Gail and Lyn have each been pregnant, each experienced being non-gestational parents, and have taken turns staying home with the kids. Here’s their story.
First Name: Gail and Lyn
Age: 40 & 34
Hometown/City: Cambridge MA
Names of Children: Leigh, 5, (born 6/06, via Gail) and Ira, 2, (born 5/09, via Lyn)
Blog: First Time Second Time
When did you decide you wanted children?
Gail– When I was in my early 20’s, I assumed that I would find a way to have children. I knew some lesbians were having children, and I even knew of a couple that had a child together in the 1980s. But I didn’t move forward on the idea until I met Lyn, about 10 years ago.
Lyn — When I was first coming out, in the mid-90s, it was still generally assumed that being queer meant you wouldn’t have kids, unless you had them already from a previous relationship. A couple years later though, I met a gay man and lesbian who were co-parenting, and realized many of us were becoming parents. I met Gail when I was in my early 20s, and we talked very early on about becoming parents together. It was just a question of when and by what method.
How did you decide to either biologically have a child or adopt a child?
We both wanted to experience pregnancy, so we started with trying to conceive via donor sperm. With something of an age gap between us, Gail got dibs on carrying first.
Did you share your journey with your family and friends? If so, have they been supportive?
We told both of our parents that we intended to have kids, but we didn’t share details with them while we were trying. Both families were extremely excited once we were expecting. We had wondered if Lyn’s family would be genuinely supportive since in the past they’d had a hard time accepting our relationship, but they were 100% on board and are fabulous grandparents.
A friend of ours, who is also a midwife, taught a course in the fertility awareness method (using basal body temperature and other signs to track fertility) several months before we were intending to start trying, and that class formed a community for us around preparations for conceiving our first child. We were lucky in that Gail got pregnant extremely quickly, on the second cycle. We did the inseminations (ICI) ourselves at home with frozen sperm, two vials per cycle, and timing based on ovulation predictor kits and fertility signs.
A couple years later, when Lyn was trying, it took 4 cycles spread over about 7 months, following about a year of acupuncture to treat anovulation. All told, that’s not too bad, but it was a longer and more stressful road. In retrospect, we probably should have reached out to some of our closer friends for more support during that time.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced raising children as a gay couple? How have you overcome those challenges and what advice would you give new parents in a similar situation?
Lyn — Figuring out how to parent not just as two women, but also as women very much identifying as moms, was surprisingly intense for us. I had never realized before how strongly the definition of “mother” implies “one.” I headed in assuming “this is completely normal, we’re just like everyone else” but once we were on our way, I found that being an expectant mother via my pregnant wife was disorienting and somewhat lonely (in addition to being exciting and wonderful). Who would I be in our family? Was I a dad? A back-up mom? Did Gail get dibs on being more “The Mom” by virtue of giving birth? How were we supposed to figure this out anyway? It took work, awareness, thinking, openness, generosity, a lot of talking and a lot of love to build the family we really wanted, with real space for two parents — two moms — at the core, both with deep and strong bonds with our kids from the very beginning.
If you are struggling with feelings along these lines, the most important thing for both of you is to keep talking. If something feels off, speak up, and if you are the pregnant one? Listen to your partner. Remember that while pregnancy is a lot of work, there is actually a lot of support out there for becoming a mom by carrying a baby, and not a whole lot out there for your partner. It can be hard to even find the words to talk about it.
Gail– Before you have children, you have an understanding of what it means to come out and how and when you are comfortable doing so. But having a child changes the game completely. While I was pregnant with our first child, I had to work much harder at being out. Later, once we were actively parenting, I found I had to come out much more than ever before. For one thing, our community grew to include more people, including more straight people. Our daughter just started kindergarten and I meet new people every day that I have to come out to. And at the same time our community grew, the importance of coming out grew as well. My kids are watching, listening, and learning what it means to me to be queer, and by extension, what it means for them to be part of a queer family. I have to show them what pride looks like, and how to handle questions that might be sensitive. I also have to come out because I feel I shouldn’t place that burden on my children. If I don’t come out to another parent at school, it means my daughter will have to. She’ll be the one to see the confused look or feel the awkward pause in conversation. If I handle the coming out, at least now while they are so young, I can spare my kids some of those experiences.
What do you wish you would have known before you started?
Gail– I wish we had understood more about what donor conception really means, not for us as parents, but for our hoped-for children. I didn’t realize when I started this journey the extent to which we were creating a new kind of family. My kids have two mothers, but they also have a man they have never met who is part of who they are. That’s an experience I don’t share with them, and one that I may not be equipped to guide them through, though I do have confidence they will figure it out for themselves. I wish that I had been more in touch with what I was asking of my children in this regard before starting down this path. I likely would have made many of the same choices, but I would have made them with my eyes more open.
Lyn– We briefly considered a known donor, but decided it wasn’t for us, for a variety of reasons. We briefly researched sperm banks and just went with the bank that was easiest for us to use, figuring any bank was the same as another. What we didn’t understand was that policies between banks vary dramatically on important issues, like what ID-release actually means and caps on the number of recipient families per donor. If I had it to do over, I would have researched these policies more closely, and also read more of this collection of first-hand reports about different banks at the donor sibling registry before we decided.
We had a rough plan before having our first that I would carry our second child, but we didn’t nail down the details. If we had it to do over, I would have pushed for us to make a clearer plan, because as it turned out, once the time came for round two, we were in very different places. Before we had kids, we both had two goals, first to become parents together, and second, to experience pregnancy. With our first, we were both completely on board with everything, but once Leigh was born, Gail had met both of her goals, and I still had one remaining. I was head over heels in love with our daughter, but I still wanted to carry a pregnancy, and even though Gail did want another child, it was just less important to her to get the show on the road. We did eventually get on the same page, but if it’s likely you both would like to carry a pregnancy, talk about it ahead of time, consider banking extra vials of your chosen donor or talking to your known donor about whether he’d likely be willing to plan on a second round. If you go first, remember it might take a little work to step up to the plate and really support your partner when it’s her turn.
