Pregnancy Options for Lesbians

Pregnant woman holding stomach
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There are many options available for lesbians who want to get pregnant and have children. Dr. Geoffrey Sher from Sher Institutes for Reproductive Medicine is one of the premier experts in fertility in the United States. He helps lesbian couples, who wish to get pregnant and have children, understand the choices available to them. Dr. Sher's clinics have been treating same-sex and opposite-sex couples for more than 20 years. “We’ve had literally hundreds of babies born to lesbians and gay men,” he says.

Medical Options for Lesbians Wanting Kids

There are three main ways lesbians can get pregnant: through donor insemination, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), or Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). These options have pros and cons depending on your current medical conditions, costs involved, age, and more. For instance, someone who is older will have a smaller percentage of eggs available, so IVF may be a more viable option. With IVF, parents can also select gender.

Additionally, someone with blocked tubes or endometriosis, for example, may fail at insemination and could have a successful pregnancy with IVF. In fact, people who have failed insemination after more than three tries often try IVF. Regardless, a doctor can discuss which options might be best for your situation:

  • Donor insemination is a procedure that uses a syringe to place semen into the vagina to get a woman pregnant. There are fertility specialists who can help you decide on the best process for pursuing donor insemination (which can occur with a known or anonymous donor).
    Dr. Sher warns that when you have a known donor, there is a concern that they might later interfere with the lives of the couple or might try to gain some sort of legal recognition of parentage. “It can turn out well in the end, but very often there’s a problem,” he says. Typically, a contract or agreement is first set up to establish legality and avoid parental rights issues down the line.
    Dr. Sher also cautions couples who want to use fresh sperm that the recommended guidelines from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine and the FDA are to quarantine the sperm for six months and have the donor tested for certain viral diseases, including HIV. He says that the process of freezing the sperm doesn’t harm it if it’s good quality sperm.
  • In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) involves the use of fertility drugs to propagate the growth of eggs in one's ovaries. At exactly the right time, the eggs are extracted. Then, the eggs are processed in a lab, and the ones deemed to be mature are fertilized in a petri dish by adding sperm. The embryo is then painlessly injected into the uterus.
  • Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) involves the injection of sperm into the uterus by means of a catheter directed through the cervix.

Reasons Lesbians Use IVF

In a lesbian relationship, one woman can provide the eggs so that her partner can carry the baby, allowing them to both participate in the experience. This process is known as Reciprocal IVF, where a woman gets her eggs harvested and fertilized by an anonymous or known sperm donor, and then has the embryo placed into the hormonally prepared uterus of the other partner. Although the baby will not share genetic material with both mothers, egg sharing is a way for both women to participate in the pregnancy. Ultimately, women can use artificial insemination, IVF using their own eggs and uterus, or IVF with their partner's eggs and uterus.

What Lesbian Couples Should Seek in a Clinic

Couples should investigate the reputation of the clinic and how good they are at what they do. However, people should not always trust statistics because those are often self-reported and may or may not be accurate. See if the clinic has a high number of gay couples, or if other lesbians in your community can refer a specific place.

Dr. Sher says that,

“The first [thing] they need to know is that they’re welcome. They need to visit the clinic and talk to the doctor. It shouldn’t cost them anything to visit the clinic to determine what the attitude is of the staff. How do they view the situation? They’ll quickly discover if this is embraced or just tolerated. If it’s just tolerated, they’re in the wrong place.”

Egg Donation

The best egg donor agencies work with people who intend to be parents to a healthy child. This means that becoming a good donor match requires you to be healthy. Smokers, for one, are not accepted as egg donors because the use of tobacco products has shown to damage the reproductive system. Other factors, like being of prime childbearing age and having good physical and mental health, are also looked for. Personality traits also make a difference. Being generous with your eggs does not go without risk, so wanting to help other people is a must.

Saving Your Eggs for Later

Lesbians who may want to have children in the future, but are not ready to have kids now, can have their eggs extracted for later use. “We’re seeing more and more of that,” Dr. Sher says. This option is helpful for women who do not know who they want the sperm donor to be, or for women who know they want to have children in the future but are concerned about aging.

Pregnancy Costs

For lesbians wanting to have children, the cost is an obvious issue. According to the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago, a 2015 IVF study showed that the average price of in vitro fertilization in the U.S. costs $11–12k.

Dr. Sher’s clinics offer a risk-sharing plan for couples opting for a program called micro IVF. For women under 35, about 90 percent will get pregnant after three tries of micro IVF. Every clinic, of course, will have their own pricing structures, financing options, and arrangements with insurance companies.

He goes on to mention,

“What the couple must look at is 'What does it cost to have a baby?' Not just 'What does it cost to have a procedure?' The cost isn’t just financial, there’s an emotional cost too.”