Queer parents have been around forever (doing excellent work, by the way), but the conversation around queer moms having kids has evolved a lot in the last decade or so. When I talk to older folks and elders in our communities, many are childfree. Certainly many are childfree by choice, but others wanted kids and never thought it was an affordable or socially acceptable option. Some have kids from previous relationships before they came our or are step-parents to their partner’s kids from previous relationships. When I think about the lesbian elders I know, it seems like only a handful had kids with their queer partners, through adoption or conceiving on their own. And of course those who did, really really really really really really wanted it and worked hard for it and often faced a lot of obstacles to make it happen (and often had a lot of socio-economic advantages to make it work).
Right now, the choice of whether to have children or not is relevant to queer women in ways that it simply wasn’t for generations before us. In the last couple years, my lesbian 30-something friends have been blowing up my Facebook feed with ultrasound and baby pics. The decision to be childfree seems more like a choice than a circumstance. While many ways of expanding our families are still expensive and hard to access, the idea of having kids is more reachable than ever before. According to the 2015 Autostraddle grown-ups reader survey, about half of Autostraddle readers age 29 and older plan to have or already have kids.
Unlike our heterosexual counterparts, having kids is not socially or culturally compulsory. As getting hitched and having kids becomes more common, maybe that will change. Maybe our parents and grandparents will start harassing us about putting a ring on it and getting knocked up. But for now, it feels like lesbian and bi women are mostly still able to make this choice on our own terms. And that’s a good thing.
But gosh, there’s a lot to talk about. We need a place to have some grown-up conversations about queer parenting decisions. You may have noticed we’ve been publishing a lot of baby stuff lately. You hopefully followed Haley‘s Queer Mama vlog, chronicling her and her partner Simone’s adventures in making their perfect small human, Juniper Jude. Caitlin broke and healed our hearts by sharing her experiences with pregnancy after a miscarriage and her babies, Anders and Graeson. We’re published essays about baby-making as a single black lesbian, DIY insemination, and navigating pregnancy and trauma.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg under the queer parenting tag. There is so much to say about queer parenting and there are so many questions.
So many, in fact, that we asked you to send us your questions about queer baby-making, family-growing, and parenting. Then, we gathered together a group of folks who can speak from a range of personal experiences to answer. And here we are! Of course, there are many parenting perspectives that are not represented here and these fine folks can’t represent all queer parents’ experiences. So we hope you will continue to ask questions, educate each other, share your experiences, and discuss these topics in the comments. First, let’s meet your Gayby Mayby parents and parents-to-be:
Christina works in fundraising and is buried under a pile of dirty laundry. She lives in Maryland with her wife, 11 month old daughter, enthusiastic dog, and indifferent cat. A fertility clinic got her knocked up after seven months and 41 weeks and 4 days after that, she popped out a baby at home with a couple of midwives and her dog supervising. She formula fed her baby, finished her Masters with a 6 month old and continues to avoid the angry mob. Christina used to blog at Magical Unicorn Parenting until she got too tired to think straight and may do so again at some point. She believes in coffee.
Asher is a 26-year-old activist and aspiring writer living in St. Louis. As a tiny, black american/Yoruba, lesbian with anxiety who wants to raise her child in a race conscious, queer, intersectional feminist home she knows she’s in for an adventure and she’s pretty stoked about it. Her awesome relationship with her mom made her want to be a parent from a young age and she’s spent over a decade learning everything she can about adoption, pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, and early development.
Polly is a paralegal and non-fiction writer and Jess is a community college English professor. They live in Rochester, New York (in the woodsy non-NYC part of the state). Polly and Jess have a 2 year old son they adopted through the foster care system. During their five years as foster parents, Polly and Jess have fostered 13 children ranging in age from newborn to eighteen. Parenting has taught Polly that everything she always thought about parenthood was wrong (very wrong) or at least woefully inadequate. Jess says “Though we were LITERALLY trained to be parents, I still feel like I’m winging it most of the time.”
KaeLyn is a 32-year-old community organizer, sexuality educator, and contributing editor at Autostraddle. She and her partner live in Upstate New York with their furkids and (kind of on hiatus) blog about adding a human kid to the mix at Queer Family Matters. KaeLyn is currently trying to get preggers and has lots of emotions about getting knocked up as a queer feminist Korean adoptee who still likes cats more than babies.
Marybeth works as a compensation analyst for a supermarket and Michelle is an Ob/Gyn at a community hospital. They live in Rochester, NY. After Michelle’s unsuccessful attempts to become pregnant, Marybeth, as the younger spouse, took on the challenge. They now have 2 children together, Mason (age 3) and Alisa (age 9) months. It’s important to note that Michelle is an Ob/Gyn, not a pediatrician. Her expertise is in bringing babies into the world, not raising them! They are both learning as parents everyday! Marybeth says, “Just when we think we’ve got it down, the kids change the game!”
Lucy lives outside Boston with her wife and two daughters. She is a contributing writer for AfterEllen where she writes about mom stuff, sports stuff, and recaps The Fosters (which involves a lot of yelling at Brandon Foster). She has been a mostly stay-at-home mom since giving birth to her older daughter and a writer whenever she can find a spare five minutes. In 2014 she was able to steal enough time to write a short story called Dragon Slayer.
Your Burning Questions about Babies and Queer Mom Life
What makes queer parenthood different or unique?
Christina: Straight people have a *lot* of opinions about what makes queer parenthood different. A lot of those assumptions are based on heteronormative stereotypes about gender and are really unfortunate. There’s no law that says my wife is any more or less nurturing than a husband would be, or that my need to provide for my family is as strong as a dude’s. I could say that you have to deliberately want to have children as queer parents, but that slights straight couples with infertility issues and forgets that birth control exists. It’s definitely possible to have whoops babies as a queer couple, but not as possible.
I think, as a whole, it reminds you that you are trying to shoehorn yourself into a system that is not designed for you and that does not think to automatically include you. They will if you make yourself known, but from reminding your medical provider that the birth certificate form needs to be parent 1 / parent 2 instead of mother / father to finding a children’s book that features same sex parents without being about same sex parenting to the confused faces of your daycare provider, it’s just a reminder that you are different.
There’s also a little bit of fear in the back of my mind whenever I find a new healthcare provider or research daycare. Is this going to be the day that I encounter institutional homophobia? How will that look? What will they say? Honestly, if someone doesn’t want my money because my daughter has a two mom family, I don’t want to give it to them, but I still find myself agonizing over the imaginary confrontation.
KaeLyn: It was embracing the idea of “queer parenting”, specifically, that made me grow into the idea of having kids. Waffle has always wanted kids and I have always been like, “No.” I felt the same way about marriage for a long time, but here I am married and trying to get knocked up. All of my own free will. I was the one who brought up both topics, after a lot of thought. What was keeping me from embracing the idea was never a fear of children or of having children. It was the way the world views these super heteronormative ideas of pregnancy and parenting. It is the institutional and systematic oppression that is right there under the surface of the topics of marriage and kids. I didn’t fear kids. I feared losing my identity as queer. I feared disappearing into a white picket fence vortex. Being childfree by choice not only felt like a comfortable place, it felt like a subversive one.
But it can also be subversive to queer parenthood and to queer motherhood. I get really excited when I think about being able to raise a human who shares my values, about creating “family values” tied to intersectional feminism, about busting gender norms in my own home. I got inspired by looking at other queer parents’ blogs: poly families, pregnant men, pregnant butches, glitter femme mamas, QTPOC families, trans moms. I found my queer community, even if we’re far and few in popular media. There is a lot that queer family-making has to address to be truly intersectional in our understanding of where parenting and child-having intersects with race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability. I’m excited about queer parenting now, about being part of that expanding and exciting discourse.
Lucy: Everything and nothing. Everything is different in that we get to decide a lot of things in a way most hetero couples can’t or won’t. Some of that is super irritating. Like why can’t we just have sex and poof! get pregnant? That totally sucks. But, it also means that we get to decide on timing of when to have kids, who is going to carry a baby, how we want to get pregnant, whose sperm we want to use, whether we want that process to be open or not or some kind of hybrid. Choice, choice, and more choice can make your head spin and also be really liberating. Honestly, there is something really satisfying about talking to the moms at the local playgroup about how my wife and I each carried a baby and having them all say, “Holy crap, I wish my husband could carry the next one.”
