In honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, Michelle Hester, LCSW-C from Shady Grove Fertility Center offers information about family building options for lesbian couples.
Many lesbian couples are using reproductive technology to become parents. Not having suffered the heartaches of infertility treatment, they generally come to the process hopeful and thankful that there is a way for them to achieve the dream of parenthood.
The social landscape for lesbian couples, particularly those in large urban areas, has changed significantly in recent years. Over half of Americans believe that gay/lesbians should be able to marry. However, there are still many legal barriers that are particularly frustrating when gay couples have a family in mind. For example, without a marriage license the non-biological parent has to adopt her child to have the legal status of parent.
Some couples start their fertility journey knowing who will carry the child. Other couples need to negotiate this based on age and medical history. Another subset of women may choose to have one partner carry the other partner’s egg. This has the obvious advantage of involving both partners and the disadvantage of making it both more complicated and more expensive.
The partner not biologically linked to the child – the other mother – has a challenging role that has no road map. Her inclusion in all parts of the decision-making is paramount for her to feel integral to the process. Couples report that they benefit from having well- articulated and flexible expectations about roles. The first year, though wonderful, can also be trying for the mother who did not give birth because the attention is focused on the baby and the birth mother, particularly if she is nursing. The mother who did not give birth to her child may feel jealous and sidelined by her partner and others who do not know how to construe her role. With good communication and the passage of time, couples work out their unique way of relating within the new family triad.
Many lesbian couples begin the path to parenthood with the idea of using a known sperm donor. If the relationship with the donor is solid and predictable, this can have benefits for all. However, people often worry that one or more of the parties will alter their expectations. Because of this, anonymous sperm banks are often a simpler solution.
Couples often report that accessing a sperm bank for the first time is a surreal experience. While you cannot custom-order your child, credible sperm banks keep detailed histories of their donors. Before even visiting a sperm bank, identify what is most important to you. Some examples include:
- Physical traits
- Health and medical history
- Personal interests and values
Prospective parents will also want to consider whether they want to choose a donor who has consented to be contacted if the child is interested after age 18. Trying to think back to how it feels to be a teenager will help in making that decision. Most children are inquisitive by nature, and many will be interested to know how the person who is half of their genetic make-up was chosen. A good exercise is to write down how that choice was made, what characteristics were important and your overall feeling when viewing the donor profile. It is one way of many ways to prepare for the questions that a child may have about his or her conception and genetic heritage.
In the end, the most important variable in choosing the donor may be whether the prospective parents like the person. A genuinely positive opinion about the donor gets communicated to children in subtle ways.
The two-mother family can celebrate the strengths that flow from having a child so intentionally while acknowledging that the child will have unique challenges growing up. Finally the parents will want to help their child place their kind of family squarely in the expanding spectrum of modern American families.
Michelle Hester, LCSW-C has thirty years of experience working with couples, individuals, and groups in a variety of settings. She has specialized in adoption services, both before and after placement, with interest in infertility, adoption, and early adjustment issues for new parents. Mrs. Hester is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Maryland and the District of Columbia. She sees patients in the DC and Maryland offices of Shady Grove Fertility Center.