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Two women, one hope: starting a family as a same-sex couple - part 1

6 August 2020

Starting a family can be mentally, physically, and emotionally tough. However, when you’re also missing a vital component in the conception process by being in a same-sex female couple, things get even more challenging.

Throughout my life, I’d never really given the actual process of starting a family as a gay woman much thought. I just knew that it would happen one day. Little did I know just how many options, restrictions, and challenges we’d face along the way.

Where it all began

Once my wife and I were married and the delightful stresses of wedding planning were over, we began working on our next big life goal… creating a family. We started looking into the options we had available to us as a same-sex female couple and, wow, there’s a heck of a lot of information to wrap your head around.

One thing we had decided very early on in our journey was that I would carry our child as being pregnant is something I have always wanted. My career as a freelance writer would also enable me to go through fertility treatment as well as pregnancy with a lot more ease and flexibility compared to being in full-time office-style employment. Plus my wife, who works for the British Armed Forces, is into her fitness and has no desire to be pregnant unless it is the only way for us to start our family, so the two combined work perfectly.

However, the one thing that has concerned us both since we first started talking about our future is the fact that I had been on the combined pill for over a decade as a result of severe periods up until my early 20s. Following a series of hospital visits, tests, and ovarian cysts, I had been investigated for suspected endometriosis but despite being given the all-clear, was prescribed to take the pill without breaks. Thus not having a cycle for over ten years. Would I be able to conceive? Have I been on the pill for so long that it’s now too late?

World’s apart

At the time we started reading up on our options, we were living in Germany for a military posting. Although we assumed that we would need to have the implantation in the UK, we were hoping that we would be able to at least start the initial tests and investigations overseas so that we could get the ball rolling.

We also researched whether there was any potential funding available for us either as a same-sex or military couple (or both) as we had heard of previous couples in a similar situation that had received financial support.

A lot of people we spoke to were sure that there would be some sort of help for us, so it was looking very positive. But, to our disappointment, every possible avenue we explored ended in the same answer. Similar to many couples in the UK, we were not entitled to any financial help. We also weren’t allowed to start our UK-based fertility treatment overseas as we needed to be registered with a UK GP practice despite being on a British military posting. So that’s when reality really hit home that, in order for us to have a baby and start our family, we’ll have to pay for it all ourselves… and doing so on one full-time wage was a scary thought.

Researching our options

Now that we knew we couldn’t begin our fertility treatment until we were back living in the UK, we focussed all of our energy on researching as much as we could online. It’s through our research mission that we discovered just how complicated same-sex female fertility treatment could be.

The least invasive option we could pick seemed to be unmedicated IUI (Intrauterine insemination). This is an option available for all women using donated sperm regardless of their relationship or marital status. It can also be medicated for better precision when it comes to the insemination date. Then there are more invasive options such as IVF (In vitro fertilisation) and shared motherhood (also known as reciprocal IVF), in which fertilisation takes place outside of the body after fairly intrusive procedures and daily injections. For us, we had our heart set on shared motherhood because we’d then both have a connection with the baby (with one of us providing the egg and the other carrying the baby).

Once we had discovered the various fertility treatment options, it was time to research the potential clinics we could use in the UK. With more than 100 licensed fertility clinics in operation around the UK, there were plenty of factors to take into consideration including same-sex fertility experience, success rates, and location. 

From online to in-person

As much as we’d been able to learn from doing our research online, we knew that we needed to speak to the experts and specialists face-to-face to get a better understanding of the whole scenario. We contacted a private fertility clinic in Manchester and made an appointment to speak to their patient liaison manager. We booked our flights and accommodation and headed back to the UK specifically for this 30-minute appointment.

The nerves began to build from the moment we pulled up outside the clinic. They continued to grow as we sat in the waiting room ready to be called in. I had come prepared with a list of questions but my most predominant memory from the appointment was the sinking feeling that maybe my wife and I won’t be able to afford the fertility treatment. I knew it would be expensive but I hadn’t actually fully understood all of the added extras that come with fertility procedures such as shared motherhood. It was all very overwhelming.

During our consultation at the private clinic, we were presented with the option of also becoming egg donors which made sense since at least one of us would be having our eggs harvested anyway. The other major benefit is that it not only helps other women and families who are looking for egg donors to have a child, but also will, in turn, reduce the cost for us too. Once back in Germany, we filled in the relevant forms online but unfortunately, due to a few members of my family having had cancer in the past, I was turned down as an egg donor and rightly so. Clinics need to ensure they are receiving the best quality eggs to donate to other people. My wife, on the other hand, was accepted, which was wonderful news.

The UK’s largest fertility show

Twice a year, some of the UK’s biggest fertility organisations, clinics, and charities, gather for the largest fertility event with one held in London and another in Manchester. It gives people from all walks of life the opportunity to speak to fertility experts and doctors, and find out everything they need to know about their fertility journey.

Despite still living in Germany, we travelled back to the UK for The Fertility Show as we didn’t want to keep waiting until we moved back to get started. We needed to make sure that we had all of our questions answered and our research completed to ensure that we were ready to begin treatment as soon as we moved back to the UK for our next posting. As expected, we left the fertility event with plenty of information and leaflets to go through and discuss together.

But our fertility journey was far from over… we had to get back to the UK first!

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