Getting Pregnant: A Lesbian Couple’s One-Year Journey through Fertility, Using a Known Sperm Donor of a Different Race, and the Emotional and Financial Costs

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This week marks one year since the start of our journey to getting pregnant and become parents. To be honest, it isn’t an anniversary I want to be commemorating but I think in the spirit of educating those who don’t understand the complexities of fertility, a sperm donor and how two lesbians in love can make a baby, it’s important to communicate my experience.

A year ago I walked into the fertility center with my beautiful, kind, strong wife feeling so absolutely excited to bring another person just like her into this world. We walked right in, and I said “We’re here to get pregnant! LET’S DO THIS!” (Something I’d go on to repeat to the front desk ladies every single week for the next year.) I was beyond giddy. I knew we’d head in, do some tests, and come out pregnant in a month! It was going to be SO EASY. You take sperm and put it up in there, and a baby comes out! JUST LIKE THAT. Two women make a baby!

It wasn’t just like that. It was a series of difficult hoop jumping and an intense education on how bodies actually work. There were steps that needed to be taken. Serious, no fun, important steps!

We needed a donor! Their first piece of advice was to absolutely not use someone we knew. It was complicated, it was messy, it was emotional. It would require lots of testing, legal documents, and often times discriminating FDA regulations and their fees. But we came armed with one of our closest friends as a donor. See, we have a different background than most people going through the fertility process. I’m a product of artificial insemination by donor. It’s pretty rare to meet someone my age with such a background, let alone someone who is going through the same process her parents once did. My parents chose an unknown donor. While I think I turned out all right, I wanted a different story for my future child. I wanted them to have access to our donor and his background. I wanted them to be able to ask that man questions in the future, and maybe even have a relationship with him.

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We were lucky enough to find someone so absolutely selfless, kind, smart, talented and handsome to help us through this journey. Our doctors were leery. Not only would we have a known donor, but our child would be biracial. We had to go to counseling together to discuss the ramifications of raising a biracial child with three gay parents. We had to explain and advocate for the approval of our doctors to create and raise this child. I have to say that asking for someone’s approval to do such a thing makes you feel so out of control of your own family planning. But we stayed strong and pushed forward.

We got through the legal phase and health testing phase with ease. We were getting closer to actually doing this whole insemination thing! Finally! But then we sat down for the financial session. We found that because we chose to use a known donor that the FDA had several regulations in place that meant we would have to pay for licensing that would legally allow our donor to donate for a period of 7 days ($600+ ). After that seven day period the license would expire and we would have to pay that same fee every single month until we got pregnant. Along with that fee came fees for freezing his sperm because legally his specimen must be frozen and quarantined before we inseminate it because he is technically not our sexual partner. Those freezing fees were $400 each time he donated within the 7 day period (three times). For perspective, if a woman used the sperm of her sexual partner, she would not have to freeze it or get a license for it. Because I don’t make sperm, my wife didn’t get that luxury of avoiding $1800 in donor fees a month. While the FDA regulations are meant to be a safety precaution, I found them extremely discriminatory. We had all gone through extensive testing and contracting. We were adults that decided we were all about to share biological fluids. But we weren’t allowed to do that, according to the FDA, unless we paid for it. It was discouraging, but again we pushed through.

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After three months of preparing we finally inseminated at the end of September. We could not have been more excited. My wife had conditioned her body to be the healthiest it has ever been, our donor was doing anything and everything to make sure we had the best of the best specimen, and I was being the team cheerleader. We walked into that room just knowing that we would walk out pregnant. The insemination happened under bright lights and on top of crunchy hospital bed paper. I prayed to every spiritual and religious entity that has ever existed, I crossed every limb, I cracked jokes, and I cried. We walked out convinced that it would take one try. The two week wait to find out if we were pregnant began.

For two weeks I panicked every day about whether or not our future child would bond with me as the other mother. For two weeks I came up with resolutions to parenting emergencies like our child growing up to be a serial killer, pageant queen addict, drug dealer, or worse yet a republican. Every day I rattled off future baby names like Hillary Clinton, Beyoncé and Barack. For two weeks my wife stayed positive and tried every old wives tale in the book to get pregnant. We talked to her uterus every day. I kissed her tummy goodbye whenever I left a room. We had hope.

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Unfortunately that round of insemination didn’t work. I was a mess. I had completely unrealistic expectations for how this process would work. I expected it to work the first time. We would have this fertility fairytale because we were meant to create a child together and love the hell out of it. Luckily my wife isn’t as unrealistic as I am. She remained positive and cheered me up. The first time wasn’t meant to be but we were going to rock out the second shot. We’d be fine!

We’ve tried to be really open about the whole process because so many people have questions. The popular culture story we all know and love is that if two women want a baby they flip through a catalog of hot smart dudes and then they get pregnant. Our story is so different. We’re two white lesbians with a gay African-American donor who we know and adore. This leads to so many inappropriate and often times sadly funny questions. Many of them are specific to race and money. Both extremely uncomfortable topics but I try to be as honest as I can so that one day I can prevent another couple from getting these questions asked of them. Here’s a sampling.