Nothing is different. Once you peel back the layer of making choices about who carries a baby and who cares for a baby and who washes dishes and does middle of the night feeding etc, there’s nothing different about being a lesbian parent than there is about being a straight one. Babies will poop on you, spit up in your face, babble your name, hold your hand, and tell you they love you without caring if you are gay or not. Being a parent is a universally humbling experience and much of that has nothing to do with being queer or not.
Asher: For me, I read this question and I think, “Queer parenting is just like doing anything else while queer”. Like, parenting is parenting regardless of orientation or gender but being queer means that queer parenting looks a little different. Like Lucy said, we get to decide a lot of things in ways that hetero parents can’t, won’t, or don’t even consider. In just conceiving or adopting we have so many options (private domestic adoption, foster to adopt, sperm bank, known donor, known surrogate, who will carry the tiny human, etc)! Also I feel like because so much of being queer involves forging your own path, being okay with defying normative expectations, and advocating for yourself, queer parents are more likely to question how they want to parent and what values they want to instill in their kids (instead of relying on: “This is how I was raised so I’ll raise my kid just like that.”). I know that for myself, I’m intersectional as fuck so I knew right off the bat I’d have to consider how best to teach my kid to not only deal with racism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, patriarchy, and classism, but to take pride in who they are and what their family looks like.
The more I educated myself on how to parent in an intersectional feminist way the more I thought about the way I was raised and questioned what parts of parenting I wanted to keep (Hello, encouraging questioning!) and what parts I wanted to toss (Goodbye, whoopings!). I’m with Kaelyn in that queer parenting is one of the things I most look forward to when it comes to making babies.
Jess: I have no idea. I’ve never parented any other way!
Marybeth: In my viewpoint, it’s parenting, period! We all face very similar, dare I say, the same challenges in parenting. How we get here is different, how we have to help those around us understand how we got here is different. But ultimately one parent spends more time with the kids while the other parent spends more time providing for the family. At least that is how it seems when I compare our family to that of my friends and co-workers. Yes, we had to make more choices to get us here and there are no accidents in our world, but we are just trying to raise our children to be the best they can be. It is not easy and all parents will have challenges. What I have realized as a mom is that we all need to stick together and support one another, whatever the family situation. Because most days at daycare drop off I exchange a knowing look of exhaustion with another mom or another dad, especially if we are both running behind at the start of our days! But I do believe being a parent is simply incredible and the best “job” I’ve ever had (probably with the most ups-and-downs)!
If you’d known five years before you tried to have kids that in five years you were going to try to have kids, is there anything specific you would have done to prepare or otherwise ready yourself?
Christina: I knew I wanted to have kids when I was 28 and we started when I was 32, so a lot of the things we did were with kids as a question mark in the back of our minds. We bought a house with a potential nursery, banked savings for treatments, that sort of thing. In hindsight, I would have banked a lot more money than we did (fertility treatments were really expensive). And while I love my puppy with the passion of a thousand suns, I’m not sure I would have adopted her in 2013 knowing we’d have a baby in 2015. Carving time for the dog when you’re already exhausted from dealing with a newborn has not been easy. It’s gotten better in the past few months, but not a lot better.
Lucy: I gave birth to our first child when I was 29. Five years before that I was still in law school and my then fiancee (now wife) hadn’t started medical school yet. What should we have known then? Oh! I’ve got one. Frozen sperm don’t swim for shit. We spent about 5 months thinking we could get pregnant with frozen sperm at home without doing an IUI. NOPE. Later, a doctor told us that was equivalent to dropping some sperm in the ocean and hoping it worked. Don’t be as stupid as we were. Don’t waste your money like that.
Christina: Lucy’s got a good point, I wish I’d known how long it was going to take. We are told throughout our teens and early 20’s that even looking at a penis will get us pregnant, and then when we actually want to, we find out it’s a much more involved process. I started our IUIs thinking I’d get knocked up the first try, no problem. HA! I have acquaintances who tried home insemination with a known donor for two years before they got pregnant. The conception process is also emotionally fraught and holds you hostage for a lot of time during it.
Jess: Trying to keep up with a toddler at 39 is EXHAUSTING!
Marybeth: We knew we wanted kids, but we waited. We wanted to do things…to travel…well, I wanted to. I knew we would not be able to travel as easily once we had kids. The waiting may have impacted Michelle’s ability to get pregnant. Because I am 7 years younger, our plan was for her to carry the first baby and me to handle the second and any others. The realization that she was not going to carry one of our children had us “stuck” for awhile. We were considering all our options and I was mentally preparing myself to be the only one that would carry our children. I got pregnant with Mason at age 35, otherwise known as “advanced maternal age.” So we were concerned about the health of our first baby and how well I would do pregnant. Lucky for us, it all worked out! I will say that I was set in my ways to NOT use fertility aids when we were trying to get pregnant the first time. I was convinced I would have multiples if I even used clomid. My levels were good and our doctor humored me. We got pregnant with Mason on the 3rd IUI, with only HCG as the added helper. I was quite pleased with myself! For our 2nd, I was 37 and my levels had changed. Our doc let me try one round without fertility aids and then suggested clomid. Clomid didn’t work after two rounds, so on round four we went with injectables and were successful in getting pregnant and in only having one baby as a result! I think I needed to have a little control of the process, because I really had no control. I remember being so frustrated about how this was supposed to be science helping us get pregnant and, in my opinion, was just not exact enough!
Oh – I now know why you should have kids younger though…sleep deprivation! I think we deal with lack of sleep better in our 20’s and/or early 30’s. Michelle is 45. I am 38. We are TIRED!
KaeLyn: We are trying now and I don’t think I took seriously how many emotions going through this process would bring up. We’re pretty pragmatic about this stuff, in general. We’re not super romantic about the process of getting pregnant. We just want it to work. And a lot of it has been pretty much what I thought it would be, very clinical and efficient. But I was still taken aback when I realized that I was not going to be in charge of my body at all once it all started. I mean, I am, but I feel out of control all the time between what I’m supposed to be eating and not eating and when and what vitamins to take and whether to take fertility drugs and pregnancy tests and why am I having these cramps and googling early pregnancy signs and generally feeling like my body is not my own right now. I can’t wait to get a positive test back, just so I know what is going on. I guess I’d say that if you are going to be the gestational carrier and, like me, pregnancy itself is a thing that is not 100% your cup of tea, be prepared for it to kind of take over your body and your life. The two week wait is the worst, is what I’m saying. I’m glad we are doing this roundtable because I learned so much in the process just reading about other queer moms’ experiences with pregnancy and parenting. There isn’t a ton of support out there that is LGBTQ-specific and I really, really would like us to have the kinds of forums and chatrooms and networks that straight moms do as they go through this stuff.
What did you feel really strongly about before arrival of kid that you ended up deciding to (or having to) completely throw out the window once kid arrived?
Christina: I had really strong feelings about wanting to breastfeed, but that never materialized for us. We had to start supplementing (under the advice of a lactation consultant) at five days old. I had chronic low supply issues and flat nipples, the baby never got a good latch and eventually decided against nursing all together at three months. I exclusively pumped for six months and finally weaned from the pump when the baby was 9 months. This was really, really devastating for me. I’d worried about bonding with the baby since my wife would be taking primary care while I work outside the home, but figured we’d have a nursing relationship to help compensate for it. Then that disintegrated and I felt panicked and left out. It also hit every feeling I had about not being good enough for my child and not being able to provide for her, which, in the postpartum haze of hormones, is really rough. Not to mention that a lot of the birthing and early parenting community has terrible things to say about formula and is really unkind to those who use it.
Parenting is, in a lot of ways, watching all of your self-righteous thoughts and feelings about how you’d parent erode slowly. I said I’d never use formula until, you know, I realized just how serious our nursing issues were. I said I’d never use the television instead of parenting until I needed my daughter to calm down for five minutes so I could pee. I said I’d never give my baby canned baby food until I tried to feed a six month old homemade solids while in grad school and working full time. You adapt and find your way through.
