Mary and her partner, Alison, have been together for 19 years and have two children. "We both knew we wanted kids when we got together," said Mary, "but how was that going to happen?" Same sex couples (as well as trans and non binary couples) face a menagerie of complications when it comes to having children, and those don't end with the finding of an egg or a sperm. For National Coming Out Day, Modern Fertility spoke with Mary about what at times felt like a gordian knot of having kids as a same sex couple, how she and her partner negotiated pregnancy, parenting and the truly unexpected, and what advice she has for queer folks considering creating a family with kids.
Modern Fertility: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. What did the process of having kids look like for you and your partner?
Mary: Alison and I were going to a therapist when we lived in Portland (Oregon). She helped us work through a lot, including not having supportive families - my mom said to me at one point, "Well, you're gay, you shouldn't have kids." We also started thinking about the practicalities, constructing plans and back up plans, including adoption. We looked at adoption agencies, but there just wasn't one that felt right.
Around this time, there was an op/ed in the New York Times written by a think tank claiming that kids fathered by sperm donors were sad and broken, longing for "real" fathers, and it was just so devastating and cruel. I wrote a response, as did the director of the sperm bank we chose to work with.
Alison and I both wanted to carry a child - I'm 9 years older than she is, so I was definitely running out of time in terms of being able to pregnant, but my mom was dying, and I was having a hard time, so we decided that Alison would be the one to get pregnant first.
We each looked up donor profiles separately, picked our top 3, and ranked them. There was so much information available about the donors - I said to Alison, "I probably know more about their history than I know about yours." Ultimately, we picked the same top 3, in the same order! The donor we decided upon was someone who felt familiar, there was an instant comfort level. We chose a known donor, which means that our son can opt to meet him when he's 18, if he wants to.
The sperm bank started working with us a year before Alison even got pregnant on things like diet, exercise, charting her menstrual cycle. When the sperm arrived, the team was there to greet us at the hospital. After the implantation, we lay beside each other, our legs up in the air (even though only Alison underwent the procedure), holding hands, and thinking of a child. It took 3 times for Alison to successfully get pregnant with our son. That third time, she just had a feeling. And she was right.
I also wanted to get pregnant, and when we embarked on that, we followed the same procedure - ranking our top 3 donors, picking the same person again (a different donor this time). I was 40 when I got pregnant with our daughter. I was sick - I had trouble with sleep, I had preeclampsia, it was rough.
Modern Fertility: What resources and support networks did you lean on when you were going through all of this?
Mary: When we lived in Portland, we were part of a group for lesbians who were parenting or planning to parent that was just such a wonderful resource. It was a true celebration of parenting, and of different kinds of families.
It was important to us to be able to give our kids the option of meeting their donor and/or other children of that donor. I don't have much family left, and I want them to have access to medical information, and an extended family and community, should something happen to Alison or I, so the Donor Sibling Registry is a great thing to have access to.
Our sperm bank has also been wonderful about providing resources on how to talk to your child about this. We felt well prepared to have those conversations.
Modern Fertility: Finally, what advice would you give to other LGBTQIA folks who are thinking about having kids?
Mary: Find a therapist! Ours (she was also a lesbian) helped us think about so much - which of us wanted to be pregnant, what the plans would look like, why we wanted to be parents (make sure you really want kids!) how it would feel to have one child who looked exactly like one of us and not at all like the other. We also got a financial advisor, which was helpful when I needed to take time off during my pregnancy, and a lawyer. Have a plan in place for finding families who look like yours. The more you can anticipate, the better.
Do you know you want to have kids someday? Get educated about your fertility right now! Modern Fertility wants you to have the information you need to plan your future.