To mark Pride Month 2020 we are featuring stories from our LGBT+ patients. Rachel and Clare decided not to go the online sperm donor route and chose IUI at a regulated clinic.
Rachel always imagined being a mum but could never picture what her perfect partner might look like. Rachel admits that cupid’s arrow struck in a way she hadn’t seen coming.
“I met Clare through work in 2011. Both of us had only ever gone out with men before so it took a number of years to accept where our relationship was heading and to admit to each other how we felt,” remembers Rachel.
Once the couple had got together and come out to all their friends and family, Rachel had to confront her fears that being in a same-sex relationship was going to stop her having a child of her own.
“Once we got together properly we had an awkward conversation about children,” Rachel explains. “Clare already had a teenage son, Joshua, and we both knew that having children wasn’t something that was ‘just going to happen’, but I had this massive maternal instinct.
“I just hadn’t prepared myself for a journey of not having a baby in the way I had expected. As far as I was concerned it was a deal breaker, I really wanted to be a mum.”
As the relationship grew serious Rachel and Clare started investigating what options were open to them.
We decided against online sperm donor
“We knew that the NHS might offer us something but we had heard that there was a huge waiting list,” says Rachel. “We then looked at the online sperm donor route. I even signed up for a specialist website aimed at lesbian couples but we decided very early on that it was all a bit seedy. I had also heard a lot of stories where it can all get a bit confusing further down the line with the legalities of parenthood and it led us to make a pretty quick decision that we wanted to do things properly.”
One morning the couple heard a radio advert for fertility clinic Bourn Hall. “We said to ourselves ‘let’s go and have a look round’ but we were laughing as we said it as we just assumed that we wouldn’t be able afford it,” says Rachel.
“We went along to an open day and thought we would have to pretend that we were loaded and then were pleasantly surprised when we found out that the treatment was nowhere near as expensive as we thought it was going to be!”
They also assumed that they would be the ‘token lesbian couple’. “We went in and looked around and it was really exciting,” smiles Rachel. “There were so many people there and we weren’t the only gay couple. It was actually really eye-opening.”
We didn’t need IVF
The couple had already agreed that it would be Rachel, being the younger of the two, who would carry the baby, which meant that only she had to undergo fertility tests.
“It actually turned out that I was extremely fertile,” says Rachel. “This meant that I didn’t need IVF and could be treated using a procedure called IUI with donor sperm.”
IUI stands for Intrauterine Insemination, where prepared sperm is introduced into the uterus at the time of ovulation. Fertility drugs might be needed to stimulate egg production and ovulation and to prepare the uterus to receive embryos. It is a form of treatment that is straightforward, painless and relatively inexpensive.
Choosing the donor
The first step for Rachel and Clare was to choose their sperm donor.
By using a licensed UK clinic couples are assured they both have legal parenthood of resulting children and the donor has no legal status. They can also reserve sibling sperm for further children and there is a maximum number of families that the donor can help.
The donor is encouraged to write a short goodwill message to share with the child, who is able to request identifying information once they are 18 years old. Non-identifying information is provided to the potential parents at the time of treatment to assist the selection of the donor.
Rachel explains how they chose the donor. “We wanted someone who was a bit athletic and health-conscious along with having similar characteristics to our eldest son so that the children could look similar. We were given a choice of three donors based on the characteristics we had prioritised and we chose our donor based on the really nice little message he had written at the bottom of his profile as we felt that he had gone the extra mile.”
Moment of conception
Being ‘extremely fertile’ is still no guarantee of a woman falling pregnant, either naturally or during fertility treatment and Rachel fell pregnant after her third IUI treatment. She still remembers the moment her first son was conceived as she saw it happen on a screen at Bourn Hall.
“Clare was sat right next to me holding my hand during the procedure and we watched the sperm swimming in my uterus on the screen after the injection. We actually have a picture of that moment which is not something that most people can say they have!” she laughs.
Rachel really enjoyed being pregnant. “Pregnancy was amazing,” she says. “I think I shocked everyone around me as I was one of those annoying people who glowed!”
On 21 September 2017 son Clayton was born to the delight of both Rachel and Clare and his extremely proud big brother, Joshua who is now 17.
Second baby with IUI using the same sperm donor
Just over a year later the couple went back to Bourn Hall and Rachel had IUI using sperm from the same donor. Second-time-around their treatment worked first time and on 12 June 2019 son Clark was born.
Clare says: “Clark is very nearly walking now, he’s such a happy child and always smiling (unless hangry!). He adores his big brothers Clayton and Joshua, always approaching them to see what they are doing and to try to join in.”
Rachel reflects that the advances made since the birth of the world’s first IVF baby Louise Brown over 40 years ago in fertility treatments, associated legislation and positive changes in attitudes to same-sex couples have enabled her and Clare to become parents. “This opportunity wouldn’t have been available to us a few years ago,” says Rachel. “Bourn Hall has meant that I can be with the person I want to be with and I get to have a family too, I cannot thank them enough.”