We all experience infertility space differently. Our journey’s are unique and at the end of the day our presence on this platform is also unique. With that said, I am so honored to share Elizabeth and Sarah's journey with you all. I learned so much about the LGBTQ community just by chatting with them, that I had so many more questions. Elizabeth and Sarah were so kind and answered all of them and have also given me the clear to share with all of you! So what better way to spread awareness on this last day of NIAW 2021 than to share with all of you everything they have to offer!
Sarah and Elizabeth are a same sex lesbian couple that started their reciprocal IVF journey in the summer of 2019. They had a successful FET in Feb 2020 right before the pandemic hit the US. In October 2020, they gave birth to their daughter Eliza.
How did you decide on a clinic? Did you choose one that was specifically LGBT inclusive? Sarah did a lot of research on clinics before choosing the Emory Reproductive Center in Atlanta. She started with the CDC ART Success Rates and fertilitysuccessrates.com. We were willing to travel anywhere for treatment and we were very lucky to find out Emory (we were living in Atlanta at the time) had the best success rates for our age and health background. Emory also specializes in LGBT family planning and we made sure to ask our doctor about her experience with lesbian couples during our consultation. We absolutely loved our doctor and felt very comfortable moving forward with her. How did you go about finding a sperm donor? Was it costly? Sarah also spent a lot of time researching donor sperm. (Are you starting to see a pattern? She’s the research arm of the relationship haha.) We ultimately chose to go with Fairfax because of the candidate we found. Since I (Elizabeth) was carrying Sarah’s egg, it was important for us to find a donor with a similar ethnic background. Fairfax offered face matching so we thought that was a cool feature. We also did not want a repeat of health issues between the donor's family and Sarah’s (like RA) and since Elizabeth was IgG positive, our donor also had to be positive. To be honest, when you consider all of the above, there are not a lot of options.
Each vial of sperm cost us $500 and Fairfax required you to buy a minimum of 2 vials. They only needed to use one after Sarah’s egg retrieval. The remaining sperm can be stored at our clinic for an additional cost of $500 per year.
Did you prefer IUI or IVF? We knew from the beginning that we wanted to do reciprocal IVF so IUI was never an option for us.
Did you need to involve attorneys for any of the steps? Since we used donor sperm through a sperm bank, all of the legality from the donor had already been handled. (If you choose a known donor you must work with your donor and an attorney to release the donor’s parental rights.) If you go on to a have a child via RIVF, in many states, the biological mother must adopt the child in order to have full parental rights. In other states, the gestational mother must adopt the child. The laws vary from state to state and so do the fees. Some states have forms you can fill out on your own while others require an attorney and sometimes even a home study must be completed before the parent can be “approved” for adoption. A lesbian attorney in Pennsylvania has started an organization, Connecting Rainbows that helps connect families with knowledgable attorneys in their state that she has personally vetted. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation out there and many family attorneys do not know the laws as it pertains to same-sex parents and their legal rights. How did you decide on who would carry the pregnancy? Sarah has never had the desire to carry and I was indifferent to it. During initial testing it was discovered that Sarah has abnormalities in her uterus that could result in a higher miscarriage rate. How did you decide on who would undergo egg retrieval? In order to prep for IVF and pregnancy, I stopped taking my antidepressants and ADHD medication 2 years prior*. While it was not easy, I am much happier and healthier now. Depression runs in my family and at the time when we were discussing eggs and donors, I did not feel comfortable possibly passing on my depression genes to our children. It also was important to Sarah to have a biological child. (*This was a personal goal of mine. Weaning of medications should also be done at the direction of your doctor. It is safe to remain on some drugs when TTC so always consult with your doctor first.) Were there any tests you had done before starting IVF to determine any of the above questions? In order to make sure our plan would work we had to complete the following: - Sarah (before egg retrieval) had blood work to check AMH levels, FSH and Estradiol and a transvaginal ultrasound (this is where they discovered her uterus condition). - Elizabeth (before transfer) had to complete blood work and a saline infusion sonogram (SIS). It was optional to check my Fallopian tubes with a Hysterosalpingogram (HSG) but we opted not to do this.
Are IVF or fertility treatments covered by insurance? It depends on your insurance coverage. We suggest calling your insurance company prior to starting treatments and asking to speak with a fertility specialist. Many insurance companies have a dedicated department. We had fertility coverage but it did not cover my transfer because it was considered surrogacy which is not covered. Our policy did cover a portion of Sarah’s egg retrieval and a portion of her stim drugs. How do you feel about your place in the infertility community? To be honest, while going through IVF I felt like a big phony in the community. I witnessed so much heartache and felt guilty that we had a successful transfer the first time. It’s hard to not play the comparison game even when it comes to suffering. This community has given me so much support and I try to give back as much as I can by helping others going through the IVF process. This community has brought me so many friendships and I am also thankful for the other same sex couples I have found here. What is something you wish you knew before starting fertility treatments that no one told you? We have a blog post on this topic but the hardest part for us was watching the numbers drop after egg retrieval. Our doctor warned us that attrition was normal and expected but it was still hard. How has having to go through IVF affected your relationship? While IVF was stressful, we tried to find humor in the process (mostly when my hormones started to fluctuate and I would cry for no reason). We administered each other's shots and made a nightly ritual out of it, always playing the same song. Those songs will always remind us of those times. By Sarah going through the egg retrieval process, she had so much more appreciation for what I was about to experience being pregnant. IVF taught us how to manage uncontrollable hormones and unexplainable mood swings which only continued through pregnancy and postpartum. How has going through IVF made you feel about being a lesbian in the infertility community? This community has really opened my eyes to all of the struggles so many face going through IVF and also the difficulties lesbians have when starting a family. We all know that IVF is physically and emotionally taxing for everyone but for lesbians, it is one of the only options we have to have a family (and none of the options are easy). Many lesbians start this journey thinking it will be a quick process and are shocked to find out how much time (and money) it takes. At times I felt like I did not belong in this community (due to my own insecurities) because our path to get here was different than the other stories I was seeing. You mentioned “Diblings” can you expand on that? Will you want your daughter to meet her donor siblings? Since we used donor sperm, our daughter has other children in the US that she is related to (when selecting our donor it was noted that his sperm had resulted in live births). There is a site that connects donor offspring and it is optional to register your child in a donor sibling registry (only after the child is born). This registry connects you with other families that share the same donor. Through this registry we have virtually met one of Eliza’s diblings (donor-siblings). We have exchanged emails and pictures and plan to meet in the near future. So far this is the only family we have been paired with but we hope there are more in the future. Some families choose to meet and even become extended family to each other while others exchange information for health reasons. There is a wide range of relationships between diblings. What has been the most rewarding part about being in this infertility/IVF community? What has been the hardest? The hardest part has been the comparison game - comparing protocols, comparing outcomes, comparing hurt, etc. The most rewarding part has been not feeling alone this process. IVF can feel very isolating if you do not know other people going through it. The best part for me was finding other people going through a transfer at the same time. I encourage everyone going through fertility treatment to find a solid support group - whether that is family, friends, or some of the amazing people in the instagram community.