Brisbane has seen an explosion of lesbians getting pregnant and having babies over the last couple of years. A big part of this trend can be attributed to the change in laws in Queensland and better access to health and fertility treatments. Understanding how confusing and time consuming the research process can be, we’ve pulled together some information on the first few steps each lesbian/couple can take on their journey to become mums. This is specifically focused on the process using fertility clinics, which is the most in-depth.
1. Talk to your healthcare provider
For those without private health cover, this isn’t a big deal. The public health system does cover costs relating to pregnancy and birth.
However, for those who wish to use their private health insurance, you need to be aware that in most cases, healthcare providers will require you to hold a relevant policy for 12 months before they will cover your costs. You can shop around for a good deal, talk to different providers about the types of cover they provide (hospital? fertility? emergency relating to pregnancy?), and find one that suits your needs and budget. Private health insurance can run anywhere from $10-$100 p/w depending on the level of cover and rate of excess you want to pay.
2. See your GP
Not only can your GP conduct preliminary health tests (blood pressure, pap smear etc), you also need a referral from your GP to see a fertility clinic for the first time. For the most part, lesbian pregnancies are just like any other so your GP can guide you on the best foods to eat, the best exercise to do and can guide you in the direction of support or mother’s groups in the area.
3. Make a booking with a fertility clinic
Queensland Fertility Group openly welcomes lesbian couples and has extremely good success rates for conception. In fact, their website says that for a healthy woman they fully expect them to conceive within 6 months. Because of the high demand, you’ll have to book at least 4 weeks ahead of your desired appointment time, sometimes longer if you want specific days or a specific doctor. A full list of their doctors can be found on the website.
The initial consultation costs $180 ($100 you get back from Medicare), and will include blood and other health tests to determine your fertility. Should medication or other treatment be required to improve your fertility, they will let you know following the initial consultation. At this first appointment, you can also find out about the different conception processes available and their associated costs. Each person involved will also speak to a psychologist. This is not a test. It is simply so they can be sure each person understands exactly what they’re getting involved with.
4. Health and fitness
Very few of us are truly as fit and healthy as we should be, and they say the number one reason for difficulty in falling pregnant is excess weight. So if you need to, start eating better and exercising more to give yourself the best chance of conceiving quickly and your body the best chance of being able to carry your baby easily to term. Taking a 30 minute walk in the morning and constituting an apple for a Mars Bar will definitely be easier and cheaper in the long run than failed fertility treatments.
Not only does being fit and healthy improve your chances of conceiving, exercising throughout your pregnancy has been proven to produce leaner children (not lighter, but with lower body fat) and children who perform better academically. So if you truly want to give yourself the best chance of having a healthy and happy baby, start now and get in the habit of treating your body as though there is already a baby inside.
In consultation with your doctor at the fertility clinic, there are several things you need to go through before you conceive.
When a Brisbane couple used the QFG 6 months ago, they were told there was only one donor available in Queensland. Because of financial constraints they used this donor; however this does throw up a number of issues you need to be aware of. Each donor is able to produce 10 families so there is the likelihood that your child will have 20-30 siblings in Queensland by the time they reach young adulthood. With the lesbian community already as small as it is, you have to be prepared for your child to meet their half brothers and sisters at some point in their lives and they could be children borne by your friends, your enemies or your ex-partners. And because of the laws in Qld, all donors must be OK with the 18+ Consent, meaning your child will be able to find out who their donor was and make contact with them once they turn 18. For some, this will be ideal, others not. So make sure you work out how you feel about all these issues before taking the plunge.
If you decide that using the same donor as 9 other families in QLD is not for you, there is the option to import semen from overseas, specifically from the United States. Because their laws are dramatically different (they get paid for donations and they can say no to the 18+ Consent) there is a huge range of ethnicities and personalities to choose from, which is especially important for mixed-race couples seeking to produce children that are a combination of both parents. All donors have to follow a strict health policy and all donations are scanned and processed to ensure they are completely healthy and fit for use. Choosing a donor is fairly easy as you can be as specific about them and their backgrounds as you want. Some clinics with great websites include the California Cryobank and the Fairfax Cryobank.
Once purchased, the frozen sperm can be transported to the QFG and stored onsite. Be aware that as donations are used quickly, if you plan to have more than one child, you will need to purchase the semen in bulk and store it here in Qld. There would be nothing worse than having a child and then deciding to have another only to find your donor is no longer available. This of course makes the whole process quite expensive. We’re not certain of exact costs at this moment, but the figure has been placed at around$1000 per try (including imported sperm and using ICI, a more direct insemination technique which we will cover below).
Ovulating and timing
Your doctor at the clinic will give you the tools and know-how to monitor your ovulation, so you can know the ideal day and time for insemination. There a few theories floating around about timing and how it affects your chances of having boy or girl, which you can try if this is particularly important to you. For girls, there are specific items you can remove from your diet (potato especially) which they say will improve your chances, and if insemination takes place 1-2 days prior to ovulation there is a better chance this will produce a girl (the theory is that female sperm are slower so by the time the egg is dropped, the male sperm will have died, giving female sperm the best chance of fertilising the egg). Statistically, using fertility treatment produces more male babies, so if you’re really hoping for a boy there is a strong chance you will have one anyway. But again, there are foods you can try to improve your chances and inseminating as you ovulate will be the best timing.
When the day comes and you are ready for insemination, you will make an appointment with your doctor and go in for treatment. The doctor will conduct an ultrasound and will be able to tell you how many eggs you are dropping. The reason for this is so you can be aware of the chance of multiple births. Should you be dropping more than one egg, you can decide if you would like to go ahead with the insemination or wait until a later date.
Should you go ahead with the insemination on this day, you will have made a decision as to how you’d like it to happen:
Insemination – for women with no fertility issues, the cheapest option is direct insemination. This simply involves the doctor injecting the sperm straight into your uterus. As far as we’re aware, the cost for this is around$275 (using an Australian donor, so no other costs are associated).
IUI or Intrauterine Insemination – this process involves the sperm being placed directly into the female reproductive tract at the time of ovulation. This is a more direct and accurate process, but is more expensive. We don’t have accurate $ figures at this stage, but will find out and update this post.Processes outside of these two options, including IVF, are far more in-depth and will require extensive discussion with your doctor.
Qld’s laws changed as of 1 June 2010, meaning both lesbian parents of a child conceived as a couple are now able to be included on the birth certificate as Mother and Parent. This is great for couples who would have had to pay court costs and legal fees to have the second mother recognised through the family court. However, if you’ve chosen to use a known-donor there could be complications and you should seek legal advice.
Stephen Page is a family lawyer in Brisbane who specialises in gay and lesbian issues, and would be a great starting point for anyone with questions. His website, the Australian Gay and Lesbian Law Blog, covers all issues relating to gay parenting in Australia, specifically Queensland.
Obviously, for many couples the process of getting pregnant is far more complex than the process we’ve listed above, but hopefully this will give you a better idea of what to expect, who to talk to and how to go about it.