I think in the grand scheme of lesbian baby making, I am quite well informed. I put this down to my job to some extent (although by the time I meet the parents to be the conception was anything from 8 - 42 weeks ago, so it's not THAT relevant), my keen interest in fertility and assisted reproduction, and many hours spent reading people's stories online. But I am aware that for many people, including other lesbian women and couples, how two women make a baby is still a bit of a mystery (it was for my wife until very recently - she knew we would have IVF but didn't really get the true extent of what that was). And for this reason I thought I would run through the options out there, some of the pros and cons to each, and why we have chosen what we have.
So without going too much into the biology (we are all very aware of the birds and the bees by now I hope), two women who wish to have a child need the involvement of a chap. A fellow. A male. A Dad? We don't think so. A donor, more accurately. This is either a known donor - someone who you have either had in mind and has agreed to donate their wiggleys, or have met for that purpose, online for example. Or an anonymous donor. We want to go down the anonymous route. As far as Sarah and I are concerned, our offspring will have two parents only, myself and her. We never ever want to look at someone and think 'you fathered my children'. We want them to have as much involvement in the child's life as I have in the person who received my donated blood last month. None.
If you have chosen the known donor route but don't actually know anyone who could be a potential donor, there are websites out there who specifically join together people who want sperm, and people who want to donate. Pride Angel is a good example of this. They currently have 1734 registered men on there who wish to donate their sperm to single women and lesbian couples. One little tip though - if their profile says natural donation only, stay away, as they want to make a baby with you in the 'traditional' way! You also need to consider how much involvement you want the donor to have, as some gay men / couples will be looking at this as an option for co-parenting a child, whereas some men / couples altruistically want to help others conceive. Alternatively, if you wish to use an anonymous donor, you need to go through a clinic. Some clinic's have their own sperm bank attached to them, and others suggest you import, from the European Sperm Bank, or Xytec, in the USA. You have to pay per vial of sperm, plus any shipping costs.
The next question to think about is at home or in a clinic? The only time home would be an option would be artificial insemination (AI) with known donor sperm. Generally, the woman who wishes to conceive tracks her ovulation using an ovulation tracker and then arranges to meet the donor to collect his 'sample' and places it in the right place at the right time. The success rates vary hugely on this method, but Pride Angel suggest they are 5-20% per cycle.
Going down the clinic route for AI, with a known or anonymous donor, is referred to as intra-uterine insemination (IUI). This means the clinic will arrange with you to perform the procedure (the sperm is put directly into the womb using a fine catheter) according to your natural reproductive system. This costs approximately £500 - £750 per cycle (not including the cost of donor sperm), and has a success rate of around 15 - 20% per cycle. In some areas of the country, same sex couples may be able to get six cycles of IUI on the NHS, but there is little funding and a lot of demand, so of the couples I have known personally, they have chosen to avoid the very long waiting list and pay for the treatment themselves.
Finally, there is the IVF option. In Vitro Fertilisation has a success rate of around 60-70% per cycle in a low risk healthy population (lesbian / single women who don't have any other fertility problems). However comes with that is the price tag, approximately £3500 - £4500 a cycle. This process involves the woman's body being stimulated with daily injections in order to produce a number of eggs, which are harvested under anaesthetic and mixed with donor sperm. Once fertilised, the egg(s) are replaced in to the woman's body and she awaits a pregnancy.
Sarah and I wish to go down the IVF route as we are complicating things even further by wanting to use her eggs, but myself carry them. This is often called partner-to-partner egg sharing, or Reciprocal IVF. We will synchronise our cycles with medication, and then Sarah's body will be stimulated to produce eggs, which will be collected, fertilised with anonymous donor sperm, and implanted in to me. This is the way we have wanted to conceive for a very long time, as we feel it gives us both an equal part in the physicality of making our baby. However this procedure is only now becoming more common in the world of lesbian baby making, is definitely more complicated, and we have to think about whether it's worth it. After all, our baby, regardless of biology, will be just that - Our baby.
We are just at the very beginning of our baby making journey, and our plans may change along the way. They already have, to some extent. We first decided we would go to a private clinic about an hour from our house, as they have excellent success rates and are highly recommended. But after much discussion felt we should consider going to a local NHS clinic. Although our treatment will be done privately, this can be done at an NHS hospital, which brings the advantage that all appointments would be free, and all routine blood tests and scans wouldn't need to be paid for. So back in March we went to the GP who referred us to our local hospital, the one I work at.
Our appointment has come through for the middle of May. First thing we didn't realise - how long all this will take! Had we have known there would be an 8 week wait just for an initial consultation, we probably would have gone to the GP about 6 months ago. But all things happen for a reason, there was a reason we went when we did. We also didn't factor in that there would be a 6 - 9 month wait for donor sperm. So even if we get on the list in May, we won't be looking to have treatment until the end of the year at the earliest. Because of this we have decided to explore the private clinic route too. We have sent off all of the initial medical forms to them and are currently waiting for an initial consultation with them. If the wait to start treatment is much less and the money isn't drastically different, it is likely that we will go back to our original idea and go with them.
Writing all of this has made me take a step back a bit and realise just how much we go through to make our babies. It will be worth it, there is no doubt in that, there is little else I want in the world right now than to bring a baby in to the world with the woman I love with everything I am, but I do wish we could just 'happen to make a baby'. In the words of Ellen Degeneres and Sharon Stone in my favourite ever lesbian movie If These Walls Could Talk 2, that we watched together about ten years ago…
"So we'll never know that...
what that would be like...
if just by our love,
if just by one night of our love...
that we accidentally
If we had that kind of luck, we could
say, "Look what we did" out of our love."
Yeah, that bugs me too.