Lucy: I am just nodding along with everything Christina just said. Every single thought you have ever had about a parent screwing up in public, every single one, will come back to haunt you. It’s one of the greatest joys of watching friends and family, especially judgmental ones, have kids of their own because it humbles you. It will bring you to your knees and make you wonder what you were thinking over and over and over again. You will wonder how you could have ever been so stupid. But you can’t know until you have a kid. I can tell you that you will spend nights sleeping on the floor of your kid’s room because it’s the only way you can get any sleep when she turns 18 months and decides sleeping is for losers. I can tell you that and you will look at me like I am a total fool and a wussy parent who just needs to buckle down. And then you’ll find yourself on the floor with a sleeping bag you haven’t used in years just wishing for 5 minutes of peace. Think of me then and know I am smiling and wishing you sleep.
We came home from the hospital to zero bottles and no breast pump. Our older daughter refused to nurse so we sent my parents to the store to buy bottles, formula, and a pump. It’s like doctors knowing that the person with the most intricate birth plan will end up with a c-section, whatever you didn’t plan for will come true. Babies will do that to you. You will be wrong more times than you thought possible. Relax. Know everyone else was too and don’t be too bothered when everyone around you laughs at you. You’ll get your turn later.
Polly: Before we had children, both Jess and I were convinced that our kids would never partake in the commercial culture of childhood—we would avoid the trendy toys that are hawked every five minutes on Nickelodeon. We knew that our kids would play exclusively with educational toys and learning games (brand-free of course). We also thought that we could raise children who would not adhere to societal gender norms—our girls would love trucks and our boys tea parties. Ha! We were so naive. I sit here now in a living room buried in Jake and the Neverland Pirates merchandise and my two year old son has never had a tea party. In fact, he broke the tea set we bought him mere minutes after opening it by stomping it with a dinosaur.
Jess: TV is not the devil, pop-tarts are OK for breakfast (and sometimes lunch and dinner), and the occasional swear word or fart joke from a toddler in public is both embarrassing and hilarious.
Marybeth: I guess I should throw my need to control things right out the window, although I still try to keep some sort of control over our lives/household! It’s so interesting to read what others have responded with. I feel like I had a good handle on what it meant to take care of a newborn, but I was so naive about breastfeeding. The whole concept of it being natural gave me the impression that it would just work for me and for my baby. This was not the case with Mason. I blame him…jokingly…but really, it was his fault…he was a lazy sucker. He just wanted a bottle. He had a horrible latch and no matter how hard I tried, I could not make it work for us. My breaking point was at about five weeks postpartum when I threw the breastshield (that was supposed to help him latch easier) across our family room in a moment of defeat. That was the point when Michelle said she thought we needed to reevaluate the nursing. I asked her why. I really did not see how it had overwhelmed me. When I set my mind to something, I am not a person who fails, so this was a failure to me. In the end, my wonderful lactation consultant was the person who helped release me from my black hole of nursing. She said something to the effect of, “You don’t have to nurse. It may not be what works for you and your family,” and it opened everything up for me. It made me realize that what I needed to keep my family on track was to do what would work for us. I pumped until 12 weeks, but it was only about a quarter of his supply. Mason was basically formula fed. I will say things were so much easier and the guilt I was putting on myself did go away. I now remember how I would cringe in the middle of the night when he woke up for his feeding. I was so paranoid about getting him to nurse that I was not even enjoying my time with him. I know I made the right decision for us and for our family.
The experience with Mason also provided me with a better mental start for nursing Alisa. I basically decided that if she was like him, I would just pump what I could and move on. This girl is a ROCK STAR at nursing. She’s amazing and I am so happy that I was able to experience both. Alisa is nine-and-a-half months old and we are still going strong.
I also thought sleep would get better quicker. Although I know this can be different for everyone and I know we could have it worse. But living through the baby phase and the teething phase a second time makes me firm in my decision that our family is complete with two kids! I’m thinking back and realizing that I thought we could just do a little “cry it out” if the babies didn’t sleep. Mason would gag himself from crying and vomit even in just 10 minutes of crying. It was not for us. Neither one of us could justify allowing him to vomit just to get us sleep. We did a lot of rocking him to sleep. He’s a better sleeper now, but he will still wake up and come into bed with us. We are both okay with this, to a point. When he was in our bed so much that I had a backache, we needed to do some tough love. Ultimately, we do what works for us!
If you are partnered, did your partner induce lactation so they could nurse the baby? If you adopted, did either or both of you try to nurse?
Christina: My partner was never particularly interested in inducing lactation. I think this idea is lovely if both partners are on board, but it was first presented as the solution to my nursing problems. It both hurt my feelings and ducked the question. My partner’s breasts should not be the answer to my lactation failure issues (if for no other reason than it takes time to induce lactation). As time has moved on though, I see the benefit of co-nursing. It takes pressure off the carrying mom to be the sole source of food for the baby, meaning that not every feeding has to be you. You’ll never realize how much you treasure seven hours of uninterrupted sleep until you don’t have it for three months. Keep in mind that one of the drugs you use for this, domperidone, is not readily available in the United States.
Lucy: The thought never occurred to either of us. We each breastfed/pumped for the child we carried. We shared feeding for both babies though with either pumped milk in the night or formula. Sleep is a luxury and getting four hours in a row is heaven in those first weeks.
Michelle: I did think about this but quickly decided not to when a good friend of mine shared that it took three months of Domperidone and pumping before she got even a drop of colostrum.
I think I need a list with every variation of “mom” possible for my future household. What different mother titles do you use?
Christina: We use Mommy and Mama, but always forget which one we are.
Lucy: I am Mama and my wife is Mommy. Nothing cracks my kids up like when they accidentally switch names or confuses them more than when strangers use the names interchangeably.
Asher: I don’t currently use any titles since I’m not even pregnant yet but I’ve already got thoughts about which terms I like and which ones I’m not too keen on. I absolutely don’t want to be called “ma” or “mom”. “Màmá”, “mommy”, “bàbá” are the ones I’m leaning towards most now but also kids tend to come up with their own names for people so I’m open to that as well. Actually I’m kind of hoping for it. Please name me, tiny human! I don’t want to chose for myself.
Marybeth: We use Mama and Mommy, but we would mess up a lot in the beginning and now only occasionally.
KaeLyn: I used to call my grandma, who was also my daytime babysitter while my parents were are work, “Ama.” It was probably my Korean adoptee toddler-kind-of-recalling-language-even-though-I-was-then-learning-English version of the Korean colloquial word for mom, “Umma” (엄마). I like the idea of being an Umma/Ama. I took German for many years in high school and college and my mom is German-Swedish, so I sometimes call her “Mutti,” the casual German word for mom. Searching your native language or ancestry for words for “mom” and “mommy” in other languages is a great way to find alternatives that have meaning for you.
What are some alternatives to “mom” for genderfluid or gender non-binary parents?
KaeLyn: I know “baba” is a popular one. We has mixed feelings about using it, since it draws from cultures we aren’t a part of. My genderfluid and transmasculine partner is probably going to settle on “dad” and there are definitely lesbians who use dad, too. There’s a blog by a “lesbian dad” a.k.a. Polly Pagenhart that is a great resource. You can also make up your own word. Haley and Simone came up with “monie” for Simone, which I think is really, really cute. Or you can let your kids use your first names or a variation of your first names, if that feels OK to you.
Christina: One of the favorite ones I’ve heard is Momily, for a mom named Emily.
Asher: A genderqueer friend of mine’s kid calls them “sweetie”. I think that’s kind of a cute idea.
How do you deal with “mom” communities and stereotypes that are really heteronormative and conservative?
Christina: Funny story, I was super excited to join a BabyCenter group for my due date until I saw that they didn’t allow controversial topics to be discussed, including LGBT issues. So I took my controversial ass to Ravelry and found a great group of online support there. On the internet, I just try to avoid it whenever possible. We haven’t had to deal with it too much in person (yet), but it’s frustrating. I try to have some banked snarky answers.
Lucy: I challenge them or roll my eyes, usually. Honestly, the more I got to know the moms at the library play group I took our kids to the more they came to see how awesome our family was. Mostly they were jealous of the shared burdens of child rearing and the fact that we were having two kids but only had to be pregnant once. For every mom who was weird or uncomfortable at the start they almost universally got over it and expressed jealousy by the end.
Any tips for talking about LGBTQ issues with your kids? How do you prepare them for possibly being teased by other kids for having two moms (or queer parents)?
