Earlier this year, my wife Kathy and I decided to finally embark on the quest of starting a family. (Beyond the one we already have, of course, full of animals and friends and loved ones.) While we are still just scraping by financially, as we probably always will be, we both have steady jobs and an extra bedroom in our apartment. We love where we live. The there is never a perfect time to start a family advice friends had given us was starting to feel legit.
(Although I will say that while this statement is true on the surface, for some people there are definitely bad times to start a family. An experience that ended up working out for you won't necessarily work for everyone. If we weren't privileged, we wouldn't even be able to think about this process, or see truth in that statement.)
We decided to give a biological baby a go, for a few different reasons. The trouble is, though, as a queer woman, I felt like I had absolutely no idea where to start. Some Google searches helped me figure out the differences between IUI and IVF. Cool. But as a librarian, I really wanted a book. I wanted to be able to walk into Powell's and pick up a manual for queer ladies who want babies. But as far as I know, such a book doesn't exist. I grew extremely jealous that some people can just sex it up and POOF get a baby for free.
After a few months of attempts at IUI, though, we have learned some things, and I wanted to document some of the steps we've gone through on here. First, because maybe describing it can help someone else looking for either advice or solace. Secondly, because Kathy and I have actually decided to start a new route towards a family, one that we are very excited about. But I don't want to discount the last few months of our lives. This process is weird. Life is weird. It's important to talk about it.
So here we go! Steps to make a baby if you are a lady who loves ladies:
So here we go! Steps to make a baby if you are a lady who loves ladies:
1. This is boring, but important. If you have health insurance, find out if your provider covers fertility services. SHOCKER, most of them don't. This is part of the cold calculus that goes into so much of our health care system. In a sense, yes, fertility services are a choice, or "voluntary" care, even for hetero couples who can't conceive naturally. Because we could all just choose to...not conceive, right? In a calculus where the only thing that matters is money, sure. But from an empathetic, human perspective, it's pretty messed up that only people who were born with the natural ability to get knocked up, who then couple with someone with the ability to do the knocking up, are the only ones who can have families. That was a long and awkward sentence, but you get it. There are a lot of children born to parents who don't really want them. It seems fair that the people who really do want them should be able to have them without the prerequisite of being billionaires.
We have Kaiser-Permanente insurance, one of the few companies who offer 50% coverage for most fertility services. This was a big reason we were able to start trying. But even then, 50% didn't end up meaning 50% for everything.
2. You then have to actually get hooked up with a fertility nurse. The way I did this was scheduling a regular pap appointment with an OB-GYN, who then got me a referral to the fertility department. This "Uh, so if I wanted to make a baby with my lady, how would I go about that" conversation with my OB-GYN was super awkward, but I got through it, and you can, too. And hey, even if you don't want a baby, make an appointment for a pap with your OB-GYN! They are important!
3. Meeting with our fertility nurse, and afterwards our fertility doctor, was super great and one of the most positive parts of our personal experience. They never once made us feel weird for being queer, and were supportive and helpful whenever I had questions. I am very aware that this is probably not true in every clinic everywhere in America, so I am very grateful. If you are going all in on this thing with a partner, make sure you show up to at least the first appointment together. You'll both be signing some paperwork. It will feel like the first official step and it'll be pretty exciting.
4. Once you have some blood work done to ensure you are healthy and producing progesterone (a magic word you will become very acquainted with; it just means you are ovulating), you have to get the sperm. And this is the frustrating, expensive, and gross part. In our experience, we had to procure the sperm on our own, and there are only two sperm banks in the vicinity of the Pacific Northwest that they recommend: the Seattle Sperm Bank, and one in California. Seattle is closer and cheaper, so, obvs we went with them. They give you this catalog where you see donors' baby pictures and what they majored in in college. It all feels very creepy.
5. Once you decide on a donor, you have to figure out when you are going to ovulate, which you can do in a number of ways, but the most surefire way is by peeing on a ClearBlue ovulation test stick every morning. Peeing on a stick: not as easy as it sounds! My biggest piece of advice would be to track your cycle for AT LEAST a few months before you're going to try so that you really know what's going on with yourself.
Because listen, the sperm ordering time window is stressful. You have to order it before you ovulate, obvs, but you don't want to get it TOO early so that your frozen sperm die before you can put them inside you. But if you order too late, your sperm could still be in transit somewhere while your egg is making its way downtown and you have like, as little as 12 hours to get that stuff in there. This is the worst because sperm are fucking expensive and if you blow it, you've wasted a bunch of money AND you have to wait at least four more weeks to go through this nightmare again. Oh, and guess what. Sometimes you don't ovulate at all! Yeah, I know! What kind of a cruel joke is that!
