There are many important decisions to be made when growing your family, especially when you are LGBTQ+. We give so much hope and intention to this process and potentially face frustration and loss along the way. Hopefully, we are navigating this with family, friends, and affirming providers by our side, but oftentimes, there are major gaps in access to support and resources for LGBTQ+ prospective parents.
Family Equality did a recent study that showed 3.8 million LGBTQ+ millennials are considering expanding their families in the coming years, and 2.9 million are actively planning to do so. This information is so important when LGBTQ+ families need more access to high quality, competent care. Whether you are hoping to conceive, adopt, become a foster parent, or start a surrogacy journey, there are a lot of steps to consider and it can feel overwhelming!
Here are just *some of the questions that might come up for LGBTQ+ prospective parents:
- Do you want to be pregnant? If partnered, do they want to be pregnant?
- Whose uterus, eggs, sperm will you be using? Do you need a donor?
- Sperm donor: Anonymous or known donor: frozen or fresh sperm?
- DIY insemination: IVI/ICI with Mosie or another home kit?
- Home IUI (with a midwife) or in-clinic IUI: medicated or unmedicated cycle?
- IVF: Traditional or Mini? Reciprocal?
- Donor eggs? Donor embryos?
- Trans and intersex fertility preservation
- Surrogacy: altruistic, gestational, traditional? Matched through an agency or with a known surrogate?
- Trans pregnancy/birth considerations
- Adoption through a private agency or through the county?
- Foster parenting? Foster-to-adopt? Adoption? Private? Open or closed?
- Legal protections, parentage/second-parent adoption
- Single parenting, poly-relationship parenting, co-parenting considerations
- And so many more…
Many trans and gender diverse individuals end up educating their health care providers, fertility specialists, obstetricians, etc., while navigating family building services, tailored for cis-gendered people. Even when providers say they are “LGBTQ inclusive” they do not always include the fertility/pregnancy/birthing considerations for all bodies and all genders. Intersex, trans, non-binary, agender, genderfluid, and genderqueer people need access to affirming, competent gynecological, reproductive, and perinatal care. Queer and Trans BIPOC need access to providers, especially Black providers, centering their intersectional work to dismantle systemic racism and bias in birth and beyond. This is even more important now with the recent ruling of removing health care nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ folx when Black and transgender people suffer the most by these inequities. Local queer, Black midwife, Nikki Helms, Your Community Midwife is getting ready to open a Birth Center in San Diego that focuses on reproductive and birth equity. This center opens up so many options for BIPOC, immigrant, and LGBTQ+ families. Learn more about how you can support and donate: https://www.gofundme.com/f/fcfec4-building-a-dream.
Growing your family is an imaginative and extremely personal journey. The decisions you make along the way can be difficult. Some of the questions and answers we consider then reevaluate, overthink, research for hours, days, weeks, months on end!
Exhausted yet? We are just getting started.
Making personal and important decisions does not stop in the family building stage. It continues throughout parenting as well. Aside from our own analyzing, we are often fielding questions, even from well-meaning friends or family members who casually ask, “but have you thought about this?!”Here are some common questions LGBTQ+ folx get asked regarding their family building process:
- Which one will be the biological mother?
- Why don’t you just adopt?
- How can you get pregnant when you’re on testosterone?
- Where did you get the sperm? How much do you know about the “dad”?
- Are you worried the surrogate mother will want to keep the baby?
- How does co-parenting work, won’t you be jealous?
- Will the “dad” be in your child's life?
- What are you having?
- Isn't your child confused about what to call you?
- Doesn't your child miss out on doing "mom" things?
- What did you write under “Father" on your child's birth certificate?
- Where is your child from?
- Are you worried your child will get teased?
Personally speaking, how I’ve responded to some of the questions above might look different depending on who I’m speaking with and feelings range from, “not my job to educate” to “happy to share” and everything in-between. There is no right or wrong answer, only what YOU feel comfortable with sharing in any given moment. This may be one of the reasons many folx decide to keep their journey private.
Like many prospective parents, we are also facing challenges of preparing and making space to build or grow our families. This could look like, moving to a new home or across the country to be closer to chosen family or near more LGBTQ+ inclusive neighborhoods. Lifestyle changes such as, budgeting/saving money, change in diet and exercise, change in hormones, medications, body changes, career shifts, etc. There may be many doctor’s appointments, meetings with agencies, and/or home visits involved. We are typically scheduling with lawyers, therapists, and other family-building providers.
Now add in a global pandemic. Many LGBTQ+ family building plans were put on hold over the last few months. Now that clinics, courthouses, and agencies are opening back up in most cities, many people are still wondering, “is this a good time?”
The questions of “is this a good time?” and “are we ready?” personally came up A LOT (even before this pandemic) when my partner and I were starting our family building process. I felt this unnerving pressure to have to prove that we were “ready” to be parents. I think this came from years of trying to fit into social construct BS. “See, look at us and our marriage equality. We’re good enough to be parents, right?” People have fought and worked so hard for us to have the rights and freedoms we have today. It has never been about “fitting in” and we have a long way to go. I have so much love and respect for this queer generation, beautifully living and liberating out loud.
If you are thinking about building/growing your family or you are actively trying to do so, I hope this list offers some support for you along your way.
