank. At social gatherings, my new found career became fodder for dinner conversation. Everyone wanted to know what it is like to work at a sperm bank and was it really like how it is depicted in the movies.
“No, not even close,” I would find myself responding quite often amused by some of the offbeat misconceptions I heard.
“What type of guys donate their sperm?” Inevitably, this was the second question I was asked.
“Some really great ones.”
Sweet medical students like the one who loved blue cheese burgers. Artistic ones like the donor who chose teaching as a side profession to acting due to his love of children. And of course, being situated near Tier One and Ivy League universities, there are a lot of intellectual donors. PhD candidates who spoke several languages fluently, played multiple instruments and at the same time were totally down to earth. Most of the donors reminded me of the type of guys I was friends with in college–only cooler.
It was always a treat to see the fruits of your labor like a smiling baby photo or an ecstatic client calling to report her pregnancy.
All U.S. sperm banks are regulated by the FDA and have to meet strict guidelines. Our donors have to complete a 30 page family medical history profile, have good semen analyses results, endure regular rounds of infectious disease screening, biannual physicals, a genetic interview and genetic screening. And only 9 out of every 1,000 applicants make it to our catalog! As our Communications Director best puts it, “It’s easier to get into Harvard then become a CCB donor.”
On average, it would take a donor 4-6 months before they become fully qualified. Assisting them through the stringent screening process, I felt excited for the donors who were accepted into the program and prospective parent(s)-to-be.
Over time, my role at California Cryobank transitioned into managing our fertility preservation programs with a focus on helping cancer patients. Of course, options for men in this situation are much simpler, usually requiring just a couple of visits to the Cryobank. Women have options too, egg freezing, embryo freezing, to name a couple, but their journey to preserve a future of motherhood can be more complicated. When we teamed up with Fertile Action–we were ready to bring light to these options and ease some of the financial burden.
A couple of months ago, a young woman unexpectedly came to California Cryobank and in tears told me of her recent cancer diagnosis. She wanted to freeze embryos due to the higher success rates than freezing eggs. At the time she did not have a partner and as she put it:
“I can’t believe I have to pick a sperm donor–I never imagined I would have to be here.”
Of course, I could not relate first hand having never experienced cancer myself. However, I can imagine how intimidating it can be, not knowing how the screening process works, what types of men become donors or how to select the right DNA from our long list of donors, albeit in just a few days, as is the typical case with sperm donors under a time constraint before their cancer treatment begins. We chatted for a bit and eventually with the help of our Client Services Manager over the weekend, the woman arrived Monday to pick up her donor vials for her egg retrieval procedure.
When I saw her this time, I was struck by how hope for her future replaced the fear and panic I saw in her face just a few days prior. She expressed her thanks for our Client Services Manager walking her through the process and helping her select her donor. She was also grateful for the financial assistance which eased some of the unexpected costs.
A day later, she returned the tank and told our staff she would love to work for CCB in the future.
It made my day knowing that not only were we able to provide her with a selection of highly screened, great donors but more importantly we were able to provide her hope for the future.
Hope that she would get through her cancer fight ahead and someday she would get to be a mom. Because at the end of the day, family is family–no matter what journey you take to get there.