Lesbian conception in the UK vs. the US

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the ways in which the process is different for us being UK based rather than living in the US (where the vast majority or the lesbian ttc blogs I’ve found are based).

The difference which stands out most is this nifty National Health Service thing we’ve got going on. Although the Government have just passed a bill to dismantle it, the NHS which currently pretty fucking fantastic. It’s not perfect and it’s a far more clunky than a bespoke service in which you’re a customer instead of a  patient but it ensures your treatment is not based on your ability to pay.

Currently NICE guidelines (NICE is the body which makes recommendations about what the NHS should fund) recommend 3 cycles of IUI and 3 cycles of IVF to couples, including lesbian couples, who are having problems conceiving.  For lesbian couples you don’t need to show an extra problem – the lack of sperm will do it.  Not all PCTs (health authorities in different areas) follow these guidelines but luckily ours does so that’s what we’ll get for free.  The fact that the last Government ensured lesbian couples should receive the same treatment as heterosexual couples with regard to fertility treatment is something I’m very grateful for but it does seem odd that after only 3 IUIs they’ll only pay for you to have IVF – I’m pretty sure this makes treating lesbians far more expensive than it needs to be for them.  The sperm and everything to do with it (storage, shipping etc) we have to pay for – they used to cover this but it changed a couple of years ago.

In this regard it seems clear to me that I’m very lucky to live in the UK.  However, going through the NHS very much means you have to fit in with their timetable rather than they with yours (which with fertility can be particularly frustrating/tricky).  Of course, you can go right ahead and pay privately in which case I think you’d get a lot more control over timing etc, but then hardly anyone in the UK has medical insurance (why would you bother?) whereas I get the impression (perhaps totally wrongly) that this is pretty much the norm in the US – so in effect people get free treatment and the perks of being a customer so getting more control (have I got this wrong?).

The thing that can seem frustrating reading your blogs from a UK perspective is that things seem much more regulated here.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of regulation and think it’s quite right that sperm should be thoroughly tested etc etc but I’m very jealous of people getting sperm delivered to their door which is illegal in the UK (in frozen form from a clinic).  Sperm is only allowed to be sent to a registered fertility clinic and used there.  It may be that we would have ended up with a clinic anyway – but I would have liked to have a few tries at home first without endless rounds of testing first.

That’s another thing that’s frustrating about having to go through a clinic – I have to be tested a million times (may be a slight exaggeration) before the sperm is allowed anywhere near me.  Now maybe this is sensible and I’m just impatient to get going, and given the amount we’re paying for sperm it’s probably sensible to check myself out first, but it does seem a bit frustrating to be jammed into the same category as straight couples who have been trying for at least a year (which is the criteria for NHS treatment) where it makes sense to check out your tubes, ovarian reserves etc whereas there’s nothing to indicate that this would be the first step for a lesbian couple. Sigh. I’m probably just being impatient!
Also, because we’re using an anonymous donor, we have to have a mandatory counselling session.  I kind of get why.  But it feels ever so slightly insulting to be told we need this, as though we’d even think of approaching a clinic without having thought everything through really really carefully.  Now I think the fact they offer free counselling is brilliant – and we may have even taken them up on it (probably not – but may have done if we’d reached this stage a couple of years ago) but the fact it’s a legal requirement is a bit much.

The other difference is the criteria for frozen sperm.  A few years ago entirely anonymous donation was banned, so now everyone donating sperm has to be willing to be contacted at 18 – this includes imported sperm.  Now, this isn’t on the face of it a problem for L and I as we’d want ‘open to contact at 18’ anyway – but it has led to a huge sperm shortage which is why most people now have to import. Bizarrely, although this rule applies, UK sperm banks aren’t allowed to show photos (even baby photos) which seems a little inconsistent (and meant we definitely felt we had to import).  I’m really interested to hear what people think about banning the use of completely anonymous donors – which I think is still the norm in the US?

Lastly (though perhaps I’ve missed lots), and I’m VERY grateful for this one, because me and L are in a civil partnership, she’ll be on the birth certificate and will have equal parental rights as soon as the baby is born…no need for all this ludicrous adopting your own child crap.

So, overall on the basis of cost but most importantly the legal rights we get I’m grateful to be doing it in the UK however I do feel jealous of the flexibility the US system seems to offer and also the much wider choice of sperm donor (lots of US sperm banks either don’t want to or aren’t allowed to important to the UK because of how strict the regime is).

What do you guys think?

Almost there

Right – in a bid to get the ‘what’s happened so far’ stuff out of the way I’m going to try and keep this shorter – I apologise for the length of some of my previous posts!  It would feel wrong to start this blog without some of the background context, but I realise none of you are that interested in my life story!  Besides, I have ttc to start obsessing over (first Doctors appointment in less than two weeks!) and a lot of more theoretical/political/arg-what-the-fuck-are-we-doing rambling that I really hope this blog can help me make sense of!

