How to find an ovum donor in twenty years?
December 21, 2013 5:43 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I will soon use an egg donor to try to conceive. It's important to us that our future child be able to contact the egg donor if the child so desires and it's in his or her best interest. The egg donor is open to this. Until there is a need for contact (either for the aforementioned reason or because of a medical issue), she prefers not to be contacted (nor are we eager to initiate contact until such time). How can we maximize our chances of being able to reach her in the future? It could well be over a decade before such contact is initiated. Phone numbers and email addresses are not that long-lived.

She's agreed to provide her name, birth date, phone number, and email address. I'm worried that this is insufficient. Her name could change, her name + birth date could be very common, her phone number could change, and her email address could change. One idea is for our attorney to keep her SSN in escrow and to add an agreement to the contract that should email and phone fail to reach her then our attorney (or the attorney's successor) can use the SSN to find her contact info without revealing the SSN to us. We don't know if she would agree to this clause, so we're trying to come up with other ideas as plan B. The agency isn't particularly helpful because they are not accustomed to or proponents of open egg donation, and I wouldn't assume they'll still be in business 15 years from now.

Is there a better way to do this? We assume she wouldn't release her SSN directly to us because she's already refused to release her current address.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total)
If she's refusing to release her address I would question how open she actually is to be contacted in the future.
posted by Jairus at 5:50 PM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are asking her to make a 20+ year commitment, then you should pay her for each of the years with payment contingent on her releasing her then-current address. Even then, she may forgo the payment for privacy, but you could try I guess.

It would take a lot of money, I think.
posted by Houstonian at 5:54 PM on December 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

If it makes you feel any better, I've had exactly the same cell phone number that I got with my first phone, so about 18 years now. And I've had the same email address since the late 90s. On the other hand, I have several email addresses.

I would think your lawyer would have the best advice in this situation, so follow whatever s/he says. And don't make assumptions. Donors are typically early 20s, right? College students? She might just be nervous and will come around.

If the donor won't meet your requirements, maybe try a new donor?
posted by clone boulevard at 6:20 PM on December 21, 2013

From an anon commenter:
I was an ova donor. Both times I was matched with the recipient couple through an agency. This agency has stayed in touch with me over the years for exactly the reason you state - the recipient couples that received my ova would like to retain the ability to get in touch with me should the need arise, or if the children that resulted from my ova donation one day want to contact me. I'd encourage you to do this through the agency you're working with. FWIW, in both cases the agency I worked with did have my SSN - but I would not have been comfortable with giving it directly to the recipients or their lawyers. I still hear from each agency infrequently, though it has been a decade since I last donated. If you're not working with an agency, please ensure that the attorney you're working with is very experienced in this arena - both agencies I worked with had their own on-call attorney that had very extensive contracts carefully developed to protect the donor and recipient.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:28 PM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

One thing to keep in mind is that you are asking her to agree to have the possibility of an emotionally taxing encounter hanging over her head for decades; you are asking her to essentially be okay with a contact out of the blue from a person who may regard her as her mother, which could carry intense emotions, expectations, anxiety, etc. In short, you are asking an awful lot of this woman.

When you say "she is open to this" but she "refuses to release her current address," it would be helpful to know how you determined she is "open to this." Because from the sound of it, "open to this" means strictly on her terms and quite reasonably so. Therefore, I don't see why a "social security number in escrow so we can find your address if other modes of contact fail" would be okay if she's not willing to give you her address now, when you are least likely to need it.

So, I agree with the commenter above that you need to make this very much worth her while, because there's clearly nothing in it for her, and in fact there are strong disincentives for her to agree.

And just as a side note, the tone of your question --which suggests a level of distrust and a kind of morose insistence on stronger assurances from her that she remain findable for decades -- would give me the heebie-jeebies if I were her, and it would take a lot of money to overcome my reluctance to let your family hang over my life like you want to do.
posted by jayder at 6:30 PM on December 21, 2013 [12 favorites]

If she actually wants this contact, she'll periodically check the email address she gave you. If she doesn't want this contact, there's really nothing you can do to force it, because even if you can use her SSN to find her, she can always refuse to speak to you or your child at that future time. So the problem you need to solve here isn't making sure that you have her SSN; it's making sure that she's actually comfortable being contacted and isn't just trying to appease you now.

If she actually is genuinely, 100% comfortable being contacted in the future, I'd suggest asking her to keep her information up to date with a service like Soundex, which is basically an information escrow service for exactly these sorts of situations. When two people are searching for one another, they each put in their information, and the system then puts them in contact once they've both consented to release of the information. It allows her to keep her own information private until it's actually time for your child to get in touch with her, and allows her to decide then whether she wants contact.

But the bottom line is that you're putting your trust in her willingness to speak to your future child 20 years from now. And she's allowed to change her mind about that and say she wants nothing to do with any of you in the future, and there won't really be anything you can do to force the issue, short of a term in the contract that creates a monetary penalty for her failure to respond to contact from your child. If there is vital medical information you want to have, I'd get it now. If you want your child to be able to meet her/his biological parent 20 years from now, it has to be because everyone wants to, not because you've tracked her down using her SSN.
posted by decathecting at 6:31 PM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

You are being unreasonable. Twenty years? She has to update her address for twenty years?!? You have access to her social security number?

