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Home Insemination – the things we learn pt. 1

Here are a few things we have learned from our home insemination attempts thus far….

1) More often than not this will be a thoroughly unromantic process. This is ok.

This is not always the case by any means. We have managed to inject (no pun intended) some romance into insemination and the more adept I get with a syringe the better this will get. However, as with many couples trying to conceive (gay or straight), sometimes the process is going to be quick and functional. This is ok. The end result is the main thing and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if it occurs via a business-like insemination while the dinner is cooking or if it is a wonderful romantic evening with candles and music. All that matters is that it creates a baby.

2) Speculums – more trouble than they are worth

I have come to dislike speculums. To be fair, the years of having smear tests haven’t exactly enamoured me towards them but now I truly dislike them. They are fiddly. They make the whole thing a lot more detached and clinical and also, in my experience, contribute to way more spillage that if we don’t use them. I don’t know if it’s a case of angles and getting the syringe in the right place but every time we use a speculum we end up making more of a mess than if we don’t. I appreciate that there is always going to be some leakage (gravity etc) but I’d like to give the wee swimmers as much chance as possible to do their job and it’s disheartening to feel like a lot of the semen has been lost whilst trapped in the speculum. Syringe and extender seems to work much better.

3) There are things you need a lot of and things you can reuse

We ordered a deluxe insemination kit from Pride Angel. In it we got lots and lots of eminently washable and reusable items – syringes, sample pots etc but only three measures of the lubricant which aids conception. Most lubricant is actually quite bad for sperm and if you are going the speculum route you definitely want to be using some. It’s also reasonably tricky to get hold of (special order from our local Boots) so it baffles me as to why we had six syringes and sample pots (seriously, these can be rewashed/sterilised and re-used) and only three vials of lube. My advice – spend money on the lube and re-use the plasticware.

4) Ovulation predictor kits can be inconclusive

Don’t panic. This doesn’t mean you aren’t ovulating. It might just be that the kits are sensitive enough to pick up your hormone levels. If you are charting in times of days since last period and you feel it’s the right time, it probably is. Use the kits by all means but also listen to your body.

5) Towels and cushions are your friends

This is not always a comfortable process. Towels mean if there is any leakage you’re not fretting about the cushion covers and that the clean-up is quick and easy afterwards. Cushions make everything more comfortable, especially in terms of keeping the pelvis tilted to help the swimmers. Extreme angles are uncomfortable and probably not necessary.

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Fun with speculums

I know biomum has been waiting for this post for a while. The first attempt aka what not to do. I say that but it wasn’t that bad. We have agreed with donor to try to inseminate several times a month but so far it has been difficult to pin down the optimum point using ovulation predictor kits – the nice clear digital ones are expensive and the cheap and cheerful (and medically used) ones with the pink lines are difficult. Is that second pink line darker the first or not? Who knows. It all seems like a bit of a dark art.

Having agreed the contract in principle (though not yet signed and witnessed) we realised it was probably, maybe, just about the right time and given we had received a large box of goodies from Pride Angel that needed trying out we thought we’d give it a go. This was amusingly referred to as a dry run. Oh, what a misnomer.

This has also been referred to as the most unromatic night of ‘passion’ that we’ve ever had. Firstly we have instructions. My favourite part of these instructions in terms of the insemination process is that I am to be ‘careful not to place the end of the tip too close to the cervix’ and also to ‘not direct the semen directly at the cervix’. There are several issues with this – the main one being it’s dark and it terms of ‘directing’ once there’s a speculum and a syringe in there you can’t see a damn thing never mind what to aim at or in this case not. I refuse to wear a headtorch (flashbacks to a very awkward and ill-advised coil insertion where my former GP chatted to me about her upcoming caving holiday whilst wearing a headtorch and inserting said coil – really, just, no) and the only other way of seeing what the hell is going on in there would be some kind of elaborate fibre optic camera set up. Again, no.

The use of instructions does tend to kill any semblance of this being a romantic endeavour (though with practice the instruction can be left to one side) and it does feel a bit like a Blue Peter ‘make’ just without the yoghurt pot and washing up liquid bottle. Home insemination – you will need 1 pot of semen, 1 speculum, 1 syringe with optional syringe extender, 1 measure of sperm-friendly lubricant, cushions and an old towel.

