Inheriting the Ivy League: The Market for Educated Egg and Sperm Donors



The high price tags of egg and sperm donations generate myths and taboos on campus, yet behind each is a human interaction wrought with the emotional complexity of any family-building story. Parents and donors must grapple with their place in a society that prizes — and prices — certain traits above others. And while some see trait-selection as a means of respecting individuality, for others it is a site of modern-day eugenics.



{shortcode-0b335a298d10a95877cc9c8d5cd4a836f2d8cf16}

Shannon R. T. Copeland was up late. Her eyes were fixed on the baby photo that had appeared on her computer screen, and she found that she had goosebumps on her arms — chills induced by the anxiety of making a life-changing decision, and the relief of discovering exactly what to do.

She ran up the stairs. Her husband was watching TV. “I found her,” she said. “I found the one.”

The intending mother had finally found, on the website of the agency MyEggBank, the egg donor who would serve as her child’s biological mother.

“I’ll never, ever, ever forget that night,” Copeland says. “I’ll never forget it. It makes me teary. It was like winning the lotto.”

Copeland had been looking for a donor with a Greek background like her own, but ethnicity wasn’t her only criterion. “If it wasn’t my egg and my gene, I wanted to make sure that the genetic mother had a strong intellectual background,” said Copeland, who, at 41, is pursuing a doctorate in nursing. She was the first woman on both sides of her family to pursue a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, let alone a Ph.D.

Copeland, who lives in Vancouver, has two older boys from a first marriage, but she says it doesn’t look like they will follow an academic path — both struggle with different learning challenges, like Copeland’s maternal grandmother did. She says her current husband’s mother also had cognitive development issues. Thus when Copeland and her husband decided they wanted to have children and realized they would need to turn to egg donation to conceive, Copeland seized upon an opportunity she thought could give her future child a different genetic start: seeking a donor with demonstrated intellect.

“I mean, it sounds silly, but it was really important to me,” she says. “It was a genetic consideration.”

The donor Copeland ultimately chose, an American, graduated from college cum laude with a degree in neuroscience and wrote in her donor profile that she hopes to earn her doctorate in the field and pursue a research career. She had a 3.75 GPA and high test scores, a fact Copeland found herself “quite hung up on.” Even her maternal grandmother had a bachelor’s degree, something Copeland found unimaginable.

While Copeland acknowledges that intellectual fates are not inscribed in embryonic DNA, she does believe genes matter as much as environment. She’s captured photos of her daughter, now over a year old, lying in piles of her academic papers. “Even at 15 months old I see a difference with my little girl,” Copeland says. “Epigenetics and genetics — both very important.”

The names of anonymous donors’ universities are rarely available to parents. But had Copeland been able to access that information, she might have found it meaningful. “If it had been Harvard I’d be like, ‘Oh my gosh, holy — like, bragging rights, right there!’” A brand-name school “would matter,” she confirms. “Yeah, for sure.”

{shortcode-b5a3b37ab3d0fd1929edc809bb65d4c73054fc16}

The premium some intending parents place on elite education has great import in the U.S. fertility industry, which to a great extent is governed solely by the demands of the free market — a stark contrast to the situations in other countries, like Canada, where it is illegal to compensate egg and sperm donors beyond reimbursing any expenses they incur. On their websites, American sperm and egg banks tout as badges of honor the names of their donors’ prestigious colleges and universities — including, in nearly all instances, Harvard’s.

Intending parents, meanwhile, are willing to pay. While it’s illegal to sell human tissue in the U.S., compensation for gamete donation is legally taxable income. Five-digit compensation sums for egg donors with specific traits, like extensive or brand-name educational backgrounds, are fairly established practice, with some compensation values edging up and above $100,000. Sperm donors, who often donate continuously over several months, are usually compensated by-donation and can earn $1,000 or more per month.

The high price tags of these exchanges generate myths and taboos on campus, yet behind each is a human interaction wrought with the emotional complexity of any family-building story. But the introduction of market forces into this process casts in sharp relief the moral dilemmas often overlooked in the creation of families. Parents and donors must grapple with their place in a society that prizes — and prices — certain traits above others. And while some see trait-selection as a means of respecting individuality, for others it is a site of modern-day eugenics.

Shift Work

Nine-fifty Mass. Ave. is an anonymous brick building a few blocks outside the perimeter of the average Harvard student’s stomping-ground — past Boston Burger Company and Cafe Sushi toward Central Square. Even a visitor to Dumpling House, located right next to the building, might never pay it more than a glance. They might never glean from its exterior that it is a sperm bank.