Lucy: We talk a lot in our house about how families are all different from single parents, adoptive parents, grandparent caregivers etc and we talk about our family a being a part of that overall patchwork. We live in liberal Massachusetts so haven’t had much issue but we are quick to challenge ideas that come home from school. If a kid doesn’t understand that our kids have two moms we talk to our kids about it. If it happens while we are around, we answer questions honestly and with kids, it’s never been much of a problem.
We have added some books with same-sex parents to our bookshelves (like “Mommy, Mama, and Me“) to give our kids a sense that their family isn’t bad because it’s different and to give them a sense that they aren’t the only ones with two moms.
KaeLyn: Not necessarily the same thing, but I grew up being pretty much the only Asian kid at my rural school and my parents did a pretty good job of preparing me for being “different.” One thing they did that I really admire is that they talked with me about our family and being adopted and looking different than my white peers. I don’t know that anything fully prepares a small kid for bullying. I still came home crying sometimes. But I knew I could talk to my parents about it and I wasn’t confused about who I was and who my family was. It made it a little easier to deal with the world.
I like to think the world is changing, too. Today’s kids hopefully won’t be the only ones with lesbian, gay, bi and/or trans parents in their school. But I always think about those isolated rural areas where that may not be the case and I think having the open conversation and support at home makes a huge difference.
Did you always know you wanted kids? If so, how did you know?
Christina: Around eight, I thought I would adopt a bunch of kids from the foster care system and raise them, since so many other kids in the world needed love. Around 16, I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll have one biologically.” Around 23, I thought I didn’t want kids, mostly because I couldn’t imagine supporting a child at that point in my life, working in theatre, making $20K a year and living with my aunt. My circumstances improved marginally, but I continued to feel that way until my late 20’s, when my biological clock kicked in with a vengeance and not only did I want kids, I wanted to be pregnant NOW NOW NOW. I changed careers, started making more money and started ticking off the milestones I had for kids (earning more money, owning a house, etc.). The more concrete it got as a future, the more I wanted it.
Lucy: Nope. I was sure I wouldn’t have kids for a long time. I was sure about it the same way I was sure I wouldn’t get married. I never imagined it was possible. At 18 I met my first girlfriend and she told me she was having kids and if I wasn’t interested I could take a hike. Well, that girl is my wife now. She was worth changing my mind and so are my kids.
Asher: I’ve always known I wanted to be a mother. From as early as I can remember when I was a kid I always carried around a baby doll and loved on her like she was my own. I read through my journal from when I was twelve the other day and even then I was talking about being a mom and thinking about potential baby names as if it were the most natural thing in the world. There are two things that I’ve always known about myself, one being that I like girls, the other being that I want to be a mother someday. I’ve just always known.
My own mother was/is a really amazing, wonderful, and accepting parent and I’ve always had a really close intimate bond with her. I want to try to create something beautiful like that with my own child.
Marybeth: I’ve always known. I remember not knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up, but knowing that I wanted to be a mother. I never pictured getting married or dreamed about my wedding day. But I pictured being a mother!
KaeLyn: I was strongly childfree by choice. Honestly, if I had not fallen in love with who I did, I don’t know if I’d be doing this right now. Because I never imagined myself as having a kid. I imagined having a career I loved and doing work for social change and lots of other things. I never imagined spouse and kids. I didn’t hate the idea. It just wasn’t on my Top Ten List of Things I Want to Accomplish In My Life. But I met and cultivated this beautiful thing with someone who is as different as me as different can be. Opposites attract or whatever. And we did my career stuff for the first ten years. Now it’s time to do the family stuff for him, and for us! I never thought I’d be as ready as I am, but I really am. My biological clock has been about creating change and creating words more than babes in the past, but I’ve never wanted to be pregnant as much as I do right now.
Making the Call: Turkey Baster, Medical Intervention, Adoption, or Cat Lady
(Future reference) for someone over 85% infertile, would you recommend risking the trips to the sperm bank or adopting a child?
Christina: This is a hard call and one probably best discussed with a reproductive endocrinologist. Also check to see if your insurance offers infertility benefits—having a biological child may be much more affordable that way, if that’s important to you.
Asher: It depends on how important having a biological tie to your child is, how much money you’re willing to spend to try to make a baby, and what adoption route you’re thinking of plus what your family/home situation looks like. If having that biological connection to your child is very important to you then I think it’s at least worth talking to a fertility expert. I think you would probably be looking at invitro fertilization (IVF) at that point and if your insurance doesn’t cover it then you’re looking at about $12,000 per cycle of IVF. Only you can decide if that’s a more appealing option for your family then adoption.
Adoption is not without risks either. A lot depends on if you do international, private domestic adoption, or adopt through the foster system. Adoption can be really expensive, you can face long waits, possibly have to be closeted, or deal with uncertainty with birth parents. International adoption tends to have a more concrete path and timeline but tends to be the most expensive ($25,000 is not unheard of) and some countries require you to sign an affidavit that you are heterosexual. Private domestic adoption tends to be a little cheaper than international adoption and a little quicker, depending on whether or not you’re open to a non-white child or a child with special needs, but birth parents may change their mind and chose not to place the child for adoption which can be heartbreaking for the intended adoptive parent(s). Adopting through the foster care system is the least expensive option but it’s fairly common for adoptions to take years to finalize and it’s not unheard of for a child that a family has fostered for years and intend to adopt to end up back with birth parents. In all these options (adoption and fertility treatments) queer families face discrimination so that’s also a factor.
Many people are able to easily adopt without too much financial hardship and people with high rates of infertility do manage to get pregnant, but I think too many factors are at play to give a simple “yes or no” recommendation based on risk. It really just depends. Sorry! I know that’s probably not what you wanted to hear.
Michelle: I presume this is a hypothetical question as I don’t know a fertility specialist that would ever put a % on how fertile or infertile a patient is. There are a lot of things they consider before they make their recommendations. Age is just one factor. There are blood tests such as FSH, Estradiol, LH, and AMH that they look at as well. Another thing they consider is a woman’s antral follicle count which they determine by looking at her ovaries on transvaginal ultrasound. If all these results are not favorable and do not show much “ovarian reserve”, they would recommend IVF with donor egg. That’s what they recommended to me after 10 rounds of FSH/IUI and a canceled IVF cycle. My donor egg would have been Marybeth’s egg but it’s a lot easier getting her egg fertilized in her body rather than mine. Since I didn’t think I would be a happy and comfortable pregnant woman (not many are and I know I have a low pain tolerance), I handed the baton to Marybeth. Using an anonymous egg donor does add a good $10,000 to the cost of IVF which is about $7,500 in our region. But prices are very variable depending on where you live. In some states and under some insurance plans, it’s fully covered.
What were the most influential factors in deciding whether to adopt, foster, or get pregnant?
Christina: We never considered fostering, but the debate between adoption and fertility treatments was decided by my raging hormones and money. I also really wanted to be pregnant and to have a genetic connection to the baby. On the practical side, our insurance declined to cover our fertility treatments but we were eligible for a 20% discount with the fertility center we worked with. With donor materials, drugs, monitorings and procedures, we spent approximately $8,000. Most adoption fees were $20,000-$30,000. Money won.
Lucy: We both wanted to carry a child so we did. I went first, she went second and we used the same donor. We didn’t really consider other options.
Asher: I had always planned to adopt. I didn’t want to be pregnant (even though I thought pregnancy and childbirth was the most fascinating thing ever) and I never believed that blood ties made a family so it seemed the natural choice. Unfortunately within the past two years it became pretty apparent that adoption was too pricey for my working class self to be able to afford anytime soon. I had to grieve for that imagined future. I’m already an anxious squiggle so the uncertainty of fostering to adopt would not work for me. I decided to go the pregnancy route for those reasons.
Jess: We initially planned to have bio kids. A few years and more than six rounds of artificial insemination later, we decided that bio connection was less important to us than having kids in our lives. I’d been involved in facilitating local queer youth groups nearly all of my adult life and knew how many LGBTQ teens were without stable homes. Remembering this fact got us involved in the foster system. We intended to take in only LGBTQ teens but, as with nearly every aspect of parenting, plans often change!
