This story was originally published on the Maven Made Journal. Maven Made is a proudly queer-owned organic skincare and wellness company out of Richmond, VA. You can view their store and order online here.
Well, it’s official, I am pregnant.
It still feels unreal, but when I feel Gummi (that’s they’re nickname, I mean we had to give them one!) kick, it sinks in that this is real. It’s happening. We did it.
The long and winding road for queer people to get to this phase is rarely smooth, straightforward, or simple. This goes the same for couples facing fertility issues and single people trying to conceive. In a way, we’re all in the same ocean, all sailing on different boats.
But in reality, this winding road never ends. From ignorant questions like, “but who’s the father?” and “who’s the mom and who’s the dad in the relationship?”, thoughtless turkey baster jokes (which I’m guilty of in the past) to a lack of representation in media or the general cisgender heteronormative societal standards we’re constantly up against. Luckily, we have pretty rad family, friends, and support systems, so these things haven’t been problematic, but when it comes to the outside world, beyond our safe spaces and bubble, its always unknown territory.
One thing this journey has taught me is there is a huge void in resources, support, and visibility when in comes to queer family planning, fertility, conception, pregnancy and parenting. I’m an open book when it feels needed and helpful, and especially now when it comes to navigating this wild, confusing, sometimes defeating, and joyful journey. I always believe that transparency and sharing stories have the potential to lead to change, normalization, and better representation. So here’s my part in that.
Because I was searching for these resources, and now I’ve experienced them, I can share a little about our conception road and how we did it. Please note, this is what worked for us, every situation will be different based on your body, what you have access to, and what privileges you have (financial, time, support, transportation, etc).
HOW DID WE CHOOSE WHO CARRIED?
For us: This one was easy for us, my wife has no desire to be pregnant, and I’ve always wanted to be pregnant.
For others: This might not be as simple as our situation, sometimes both partners want to carry a child, and sometimes none want to or can. Oftentimes the older partner will try to carry first to experience the pregnancy, fertility testing may take place to see which partner is more medically “ideal” to carry, or a surrogate/adoption becomes an option.
HOW DID WE FIND SPERM?
For us: For same-sex or trans couples (and single folx) with a uterus, this is the most common logistical part and rightfully so! This was also the hardest, defeating, and longest part of our journey. We both strongly felt going with a known donor (friend) was the best choice for us, versus using unknown sperm from a sperm/cryobank donor. This decision was rooted in multiple reasons, including wanting to verify the character and ethics of the person helping us create our family, and with access to fresh sperm, the cost would (hopefully) be less expensive than getting it from a cryobank. Lastly, we wanted our child to have a open connection with our “gift giver”. Like many families, ours both had enough secrets, we wanted to end that narrative and start our own family with full transparency and honesty. And the donor? It’s our very good friend who will take the role as an uncle figure in our child’s life.
For others: Every couple or person will feel different about this, and all those feelings and direction you choose to take are 100% valid. There are two paths to take if you or your partner (both having uteruses) wants to carry: unknown donor or known donor. Cryobanks (Fairfax Cryobank is top notch here on the east coast) even offer some known donor options (usually with no contact until the child turns 18), so it really depends on what you prefer. If you go down the known donor route like we did with a friend or family, I cannot stress enough how important it is to get a Known Donor Agreement, more on that below.
WHAT ABOUT THE LEGAL STUFF?
For us: Since we chose to use sperm from a friend, we needed to secure a Known Donor Agreement before we started trying to conceive. This legal document (find an example agreement here) essential acts as a conscious agreement between the intended parents and the individual who is donating their genetic material (sperm) for the conception. In a nutshell, this pricey (but needed) document ensures all parties are on the same page regarding access, relationships, roles, and relinquishing parental rights for the donor. It merely helps protect all parties from any future legal mishaps. The document can be edited and customized to fit your situation and agreed desires.
The logistics and cost: My wife and I needed to hire a lawyer (we went with Richmond-based Sherry Fox of Thompson McMullin), and our friend (donor) needed to hire a lawyer as well (which we paid for, we chose Anna Ernest of VA Beach-based Ernest Law Group). In total, the cost came to $1,750.
For others: If you choose the Cryobank route, a Known Donor Agreement is unnecessary since the registered donor has already relinquished their parental rights and contact (depending on the type of donor profile) upon donating their sperm the facility.
Please note: The legal process doesn’t end with conception. No matter what route you take (cryobank or known donor), the non-gestating parent (in our case, my wife) will need to obtain a Second Parent Adoption once the child is born. Yes, that’s right; my legal wife will need to “adopt” our child after they are born to secure full parentage rights. Second Parent Adoption requirements can vary depending on the state and jurisdiction you reside in, and some states require a home visit from social services. Just to give you some figures, in Virginia, we will be using Sherry again, and it will cost us around $1,200, that’s not including potential court fees (and home visit costs, if you’re in a state that requires it).
Bananas right? This is why the Supreme Court picks and elections are so crucial for LGBTQ+ folx. Finding out the whole 2015 passing “Marriage equality” really does not exist is eyeopening. VOTE.
HOW DID IT WORK?
For us: Call it whatever you want – conceiving, insemination, or baby-making – our plans changed drastically due to COVID-19.