California Cryobank’s Cambridge location, conveniently located between Harvard and MIT, opened in 1993 and is one branch of four: The sperm bank, founded in 1977, has another location in New York City and two in California, near Stanford and UCLA. It has registered 75,000 births since its inception, making it one of the world’s largest reproduction agencies.

As a junior at Harvard, Brandon applied to be a sperm donor at California Cryobank after seeing an advertisement on social media. When he was accepted a few months later, he easily worked the two or three weekly detours off campus into his routine, taking brisk walks toward Central Square on mornings he didn’t have class. (Brandon is not his real name — he, along with the other egg and sperm donors quoted in this article, asked that The Crimson use a pseudonym to protect his privacy.)

California Cryobank has long sought donors like Brandon: “[We have] 40-plus years of experience of having people tell us that educated donors are something that’s important to them,” says Scott F. Brown, the Director of Client Experience and Communications at California Cryobank. “That’s why we are set up near major universities.”

Besides strategically locating its real estate near colleges and investing in advertisements targeted toward students, the agency has limited power to select for the Ivy League brand. Most applicants are immediately screened out due to health-related factors and family histories, and other physical criteria like height — donors must be at least 5’10’’, or 5’8” if they’re from racial backgrounds under-represented in California Cryobank’s pool.

Overall, only one percent of applicants become donors — an acceptance rate far lower than Harvard’s.

The lucky ones who make it through the selection process can donate at the sperm bank up to three times each week. Those who hit this maximum make an average of $1,000 to $1,400 a month. Their “terms” expire after about a year to limit the dispersal of their genetic material, and they receive a flat fee for each donation, with a slight scale in compensation based on the volume of the sample. In spite of its desire for Ivy League donors, the agency does not compensate them more generously than others.

The prospect of the pay is certainly alluring: “I think about it a lot,” says Michael, a junior, who is friends with a California Cryobank donor. “What if I didn’t have to work and I could just, like, get enough money to, you know, go on fun spring break trips all the time?”

Michael considered becoming a sperm donor, but while filling out preliminary online forms, he started imagining which aspects of himself might or might not be considered desirable. He ultimately backed out because of the discomfort in “see[ing] yourself being objectified.” Michael is not his real name: The sensitivity of the topic, in his view, motivated his request for anonymity.

He’s not alone among Ivy League students who feel averse to the prospect of donating their genetic material. Ismael Jamai Ait Hmitti, a sophomore at Yale, recalls seeing a poster soliciting sperm donations hanging at Durfee’s, a bustling campus convenience store. Unlike California Cryobank, the bank offered extra compensation for donors with a GPA over 3.7.

{shortcode-fb567dd5da59b5e0bfdd7e11d58feee60bf173d0}

Jamai Ait Hmitti found himself immediately averse to the conception of a genetic hierarchy made implicit by the advertisement, but also more broadly to the idea of donating sperm to a stranger. He states that he would only ever donate to a close friend; he would want to “know that the kid was there, because I feel a kind of responsibility towards it.”

Not everyone feels this way, of course. Brandon felt comfortable becoming a donor because he believes that donors aren’t parents: “Parenting is more of a nurturing kind of relationship than it is a genetic relationship,” he says. When Brandon asked himself whether he would feel a sense of obligation to resulting offspring, “the conclusion I came to is that I really wouldn’t.”

Still, Brandon felt strongly that any offspring should be able to connect with him if they so choose. While California Cryobank now requires all donors to sign a disclosure agreement entitling their offspring to contact them at age 18, the policy went into effect after Brandon applied; instead, he opted into the disclosure policy (which came with a monetary bonus).

California Cryobank’s donor disclosure policy ensures that Brandon won’t meet any potential offspring until over 18 years from the time he started donating — almost a whole lifetime away for a college student.

“It’s definitely hard to imagine exactly how that would pan out, and it would depend on the person who’s doing it,” he says. “I’d definitely be open to meeting them or whatever. It’s not something that really bothers me.”

For Brandon, California Cryobank remains just outside of the Harvard landscape, both literally and figuratively. The semi-weekly trips down Mass. Ave. were, to him, “just a fun little detour of my Harvard experience.” Knowing nothing of any potential offspring, sperm donation ultimately remains to him, “kind of inconsequential.”