Marybeth: We did discuss adoption, but we would have wanted to adopt from China, based on Michelle’s heritage, and they don’t allow same-sex parent adoption. And I always wanted to experience pregnancy, so getting pregnant was the way to go!
KaeLyn: Like Michelle and Marybeth, we wanted to adopt from Korea because I was adopted from Korea. But they don’t allow same-sex or single parent adoption. I always thought I’d adopt. I thought it would be good for an adopted kid to have a mom who is also adopted because there are things about being an adoptee that are really…well, hard for people who aren’t to grasp. In the process of grieving that Korean adoption wasn’t going to happen, we realized that adoption itself was just going to be so much more expensive and harder. I also realized that I really wanted a Korean kid, which I know is like…maybe a little weird…or at least weird to me. I’d always judged white folks who only wanted white kids and here I was feeling like I wanted to share my ethnicity with my child. I mean, it’s different, but it was shocking to me that I was feeling this way. If I’m successful in conceiving, using Korean sperm (which is what we are doing), I will meet someone who has my genetic material for the very first time in my life and that is kind of cool. I can’t help feeling like it’s pretty cool.
I don’t have a girlfriend, but I feel like I’m ready to start a family. Is it going to be hard to adopt or to get fertility treatment as a single woman?
Christina: I can’t speak to adoption agencies, but most fertility centers will work with whoever wants to work with them. Most of the insemination procedures are relatively simply and do not require a recovery time after (I can’t speak to IVF, we didn’t go through that), so you’re not leaning on a partner for support. I will say that the two week wait after each procedure is emotionally agonizing, so it will be helpful to have someone to lean on. You will definitely need some kind of emotional and physical support for labor and the first two weeks of the child’s life.
Marybeth: I agree with Christina about the emotional impact and about having support when you are first home with a newborn. I do not know how single parents do it. I am amazed by them!
KaeLyn: Adoption can be harder as a single parent because part of the process is proving you will be a “good parent” to the birth parents looking to place their kids in “perfect homes.” There is still a lot of stigma out there, which sucks and is ridiculous. That said, it’s not impossible. If you’re ready, I’d say go and start exploring your options. Talk to an adoption agency. I agree with Christina that fertility centers will probably work with you no matter what. You should figure out if you have any coverage through your health insurance. It can be pretty costly without. But I doubt you’d have trouble finding a fertility clinic unwilling to work with you.
Are there lists of queer-friendly medical practitioners (gynos, primary care physicians, and pediatricians)?
Michelle: There is a great organization called GLMA (sounds like “glama” as in “glamorous”) which stands for Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. They have been advocating for equality in healthcare for LGBT individuals and healthcare professionals since 1981. On there website, www.glma.org there is a “Find a Provider” link.
KaeLyn: If there is a local LGBTQ organization near you, reach out and see if they have a community directory. A lot of it is word of mouth, so if you know folks who have kids, ask them who they go to!
Your Questions About Adoption
How have adoption laws changed for same-sex couples after Obergefell v. Hodges?
Jess: In New York, it really hasn’t changed anything because same-sex marriage was already legally performed and recognized, and I think in many other states things are still very much up in the air. In just the past few years, however, a major change in NY has been that same-sex parents can be listed on a birth certificate together at birth or at adoption. Previously, the parent with biological connection was listed at birth and the other parent had to go through “second parent adoption”. This was a full adoption process with a home study and court decisions, even if the parents were already living together and civilly united (or married) at the time of the child’s birth.
KaeLyn: Obergefell v. Hodges definitely sets the stage for adoption laws to open across the U.S. to same-sex couples. However, it isn’t an explicit change in law. I think it will go lawsuit by lawsuit and state by state, but eventually it should make it easier. This should be obvious, but just for clarification, I think this will eventually change for married same-sex couples. Unmarried couples may still have to go through second parent adoption. Wherever you live, you should talk to a lawyer if you are getting ready to adopt with your spouse and find out what the laws are and what your rights are in your state.
Is international adoption an easier option than domestic adoption? Why or why not?
KaeLyn: It is not necessarily easier or harder as a universal standard. Different countries have different laws and policies on adoption. Joint adoption by same-sex couples is legal in 21 countries and some additional territories. However, the countries that have the most adoptable children (Russia, South Korea, China, Ethiopia, Guatamala) all openly ban same-sex adoption. In the U.S., it is very possible to find a friendly adoption agency. Domestic adoption can be harder, in general, if you are looking for an infant or a white baby, specifically. There are plenty of adoptable kids in the U.S., but a lot of prospective adoptive parents look over kids of color, kids with disabilities, and older kids. Foster adoption is generally more affordable, but can come with a lot of challenges (as Jess outlines a couple questions down). So it’s not an issue of whether it’s easier or not, so much as what you want. And how easy that specific thing you want is compared to your other options.
Why is adoption so expensive? (I wanted to adopt but so far based on price range, I’m considering IVF.)
Jess: It’s kind of like private vs public anything (grade school, college, healthcare, etc.): paying more can mean more “choice.” Adoption through foster care has only a fraction of the monetary costs of private adoption. Our lawyer and filing fees were even covered by the state for our adoption.
Asher: What I’ve seen it attributed to is that there are many people are involved in the adoptions process (various lawyers, clerks, interpreters, secretaries, etc) who need to be paid for their services and the fact that filing legal documents costs money in and of itself. Personally, I’d like more government oversight on how much can be charged for adoption reasonably because even factoring in service provider fees and filing fees the cost of adoption seems excessive.
I’m an aroace, and I’ve always wanted to adopt, but I know I’d be doing it w/o a partner. Do i even have a chance?
Jess: At least in NY, single-parent adoption is the same as two-parent adoption, even through foster care. When we trained, there were many single-parent homes represented in our class and we know many single foster and adoptive parents now. Of course it’s going to present particular challenges but that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
Is it really easier to adopt through the foster system? Do I have to be a foster parent first to adopt through the foster system?
Jess: I don’t know that “easier” is a useful word here. Financially, this may be accurate because costs like travel, home study and certification, and legal fees are covered, but foster-to-adopt cases can be extremely emotionally taxing. Few children placed in foster care are instantly ready to adopt (even newborns), and the vast majority of children adopted through foster care spend years in care before becoming freed for adoption. Most states and counties work very hard to help bio families stay intact, and well they should. Our son was placed with us when he was discharged from the hospital at three days old and was not freed for adoption until just after his second birthday.
During those two years, there were many many parental visits, doctor appointments, and court appearances we had no voice during (in NY foster parents do not have any legal rights until a child is completely freed), and more than one time we thought he would leave us forever. In his case, the final adoption steps were uneventful and smooth, but this is also not always the case. For the past year and a half we have been fostering a teenager who was headed for adoption early on in the case, but just this past week the placement was disrupted (this is the nice way of saying it all fell apart). That is devastating and we will be grieving this for a long time, I imagine. So, yeah, easier is not the first word I’d use to describe foster to adopt situations.
Why did you decide to become a foster parent? Can you become a foster parent for LGBTQI kids, in particular?
Polly: We initially entered the foster care system to be able to provide homes from LGBTQI teens and never imagined that we would take anyone younger. For us, Monroe County foster care loves the idea of having homes that will take any teens and homes that will take LGBTQI teens are in short supply. We have fostered several LGBTQI youth and have enjoyed having them in our home (for the most part). However, teens come with a special set of challenges that many folks looking to adopt do not anticipate including bio families that sometimes do not like their children being in your home (no matter what the circumstances under which the children were removed). We often attend information sessions for prospective foster parents to encourage other families to take on LGBTQI teens. Currently, we are still open as foster parents because we would like to adopt another African American child so that our son has a sibling that resembles him.
What are your feelings on closed v. open adoption?
Jess: For us, this wasn’t really a choice since most adoptions through foster care are “open.” Although we have an open adoption for our son, his birth mother does not have freedom to contact him at her discretion. Because we adopted out of foster care, the terms of post-adoption contact were agreed upon in court with both parties agreeing in writing. However, since our son’s adoption was just finalized this past June, we are still early on in the whole “rest of your childhood” thing as far as contact goes. The potential benefits to the open arrangement (at this time) outweigh the negatives. Since ours is a transracial adoption, we hope that having some connection to his birth family will provide our Little Dude with cultural connection. We also hope that it might be a little easier for him in the future to understand why he was placed for adoption if he can have input from all sides of his life. To be honest, we don’t know that communication with his birth mother will stay regular throughout Little Dude’s life, but we will try hard to keep any connection we can.