FAQ OF LESBIANS TRYING TO HAVE A BABY

If you know him, why don’t you just have sex with him? It would save you so much money! People I’ve just met have asked me this, coworkers, family members, close friends. 90% of the people who know what we’re doing have suggested this.

Did you pick a black donor so your baby would have pretty skin? I’ve had what feels like hundreds of people as me this. I swear. The answer is usually “No, race wasn’t a deciding factor, it was his kind personality, intelligence, and background that matters to us.”

So will he be the father? Will he help raise it? He will be just as involved as he would if he were still our good friend and not the donor. He’ll be involved but not responsible for anything. He’s allowed to love our kid as much as he wants. He will be known as the bio dad but the term “dad” won’t weigh as heavy as having two mothers.

Are you sure you can’t just have sex with him? Did I mention I’m a lesbian? We’re honestly going about this in the best method possible for our family’s future. Trust me on this, OK?

IUI? What’s that? Do they put it in a test tube first? Why don’t you just do IVF? That sounds like a better chance! It’s freaking expensive… like $11k a month expensive and that doesn’t include the drugs! We want to explore our options as budget friendly as we can and then use the money we would spend on IVF to adopt.

Hundreds of questions, one miscarriage and one whole year later we are still trying and things have changed. One of the many adjustments we’ve had to make was the decision to list our donor as a partner in our medical documents. Yes, we are now technically considered one big happy three-way in order to bypass insane costs associated with the FDA. This saves us a whopping $1,800 dollars a month (on top of all the other insemination, doctors’ visits, and blood test fees). The savings is great but walking into the insemination appointments with nurses who don’t know us usually results in them referring to the donor as my wife’s husband. It’s an ego blow for sure, as I feel like the helpless and useless “other mom” in the background. But we’re doing what we have to do to have this baby.

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The most difficult change since we started this process is our level of excitement and hope. It’s been exhausting. Each month we go in to inseminate, wait two weeks to find out if it works, find out it didn’t, and repeat the process. The excitement of the insemination, and all the hope and love that we put into the two-week wait is just so emotionally draining. My wife is so strong. She puts on a brave face and a sweet smile but I know that on the inside she’s hurting. She feels guilty that her body isn’t doing what we want it to do, that we’re spending thousands of dollars, and that I’m an emotional hot mess. But we want this so bad. While the process has brought us closer together it has consumed us. It’s all we have to talk about, think about and do. We’re tired. We’re ready for this process to have a happy ending. We just want to be over this process. But we will continue to try.

As the future mother-to-be No. 2 in this process, it’s been difficult to see my wife go through this. She’s poked and prodded multiple times a week. Large chunks of her day are spent in the waiting room of the fertility clinic. And she’s just so ready to be a mother and scared that she will never have the chance to carry her own child. She had a miscarriage half way through this year of trying, and it was devastating. I felt helpless. I can’t get her pregnant, I can’t fix it, and I can’t do anything but support her emotionally. And I struggle with being strong enough to do even that.

When the miscarriage happened, after lots of tears and pain, my wife looked at me and said that she wanted to spend her miscarriage by going out into the city and doing random acts of kindness. I’ll never forget the feeling that overcame me as I realized that I was married to the kind of woman who would push through such a devastating time and do something good for the world while she was in so much pain. I knew then that the world would be a better place with more people like her in it and that has been what has kept me sane through the process. I will do anything and anything to make sure that happens. So we will keep trying and hoping.

 

Comments

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5 Comments

  • Beth Bernstein says:

    Jessie, you and Connie are so incredibly strong, brave, amazing, and loving. It hurts my heart that you are facing so many challenges and that there are so many additional obstacles in your way due to the simple fact that you want to know your child’s father. (That freezing the sperm fee thing is INSANE and should be illegal.) Keep going with whatever path you decide. A child needs you two as Mamas. xo (PS: I hope I wasn’t one of the people who suggested you sleep with your sperm donor. If I was, I apologize.)

  • Tamara Carlyle says:

    If it wasn’t for the costs of IVF, I’d humbly suggest you possibly try carrying Connie’s egg and see if that helps.

  • Heather Crate says:

    Thank you both so much for sharing this. My wife and I have been on a similar journey for the past two years. Such a roller coaster of emotions and so draining. We ended up moving to at home inseminations with our known donor to avoid all costs, but still not working. It’s definitely hard to keep your head up after so long, but here’s hoping it works out for all of us.

  • yaz says:

    Thank you for sharing this and raising awareness. I, for one, had no idea about how difficult it would be. I wish you both the very best and hope it all works out.

  • xaigo says:

    You are both so amazing, I wish you will have your baby very soon.:) Stay strong!

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