Alas we did not know about the towel in advance. For optimal chance of success our instructions advised keeping biomum’s pelvis tilted using cushions for half an hour after insemination. It also helps the person doing the insemination (i.e me) to see what she’s doing during insemination so we dutifully stacked cushions under biomum. Here’s the thing, there is a degree of mess created in this process when things are removed post insemination. I suspect this is worse if you use a speculum and as such there was a least one cushion cover which needed a damn good clean. Old towels people, use ’em.

We did laugh a lot during this first attempt. Not least at me with a syringe in one hand and instructions in the other trying to read what to do next by candlelight – hey at least we tried to make this slightly romantic.

Nothing came of our first attempt in terms of pregnancy – though we have a suspicion that egg and sperm did indeed meet. I’m ever-so-slightly relieved that I don’t have to tell my son or daughter that whilst they were definitely wanted and planned for (it’s not like biomum can accidentally fall on a speculum and a syringe of spunk), they were in fact the ‘dry run’.

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Donor search – Part 1: Clinic/Home, Known/Anonymous?

Most of my posts thus far have been getting up to speed with where we are in terms of the practicalities of having a baby as a lesbian couple. I will get to grips with some of my thoughts and feelings in later posts but it seems wise to get up to speed first. There will be plenty of time whilst we’re going through false alarms and two week waits for me to delve into my psyche and do some navel gazing.

So…. donor search. Such fun (said in the style of Miranda’s mum). Many, many things to consider before the searching even begins. Do you want a known donor or anonymous? Do you want to go via a clinic or home insemination?

Going through a clinic generally involves using anonymous donor sperm where the most information available is ethnicity and general characteristics. The law changed in the UK in 2005 meaning that sperm donors donating to banks and clinics can be contacted by children born using their sperm, if the child so desires, once they turn 18. The sperm is screened and checked for STIs and certain genetic disorders – having said that how many straight couples screen their genetics unless they have a known recessive condition in their family? Most people just hope for the best and take their chances so this wasn’t a major consideration for us. Going through a clinic was something we wanted to avoid doing – partly due to the clinical, detached nature of the process and partly due to cost. As a rough guide to the costs involved in private treatment see the London Women’s Clinic treatment costs.

That leaves us with home insemination and the acquisition of sperm without the back-up of a clinic and their catalogue of donors. It’s still possible to do anonymous donation using the home insemination method. The options basically involve buying sperm from a bank either here or, as we considered, from somewhere like Denmark. The legalities are different and there isn’t the same automatic allowance of information to the child once they turn 18. Anonymous donors can remain anonymous forever unlike in the UK. The costs are also lower using places like Cryos than in the UK – sperm can be shipped to you or you can travel to Denmark to collect it.

Sperm banks are not the only option, though now we venture into the potentially murky world of known donors. That’s a bit of an exaggeration really – if you manage to find a known donor you are comfortable with it is awesome and I’ll talk about our personal search in a bit. There are however places that will help you find a donor. Pride Angel was one place we looked and seriously considered before our donor situation was resolved. The site itself is great idea. It acts as a connection platform between donors (sperm and egg) and recipients. It’s free to join but to send members a message you need to buy credits. They also sell a variety of home insemination kits and other useful things like vitamins and, my favourite, the sperm shaped stressball. The donors themselves were a mixed bag – some came across in their blurb as entirely genuine and altruistic. Some had already completed their families and wanted to help others achieve the same. Some appeared to be less genuine – talking about needing a physical attraction for instance did not fill me with confidence. Nor did anyone who filled in the medical questionnaire and refused to be tested for STIs. I’d approach any connections with strangers with caution and employ a good deal of common sense if going down this route. We had already decided to meet any potential donor that we didn’t know personally in a hotel rather than our own home despite the seedy connotations that conjured up.

The final option in the known donor approach is to ask a friend or hope that one volunteers. This conjures up a whole other world of potential issues (it’s not exactly something to easily drop into conversation) and can be awkward in the extreme.

Oh and if I haven’t said it enough already last post – if you’re not using a clinic or sperm bank, contracts are your friend.