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.
One major concern in all of this was the legal issues surrounding parentage of the child and my rights as nonbiomum. This is one of the major ways in which the UK differs from the US and makes a lot of the US-centric sites and books of very little use at all.
biomum and I are in a civil partnership (soon to be upgraded to a marriage) and so, provided insemination of biomum is artificial (either in a clinic or by home insemination), we will both be listed on the birth certificate. Our child will have no legal father and the donor will not be listed anywhere on the birth certificate. Obviously if biomum was to have intercourse with the donor this would be different – it would be exactly the same as any straight couple conceiving and donor would be listed as the father. That isn’t going to happen of course, and thus my legal position as second parent to our child is secure.
The law in the UK is based largely on whether biomum and I are in a civil partnership and how the insemination takes place. Female-female civil partners using artificial insemination are both the legal parents of the child – the law does state that the non-birth mother must consent to the insemination but it also presumes consent unless demonstrated otherwise.
Non-civil partnered lesbians have a more interesting time. In this case for both women to be the legal parents from the outset, insemination must take place in a UK clinic and both parties must sign election forms agreeing that the non-birth mother should be treated as a legal parent. There is no option for home insemination here – this would lead to the non-birth mother having to legally adopt the child. Once again – when the child has two legal mothers they do not have a legal father.
The impact on the donor differs depending on the method of insemination. If this is done through a clinic the donor has legal protection against financial and parental responsibility automatically. If the insemination is done at home there is no such automatic legal protection and so drawing up a contract protecting both donor and recipient from any legal challenges is so highly recommended it’s not even funny. Seriously, do it. Even if your donor is a good friend, all parties need to have their rights protected. Talk about it with your donor, get the wording right and get it witnessed. This doesn’t prevent a legal challenge but it does act as document of intent and it is likely that even a non-notarised document would be upheld in court. Unfortunately a lot of the sample donor documents are from the US and cover specific donor-recipient situations but they can be altered to suit your own needs. We found this one to be most useful but altered it to match our own situation. A lawyer will draw up a contract for you but for a fee – though depending on your relationship to your donor you might want that extra level of protection.
A good resource on the legalities of donor insemination for same-sex couples is Stonewall – the ‘Pregnant Pause’ pdf linked from their site is excellent reading for lesbians trying to conceive and they lay out the legalities in a clear and concise way.
Having decided that we were going to have a baby, biomum and I began to look into the options. Obviously just having lots of sex wasn’t going to work (though we did amuse at our GP with that) – not without an added ingredient. I’d been the slower of the two of us to admit that children was something I wanted and given we wanted to give biomum the chance to carry the child we did consider using my eggs and her uterus. Briefly.
For those of you who don’t know, IVF is expensive. Our PCT has only just relented and decided to allow one cycle of IVF on the NHS provided you are under a certain age and have been trying for a certain period of time (with sperm, dammit) – we doubted very much that they would fund harvesting my eggs as well as everything else. Going private was looking like it would be prohibitively expensive especially adding in the cost of buying sperm from a bank. The idea of us having a child that could be considered to come from both of us – my genetic material combined with biomum carrying the child and being the birth mother was just not going to be viable. We would be forced to go down the very clinical route of IVF and, expense aside, it all seemed too impersonal unless we had to. The process of home insemination is by not means romantic but at least it would be the two of us, together, making a baby – even if the baby would have no genetic link to me.
As far as the NHS goes – until you’ve been trying to conceive for a while the only assistance or checks available are some basic blood tests for biomum to check things like iron levels. If we encounter problems later than there are things the NHS may be able to offer us but without going private for either IVF or the acquisition of sperm we were on our own.
I found myself really envying my straight friends at this point. Unless there are specific fertility issues with one party or the other all they have to do is have unprotected sex, a lot. I appreciate this is over-simplifying massively. Getting pregnant can take time and be hard work but compared to what we were facing – finding a sperm donor, home insemination etc, it just seemed too easy for everyone else. Especially when you read the cases of child neglect. I had so much pent-up frustration about how unfair it was. This is before you add in the rubbish about being gay being a ‘lifestyle choice’ and that I shouldn’t therefore be able to have children because I chose to be with a woman. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issues with my sexuality – but it’s not a choice. This is how I’m wired. I also want children and it shouldn’t be this hard.
OK, so, let’s start this off with a bit of background about myself and biomum. We’d always been slightly ambivalent about having children – at least we thought we were. It was always going to take planning – being as we lack a vital ingredient between the two of us. Leaving it to chance wasn’t going to be an option. Each time a friend got pregnant and subsequently gave birth we’d pretend that we weren’t broody, nope, not at all. Not even slightly. Honest guv’, no broodiness here. Yeah, right.
Towards the end of last year we discussed things, finally, in the face of mounting evidence of our broodiness. We discussed the problems – lack of sperm, the various other issues that we were using to say we couldn’t have children… at least not yet, and eventually, after talking to friends with kids already, decided that we were never going to ‘be ready’. Even when we have a child we won’t ‘be ready’ – I’m not sure anyone ever is. We’ll just muddle along like everyone else making the best of it and trying not to screw it up too badly. Bam. Decision made. We were going to have children.
Initially we considered that I would carry the child. However biomum is older than me and I have some issues – during our initial discussions I was going through investigation for endometriosis resulting in surgery. As it stands right now I’m in simulated, chemically induced menopause. I might never be able to have children depending on what happens after the current course of treatment ends. We don’t know. So for now biomum is ‘it’ as it were. I may end up as biomum to a child in the future – we just don’t know. For now I am nonbiomum (albeit nonbiomum-to-be) and figuring out what that means.
In my hunt for similar stories to my own I did find this book which was quite useful – ‘She Looks Just Like You: A Memoir of (Non-Biological) Lesbian Motherhood’ by Amie Klempnauer Miller. She’s American so once again there are some differences but this was the first resource that I found that mentioned feelings of isolation and invisibility during the pregnancy. No two stories will ever be the same but I certainly found this a helpful read towards the start of this year when we were juggling the logistics of donor finding and trying to work out what our plan was going to be. I will admit to having cried at various points as well – be warned!
So… I’m not normally very good at this blogging malarky. When my wife and I decided to start the long process of trying for a baby back in November I went looking for some information that fit my role – that of the non-biological lesbian mother and found very little. What information I did find was very US-based and whilst this isn’t a bad thing per se, the legalities and procedures are somewhat different.
I was looking for experiences however. How other women felt going through a process that would produce a child with no genetic link to themselves. How other women coped with being the non-carrying mother. How other women developed and maintained a connection to a child that they have neither carried nor is biologically related to them. This was what I struggled to find.
This was even before the practicalities of the process took over. Before the finding of the donor, contract drawing up, the trials of home insemination… before any of that had even begun.
I’m hoping that by charting my own feelings, emotions and experiences in our quest to have a baby, I will provide something that other non-bio lesbian mothers-to-be can relate to, and that this will be nice to look back on when I’m finally holding our child in my arms.