This is, IMO, kind of bonkers. You are entitled to this woman's compliance during her cycle, honesty on her application, and nothing more. I hope you guys are paying her more than the average egg donor.

-a one-time egg donor
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:36 PM on December 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

Seconding the idea of a long-term ongoing payment in exchange for updating contact information. She could still have a change of heart/mind and opt out, and from a personal and emotional standpoint she should be able to do so.

For the medical aspect of this, perhaps you could negotiate a blood/tissue sample that would be also held in escrow (or whatever medical storage term one would use) to be used only in the case of her either opting out of contact, or her death?
posted by 1367 at 6:39 PM on December 21, 2013

If it's medical, blood/tissue as 1357 mentioned, plus full history and blood workup.

This could be written up as a contract specifying why and when contact could/should be initiated, and the contract to be deposited with a lawyer who would be agreeable to act as a go-between. Contact could also be limited as desired. This could afford a nice degree of protection for all parties.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:42 PM on December 21, 2013

If you ever really need to get in touch with that information the sort of private detective which can find birth parents for adoptees (and don't tell me about sealed records please) will be able to find it.
posted by shothotbot at 6:44 PM on December 21, 2013

I'm baffled thinking about any medical eventuality where you need her blood and tissue stored in perpetuity (Y,IAAD). That is madness. How much of this woman do you need to own?

Family medical history is something that is nice to have, but if your kid gets sick the focus is on the kid, not their genetic predecessors.

Any contact you set up has to be on her terms. If in twenty years she decides she doesn't want to have contact, nothing you do will change that.
posted by chiquitita at 8:21 PM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

And for what it's worth:

Let's say you need to get in touch with your donor due to a medical issue. Is she on the hook for giving your kid a kidney? I really can't think of any reason to get in touch with her later other than, "We need something from you."

She's not obligated to do that. Sorry, but that's one of the risks you take with donor eggs. You don't own this woman's future, okay?

How much of this woman do you need to own?

I can't imagine any reproductive lawyer representing the donor would do anything other than shit a "Aw, HELL NO" brick at this mishigas.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:01 PM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

I mean this sincerely, have you read the news lately?

I have a stalker, so I'm a ghost on most types of social media, I'm unlisted on phone records, etc etc

Even though I have a new name now, there are TONS of websites that for a small fee offer up my current address and personal info. To anyone.

We no longer live in a world with privacy. 20 years from now, it will be even worse.

Your question is mute. This is a non-issue.
posted by jbenben at 11:25 PM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think people are being a little harsh here. Research on donor-conceived children suggests that it can be important to those children to have the option to know their donors. Trying to keep that option open for your child is not unreasonable, and it sounds like you're trying to be respectful in balancing that with the donor's privacy. I hope you can reach an agreement to everyone's satisfaction.
posted by judith at 11:39 PM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're talking more about a surrogacy/adoption issue than how egg donation is handled now. If you want to have an open adoption type situation, you need to find someone who is open to being involved now, not at some point in the future. Even then - biological parents cut contact with their kids, and the laws surrounding families and questions of genetics and parent/child obligations, including donor cases, are changing rapidly.

Are you providing all your contact information to this donor? Are you going to send her photographs and updates from the start? Mutual contact is probably more sustainable, but a lot of egg donors, like sperm donors previously, are not signing up for so much contact.

On a practical level, in a developed nation, you are almost certain to be able to track down someone with that amount of information. You could hire a PI every 3-5 years to update the information you have as a back-up too.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:06 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Adoptee here. I'm a product of the closed adoption records era. Once I had my birth mother's (very common) name and city, it took less than 10 minutes of searching free sites to identify her. That's the state of searching now. In 10 or 20 years it is likely to be even easier.

However, if you want a guarantee--which I as an adoptee support in principle, since I unconditionally support the right to know one's origins--you may have to offer a lot more money to sweeten the pot for the donor. Or find a door who is willing to provide this guarantee in the form of an address.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:26 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Asking for her address and/or SSN is over the line. She's willing to provide several ways of contacting her, without leaving herself open to stalking or identity theft. If I were her, I'd be willing to provide that info to my own lawyer, but never to yours or anyone else's.

(And for what it's worth: yes, SSNs can also be changed.)
posted by easily confused at 6:29 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you shed some light as to why YOU think it's important "for your child"?

Just what circumstances are you contemplating that would necessitate this?

As someone that's adopted, I'm curious as to the rationale behind this question.
posted by wkearney99 at 11:47 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

@wkearney99, I don't know the poster's reasons, but my advice to people interested in adoption is to document the hell out of everything in the early stages and if possible, go for an open adoption with contact, or have contact mediated by a lawyer.

You can google several surveys, but most adult adoptees report wanting to know medical and non-identifying information up to and including open contact with their families of origin. A minority of adoptees do not want any contact or information, but then some adoptees want contact very very intensely. Women tend to want contact more than men, if I recall, although the percentage surged up if adoptees became parents themselves.

When you're doing a newborn adoption or a pregnancy with a third-party involved, you have no idea if your future adult son or daughter will be the one who doesn't want contact, or the one who has to search for years because you forgot to document the agency details.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:59 PM on December 23, 2013

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