Elle is 34 and lives in the DC metro area with her wife and son. She works in housing policy and is in graduate school.
When did you start thinking about having kids? How did you see it playing out?
I always wanted children and I knew I wanted to carry at least one pregnancy but knew that would all depend on my partner’s desires too. When I started dating my wife we both made it very clear to one another that we both wanted several children and were excited to get started. Because we were both in our 30s, we knew we wanted to start soon after getting married since, unfortunately, fertility is beholden to time.
Tell us about the process of having your son.
As a lesbian couple, the first thing we wanted to decide is who will carry the pregnancy. For us that was relatively simple because I had a strong desire to carry and my wife had a desire NOT to carry. Gender roles can play a part here (not everyone who has a vulva wants to get pregnant) and this can be a very personal process. As a lesbian couple there are several options on how to conceive, too. Reciprocal IVF, or co-IVF, is a process in which one woman can contribute her eggs for the pregnancy while the other woman can carry/gestate the pregnancy. This allows both women to be intimately involved in the process, but often this method isn't covered by insurance. Regardless of what model the couple chooses, it is important from the beginning to spend some time thinking about how both parents can be involved in all phases—from conception to delivery and then parenting. Once the baby comes the divvying of parenthood only escalates—from who holds and wears the baby to who feeds it, gets up in the night, etc. Making sure both parents are engaged during fertility and pregnancy sets the stage for postpartum.
The other big decision for lesbian couples is the male factor. We did not want to go with a known donor because we wanted added legal protections and anonymity. Different cryobanks have different levels of privacy-- to completely anonymous to the child being able to find out who the donor was when your child turns 18. These options are being expanded and sperm banks are now even offering adult photos of donors. Deciding on your desired level of privacy or intimacy in relation to the donor is another big decision! Also we had to consider how many vials of sperm we wanted to purchase knowing we wanted to use the same donor for subsequent children. Donors often "sell out" and it's important to pre-purchase as many vials as you might need. Also when thinking of financial costs (sperm can cost up to $900 per vial), factor in paying for storage of sperm.
What resources did you have/wish you had access to when you were planning for children?
There are lots of great Facebook groups and online forums-- these can really provide a great support network and information sharing resource.
What advice do you have for other queer folks in their planning process? (I.e, how to find a practitioner, dealing with insurance, finding a community, etc.)
Dealing with insurance is difficult. Make sure to find out your coverage options beforehand. That seems obvious but each insurance payer is so different and the fertility clinic (if using one) might not know what is covered by your plan. Find a provider who you are comfortable with and who is supportive of LGBTQ families. We were surprised at how few LGBTQ people we saw at our clinics (we've been to three). It's important to be an advocate from the get-go...making sure the practitioner recognizes both of your roles in this pregnancy (if there are two people) and makes eye contact with both of you, has forms that recognize both of you, etc.
Fertility journeys can be hard and micro-aggressions or negligence can feel even more palpable during this process, so make sure the provider and clinic is one where all involved feel respected and supported.