KaeLyn: I feel super strongly about open adoption. As an adoptee, I wish I had more information about my biological parents and family. I wish I knew more about my health history, yes. But I also wish I knew more about where I came from and why I was given up. Or left for dead. Or whatever happened. It is very weird to have a whole part of your life, a really important part that non-adoptees never even think about, as a blank spot. Everything that happened to me before 17 months is completely blank. It’s a movie without a beginning, a story with no exposition. So you make up stories, origin stories. Or your parents do. Or you obsess over it. Or you bury it. I feel like I have a healthy relationship with my blank origin story, but I do wish I had something to fill that blank space. When people ask where I was born, I say South Korea, because it’s true and also because that is literally as specific as I can be.
It’s important to know there are different kinds of open adoption. You don’t have to assume that you’ll invite the birth mom over for Thanksgiving dinner if you choose open adoption. It doesn’t have to be that open. That said, many psychologists agree that open adoption is the healthiest choice for the adopted child. It can be more stressful for the adopted parents, for sure, for fear that their child won’t bond to them if the birth mom is in the picture. Or that the birth parents will try to regain custody. But I personally think anyone who adopts should be putting their kids first and thinking about what is best for their adopted children’s health and well-being before their own.
I have to say, my spouse felt differently about adoption and it was what ultimately made it so adoption was not even on the table. Neither of us felt we would change our minds and closed adoption was a deal-breaker for me.
Do you worry about adopting a child who is a different race? What kind of things should I think about?
Asher: I have so many feels about this. As a black person, it concerns me that most adoption agencies don’t require parents to take classes on race before adopting transracially. It concerns me that most white adoptive parents don’t seek to educate themselves on their own because they don’t think about the reality of parenting a child of color. It concerns me that white parents (I say white because it’s overwhelmingly white people who adopt transracially) may make few efforts to give their child a way to connect with their culture and those who do don’t often keep up with it long term.
If you’re white and you’re considering adopting transracially, you need to think about whether or not you live in an area where your child will feel like an outsider because of their race. You need to think about how your family will treat them and whether or not you’re willing to cut off contact with people who make disparaging remarks about your child or people of color. You need to be willing to educate yourself on how to care for your child’s hair if they have hair that is significantly different from yours or be willing to seek outside help in caring for their hair. You need to understand that while your child is in your presence they may get temporary shelter in your white privilege but when they are out in the world by themselves they will be facing the world as a person of color and will be treated as such.
You need to teach them how to deal with racism or at least give them access to others who can do such. You should think about your reasoning for wanting to adopt a child of a different race (are you trying to play white savior, are you seeing them as an exotic thing to be collected, are you open to the idea because it’s easier to adopt a child of color and not really considering the reality of raising a person of color in a racist world, etc). You should think about the fact that when parents try to raise their non-white child as if they were white, don’t talk to them about race, and don’t consistently provide them ways to access their culture, transracial adoptees can start to see themselves as being white. They may have a lot of trouble when the world doesn’t treat them like they’re white or when they realize that they’re not white and feel upset about being denied that connection to their heritage. So basically if you’re thinking about adopting a child of a different race you should think about how racism impacts people of color, how willing you are to put in the work required to raise a non-white child, and how best to support your child in connecting with their heritage and dealing with racism.
Jess: We most definitely thought long and hard about raising a black child before we adopted and issues of race and racism are at the front of our minds daily. Preparing our families for welcoming not just an adopted child into our world, but a black adopted child, was no easy task and is not truly over and may never be. We know that there are many white people and people of color who are absolutely against transracial adoption; we face the very loudest of them often, and we do understand why we are approached with strong opinions.
Neither my wife nor I grew up in particularly diverse settings (I had only two non-white classmates in high school and my wife had zero) so this has to be a very conscious effort for us. There are little things we do for our son like bring him to a black barber and make sure his toy and book selections represent him as much as they do us, and we consider our own education to be a lifetime process. We read (a lot) and participate in transracial adoption communities online. We recognize that we cannot adequately prepare our son for the world we live in alone so we truly make his cultural education and identity formation a community affair. We are lucky to live and work in a far more diverse environment than either of us were raised in and would never consider moving anywhere where this was not the case. Though he is just shy of three, we do discuss race (age appropriately of course) and make it a very present aspect of our family life.
KaeLyn: Growing up in a white family, it took me a long time to unlearn the internalized racism I picked up growing up. It wasn’t my parents’ fault. It is just what it’s like to grow up in a white family with white friends in a rural, white area and with white people everywhere on TV and in my Teen Bop magazine. It’s the world. I had a lot of curiosity about Asian culture when I was little and my parents got me books and found things for me to watch and experience. However, I didn’t really understand Korean culture as separate from Chinese and Japanese culture. Like it is in America, I learned about big “A” “Asian,” the white-washed version of what Asian culture is. Rice. Pandas. Peace signs. It wasn’t until I was much, much older that I really started identifying as Korean-American and exploring what that means to me.
A few years ago, I was on a trip with my parents and they were reading this book about Korean-American adoptees, essays by South Korean adoptees. My dad was like, “Was it like this for you?” and I read the book and I think he was surprised to know that it was, in a lot of ways. I never had serious mental health stuff because of internalized racism or feelings of being an outsider in all white and Asian cultures, but I empathized a lot with the essays in the book. My dad was really surprised and I think maybe a little sad that I’d felt that way growing up and still do sometimes. I don’t know if there’s anything he could have done to change it. It just is what it is.
I agree with Asher that it is really a travesty that parents aren’t given more education about transracial adoption. I think a lot of parents get it right, though, as much as they can. I’m not opposed to transracial adoption, not at all. I don’t think my parents failed me. I think it would be have been better, though, if both my parents and I had more info growing up. I think it would have been better if there were more resources for transracial adoptees and their adoptive parents.
What kind of relationship does your kid (adopted) have with their biological parents, if any?
Polly: Our son is young yet so he has no relationship currently with his biological parent. She is allowed one visit per year by our contact agreement and we will, of course, honor this agreement. However, since we live quite far apart geographically, and his birth mom is transient, it may be difficult for him to really develop a relationship with his birth parent.
KaeLyn: As an adoptee, I don’t have a relationship with my biological parent(s). I was abandoned, not surrendered, so I’d have to do some digging to find them. I used to imagine that it would be something I’d do. I fantasized about it when I was little. Unfortunately, with almost no information to go on, I think it would be too hard. I’ve come to an OK place with that. I don’t even necessarily want to have an ongoing relationship with my biological parent(s). I just would like to know who they are. (Oh, boi, I feel like I’m putting my adoptee shit all over this part. Hope it’s helpful and not annoying!)
Is it harmful for kids to not know their biological parents?
Polly: Based on everything that we have read and learned, yes, it is absolutely harmful for kids not to at least know some basic details about their biological parents. Many children, when denied facts about their origins, mythologize and aggrandize their birth families to a degree that proves harmful if the child ever obtains truthful information about his family of origin. We feel that it is best to reveal this information to children (if available) in an age-appropriate fashion so that being adopted and having a birth family becomes just another facet of their life-story.
KaeLyn: Accurate, Polly, very accurate. My cousin used to make me play a pretend game called, “Orphan,” in which we’d pretend to be living on the street with dogs as our only friends. I hated that game. I was in college when I realized that the story the adoption agency told my parents (that I was left with a note pinned to me that said my family loved me, but couldn’t care for me, etc.) was probably a lie. I realized because I met someone who had the exact same story, practically word for word. And who later found out they were abandoned in an industrial field in China. This kind of story, combined with the serious burn marks on my arms when I was little (I still have permanent scars.) makes a lot more sense than the note one. I looked into it and found that the standard story American parents are given is the “poor orphan with a note from a poor family.” It felt good to come closer to what probably really happened. It also hurt to contend with the reality that I was truly unwanted and was even possibly neglected and abused. I had to grieve the origin story I made up in my head, based on what my parents told me and what the adoption agency told them. I’m still glad to know. I think if you are able to tell your kids about their origin, you really should. Having that connection is huge.
How do you talk to kids about being adopted? What kind of questions do they have?