To many, sperm donation resembles “shift work,” except with unusually high pay. And California Cryobank advertises it as such: An ad on Facebook doesn’t seek to attract the deadened eye of the social-media scroller with a dazzling image of a happy, fulfilled sperm donor. Instead, accompanying the text is an image of a tanned woman, her mouth falling open as she fans out a wad of twenties to the presumably male viewers of the ad. Sperm banks commonly use easy money over altruism as their primary draw, a trend Rene Almeling charts in her 2011 book about the fertility industry. The “get cash” ad even highlights the irony of the so-called donation with the boastful quip, “Get Paid to Donate?”

The reputation of sperm donation as transactional undoubtedly generates a taboo on college campuses, but for some young people, especially those with a significant amount of college debt, it is a crucial source of income.

Connor, a recently on-boarded donor at California Cryobank, says he was “grateful” to be part of the selected one percent of applicants. “I was able to keep my head above water with the money I got,” he explains, although donation has now been put on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. He is already feeling the effects of this loss of income: “[I’m] slightly concerned over the future and how it might affect [my family.]”

Golden Eggs

Emily, like Brandon, decided to donate her gametes as an undergraduate at an Ivy League school, but her donation required that she trek farther than ten minutes off of her campus. She travelled to California for a preliminary, one-day screening appointment that she scheduled for a Friday, when she didn’t have class, flying across the country that Thursday night. Besides the travel, she had to manage doctors’ appointments, numerous exchanges with her agency, and the medical procedures themselves.

While the factory-like nature of sperm banks makes it logical for an agency like California Cryobank to use a standardized compensation system resembling hourly wages, egg donation has an entirely different compensation model that aligns with the complexity of the process. Donors must inject fertility medications into their stomach or thigh once or twice daily, regularly visit a physician’s office to monitor developing eggs through blood tests and ultrasounds, and finally undergo surgery to retrieve the eggs.

These procedures, which can result in side effects from mild discomfort to serious medical complications, last about two weeks. The screening and donation process as a whole can take up to 16 weeks.

The ads placed for egg donors tend to shift the balance away from quick cash and toward the altruism of helping build a family, Almeling writes in her book, but they do not shy away from prominently featuring large sums. Moreover, the chipper advertising targeted toward college students makes both the process seem alluringly simple. An “Egg Donor Needed” advertisement posted to The Crimson’s website by the agency A Perfect Match displays a stock photo of a slim, blonde woman traipsing breezily through a wooded field at golden hour — an ideal that can be fulfilled, presumably, by securing the $60,000 that the ad promises to the successful donor.

How much compensation this process warrants, and how it is determined, is an object of contention. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine wrote in their 2000 guidelines that compensation above $5,000 should require special justification and that payments above $10,000 are never appropriate. These guidelines had no legal clout, but fertility service providers largely followed them when they were in effect. Their goal was to prevent “exploitation,” especially of women in financial need who could be effectively coerced by the sum into making a choice they otherwise would not make.

But in 2016, the ASRM settled a lawsuit in which a group of donors claimed that the compensation guidelines generated an unfair price-fixing practice. As a result, the Ethics Committee removed prescriptions for specific compensation sums from the 2016 version of its recommendations.

The ASRM still stands by a belief that society ought “to avoid putting a price on human gametes or selectively valuing particular human traits.” To this end, the 2016 opinion by the Ethics Committee states that “compensation should not vary according to…the outcome of prior donation cycles, or the donor’s ethnic or other personal characteristics.”

But in practice, these are exactly the factors that often determine egg donor compensation, which consistently rises above the ASRM’s previous limits. Some agencies offer premiums for desired traits like Ivy-League attendance or high GPA, and boutique agencies have arisen to mediate agreements between donors asking for steep compensations and parents who can oblige.

Extraordinary Conceptions, an international egg donation and surrogacy agency based in California, includes on its website a page for “Donors in Demand.” Scrolling past equally spirited calls for Asian and Canadian participants, a prospective donor reaches the message, “We are currently in need of Ivy League donors!” followed by the enticement that “well-educated donors can receive higher compensation for their time.”

{shortcode-e5387f2226e4da01cde75cece54d6130fa6abba5}

Candace A. Mahieu, a department supervisor at Extraordinary Conceptions, explains that while donors can negotiate compensation, the agency tries to keep its upper limit around $10,000 or $12,000 — close to the former ASRM cap. But first-time donors receive about $5,000 for a cycle with this agency, while a history of successful donation can earn a donor up to about $8,000. The agency does deliver on its “Donor in Demand” promises: According to Mahieu, those from Ivy League schools tend to receive $2,000 more than their first-time peers.