Our dream was to inseminate in the comfort of our home, but after talking it through a little more, we decided to move forward with the more medicalized IUI (intrauterine insemination) with Dr. Banks at VCU Reproductive Medicine and Endocrinology. In our initial appointment, we quickly learned the leap into the action of insemination would take time as I was pushed towards lots of testing (genetic screening, blood tests, hormone screening, ultrasounds, and a pretty invasive Hysterosalpingography procedure) before getting to the final IUI step. I guess it made medical sense to make sure my “advanced maternal age” parts were in peak conception condition, but it almost felt like we were immediately placed in an infertility box where my body was already being scrutinized, the costs were building, and there were a few moments where there was a complete lack of consent and understanding.
Then COVID happened and it shifted everything. Right when I had scheduled appointments for testing, our clinic shut down temporarily. Our “dream plan” popped into my head, so I brought it up to my wife with the conversation introduction, “just give it some thought, but what if we tried this on own own…”. Luckily, our thoughts were very much in alignment, and we decided to give home insemination a few tries to see what happened. If it worked, we’d bypass at least $1,500 in medical costs (for one round of IUI), costly testing, and being in a medical environment during the peak of a pandemic. If it didn’t work, we’d keep moving forward in the direction we were going in and would have to wait until the clinic opened again.
We purchased a pack of Mosie syringes to inseminate at home during my two peak ovulation days, and we settled on May being our first “try” month. I had been tracking my cycles for an entire year (taping these inexpensive test strips in a journal), so we were clear when I was ovulating. We even doubled up with a pack of Clear Blue Digital tests (our midwife recommends the “Digital”, not the “Digital Advanced”) just to be sure, especially since our friend (donor) would be on-call to do his thing so we could pick it up.
On May 21st both tests confirmed I was ovulating, so we gave our friends the heads up and picked up the goods outside of his home, and yes, it kind of looked like a drug deal – brief and silent. We sped home, put our dog in the backyard, propped my hips up on a couple of pillows, and my wife made it happen. I remained propped up for an hour while talking with my wife about what takeout we should order and recapping last weeks Real Housewives of New York nonsense. The next evening, a New Moon in Gemini, we did it all over again (since I was still in my ovulation window), and that night our baby was conceived.
For others: Conception looks different for every BODY, and our sitatuation was rare (in fact, it’s about a 5% first time success rate for someone my age) and should not be a comparison for others. Conception options include ICI (intracervial insemination, exactly what our home insemination is classified as), IUI (intrauterine insemination, where sperm is inserted directly into the uterus using a catheter), IVF (In-vitro fertilization, where fertilization occurs outside of the body with harevested egg and sperm and then the best fertilized eggs are inserted into the uterus using a catheter). You can also create your family using a surrogate or through adoption.
WHAT ABOUT INSURANCE?
Insurance coverage is sparse and often non-existent for queer folx trying to conceive. Insurance covered a bit of my testing (bloodwork and genetic testing) at our fertility clinic but would not cover our IUI’s until we had a certain amount of unsuccessful attempts, and by that time, we’d be financially drained. I encourage you to talk to your insurance provider to see what they do and don’t cover, so you’re aware of your coverage and benefits.
Aligning with other queer people on this conception and pregnancy journey has provided me with monumental support and empowerment. I appreciate all the love and encouragement from my straight friends, but they aren’t equipped with the experiences, challenges, or navigated the conversations we face. QUEER COMMUNITY IS VITAL.
One particular space that has been the safest, comforting, and validating forms of support has been through this virtual group (we Zoom every Friday) created byLove Over Fear Wellness and Birth. This space exists for LGBTQIA2+ folx who are trying to conceive, who are pregnant, and who are parents.
JB of Love Over Fear Wellness and Birth is also the creator of “Queer + Pregnant: A Pregnancy Journal”, which is needed in the sea of feminine and heteronormative pregnancy journals. I highly recommend it, no matter where you are in your planning, fertility, conception, pregnancy, or parenting journey.
Seattle-based MAIA Midwifery offers a vartiety of online classes and support groups for LGBTQIA2+ folx including IVF, insemination and parenting support groups to childbirth classes and virtual fertility visits.
Choosing to work and support educators, midwives, and a doula who very queer-friendly has been so very important to us. I always think how can queer pregnancy become normalized without supporting and paying for services from queer folx? So we’re putting that into action. Our care provider is the super inclusive and trauma-informed River City Midwifery. We are going to sign up for (virtual) birthing classes through Kristin Kali at MAIA Midwifery, and our doula will be Christina Evans of Blooming Birth.
For all you Reddit enthusiasts, there’s also a Queerception subreddit group that is an excellent resource for community and connection.
Some other supportive spaces and birth workers (most provide virtual groups/workshops):
LGBTQ Birth (birth education and support groups)
Trans Fertility Co. (training, education, and resources for trans fertility)
Family Equality (support, advocacy, resources, and resources)
Woven Bodies (digital practice supporting queer folks + allies from family planning through parenthood)
Moss The Doula (Baltimore-based trans & queer-centered full-spectrum doula and childbirth educator)
Love Over Fear Wellness and Birth (Austin-based transmasc non-binary full-spectrum doula and educator)
Queer Birthworker (full-spectrum birth worker and body and gender-affirming facilitator)
The Educated Birth (resources/materials for reproductive health to prepare parents for well-informed, empowering birth and more)
Quinn Law Center (Richmond-based law group specializing in LGBTQ+ family law and resources)