Parallel Paths: Mandatory Counselling and the Best Advice I Ever Got – Part Two

After part one of her mandatory counselling session ended with new questions and advice she hadn’t previously considered, Karen Fuss shares the continuation of her experience with her fertility counsellor and the questions she had to ask herself about choosing a donor.

Karen Fuss: Parallel Paths

Part of my list of to-do’s from Doctor C was the request to make an appointment to see this counsellor. But not just any therapist; she specializes in helping new or parents-to-be deal with the emotional and social issues of having a child by using a donor. In fact, this is a mandatory session required by the Ontario Government and an important step to check off in “The Project“.

Her name is Sharon (this is not her real name). While I did not know what I was walking into, this conversation turned out to be one of the most helpful and informative ones I would have during this process of having a baby on my own.

The Best Advice My Counsellor Gave Me—Continued

Our one hour session continues. Sharon then asks me this next question: “Do you know what you are going to tell people when they ask you who the father is?”

Once again I sit there dumbfounded. Of course I haven’t.

“No,” I said.

“Well, you will be surprised at what people will ask you. And it is best to have an answer ready when they do. One of the interesting ways that a female client of mine handled it was to say ‘the father is not in the picture but I am very happy about having this baby.’ It tends to satisfy people’s curiosity. Just something to think about.”

Once again, another point that would never have crossed my mind in a million years. But that is not all; Sharon has more questions:

“Do you know how many times you want to try?”

What is she talking about?

“Have you thought about how many units you want to buy at one time?”

No, really, what is she talking about.

I respond, “No. I don’t even know where to begin. My doctor gave the name of a couple of donor websites but that is it.”

“Well I would recommend buying three units at a time. It could take you a few tries. And it is best to have the units on hand; one less thing to worry about.”

I have that same confused look on my face so Sharon clarifies the point:

“You may be surprised to hear that many women, well, get attached to their donor even though it is anonymous and you cannot meet them or even know their names. For most women, picking a donor can be a big deal. And it can be very stressful if the donor of your choice is no longer available and you are forced to choose a new one.”

Choosing A Donor Is A Big Decision

Despite how shell-shocked I am at this point, I am thinking thank God that I am talking to this person.

“Here let me show you what a donor profile looks like. Now this is only an example. This donor is no longer available.”

She hands me a photocopy of a sample donor profile. And I am thinking wow. There is everything and more that you would ever want to know about anyone, way more than you’ll probably ever learn about your partner or husband. The profile contains every stat about the donor including his picture, ethnic background, a complete family medical history and so much more.

I look at his picture. I think to myself he’s really cute; too bad he’s no longer available.

“Let me show you how to look up a possible donor online.”

We walk over to her desk (which is really more like a swivel since her office is so tiny) to look at her computer screen. She has opened the website and there they are: pages of donors of all different ages, backgrounds and looks. In case you are wondering, there are no names or addresses. Each donor is assigned a unique number and that is how you select your choice. Some donors don’t even include a picture at all.

All of the donors that I am looking at are American (note: there are European donors now available in Canada. It became available several months later after I met with Sharon). It is illegal in Canada to pay for donor sperm (or eggs) so there are no Canadian donors as a result. No surprise the donors do it for the money. The other interesting fact is that not all donors are “available” in Canada. What does that mean? Canada actually has stricter screening and regulations than the U.S. and therefore not all donors “qualify”. We get the best of the best.

Sharon is showing me examples of how they describe the physical as well as the cultural attributes of each donor; things like Christian, Indian and English under ethnic background, as an example. Don’t forget that it is the extended family’s history so you get everything.

How to Choose A Donor: Open or Closed?

Sharon is randomly selecting donors so that I get a feel for the website. She stumbles upon an interesting one.

“Here’s another one for example. This donor’s background is Catholic, Native American, Scottish and…oh, that’s interesting. He has some Jewish heritage somewhere in his background too. You hardly ever see that.”

Being Jewish myself, I could only smile and think to myself, ‘well, I could have told you that.’ You see, my people are way too practical and, well, their mothers would kill them. To be honest, I needed a little comic relief at that moment.

Once we looked at a few profiles so that I could get a feel for how to choose a donor, Sharon then asks me what will turn out to be the most critical question:

“Have you considered whether you would like an open or close donor?”

Once again, I had no idea what she was talking about so she explains further: “A close donor is anonymous. That means that they do not want to be known and cannot ever be contacted by any potential offspring in the future. An open donor is someone who has given their consent that any children conceived using their sperm can contact the donor after the child reaches the age of 18 when all legal obligations have passed. But only if the child chooses.”

This is so new to me that I am completely floored. Sharon once again can clearly see that I am not grasping the importance of this decision. What she shares with me next explains why I said in my last blog post that doing this job is very personal for her. She also has a very strong opinion on the subject matter. Here’s why:

“Let me share with you my own story. I have two teenage sons, 17 and 18 years old, who were conceived using a donor. When my husband and I decided to try to have children, we couldn’t conceive and had no idea why. After years of trying, we finally discovered that it was my husband who had the issue. He turned out to be infertile. At that time there was hardly any information and virtually no support. It was not common to use a donor or even talked about. And the donors were all anonymous. My husband and I are now divorced. My deepest regret is that I cannot tell my children anything about their biological father and have no way to find out. If there is ever a medical issue, I have no information on the medical history of the donor or his family. The greatest gift that you can give your child is the gift of choice and that is something that I cannot give my boys.”

Once again, as overwhelmed as I am, I am thinking that this is the best $110 that I ever spent. Honestly, I would have paid a lot more to get such great advice.

In fact all of her advice was practical and real information that I could understand to help me make decisions that I didn’t even realize that I would have to face. While we delved into other areas, such as the kind of support system I have, and more, the biggest take away for me was the importance of how you make a donor selection and the implications of all your decisions on your future child.

Sometimes the government actually gets it right.

* * * * *

Have you ever received great advice from a counsellor or otherwise? Is this information helpful in making your own decision to have a baby through a donor? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.


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