Jess: I am always stunned to learn that there really are parents out there who try to hide that their child is adopted: even from the child! I cannot imagine doing this. So far our son doesn’t ask questions since he is still very young, but we read books about different ways to make families all the time. We will always be open with him as he starts to ask more questions, tricky as it may be. He does understand (as well as he can) that he has a mommy and a momma, while some kids have a mommy or a daddy, a mommy and a daddy, or two daddies. Starting him with all of the possibilities means not having to change what he understands later on. So far it doesn’t seem to be a big deal for him.
Your Questions About Getting Knocked Up
Why do only a few states require insurance companies to cover “infertility” treatments for same-gender couples?
Christina: Because they’re jerks? Actually, more likely is because the insurer’s cheap. Fertility treatments are expensive and employers and insurance companies think of the bottom line first. Only 15 states require insurers to provide fertility benefits to straight couples either and only eight of those cover IVF. I believe that Maryland, my Maryland, is the only one to provide insurance coverage to same-sex married couples without any benefits, as of July. The state mandates what infertility issues insurance is required to cover and they are usually health based. If you don’t have a fertility issue (PCOS, endometriosis, etc…) but have been unable to conceive, insurance will cover infertility treatments after a year of unsuccessful attempts. So, in my case in DC, after a year of working with a clinic, they’d have kicked in funds.
This is an issue where, in my opinion, law hasn’t caught up to technology. Infertility treatments, especially IVF are a new, incredibly lucrative process. Insurers see that it’s expensive and don’t volunteer to step up. it hasn’t become a broader health reform issue, probably because of price and because fertility issues are often clouded in secrecy and shame.
KaeLyn: If you are lucky, you will find a doctor, as we did, who will preauthorize you for fertility coverage, usually under “unexplained infertility.” My insurance technically requires you to try for one year. However, my partner and I have different insurance through our respective workplaces and my preauth wasn’t flagged. I was surprised. I thought we’d have to pay for everything out of pocket. My insurance has been great so far and I’m so grateful. The issue is definitely that you have to be medically infertile in order to get coverage in states where same-sex couples aren’t explicitly mandated to be covered by state law. Our laws need to catch up to the times!
Are there organizations who provide financial assistance for queer women trying to get pregnant (costs of sperm, medical expenses, etc)? How much did it cost you?
Christina: Not that I am aware of. There are a few foundations that help with infertility costs, but they require a diagnosis from a physician. I’ve joked that when I win the lottery, I’m starting up a foundation to help queer couples with fertility and adoption costs. Some clinics offer discounts for those who do not have insurance coverage – ours did and had an easy application process. Our donor sperm and infertility procedures for 7 cycles cost us about $8,000.
Tips to save money:
- The good news is that all of your treatments and materials are tax deductible, the bad news is that it has to be 7-10% of your income to be deducted from your taxes.
- Max out your FSA if your work offers one. It can be used for donor materials and fertility treatments.
- Find a sperm bank close to home, if you can. Delivery fees can cost $150 per order. Downside – pick up / drop off hours for the tank are often during work hours.
- Choose ICI over IUI sperm if you can. A clinic will do a wash anyway and it’s considerably less for ICI.
- Ask your clinic for a discount. The worst they can do is say no.
If you used a sperm donor, did you pick one where they can be contacted after 18 years?
Christina: We did not. Because it was out of our price range (double the cost, I believe). We are active on the donor sibling registry as a way for our daughter to meet siblings with the same donor. I have lingering guilt about this because I would have liked for my daughter to know the man who fathered her, but on the other hand, if we’d used other materials, I wouldn’t have my daughter, I’d have a different baby.
Lucy: We did! We felt it was really important for that choice to be for our children to make. If they want to contact him they can and if they don’t that’s totally cool too.
KaeLyn: Yup. It was a must for us. Our donor can be contacted and it’ll be future kid’s choice to make. I’ve even thought about springing for the $40 pics of him so our future kid has that, too. If I conceive with this donor, I’ll probably get the pics.
Asher: I haven’t used a sperm donor yet but part of my criteria is that the donor be willing to be contacted after the child was 18. I want my child to be able to have the option if it’s something they want.
What are the costs and benefits of at-home insemination?
Christina: While we chose not to go this route, it would save you costs of working with a clinic (which for us was $200 per IUI). Cost should be just the cost of donor sperm if you’re going that route and a lot of places will send it to you ready to insert. The downside is that it’s usually delivered within a 7 day window of viability, so if you are off with your guesses, you may have wasted that purchase (which is not cheap). Moving to a clinic for the next level may be more difficult. If you are working with a known donor, you just have to work around their schedule, so that’s free except for a kit (and there’s always the turkey baster!). I would strongly, strongly, strongly encourage you to get legal paperwork drawn up to deter future custody issues.
Lucy: My wife was in med school at the time I got pregnant so she did the IUI at home (and was complimented by our OB about it). It’s not easy and I would not recommend it. I had one foot on a laundry basket, one foot on the nightstand, and was trying to hold a flashlight so she could see what she was doing. I would let the doctor do it. Also, as I said above, frozen sperm don’t swim well so if you’re using frozen sperm and just shooting them into your vagina you might as well just light money on fire.
Michelle: Yes at-home insemination can be FREE. I’ve given some lesbian patients of mine who have a known donor some cups and syringes (without the needle) to use. One can time ovulation by just looking for ovulation cervical mucus or doing basal body temperature charting. It starts costing money when you start using ovulation predictor kits. In NY state, frozen sperm has to be delivered to a physician’s office so we were not able to do the insemination at home. I do know how to do an intrauterine insemination. With the right equipment, it’s easy so I guess I could have had it delivered to my office and dragged the liquid nitrogen tank home (those things are heavy!) but I didn’t know how long to thaw the vial to yield the most number of mobile sperm. And each vial is expensive. $600 and up. And they charge an additional $100-150 for shipping.
Using your partner’s brother’s (or other family member’s) sperm: Would you do this? Have you done this? How did you ask them? How did it go?
Christina: We chose not to because my wife is an only child and I wanted to carry. If we had pursued it for her, it probably would have involved fedexing materials, since my brothers live many miles away.
Lucy: I love my wife and she loves me for a thousand reasons. One of these reasons is that we are who we are and not any of our siblings (who are all lovely people but neither of us wanted to have a baby with the other’s brother). Also we both wanted to carry a baby and we wanted our girls to share genes so having a brother donor would have made that impossible.
KaeLyn: I know some folks who have done this. Unfortunately, there are not here in this roundtable. It seems like it was the right choice for them, as they wanted their kid to have both of their family’s genetic material. That said, I’d say there’s some stigma around it and people may judge you for it if you are open about it. Also, there is the issue of whether or not to tell your kid, which is something you should think about before you go for it. Overall, though, people I know who’ve had their brother donate have been happy with the decision. And their brothers were happy to help out.
What are the reasons to use washed sperm versus unwashed sperm?
Christina: My understanding is that the washing basically concentrates everything to ensure you get a more effective batch of stuff in there and higher sperm motility. If you’re working with a fertility center, they may just do this as a matter of course. If that’s the case, try to purchase ICI sperm over IUI sperm. IUI sperm is already washed and more expensive, so if your clinic is going to wash anyway and ICI is available, save yourself a couple hundred bucks and get the unwashed.
Michelle: Unwashed sperm should not be used for intrauterine insemination. The prostaglandins and other chemicals in the semen can cause severe cramping and possibly bleeding. It can be used for intravaginal insemination but thawed frozen sperm do not move well (as Lucy said “they don’t swim for shit”) so your best chances of getting pregnant are with intrauterine insemination (IUI) of washed sperm. Our clinic washes their own sperm to wash out the bad stuff and concentrate the good as well as get a sperm count. So we purchased unwashed sperm which did save us a significant amount of money as Christina advised.
What do you think about genetic testing?
Christina: I had Counsyl and a bevy of bloodwork before we started trying to conceive, which basically told me that I didn’t have any genetic issues to worry about passing down to a kid. At 13 weeks, you get an ultrasound and they do some genetic tests for various syndromes. Not too long after that, they do a test about something or another with your alpha-fetal protein. Both of these provided us great peace of mind – after the 13 week test, our chances for Downs went from 1 in 200 to 1 in 6,000. We’re both naturally anxious people, so having something to point to that the baby was fine was helpful.