6. Once you get the sperm, you or your partner can put it inside you yourselves, but one, ew, and two, how do you know you did that shit right?! So make an appointment with your doctor. It's simple and painless. HOWEVER, if you make a Jane the Virgin joke when your doctor is confirming that all your info is correct, your doctor might make a kind but slightly annoyed comment insinuating everyone makes that joke, and you will feel unoriginal and like you've totally blown the opportunity to impress your super cool and funny doctor. So. DON'T MAKE THAT JOKE.
7. Then. The worst part. You wait. This part is the same for everyone who's trying to get pregnant, queer or not, but it really is awful. You tell yourself, it's fine! It's cool! Whatever happens happens! You know the odds aren't that good (because they really aren't, at least with IUI). But on the inside, of course, you hope the odds will be on your side. You can't stop yourself from watching creepy ass videos online about what could or could not be happening inside your body AT THAT EXACT MOMENT and reading message boards full of baby crazed ladies who use a million weird acronyms for LITERALLY EVERYTHING. It is the weirdest feeling, knowing this incredible thing could be happening. Or it could totally not be. And the only thing you can do is wait.
8. The most fucked up thing? If you get your period, not only are you really sad that you're not pregnant, but you also HAVE YOUR PERIOD. It is the worst kind of double whammy. Plus, all the symptoms of being pregnant are the same as getting your period. You are already hyper aware of everything happening to your body. Sore boobs? General achey-ness? Overly emotional? Guess what! Could be pregnant! Could just be getting your stupid period!
And that, essentially, is how far we ever got.
Before we started this journey, I was always frustrated at the societal norm of having to stay silent about getting pregnant until you're however many weeks into it. I understand this, of course. So many women have miscarriages or other complications early on, so you want to "make sure" before making any big announcements. But those miscarriages and complications are painful and traumatic. The whole process of even trying can be exhausting and frustrating and take up all your mental space. Why can't we talk about it? Why are we always silencing women's experiences?
After going through some of it, though, I don't necessarily think it's always women censoring themselves. Sometimes the process really does just feel special and private, and something you want to keep to yourselves. Sometimes you just don't want to have to answer questions, especially when you're queer.
I'm also hyper aware of how much talk about babies can consume women at a certain point in our lives, and how boring and irritating that can be to friends and family who are, in fact, not interested in babies at all. Honestly, most of the time I had a mash-up of all those feelings at once. I couldn't tell if I didn't talk about it with everyone I knew because I didn't want to or because I felt like I shouldn't.
But if you want to talk about it. You can. If you want to take a day or two off of work because you got your period when you really didn't want to and you are super bummed, that is okay, too.
I also felt slightly selfish throughout this process for wanting to attempt a biological baby at all. Why add another human to the world when there are so many kiddos out there already who need someone to love them? Why spend so much money on sperm when I owe Navient and the state of Oregon and all my credit card companies so much money? But even though we are moving on from the idea for now, I don't regret it. And I do feel sorrow at letting go of the idea, sorrow that I am attempting to honor by writing about it here.
One positive of trying to get pregnant is that you learn a lot about your body. I had never even really kept track of my cycles before, and learning more about how my body worked in that way felt cool and empowering. It gave me the same feelings that training for the PCT gave me. Knowing your body, feeling in control of it, feels so powerful. I feel like I've only started to truly know my body in my 30s, and it is work, work that I'm definitely not always good at. But it's important work. I wish we taught people to do it earlier.
I also have a renewed respect for women who not only get pregnant--because researching it more thoroughly and imagining it all happening to me was, frankly, terrifying--but who try for months and months or years and years to do so. It is a time consuming, anxiety inducing experience, and to keep going through it shows such incredible strength and resiliency.
And if you're someone who struggles with feelings of selfishness, too, about wanting to have a biological baby, don't. It's not stupid. It makes as much sense to never want to give birth as it makes sense to want to. These decisions are big deals, whether you're queer, straight, or single. Everyone's feelings are valid. You can do what you want.
As we navigate more avenues of building a family, I'll continue to document what I want to on here. Because I still haven't found any manuals but maybe one day we'll build one together. Because it's weird and important and it's okay to talk about it. Even when you don't know the ending.