Here are 5 tips for LGBTQ+ folx moving through the family building process:
Surround Yourself with Support
This might not be the same “go to” support you leaned on during that big break up 8 years ago. Don’t be surprised if the person who shows up for you the most during this time is someone you didn’t expect. You may want to consider things like, “is this person great at listening and not giving advice?” Sometimes it IS nice to hear what worked for other parents, and sometimes it’s not. It’s okay if you need to create some distance. Also, these are important, revolutionary, and unparalleled times. If filtering through your social media and unfollowing people improves your mental health, do so. Take breaks to recharge. For me, as a white, cis-gendered, “straight-passing” person, I can NOT look away or log off. I feel a deep responsibility as a human being and as a parent to stay focused. I can find community spaces where I feel supported. Creating Kin, in partnership with the Families Program at The San Diego LGBT Community Center has an online Processing Group, peer-led for LGBTQ+ parents and prospective parents, 1st Monday of every month. We are there to listen and hold space for you during this time.
Find “Inclusive” Care-Providers
What does that exactly mean? It is easier to talk about what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean lots of smiling “same-sex couples” on brochures and websites. It’s more than that. Of course, representation and visibility matters and it’s important for ALL of the diversity within our communities to be represented. Inclusivity is an ongoing commitment to learning/unlearning and recognizing where we can make changes to do better. People’s lives depend on it. Creating Kin is working on a local provider directory and you can also check out Family Equality’s national directory to locate providers and see what training they have completed. This does not guarantee your positive experience, but it’s a good place to start and there are a lot of queer and trans providers on that list. Trystan Reese, founder of Collaborate Consulting, is an educator and activist. He now offers an online trans birth training in partnership with Cornerstone Doula Trainings. This class is designed for midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, and family building providers of all kinds. If you don’t know if a provider is LGBTQ+ inclusive, ask. Once you research and locate providers in your area, we encourage folx to think of the initial phone call as an interview before ever coming in or make a consultation appointment. When you do go in, bring a partner or friend with you or have them on Facetime to ask questions as well. Creating Kin offers a free Resource Group on the 4th Monday of every month. We invite local family building providers, committed to inclusivity, to join us and share information and answer questions for LGBTQ+ parents and prospective parents. We also host provider networking events to create a supportive, learning space for accountability and community building. This allows us to share more trusted resources and connect folx to providers who are truly committed to doing the work.
Break Down Big Goals into Small Goals
Tiny to-do lists are much easier to tackle and feel less overwhelming. Especially during these times, it is not uncommon to feel stuck. The end goal or vision of your family feeling complete or the process of how to get there can seem daunting and endless. Asking, “What is something I can accomplish today or this week?” might feel more manageable. That might mean doing more research on a specific topic or attending an online information seminar. Reproductive Sciences Medical Center is offering a free online LGBTQ+ family building seminar this month on July 22nd. You can sign up and find more information here: https://fertile.com/event/lgbt-family-building-opportunities/.
Some journeys take longer than others. We recently co-hosted a Sperm Donor Panel For LGBTQ+ prospective parents with Family Equality and California Cryobank. I was amazed by the number of attendees looking for information years before actively trying. Educating yourself about options ahead of time can make the decision-making process easier. It also allows you time to prepare for potential challenges. What kind of Paid Family Leave does your current employment offer? What is the cost difference between a hospital birth and home birth? How long does it take to become a foster parent? Questions that might be worth looking into without feeling like you need to have it all figured out right at that moment.
Find Time for Self-Care
Self-care and wellness are words we hear a lot these days. The self-care we tend to think about, like spa weekend trips, is not only a luxury and privilege that isn’t afforded to everyone, but it often doesn’t even give our soul what it’s actually asking for. "Self-care" can be whatever you want or need it to be in the moment. It can be simple. It doesn’t have to fall under any guidelines or cost any money. It doesn’t have to involve foot soaks or face masks (the avocado pampering kind, not the new everyday life, COVID kind). It can be digging your feet in the sand, calling a friend you haven’t talked to in a while or telling your partner “I love you and I need you to figure out dinner, I’m going for a run.” Finding ways to take healing time and space for yourself is more about honoring yourself for doing the thing and less about the thing you do or the length of time you do it for.
Allow Yourself to Feel it ALL
LGBTQ+ Family Building has many uncertainties. Sometimes we are afraid to feel hopeful, excited, and joy in the moment. Journeys could include grief and loss, difficulty conceiving, pregnancy or infant loss, arrangements falling through, feeling the loss of the plan or vision you wished for ending if plans change or if you move to another path completely. This can bring up painful feelings from past experiences or break us down and make us feel isolated, especially if we have kept our journey private and those around us at work or family/friends don’t know what’s going on. It’s important to have outlets and access to mental health support. Remember to come back to the reasons you want to create a family in the first place. If you can, be gentle with yourself. Allowing moments to dream and visualize, and moments to pause, retreat or distract yourself with a Netflix binge. Stay connected to the people in your life who can quietly sit with you when you’re in the thick of it. Lean on community and know that you are not alone.
Ashley Saverino (she/her/hers), HHP, CPMT is a doula and educator. She is the founder of Creating Kin, a local community organization focusing on increasing access to resources and support for LGBTQ+ parents, prospective parents, and family building providers. You can learn more about Creating Kin support groups, community events, and ongoing training opportunities by following along on Instagram.