So, a little while ago I opened up my blog to an ‘Ask Me Anything’ on the ins and outs of lesbian parenting… and finally I’m going to write it (newborn life, eh). Through the years, many people have asked us questions (apologetically) about our chosen route to parenting. Since Eli has been born, a few typical sperm-related questions have resurfaced, and it made me realise how little people know about the topic.
I don’t actually expect many people to know much about the ins and outs of lesbians becoming parents, unless you are a lesbian becoming a parent – but I think its a worthy topic to discuss. Primarily to help break down confusion or rumour, and also to ensure others have the correct language or understanding.. so I thought I would give it a go…!
DISCLAIMER TIME, because we all love disclaimers! I can only speak of my experience and our route to parenting. I will signpost and use factual information where possible (and hopefully not make mistakes), but I just want people to appreciate that there are actually many routes to parenting, lesbian or not, so this is hardly a one size fits all perspective!
A little quick fire background on what our perspective is for anyone new to our blog. We are from the UK and had our Civil Partnership in 2011. In 2012, we attended the Alternative Parenting Show to learn more about parenting options, and did three cycles of IUI (articifical insemination) at the London Women’s Clinic in 2013. We converted our Civil Partnership to Marriage in 2014, upon the law change. We did our first cycle of IVF in 2014, and again in 2015. in 2015, we fell pregnant with Leo who was stillborn at 37 weeks. Five months later, we used one of the embryos from Leo’s cycle in a medicated Frozen Embryo Replacement cycle, fell pregnant, and miscarried at 6 weeks. A few months after this, we used our last frozen embryo in a non-medicated Frozen Embryo Replacement cycle, fell pregnant, and eight anxious months later, Eli was born. Sorry… I said that would be quick!
Do we have insurance cover for IVF in the UK?
IVF being funded on the NHS for same-sex couples is a tricky subject to cover. Each geographical area in the NHS dictates its own funding for various health treatments, and as such there is a ‘post code lottery’ for whether same-sex couples would get funding on the NHS, and what criteria they would have to meet, and what the funding would cover. Its important to note also, that straight couples equally face a lot of post code lottery and eligibility struggles for NHS funding.
For us, we would only have one cycle of IVF (approx £6-7k) funded on the NHS after 6 failed cycles of IUI (approx £1,500 each). We only did 3 cycles of IUI, and then went on to do IVF and Frozen treatment. The IVF and frozen treatments don’t count in our eligibility, so we wouldn’t have been considered for funding (unless we appealed) prior to Eli’s birth.
All of our treatment has been privately paid for, totalling over £20,000. I don’t talk about this to be crass, but its the reality of what many couples – gay or straight – do in order to fund treatment. There is no known number of cycles a couple will need to have a live birth. For us the cost quickly went from the first (small in comparison) cost of £1,500, to a sizeable house deposit in the space of 4 years.
Did we use the same donor for both Leo and Eli? Would we use the same for another child?
We did. Eli actually originated from Leo’s IVF cycle. On that cycle, we got three embryos, two of which were frozen. Leo, Robin, and Eli. In the future, if we were to conceive again, we are able to use the same donor as we already have a sibling. The HFEA regulates the number of families a donor can be linked to – more information on donors is here.
A side note on sperm. A donor is just that, a donor. He is not the ‘father’ – and I’d encourage against referring to them as such, unless the family prefer that. The term father for someone who is absent can resonate feelings of loss or abandonment, as well as parenthood. Yet a donor has not done either, nor is he a parent – he has selflessly helped to create life. Which is something we are obviously very grateful for. There’s a difference.
Did we encounter any prejudice or homophobia whilst going through fertility treatment?
I’m really pleased to say that we haven’t experienced any prejudice. All the professionals that we have encountered in all aspects of our journey have been fully accommodating and had no issues with our sexuality. The only ‘road block’ would be that sperm donors can stipulate that they do no wish for their sperm to be used by a homosexual couple for their own personal reasons.
There was however, that one time when a midwife offered my wife ‘The Dad Chair’ at an appointment, and took me explaining twice that “She’s my Wife actually” for her to understand her mistake…
How does the Birth Certificate work? Does one of us have to be listed as Father?
To answer this one, I’ll take a step back and touch on how Legal Parenthood works just to give a bit of context. Much of the legal rights for the non-birth mother are dictated by marital or civil partnership status, and then also influenced in part by the route to conception.
The current law came into force in the UK on 6 April 2009. When a child is conceived after this date, through a UK licensed fertility clinic via donor insemination, the birth mother is legally a parent irrespective of whether she is the biological mother or not. A second parent (in our case a non-birth mother) will also be legally the parent, and can be listed on the birth certificate, if they are married or in a civil partnership with the birth mother at the time of conception. This is our situation.
However, for others, if using a UK licensed fertility clinic but not married or in a civil partnership, a birth mother can sign a form to name her partner as the second legal parent, and they therefore can be named on the birth certificate.
If a child is conceived outside of a UK licensed fertility clinic, and the birth mother is not married or in a civil partnership at the time, and if using donor sperm – under UK law, the second parent will legally be the donor father. That person will then have parental responsibility if listed on the birth certificate. A partner of the birth mother can become the legal second parent via adoption or by applying for parental responsibility. The same applies if conceived through sexual intercourse.