The agency Emily used, A Perfect Match, provides consistently higher compensations than Extraordinary Conceptions. Darlene Pinkerton, the company’s CEO, told Wired Magazine last year that the typical first-time donor with A Perfect Match receives about $15,000, while those with in-demand traits such as Jewish, East Asian, or Indian ancestry can make $25,000.

Emily, a first-generation college student, says financial compensation was certainly an important benefit. It was a targeted Facebook ad from A Perfect Match — which she believes appeared on her feed based on her affiliation with a prestigious college — that first alerted her to the possibility of donating, but it was talking to a friend’s sister who had gone through a struggle with infertility and eventually had a child through egg donation that sealed the deal.

When Emily spoke with the agency, it emphasized that her ethnicity — Asian — and her educational background — Ivy Leaguer — were in high demand, and she was heartened to know she could fulfill a parent’s desire for a particular unlikely match. She was compensated with $17,000 — she had initially asked for more, but was willing to lower the amount to help the parents afford the donation.

Some parents are willing to do even more to ensure they can recruit a donor that has the traits they are looking for. TLC, a boutique agency founded in 2015 by Tiffany H. Crook, works primarily with well-educated parents seeking donors with similar backgrounds. She creates matches based on lists of criteria desired by the parents and the compensation amounts that each party proposes.

{shortcode-045448991dbbd736e29148275837f8972cab16f9}

Compensations around $100,000 are a fairly established upper boundary in Crook’s experience, but she notes that rare cases shoot far above that. She says that “top-tier” or “Ivy League” educations tend to generate these high-end price tags. “Usually the people that are asking for this have that level of education or higher,” she explains.

Besides the genetic considerations behind the desire for evidence of a donor’s intelligence, Crook says that intending parents often value being able to relate to a donor who has an educational background similar to theirs. Even if they never meet in person, she says, the parents may be seeking a “bond of sharing a mutual experience in some regard” with the donor.

In any case, why parents pick their criteria doesn’t concern her, nor does she pass ethical judgment. “I don’t necessarily feel either way on this request,” she says. “I believe in mutual matching, and if [extensive or brand-name education] is something that really is important to you, then I’m certainly happy to try and find somebody that fits that criteria.”

Crook’s commission doesn’t increase as donor compensation does — for its services, the agency charges a flat fee, which Crook declined to disclose. The boutique model seems to operate on the principle that allowing parents to offer as much compensation as they please and allowing donors to ask for it taps into market forces that produce precise matches. Of course, that market is one that generally leaves only the very wealthy with their detailed wish-lists fulfilled.

Crook recounts that a colleague from another agency made her aware of an ad they were placing on behalf of a family offering a compensation value of $250,000 — $200,000 directly and $50,000 that the donor could choose to give to charity or use for egg preservation for themselves. Their desired donor would have an “Ivy League or top tier education, clean bill of health, no cancer, no Alzheimer’s, no mental illnesses, no history of substance abuse… And they were also looking for somebody over 5’6,” blond-haired or red-haired and blue-eyed.”

A tall order, but Crook expressed optimism about this family’s prospects. If someone were to meet the criteria, the amount on offer would likely be enough to shore up any deficit of motivation.

Unnatural Selection?

Besides her mother and sister, a couple of close friends at school, and two more back home, no one knew that Emily was coordinating an egg donation alongside her academic and social life. Similarly, Brandon did not discuss his routine treks down Mass. Ave. with most of his friends — he plans to tell his parents eventually, but he hasn’t yet.

Emily didn’t feel that she would be actively stigmatized for her donation. But given passing experiences like hearing male peers talk about sperm donation with an air of judgment, she preferred to keep her decision private. “To do that in exchange for money, I think makes people feel — like, they’re weirded out as a whole,” she explains.

Considering the morality of this “transaction,” Emily recognizes that the free-market forces driving the industry disadvantage low-income individuals struggling to have children. But she also remarks, “To not have compensation attached to that, because there’s a lot of unknowns, I think is too risky.”

Within the industry, there seems to be broad consensus that parents should be able to choose the source of their future children’s genetic material according to their personal criteria — disagreement persists mostly about the extent to which money should be involved in that process. For instance, while Brown, executive at California Cryobank, and Crook, CEO of TLC, both believe parents should pick the traits they want, Brown explains that California Cryobank charges parents the same fee for any donor because “we don’t quantify the value of our donors,” while Crook allows money to play its role in matching.

But outside the industry, there is debate about whether trait selection for reasons beyond basic health is ethical at all. This debate is especially active on college campuses, where potential donors and ethicists argue over to what extent selecting for traits such as hair color or intelligence resembles a form of modern-day eugenics.

Harvard Law School Professor I. Glenn Cohen, a leading expert on bioethics, says the preferences intending parents have for certain traits in donors raise broader questions about “intimate discrimination” — things like racial or ableist preferences in dating.

Cohen argues that preferencing traits in offspring is ethically similar to selecting those traits in sexual partners. He warns against an instinct to “exceptionalize the reproductive encounters” of those who cannot conceive on their own. As for remuneration, the fertility industry is just one of numerous places where “going to Harvard [might] net you more compensation than somebody else,” Cohen says.

But not everyone sees trait selection of gamete donors in this way. Renowned ethicist Michael J. Sandel, a government professor at Harvard, draws parallels between trait selection and eugenic practices. In a 2004 article in The Atlantic, Sandel made the case against genetically engineering offspring for purposes beyond curing illness. He wrote that gamete donor selection “offers a good example of a procreative practice in which the old eugenics meets the new consumerism.”

Sandel offers the examples of California Cryobank, which accepts only college-educated donors because of client preference, and a defunct sperm bank that attempted to collect the gametes of Nobel laureates and use them to inseminate intelligent women for expressly eugenic purposes.

{shortcode-fdf5d42e75c968961720038a5dd1fed291d6e2ef}

“What, after all, is the moral difference between designing children according to an explicit eugenic purpose and designing children according to the dictates of the market?” he wrote. “Whether the aim is to improve humanity’s ‘germ plasm’ or to cater to consumer preferences, both practices are eugenic insofar as both make children into products of deliberate design.” They undermine a society’s commitment to “humility, responsibility, and solidarity.”

This sentiment is partly what colors Jamai Ait Hmitti’s aversion to the Durfee’s poster offering greater compensation for donors with higher grades. He agrees with Sandel that only health should matter for donor selection and worries that seeking out an educated donor implicitly signals to a child that “he was made in the goal of being smart.”

Varying compensation according to certain traits “encourages a kind of thinking that there is some kind of genetic material that is better than others, and that takes away from the inherent value of life,” he continues. “It’s just the fact that [GPA] is a number and that it says nothing about the identity of that person.”

But whether one views intelligence as a part of a person’s “identity” is deeply shaped by one’s values. Copeland, the new mother from Vancouver pursuing a nursing Ph.D., remarks that she is still reflecting on why choosing a “smart” donor was important to her. “People have said to me, ‘Well, who cares [if she’s smart?] Like, say she’s not kind…’” she recalls.

“But I care,” she says.

New Lives

Michelle, another donor who worked with A Perfect Match, is adamant that her experience with egg donation did not begin with an advertisement. “It’s not like I was solicited from, you know, an ad, looking for Ivy League donors — and they do have those ads — I actually signed up independently with an agency,” she says.

Indeed, she was staunchly resistant at every stage of the process to taking on the role of commodity rather than moral agent.

“My motivations were to help gay men start their families,” she explains.

She remembers that the timeline of her journey was intertwined with the history of marriage equality in the United States. “The court case was in California when I started to sign up. And then right before the moment it was at the Supreme Court... I finalized my application. I was chosen by a gay couple in San Francisco, I don’t know, within — two days?”

She ultimately donated five times for four different families, returning to one of them for a sibling cycle.

Following a free-spirited, post-high school stint in Texas and the Virgin Islands, she enrolled at an Ivy League college, intending to go the straight and narrow. Her plan was to study economics and work as a consultant — she even had a firm picked out. But after taking a leave of absence for multiple surgeries, she decided not to return. As she was making this decision, she turned to egg donation.

“It started to make a lot of sense to me,” she says. “You know, that this was something I wanted to do, something I felt passionate about.”

Yet Michelle concedes that money was important. “I’m not gonna lie and say that it doesn’t allow me to live a certain lifestyle,” she says. She received between $20,000 and $30,000 for each of her five donation cycles — a “nest egg to start moving around and writing,” she explains.

Michelle proceeded to travel the world and is currently in Papua New Guinea working on a “post-postmodernist” novel with a female protagonist. She never returned to graduate. While donation services compete to recruit Ivy Leaguers, sometimes, what they offer outcompetes an Ivy-League path.

