Yet becoming a parent when you are involved in a same-sex relationship can be a little more challenging than it is for opposite-sex couples (fertility issues aside). Whether this involves looking for a sperm donor, undergoing IVF, or another fertility treatment, the process can sometimes be long and tiring. Here is a guide on what you should know about getting pregnant when you are a lesbian and the different options available to you.
Getting pregnant with donor insemination
One of the most popular ways for lesbians to start a family is conceiving via sperm donation. Today, there are many ways to find a suitable donor. One of them is to look for a donor in a licensed fertility clinic or a sperm bank where donors are thoroughly screened. It’s important to know that, since 2005, children born via sperm donation are entitled to know the identity of their donor once they reach the age of 18.Another option is to look for a private donor online, whether on Facebook, Craigslist, Reddit or a specialised website such as CoParents.co.uk. If you opt for this alternative, you have the choice between performing the insemination at home after having collected the sample or asking the sperm donor to drop his donation off at a clinic and have the insemination procedure performed by medical staff.
Finally, you could also find someone amongst your acquaintances who is willing to donate their sperm. This might be a friend, the brother of a friend, a colleague, etc. This solution suits those who wish their child to know who their biological father is, while also allowing them the opportunity to contact and even meet up if they want to.
Whether you’ve found your private donor on the internet or within your social circle, it’s best to seek legal advice before committing to anything (or at least to get an agreement down on paper). Make sure that you and your donor agree on the conditions regarding conception, level of contact with the child, and custody.
Who will be considered the legal parent?
Since 6 April 2009, lesbian mums who are in a civil partnership or married at the time of conception are both considered the legal parents, whether conception takes place at home, in a licensed clinic, via IVF or artificial insemination. The non-birth mother has the same rights as the birth mother and they are both named on their child’s birth certificate.
If you are not married or in a civil partnership and you went through donor insemination in a UK fertility clinic after 6 April 2009, you will also both be legally-recognized as your child’s parent, meaning that both of you are legally entitled to make decisions regarding your child’s upbringing. Make certain that you both complete and sign all of the required HFEA forms so that you are both nominated as parents of your child.
It’s important to note that if you’re not married or are non-civil partners and you conceive via donor insemination at home, only the woman who gives birth will be considered the legal mother of the child. Therefore, the non-birth mother will have to adopt the child in order to obtain parental rights.
Having a child with a co-parent?
Another way to achieve motherhood is co-parenting. Contrary to having a child with a sperm donor, the aspiring mother(s) (whether single or in a relationship) teams up with a male single or a couple (same-sex or opposite-sex) to conceive and raise the child together. They are not involved in a romantic relationship and in most cases, don’t live together.
Having a child via sexual intercourse is usually off the table, and the co-parents usually prefer to perform artificial insemination (at-home insemination or IUI) or in vitro fertilisation to conceive. The man (or one of the male partners if a gay couple is involved) donates his sperm to a fertility clinic, or directly to the woman, for home insemination.
As they are having a child with another couple or single person, the lesbian mothers won’t have sole custody of the child. It’s recommended to work out a co-parenting agreement before the conception of the child to make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding the conception method, custody, any expenses related to conception, pregnancy and the upbringing of the child. This document also serves to have the different parties’ intentions and wishes written on paper. A good idea is to seek legal advice to ensure that everything is in order and everyone’s rights are respected.
What are the methods of conception available to lesbians?
There are several ways to become pregnant through sperm donation or with a co-parent. Once they’ve found their donor, the couple or single woman involved, can either perform an at-home insemination, intracervical insemination, intrauterine insemination (IUI) or IVF.
If the insemination is performed at home, the recipient will first need to obtain the semen, either by collecting it directly at their own residence, at the donor’s place, in a hotel room or at a fertility clinic. Once the sample has been obtained, the recipient can inject the fresh semen into her vagina using a needleless syringe or cervical cap.
As for IUI or intrauterine insemination, which is performed by medical staff in a clinic, washed sperm is placed into the uterus via a catheter and speculum.
The last option to conceive via sperm donation is in vitro fertilisation. With this fertility treatment, the recipient’s eggs are retrieved, to be fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The resultant embryos are then transferred into the woman’s uterus.
What is reciprocal IVF and how does this work?
Reciprocal IVF has become more and more popular over the past few years. The reason for this success is simple: unlike with standard IVF or artificial insemination, both mothers can be physically involved in the conception of their child. The method involves one partner providing her eggs (which are then fertilised with donor sperm), while the other carries the baby to term and gives birth.
Although the process allows both partners to be involved, only the woman providing her eggs will be genetically related to the child.Reciprocal IVF works almost exactly the same as standard IVF. To perform reciprocal IVF, the couple first needs to select a sperm donor. Once they’ve found the perfect match, the two women have to synchronize their menstrual cycles by taking birth control pills.
The partner who is providing the eggs must undergo a series of medical tests to ensure that her eggs are in good health. She is then given fertility drugs to stimulate her ovaries into producing multiple eggs for one cycle. As for the partner who is going to carry the baby, she must also take medications (oestrogen and progesterone) to prepare her uterine lining (endometrium) for embryo implantation.
Once the follicles are mature and the cycles synchronised (this usually takes around 6 to 9 weeks), the eggs of the non-birth mother are retrieved via ultrasound guidance. The extracted eggs are then fertilised with donor sperm in a laboratory. After 3 to 6 days, the embryos are transplanted into the other partner’s womb. Two weeks later, the woman bearing the pregnancy can finally perform a pregnancy test to find out whether IVF has been successful.