It is the legality of legal parenthood, that for us, meant we would only ever use a UK licensed fertility clinic to conceive a child as for us, that gave us the legal and medical security that was important for us as a family.
So, back to the birth certificate and how it is listed – I, as birth mother, am listed as ‘mother’ and my wife as ‘parent’. This change in the law was a tad controversial, with fears regarding the removal of fathers. A quick Google showing some news articles shows the debate at time – I wonder if the arguments have changed, and if anyone (other than the lesbians, and their children who have benefited) have noticed an ounce of difference?
How does Maternity / Paternity Leave work?
There is no difference to the maternity or paternity leave and pay entitlement just because we are lesbians, in any way. I am entitled, as birth mother, to 52 weeks leave and 39 weeks pay (based on statutory guidelines), and my wife, is entitled to paternity leave for 2 weeks. So the same as if in a straight relationship.
We are also entitled to Shared Parental Leave, which is a scheme that came in to law in 2015 in the UK that not many people understand. But for us, it means that my wife has ‘shared’ some of my leave and pay, meaning that she is off work for approximately five months, and we are enjoying that time off together. Everyone can schedule it differently, but for us, this is the perfect combination of being able to enjoy our time and have a decent ‘break’ especially after the loss of Leo, grief and the stress of pregnancy after loss.
That said, so far, we have bought far more teas and coffees out than is affordable…
What do we call each other?
This fascinates a lot of people.. Mummy, Mum, Mama, Mother.. who is who. Right now, just to really confuse the situation we have just causally gone with calling each other Mummy, in that passive aggressive way of going “Maybe Mummy would change your nappy Eli?”
We know this is massively confusing but ultimately, we are pretty casual about it, and will see what happens as Eli grows older and starts to speak.
How do we feel when people ask things like “Who is the Mum, Who is the Dad?”
In all honesty, I don’t recall anyone saying things like this to us – although people do place us in automatic gender roles, some of which is valid, and some of which is just laziness. We are all different in the roles we play in the family, irrespective of our gender.
…and how to explain it to Children?
I guess, in terms of children, I would just encourage open and honest answers in explaining that everyone is different and often ‘mums’ do ‘dad’ things, and ‘dads’ do ‘mum’ things – I guess this really boils down to more our gender equality and what we teach children about those roles. With that can come the conversations that gay people are just as varied as straight people, and will look and act in response to their own individuality and not any set ‘role’. I could go really deep on this one… maybe for another day!
In respects to just general homosexuality and discussing it with children, I would disagree that anyone is ‘too young’ to learn about it. The biggest way to break a taboo is to never let it become one in the first place. Talking openly and honestly, using the correct terminology, and correcting any misunderstanding or inappropriate language – with explanation – would be my personal preference.
I know there are some good books out there – although I can’t recommend any sadly. I guess I should start doing my research? If anyone does know of any good books to explain alternative parenting or donor conception, please feel free to comment and share!
What’s the best part of pregnancy?
Movements. Although, I’d say for both Leo and Eli’s pregnancy this could be the best and the worst part of pregnancy. They reassure you but cause great anxiety in equal measure. But it is a pretty unique, surreal and unexplainable feeling and if you think too hard about what they symbolise, it blows my mind a little bit.
Third breakfasts are also a bonus.
Another Baby? If so, who will carry?
I honestly couldn’t say either way on whether we would attempt to have another baby – although right now, it feels unlikely. Whilst pregnancy after loss is an intense hurdle, I would consider doing that aspect again. However, fertility treatment is a huge unknown and the costs involved can be never ending. If someone said, it would work out fine first time, then the decision would be different.
And on the topic of my wife carrying – she’s willing to give it a go, if someone has a spare £7,000?! In all seriousness though, it’s never really been something we’ve thought about or had serious conversations about. The decision just answered itself really.
Have we or would we ever consider Adoption?
I wouldn’t ever rule out Adoption, especially as a route to another baby. However, I do feel strongly that you have to both be fully committed and emotionally ready to take on adoption, as I can appreciate it is no easy task – even the application process seems a challenge. Previously, we haven’t both been in that position at the same time so opted for the route that we did take. But that wouldn’t necessarily rule it out for the future.
I also really value the importance of our own emotional wellbeing in regards to our grief for Leo and adoption. I know that many agencies require at least a year on from ‘trying’ naturally etc, and this logic applies also post-loss I should imagine. Given the background some children may have had, I wouldn’t take the decision lightly, and would want to be emotional able to fully meet their needs.
What is is like being an LGBT and military family, and is there any tension between the two?
My wife has been in the military for just over a decade. However being openly gay in the military has only be allowed legally in the UK since 2000, just seven years prior to her joining up. That said, her experience would be one of inclusion and she’s taken part in a few LGBT Pride events as a representative of the military.
Again, I’m pleased to say that we’ve never encountered any tension between the two, or being gay in the military community either.
So thats a quick (not so quick) fire round of questions answered from me. If anyone is curious about other aspects, by all means, ask – I might at some point do a full blog post on it.
– J x
Some information on lesbians becoming parents can be found here: