Becoming a parent is a major life decision for anyone, and most people will face some bumps along the road. Be it fertility issues and difficulty conceiving or decisions around adoption or surrogacy, chances are the journey to parenthood is bound to present some challenges. These challenges can feel even more daunting for the LGBTQ+ community, where up until recently, legal rights have not been the same as for heterosexual couples, and family-planning is often not as straight forward. This article will break down some of the most popular routes to parenthood for prospective LGBTQ+ families, hopefully demystifying them in the process.
In the UK, LGBTQ+ couples have long adopted children through one partner registering as the child’s legal parent, and since 2005 have been able to adopt a child together with the enactment of the Adoption and Child Act. Not without its complications, adoption is a highly rewarding way to build a family and give a loving home to a child in need.
Artificial insemination is a common fertility treatment for LGBTQ+ couples where at least one of the individuals has a uterus. The process involves delivering sperm directly into the uterus and can be done both with sperm from a partner or a donor. For lesbian couples or couples where neither partner produces semen, a donor is usually the first path to consider. You can opt for someone you know or an anonymous donor found through a third party. In the UK, it is against the law to seek out a donor outside of a licensed fertility clinic. This is because there are standards set that ensure the sperm’s health and licensed clinics are required to report these standards to relevant authorities.
Artificial insemination can either be done at a fertility clinic or at home. In a clinic, a doctor will typically use a special syringe to insert the sperm into the vagina. Sometimes, you can be given medication to induce ovulation that increases the likelihood of producing multiple eggs. After about two weeks, you will receive a pregnancy test to determine whether the process was successful.
The at-home process is similar, but it requires you to perform the procedure on yourself. This can be difficult to get the hang of and might take several attempts to get pregnant.
In the UK, couples who are civil partners at the time of conception through donor insemination will both become legal parents of the child, be it through a fertility clinic or at home. A couple that is not in a civil partnership will also both receive legal parent rights if the child is conceived through a clinic, but if the child is conceived through donor insemination at home, only the birth-parent will be given legal rights. The non-birth parent will have to achieve these rights through adoption.
In vitro fertilisation, commonly known as IVF, is usually a second option for couples if artificial insemination hasn’t been successful. It involves stimulating ovulation with medication and then combining the eggs with donor sperm in a laboratory to create embryos. Those embryos are then placed back into the uterus. In cases where both partners are egg-bearing and both want to be involved in the pregnancy, eggs from one partner can be used to create the embryos that are then placed into the other partner’s uterus. This is known as reciprocal IVF.
For gay male couples or couples where neither partner has a uterus, artificial insemination is possible with the help of an egg donor. This process will require a surrogate who will carry the baby to term. There is traditional surrogacy, where the child is related to the surrogate mother, and gestational surrogacy, where the child is not genetically related to the surrogate mother and the embryo is prepared in a fertility clinic. Both forms are legal in the UK, but there are strict laws around surrogacy that usually require specialist legal advice, so potential parents should be prepared to seek this out. For example, it is illegal to advertise for a surrogate or for a third party to charge to help you find a surrogate.
Choosing a surrogate is highly personal. As both the prospective parents and the surrogate will be connected throughout the pregnancy journey, it is important that each party is happy with the other. Mutual trust is key. In the UK, the surrogate is always considered the birth mother of the child from birth, even if she is genetically unrelated to the child. Parental rights can only be transferred to the intended parents through court, requiring the consent of the surrogate. This parental order must be filed within six months of the child’s birth.
Co-parenting is an agreement between two people to conceive and raise a child together when they are not in a romantic relationship. This could be a man in a same-sex couple donating his sperm to a woman in order to conceive, wherein both parties receive parental rights of the child. The law differs if two same-sex couples are involved, so consulting with a legal specialist is important. Nevertheless, co-parenting can be a highly rewarding way to conceive with one’s own egg or sperm, while maintaining a relationship with the other co-parent.
For trans parents
Trans people have the same rights as anyone when it comes to parenthood options, but hormone treatments and surgery can unfortunately impact the likelihood of conceiving through artificial insemination or IVF. Luckily, there are ways to preserve your fertility by storing eggs and sperm pre-transition and even during the transitioning process, giving you the power to build your family in the way you choose. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is a great resource for trans people wishing to preserve their fertility as they transition.
The process of building a family as an LGBTQ+ individual or couple can have an emotional toll. Speaking to a counsellor, friends and family, and reaching out to other LGBTQ+ parents who can relate to your experience can offer solace in an exciting but tumultuous time.
This article was written for Syrona by Emma Olsson.