Nonetheless, her affiliation with the school played a central role in her donation. She confirms that all the couples she matched with were looking for donors from “top universities.” Some prospective parents took an interest in the preschool and kindergarten testing she shared with them, which demonstrated her precocious childhood development. But Michelle says she felt that the parents also saw her as “someone they could connect with intellectually.”

She recalls that one couple was “Ivy League-educated — extremely successful. And I think they were looking for someone who kind of had similar traits to what drew them to each other,” Michelle says, echoing the parallel that ethicist Glenn Cohen draws between choosing donors and choosing mates.

“But they also told me that their number one criteria — after making sure that I was intelligent and, like, came from a good family — was that I was a nice person.” Michelle says that parents choose her not only based on traits that could be conveyed on paper, but also because of an affinity for her as an individual.

A Perfect Match collected extensive documentation from Michelle, from health records and family history to test scores and transcripts. But the process did not ensure that Michelle knew even a fraction as much about intending parents. Michelle, dissatisfied with this disparity, rejected the possibility of anonymous donation and further stipulated that she would consider a match only after a conversation with the parents.

The talks served as her own vetting process, by which she could ensure her genes were in good hands. “I feel like there is a responsibility on the part of the donor. I don’t think reproduction is something that people should just take lightly,” she says, though she does not consider herself a mother to the children. “I need to make sure that the people who are receiving my genetics are good people whose values I agree with, who... can nurture things that I may pass on to their children.”

For this reason, Michelle stipulates that intending parents must be financially stable. Like Emily, Michelle acknowledges that the poor are disadvantaged when the rich can drive up market prices. But the consequences, she suggests, provide a pragmatic benefit. “I don’t particularly like the way it sounds. But for me it [was] important that the parents I donated to didn’t have issues paying for the whole thing out of pocket,” she says. “I would like for my genetic children to have at least the standard of living that I had growing up, and hopefully better.”

As Michelle reminisces about meeting the two children born from her sibling cycles, her voice fills with an excitement that transitions into solemnity. “They’re so cute. And smart. And, I mean, they definitely look like me,” she says. “And, you know, it’s just so wonderful to see something I’ve done bring so much happiness to a family.”

Emily, who receives emailed updates about the child born from her undergraduate donation but has never met her, says she also finds it fulfilling to witness the family’s growth, even from afar. She has since donated to another family but has not yet found out if any children were born. “I also haven't been super proactive in finding it out,” she admits. “I kind of, like, check every month or so, depending on how busy I am when it crosses my mind.”

Though she knows more about her genetic offspring than Brandon, on the whole, Emily’s gamete donation, like Brandon’s, was not a way to change the course of her life, but rather an interlude of her college experience — a mutually beneficial arrangement for the separate lives led by her and the intending parents.

Not so for Michelle. Her donation, she concludes, was “probably the most meaningful thing that I’ve ever done in my life.”

Looking Back

“I have this monkey on my back, and this guilt,” Shannon Copeland confesses.

She had found the perfect donor and she is raising a beloved daughter. She has just one profound regret: She should never have agreed to an anonymous donation.

Even Michelle, who, as donors go, made sure to have plenty of contact with the families that received her eggs, waxes wistful at the prospect of further connection. “I wish I’d been more involved, to be honest, with getting to know them and such,” she says.

Copeland is currently trying to trace the donor, hoping that she may, like Michelle, be open to having more contact. Given the donor’s youth when she decided to be anonymous, Copeland reasons she may have a change of heart.

The guilt she feels, though, is mostly towards her child. “In the beginning of all of this, we were never going to tell her [that she was donor-conceived],” Copeland says. Yet after coming across “all the evidence that shows your child knowing of their genetics early makes for a healthy child, makes for a healthy family unit,” she explains, “my mind changed.”

Since that moment, Copeland has employed every method: running her daughter’s genome through the database of genetic testing company 23andMe to find relatives, asking the agency through which she found the donor if she had other eggs available, searching a registry for other people who used the donor — so far, all to no avail.

“I have to stop and breathe and think, ‘Okay, we still have a lot of time,’” Copeland says. She has high hopes that one day her daughter will find her genetic family. When she does, Copeland is confident that she will find “just more people to love her.”

For now, there’s one thing she knows she can do: “I always advocate for erasing stigma around egg donors and how you came to be into this world. I think there is a stigma around this,” Copeland says. “And I will always be a voice.”

— Magazine writer Sonia F. Epstein can be reached at sonia.epstein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Sonia_Epstein.

— Magazine writer Polina N. Whitehouse can be reached at polina.whitehouse@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @PNWhitehouse.