IUI or IVF using a regulated sperm bank and fertility clinic provides greater assurances for lesbian couples looking to have a family.
Deciding to start a family is a big step and for lesbian couples the main decision facing them is whether to ‘go it alone’ and find a sperm donor they know or online – or to go through a regulated fertility clinic. There are many myths around using a fertility clinic and below we ‘bust’ four of the most common ones:
Myth 1: Using a fertility clinic will be hugely expensive
Many find the issue of ‘sourcing’ sperm a difficult one and a large number explore the option of asking someone they know or searching for men advertising online as sperm donors. “The key reason that many same-sex couples and single women seek out sperm donors online is for cost reasons,” says Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Regional Lead Clinician with Bourn Hall.
“Their perception is that using a regulated sperm bank will be expensive. We usually find that women who come to us for sperm donation and treatment are pleasantly surprised when they find out how much it is going to cost.”
Rachel and Clare are one such couple. “We heard a radio advert for Bourn Hall and 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.”
Bourn Hall offers a number of funding options for treatments such as IUI or IVF with donor sperm through ‘pay as you go’; money back guarantee and multi-cycle packages and free treatment for egg sharers.
Myth 2: All we need is the sperm and then we will get pregnant
It is often assumed that sperm is the only thing same-sex female couples or single women need to get pregnant – but there is also the chance that they may also have a fertility or other health issue. When Melanie didn’t fall pregnant after using the sperm from a website donor she and her wife Laura decided to visit their GP.
The couple also had the added complication that Laura had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 21, so they had decided at the outset that Melanie should be the one to carry a baby.
At the GP tests revealed that Melanie’s irregular periods were the result of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common reason for infertility, and that she was not ovulating and so would need fertility treatment to conceive.
Bourn Hall offers fertility health and wellbeing checks with no waiting times and results available within six weeks. The tests can be selected according to your requirements.
Myth 3: IUI or IVF – we won’t need IVF we just need artificial insemination
Women who choose to go to a regulated clinic rather than ‘do it themselves’ might assume they will automatically be treated using IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) – a form of assisted conception treatment where prepared sperm is injected high in to the womb at the time of ovulation. It is more natural as it uses the body’s natural cycle, less invasive than IVF and less expensive.
Whilst many of Bourn Hall’s same-sex couples are treated using IUI, sometimes it is more appropriate for them to have IVF. This is where the ovaries are stimulated to produce more eggs at the same time, these are collected and mixed with the sperm in the laboratory. The benefits are that the menstrual cycle is controlled so that the chances of conception are optimised and it overcomes fertility issues such as blocked fallopian tubes, reduced egg production – but it does require more medication.
Patient choice is important to us so do take the opportunity to talk through all the options before making a decision.
For some same-sex couples IVF also offers more options, for example if you want to share the experience so that one partner produces the eggs and the other carries the pregnancy.
Rachel and Ange have two children, Joe and Charlie, born after treatment at Bourn Hall. Whilst Rachel carried both pregnancies, Joe was conceived after she had IUI using one of her own eggs and Charlie after IVF using one of Ange’s eggs.
Both Rachel and Ange had to have hormone treatment at the same time for the IVF. “Our cycles had to be ‘synched’ so that we were at the same point,” says Rachel. “Ange felt more involved in the process because it was her eggs which were harvested.” The eggs collected from Ange were mixed with the donor sperm in the embryology lab. “There was one embryo which was way ahead in terms of quality and that one was transferred to my womb,” says Rachel. The couple were elated when Rachel fell pregnant and were able to tell Joe after the 20-week scan that a baby brother was on his way.
Myth 4: Sperm is sperm – it doesn’t make any difference how we get it!
Couples who use online donors have no recourse if the donor is a carrier of a hereditary or medical condition. The issue around legal parentage is also blurred and sometimes the donor and the recipients have met. There is no enforceable upper limit on how many women unregulated sperm donors may have provided sperm to – presenting the possibility of a high number of half-siblings.
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.
Bourn Hall has its own sperm bank, which is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. All donors are asked about their medical and family history and Bourn Hall performs a medical examination and blood tests.
All sperm samples are rigorously screened and then frozen and quarantined for six months, after which the donor is invited back to repeat the tests. The donor is encouraged to write a short goodwill message to share with the child, who is able to request more information once they are 18 years old. Non-identifying information is provided to the potential parents to assist the selection of the donor.
“I would strongly recommend to other lesbian couples the safety aspect of using a regulated clinic,” says Melanie who with wife Laura now has twins Jasmine and Isaac after treatment at Bourn Hall .
“The sperm donor has no legal rights over a child born through a UK fertility clinic. You have that security that no one is going to knock on your door or ring you and say ‘that child is mine and I am going to fight you for it’.”