Lucy: I know it has advanced a lot since we had our babies (in 2008 and 2011) but the lucency test was standard for us at the time. That let us know our risks for Down’s was very low. Other than that we just did the tests they told us to do without much questioning.
Polly: Our adopted son’s mother is also adopted so we chose to do some genetic testing for him to tell us his ethnic origins (his birth mom had taken on the culture of her adoptive family and was unsure of her own ethnic makeup). However, $100 and a very combative cheek swab (in which our dog and cat might have participated) later we now know nothing more than that Little Dude is probably not white. Duh! Don’t bother with these kinds of genetic tests.
Michelle: I recommend screening for birth defects to all my pregnant patients. It’s actually mandatory for me to offer it but not mandatory for patient’s to do it. Most do. I recommend genetic testing when those tests come back abnormal. I also recommend genetic testing to my pregnant patients who will be 35 yrs of age or older at delivery (“Advanced Maternal Age”). Genetic testing is so easy now. You no longer need to perform an amniocentesis (needle through your belly) to obtain fetal cells. Now fetal DNA can be extracted from a vial of Mom’s blood. With 98-99% accuracy, they can tell you that your child does not have Down Syndrome or Trisomy 18. They can also tell you the sex. There are several companies that perform this test under their respective brand names. But the generic name for this is Cell-Free DNA testing.
How did you decide who was going to carry (if you and your partner both can)?
Christina: I was pretty anti-kids until my boss got pregnant when I was 28 and watching her belly grow made my hormones go BABY NOW, IN MY STOMACH. NOW. I WANT IT. So, I had pretty strong feelings about me being the one to carry. I also had an employment situation where the only way I would get any paid time off would be if I was the one delivering the child (they changed their policy to 6 weeks paid time off the instant I got knocked up WOOOO). My wife had gone through her baby crazy phase in her mid-20s, but had moved past it and also had a couple of genetic issues she was concerned about passing down. I think if it had gotten to the point where the fertility center wanted to move to IVF, we’d try getting her knocked up instead of me. She had thought maybe she’d have the next one (if there is a next one), but watching me go through pregnancy and labor has made her anti-carrying.
Lucy: We both carried and had pretty different pregnancies and deliveries (I delivered vaginally, she had a scheduled c-section). We both wanted to carry a baby and she was going to go first but the timing with school wasn’t working so we swapped and I went first. I am not sure I would have been so keen on it if I had watched her go through it first. But, I was an excellent non-birth parent because I knew all the stuff and could anticipate things she needed both during her pregnancy and after delivery.
Marybeth: We both planned to, but it did not work out for Michelle. So I carried both babies. I had fairly easy pregnancies and both were vaginal deliveries. I had a plan to try the birthing process without an epidural. Mason was tricky. Be open-minded with your “plans!” Anytime I tried to move, his heart rate would drop. Turns out the umbilical cord was wrapped pretty tight around his neck. So all of those nifty position changes I learned in birthing class weren’t possible when I could not move from my one position. In short order I asked for an epidural. It was heaven. Fast forward to Alisa, no time for an epidural. I hardly pushed for five minutes and she was here! I was happy to have experienced both!
I would be beyond thrilled to hear queer lady perspectives on egg freezing. Really anything at all about that.
Michelle: Ob/Gyn perspective: For years they could not generate a live baby from a frozen egg and therefore only recommended freezing embryos (eggs after they’ve been fertilized). In the past 5-10 yrs, advances in medical science and technology have made this a possibility. But please note, the take home baby rates are lower. Patients who take advantage of this are women who are about to undergo chemotherapy that may make them infertile. So they are referred to a reproductive endocrinologist for ovarian hyperstimulation and egg retrieval to harvest their eggs for freezing to use later after they are in remission from their cancer. Queer lady perspective: It would be really cool to have frozen some of my eggs and thaw them when they finally have the medical technology of fertilizing my egg with DNA extracted from Marybeth’s egg. Our hypothetical children would be both or ours genetically.
Did you find out the assigned sex of your child? Do you think it’s better to know or not?
Christina: We did! We mostly decided to find out boy or girl so we would know which sex of names to focus on, how to decorate and so we would get baby clothes that weren’t just yellow or green. We were very happy knowing, though I understand why the surprise would be fun as well. We did (and still do) work hard to make the distinction between sex and gender when discussing the baby.
KaeLyn: As of now, we’re planning not to. In a nutshell, we don’t want to put gender norms on our kid before they even get here and we feel like that not knowing their designated sex is best. For us and for our family and friends. It’s hard not to engage in a little implicit bias when you know. This will keep us all honest. We also aren’t tied strongly to gender-neutral colors or anything, though. Like, we feel blue or pink can work for any gender, as can yellow or plaid or dinosaur. Leaning towards dinosaur.
Lucy: We absolutely did. It helped us choose names and, frankly, we weren’t going to have the doctors and nurses and ultrasound techs knowing something we didn’t know.
Asher: I plan on finding out the sex but I don’t plan on announcing their sex when I find out or even at birth. I’ll announce the name at birth and people can draw whatever conjecture they want. If asked I’d probably say that they were assigned female/male but who knows what their gender is, but I won’t be going out of my way to announce it. For me it’s better to know so I can prepare myself for any unexpected feels I might have on discovering the assigned sex. For a long time I had a very strong preference for baby that was assigned female but then I started to learn about gender and sex and how they’re different and I’m pretty much over caring about the assigned sex of my baby. But it had been such a strong preference for such a long time that, in case there’s an unexpected reaction, I want to know ahead of time. I would feel terrible if I didn’t find out, gave birth, and had an unexpectedly bad reaction. The only thing I want to feel upon meeting my child is joy so I’m finding out in order to facilitate that.
Marybeth: We chose to be surprised with Mason, although I was pretty sure he was a boy through most of the pregnancy. We wanted to find out with Alisa, mostly for practical reasons of clothing items, etc.
One Last Thing…
Where do babies come from? Is the thing about the stork true?
Christina: At midnight on the day you ovulate, go outside to a cabbage field and stand naked under the full moon. Sing a chant to the moon and dance while smudging yourself with sage. Call to an animal (for us, a unicorn) and leave offerings for it in your yard or on your windowsill every night until you take a pregnancy test. Promise it the gift of your sweet, sweet baby’s flesh if your pregnancy is successful. The moonlight will enter your stomach and your child will grab it and find themselves tied to your womb. Be warned, you must fulfill your promise to the animal after your child’s birth or else as a teenager, your child will find themselves tasked to go on a quest to save the stork from the moon’s evil mistress. We offered the unicorn a lock of the baby’s hair and the umbilical stump and thus far, the unicorn has been appeased.
If you do not ovulate near a full moon and attempt this ritual, your baby will come from the darkest timeline.
Asher: Actually hummingbirds deposit tiny little baby seeds near the flowers they sip from and whichever humans stops to smell the flowers with the seeds under them fertilize the baby seeds with their presence. After about a month of growth the seeds grow into fruit which their human eats in order to get the baby inside them.
Lucy: On the first of September you go to platform nine and three-quarters at King’s Cross station and your baby arrives by owl.
Polly: You get a phone call from a social worker who says that they have a baby at _____ hospital that needs a foster placement immediately. They know nothing about the baby including gender, ethnicity or given name. And then you scramble to be the first family to call the matcher back. Then two hours later you have a baby with no name (who you give a cute nickname and then discover, five days later, that he has two or three possible names…none of which end up being his given name). But you have a baby!
Jess: In the 80’s, my sisters and I memorized (and proceeded for many years to perform) a sing-a-long story about the original Cabbage Patch Kids. There was a particularly catchy tune about Bunny Bees and cabbage fields. I am pretty sure it is correct.
KaeLyn: I came on a transatlantic flight. I made up many stories about the 17 months before I touched down in JFK airport, but I’m sure none of them are true. From what I understand from some lesbian pregnancy book I skimmed and some movies I’ve watched, you poop on the table and curse at your loved ones and then there’s a baby or something. Should be fine, probably.
Phew! Did you make it this far? Did you get your question answered? Have even more questions? Leave your thoughts, feelings, gifs, and questions in the comments. Thanks for submitting such great questions, ya’ll! We had a blast answering them!