Did you ever consider giving up?
No, but our road was a relatively smooth one in terms of fertility. However, we did strongly consider having a third child, and got as far as doing one insemination before deciding that our family was already complete.
How has your life changed during this process? Before having kids and after having kids?
Lyn– I can’t even remember what my life was like before we had kids. Wait. I know I knitted more. More seriously though, since having our kids, my life is the best it has ever been, and our relationship is the strongest it has ever been.
Gail– I think I have a much better balance now between home life and work life than I did before children, even though now both parts of my life are far busier
How much did you budget for the process? How much has the process cost so far?
We had a bit of a debate about how much to share about the financial details. It feels awkward, and perhaps a bit crass, to talk about the costs of conceiving. I certainly don’t look at my kids and think about how much they cost, and our costs for conceiving pale in comparison to, say, how much we’ve forked over for daycare. But the point of this site is to make information available to families in similar shoes, so we decided to provide the details.
Before we tried the first time, we saved enough for six cycles of trying, or about $6000. This was enough for two vials of sperm per cycle to try at home, at 2006 prices for our particular bank, plus a bit of a slush fund for delivery charges and such. We were trying at home, so we did not budget for IUI costs. We lucked out when Gail got pregnant so fast, and used the rest of the money to finance our second-parent adoption ($2000) and towards storing additional vials from our donor for our hoped for second child. All told, the cost for sperm and adoption was about $3600.
For our second child, we had already banked nine vials of sperm (at a cost of roughly $3600 plus about $700 for storage). Lyn had about a year of acupuncture to treat anovulation before we started trying (it worked!), and also continued acupuncture while trying to conceive, which we estimate cost a total of about $3500. Lyn also got a full fertility workup, since we had reason to be concerned about her ability to conceive (we’d skipped this with Gail), and this was covered by health insurance. We ended up using up those first 9 vials, and ordered 7 more (at a cost of roughly $3700, the cost had gone up, as it turned out, we ultimately only needed one of those vials).
For Lyn, after a couple cycles, we switched from trying at home, to doing IUI at a local clinic that charged $150 per IUI, $150 to wash ICI sperm (our original vials were ICI), as well as $160 for the initial intake, none of which was covered by insurance (though if we’d tried with clinic-based IUI’s for six months, Lyn’s treatments other than donor sperm would have been covered by insurance). This added a total of about $1660 medical costs. We then again had the $2000 cost for our second-parent adoption. This is all an estimate, but our conception and adoption costs for our second child came to about $15,160. Thankfully that was all spread out over about three years.
Was your state/location a challenge to the process? How did it impact your decisions, if at all?
Gail — Living in Massachusetts has been great. We were legally married for two years before having children (since it became legal in 2004), and were both listed on the original birth certificates for both of our children. We were also able to do fairly simple second-parent adoptions so that our parental rights are secure in other states as well. But living here, we never worry about institutionalized homophobia creating difficulties for our family — we know that hospitals, schools, and other systems that we deal with regularly will be able to properly recognize our family. That kind of security makes a huge difference to the support and stability we feel as a family.
Lyn — One time we felt particularly grateful for this security was when we had to take our older daughter to the emergency room (don’t worry, she was fine!). Gail had rushed ahead with her to the hospital and I was following behind after dropping off our son with his grandmother. I ran into the emergency room and said at the desk “My wife just came in with my daughter, she…” and before I was even finished I was ushered back to their room with no questions. I was so grateful not to have to fight for recognition of our family at a scary time.
Will you prepare your children to answer questions about their donor?
We’ve been talking to our children about their origins since before they could talk. However, when our daughter was about two and a half, we realized we didn’t ever talk about the donor around her, and that with our inadvertent silence, we weren’t communicating to her that talking and asking about her donor was OK. If we didn’t open the topic, how would she even know what words to use to ask any questions? So we talk about the donor between us as parents when our kids are listening, and occasionally our daughter will spontaneously ask questions about him (this started at about age four).
In addition, when our daughter was about four, we got a great book about reproduction for kids aged four to seven called “It’s not the Stork.” This book has opened up lots of good conversations. We’ve noticed that since these conversations are already happening, our son has started to pick up on things a bit sooner than our daughter did. We are also friends with a few families with kids via the same donor, so these friends play a part in our conversations about their donor as well.
Any other advice, comments or misc. wisdom about the gay parenting process?
If you both work, strongly consider planning for both parents taking leave when your baby is young, and in particular consider having each of you take at least some of your leave “solo.” Both of us felt like we got on much more solid footing and gained confidence as parents once we had spent substantial time caring for our kids by ourselves. This was particularly true when caring for the kids we didn’t birth, and really helped solidify our family early on. The Family and Medical Leave Act has been expanded to apply to lesbian mothers whose partners give birth, whether or not you are in a state where a second-parent adoption is possible (though the leave will likely be unpaid, as is also the case for many dads and adoptive parents). If there is any way you can swing it financially, it is absolutely worth it to take the leave, and for us, provided long-term benefits. One possibility for dealing with the lost pay is to spread some of the leave out over time, one or two days a week (you are entitled to take the leave anytime during the first year), so that you don’t lose all cash flow, and at the same time cut down on child care costs.
Gail and Lyn write about their experience on relationships, roles, and taking turns in a two mom family at the blog First Time Second Time.