How can lesbian couples build a family through assisted reproductive technologies?

Australia is one of world’s most LGBTQ-accepting countries, as a poll found that even back in 2013, 79% of Australians agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Our laws legally protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, and they have largely equal rights including childbearing.

If you belong to this community and are thinking about having kids with the help of assisted reproductive technologies, what do you need to know? This blog will try to get lesbian couples’ options covered and common questions answered.

Sperm options

If both you and your partner have no reproductive problems, then either one of you could bear a child with donor sperm. There are two types of sperm sources. One to use a friend or family member who has agreed to undergo testing and donate the sperm to you. While some people find it easier this way, others do not like the idea of having personal and legal complications to this process.

Alternatively, you can choose to access donor sperm through a sperm bank. The sperm stored here has already undergone genetic testing, sperm analysis, as well as STI and health assessments with the donor. Therefore, choosing donor sperm means that you don’t have to wait for these tests to be done.

Insemination options

Intrauterine insemination

Also known as IUI, intrauterine insemination involves delivery of sperm directly into the uterus, with the help of a doctor. IUI can be done by itself or with medications like Clomid or the “trigger shot” at the same time. IUI is generally the first choice for lesbian couples without infertility issues.

Intracervical insemination

Aka ICI, this method involves inserting sperm into the cervix through the vagina using a syringe filled with donor sperm. ICI is probably the easiest option, which can be done at home without doctor’s supervision. But also for this reason, it is not widely recommended by healthcare providers.

In vitro fertilisation

You have probably already heard about IVF on this news. “In vitro” means in a dish. IVF is when the fertilisation of an egg and sperm happens outside the body and in a laboratory setting.

IVF is more complicated than the first two approaches as a woman needs to undergo ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval procedures. The cost of IVF is also considerably higher. However, the advantages of IVF is that an experienced embryologist can directly observe whether fertilisation has occurred and early embryo development is normal. For these reasons, IVF is the most widely used treatment for couples with infertility struggles.

Reciprocal IVF

This is an option mostly used in lesbian couples who want to involve both partners in the process of pregnancy. One woman’s eggs are retrieved to be fertilised by donor sperm, and a resulting embryo is then transferred into her partner’s uterus. This way, both women are biologically involved in the pregnancy. Despite the extra steps that we need to do in reciprocal IVF, the success rates are actually quite high considering we are working with reproductively healthy women most of the time.

Next steps

If you are an LGBTQ+ couple hoping to conceive, it is crucially important that you design a personalised plan with the right healthcare provider and support system. You may also have a discussion with your health insurance company to find out what’s covered and what your out-of-pocket charges would be for the different options that we introduced above.

For more personalised information regarding LGBTQ+ pregnancy, you can contact Melbourne-based fertility specialist, Dr Alex Polyakov here.