Becoming mums: Considerations for same-sex couples building a family
"The first thing they need to check with each other about is if they both want children...Have they both always wanted to have children?"— Sherron Mills, a nurse practitioner
You and your other half find yourselves glancing at each other and saying, "Ah, how sweet," when you see a chubby baby tucked into the shopping trolley at the supermarket. Maybe you can start a family of your own, you two start to think. But as a lesbian couple, there's additional introspection, considerations, questions and research ahead for you.
Are Both of You Ready for a Family?
Couples should ask themselves if they're prepared for a family and how they plan to pursue that goal. Before even deciding what method you'll employ to bring a child into your life, talk about how you'll handle every aspect of parenthood once your bundle of joy arrives.
Discussions should include everything from what school you'll send your child to and how you plan to handle discipline to whether you want to raise the child within a certain religion and if you have the means to bring up kids.
"Children are really expensive," said Sherron Mills, a nurse practitioner.
Once you've determined you're both ready to add to your family, you must consider how best to bring a child into your life. Will you adopt, and if so, what type of agency will you use? Will you foster a child with the goal of adopting? Will you seek a sperm donor and have one of you carry the baby or find a surrogate to do so? Other choices include in vitro fertilisation and intrauterine insemination.
Using a sperm bank is one option for building your family. If that's the plan, there's a few questions you should ask and have answered, Mills said.
Has the sperm bank fulfilled the required registration with the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)? Does it meet standards?
Of course you want the sperm bank to have high marks from the HFEA and to follow the standards set.
The extent of family medical history a sperm donor must provide, the type of genetic testing, limits on the offspring donor sperm yield and even the amount of sperm in the vial to be used can vary, so it's best to check into that as well, Mills said.
In the case of medical testing and history, the more the better. It's why more banks are testing for Fragile X syndrome, a leading cause of mental retardation, and even giving donors EKGs to determine the possibility of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that's caused young and seemingly healthy athletes to collapse and die during heavy exercise, she said.
Even if you have a potential sperm donor in mind, such as a friend, experts recommend all involved seek medical and legal advice. Case law involving children conceived using a known sperm donor includes claims of paternity rights, child support and other legal issues, even when an agreement was made among friends. Also, sperm banks offer the benefit of rigorous medical screening and preparation of the sperm for conception.
When considering getting pregnant, age does matter.
Fertility starts to decline about 10 years before a woman goes into menopause. So by the time a woman reaches her late 30s she's not necessarily infertile, but getting pregnant might take some intervention, Mills said.
"If they can, try to start before their mid-30s," she said. "I know that doesn't always fit with what's going on."
Like heterosexual and gay couples, lesbian couples who need help conceiving and bearing a child are also turning to surrogacy. This could range from using a donor egg and sperm to a gestational surrogate.
Building a Family Through Adoption
Adoption is another option for many couples. However, laws and regulations regarding fostering and adoption by unmarried or civil partnership couples are a patchwork.
Currently, Gay couples in civil partnerships cannot currently adopt a child in Northern Ireland. However, senior judges in June of 2013 dismissed a legal challenge brought by the NI Health Minister and paved the way for Northern Ireland to brought into line with the rest of the UK.
Unmarried couples in England, Scotland and Wales can apply jointly to be considered for adoption, irrespective of sexual orientation.
Establishing a Legal Relationship
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