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Ovum Donation
by: Shelley Smith, M.A., M.F.C.C.

Choosing an ovum donor can be a rather daunting experience. People often wonder what to look for, which qualities are the most important to consider in making what may be one of the most important decisions of their lives. It can be a very surreal experience and an emotional one to choose a donor. In choosing a donor there is an opportunity to closely examine the genetic background and medical history of her family. This is the second category to peruse. It is a mistake to think that a donor should have a perfect medical history. Most families have a history of a relative who died early of cancer, alcoholism or heart disease. Close scrutiny of lifestyles may account for some of the problems and longevity would certainly be an asset. On one level, a family with early inheritable diseases would be risky - early onset diabetes, genetic disorders, strong history of depression, alcoholism, lots of people with Alzheimer's and other disorders should be avoided.

I have used five categories to organize a donor's background and any one of these may be of primary importance. The first category would be physical appearance. For many people, it is extremely important to match themselves to the donor. Race, hair, eye color and body type are, of course, factors, but often, religious background and georgraphical heritage can matter as well. It is very important for a child to be mirrored in a family and close physical characteristics can accomplish that. There are also some healthy narcissistic projections for a mother (and a father) when their child bears a resemblance to her. Occasionally, I have seen couples end up with a donor who is a closer match to Dad than Mom and that can be comfortable for them. Often I see a recipient Mom and a donor who are strikingly similar in appearance: this is quite magical!

On a lesser level, many people in a family might wear glasses, have weight problems or allergies, etc. It is up to the recipients to find their own level of comfort. Searching for a donor who has none of the above in any form would be unrealistic.

The third category of qualities people look for in an ovum donor is intelligence. This is extremely important to most people and an important consideration for the best interests of the child. If a family's expectations are higher than a child's performance level, this would be very detrimental to the child's self-esteem. A child also needs to feel challenged. The emphasis should be to match children and families closely. Intelligence can be measured by an IQ test, Grade Point Average, SAT scores and by the quality of a donor's writing as she fills out the questiionnaires and forms.

Category number four is grouped under the heading of personality important. If it is possible to get essays written by the donor and more in-depth information about who she is, recipients can really connect with that special person who is wanting to help them complete their family.Other qualities and talents can be identified here as well. Perhaps the donor is very athletic or musically inclined or has an ability to write well. This emotional connection (Oh, that's just like me!) is so important. Often, there is an MMPI, a personality inventory administered in programs.

Fertility history of a donor is an important issue, also. If she has had a child, created a pregnancy or is young, healthy and a strong proponent of contraception, it is likely that she will have a good cycle. If a donor has donated previously and a pregnancy has resulted, she will probably respond in a similar fashion to the hormones. However, any donor can have a poor response, which can be very disappointing.

It is impossible to say that any one of these categories is more important than another. But all of them should be explored and similarities or connections made whenever possible. Sometimes, donors have qualities recipients wish they had ("Her family is much healthier than mine)" or ("She's really kinder or more patient than I am.") If a recipient mother and father can make these connections and like and respect their donor, they will begin to connect with the baby and bond early in the pregnancy. (A recent study conducted by our program confirmed this).

People often ask how to go about choosing that special person and I strongly suggest getting as much information as possible. This may also be important for a child later in life. Looking at pictures is helpful, but I recommend reading the other information first, then viewing photos. Finally, my best advice is to go with your heart. If your instincts tell you that this is a lovely person and you feel a strong connection, that may be the most powerful message that you can receive.

About the Author: Shelley B. Smith, M.A., M.F.C.C., is a licensed family therapist in the state of California. She has run The Egg Donor Program and The Surrogacy Program in Los Angeles since 1991. You can contact Shelley at or visit her website at


2007 OPTS - The Organization of Parents Through Surrogacy