So, although we did continue to look at the previously mentioned “matching” sites, we also started to look in earnest at sperm banks.  I say we, I was more willing to let go of a known donor than L was at this point, but over several months of nothing much else cropping up on the websites, they were pretty much abandoned by us both and L was on the sperm-bank-train as well.  We had an agreement to keep looking at both options, and decided when something felt right (whichever method it was) it would just feel right  To start with, we were mostly window shopping, so didn’t pay for access to any of the extended profiles and just check out the few sites with a fair amount of info that was free both in the US and Europe (access was far more expensive than the matching sites, and we’d already let that lapse and paid again a couple of times on the sites over a couple of years – see my posts are far too long but this really is the abridged version!).

What were we looking for – healthy obviously, someone who seemed like someone we’d relate to, willing to be known non-negotiable (for ourselves as well as for UK law), over 5″11 ish, nice looking (we were never looking for movie star good looks but we didn’t want someone neither of us thought was even vaguely attractive).  Ethnicity wise we decided that it would be odd to throw something completely random into the mix that reflected neither L or myself so not someone Chinese or pale and blond (two examples among many)- perhaps strangely (or at least some of our friends think it’s strange) it was more looks than ethnic background though so dark complexion, dark hair (which is what I look like) was considered, be this south American, southern European or Indian.  One of L’s non-negotiable points was an adult photo – from reading other blogs I know some people have been horrified by this idea (if anyone can explain why in the comments I’d be very grateful – totally don’t get this!).  I might have been more prepared to accept a baby or child photo but this was never on the table for us so that was that.

This process again took forever (or it seemed like it, probably about a year) and it was yet again depressing going back to the same sites again and again to see the same 20 people (and that’s before we narrowed it down with our criteria).  Some of those profiles are now committed to memory and I swear for some of the sites I could now match the 20 baby photos with their adult job titles.  Most of the sites were in the US and the criteria for sperm in the UK is much stricter so some banks can’t export at all and for those who can it’s only for some of their donors.  UK sperm banks don’t allow photos so we have to import.  There’s an awful lot of Danish sperm around for some reason which 90% of the time meant very blond and pale and therefore out (the cast of The Killing obviously weren’t conceived using the nation’s stock of banked sperm).
Then when I called a fertility centre to start asking about prices, someone mentioned the name of the bank we settled on, and just like that there were about 60 profiles, with adult photos that shipped to the UK.  For someone who hasn’t spent years trawling the Internet for sperm (I can’t believe I typed that – but I also can’t believe I’ve spent years trawling the Internet for sperm, and I really have!) this may not seem significant, and I know in the US there are tons of banks you can use, but for us this was incredible. 60 PROFILES. ADULT PHOTOS. UK STANDARD.

We got the credit card our again, paid the $200 for unlimted access to profiles and we were off (coming to a blog near you soon – can we raise our child using only items found in bins after bankrupting ourselves in their conception)…

Meeting known donors…

So…we did actually narrow down the search and arrange to meet potential donors twice.

One guy was really nice, and will undoubtedly make a great father (and hopefully already has).  We just didn’t quite click, we clicked in a if I’d been introduced to him at some work thing, I’d think he was a nice guy, but we didn’t click in a “I can imagine you being in my life forever” kind of way…I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone for an hour and necessarily felt that, but I wanted a bit more chemistry (or something undefinable) and it wasn’t there.

The second couple were OK, but not really our sort of people (and this was clearly very mutual) – they were just far more small c conservative, and (although I didn’t ask) seemed like they’d probably vote tory (for Americans that’s republican). I can’t imagine a context in which I’d let tory sperm anywhere near my uterus.  I’m sorry if that’s vaguely offensive to anyone (well I’m not really sorry) but our politics are important to us…and that’s a line we wouldn’t cross!

To be far to nice guy number one, and honest with ourselves…I think it would never have worked.  Ultimately these guys wanted to be parents and so did we, in an exclusive “back away from our child” kind of way.  Neither of us could get our head around the biological father of our child being someone we hadn’t even seen a photo of, and we were trying to convince ourselves that we were OK with some sort of shared parenting when we definitely weren’t.  I think I always either felt this more strongly than L, or just realised it sooner.

I think the problem for us was that the profiles that appealed to us most were gay men who were on those websites for the same reasons as us – they wanted kids – why they appealed to us was because they were far more “normal” (not a word I love but unsure how else to put it) and easy to relate to.  It felt like a slightly dishonest negotiation though – we needed sperm (and weren’t yet willing to let go of the notion that it was ‘fairest’ for our child to have some contact with their biological father) so were willing to consider a relationship with the child in return, they because it’s far far more difficult for gay men to have biological children were being forced to negotiate away residency and the level of contact they wanted in return for some womb space.  There was also the sense (though perhaps this was entirely in my head – I have an awful tendency to over analise) that for now we were in the position of “strength” as wombs were harder to come by than sperm is, but that could all change when the baby was born and with the current system in the UK there’s no way to have legal certainty before a child is born over levels of contact or residency.  In that way not only did the prospect make me feel really insecure about our family (as in me, L and the as yet imaginary child) but it also made me feel a bit like we were taking advantage…

I realise that last paragraph (or probably the whole post!) may not paint me in a particularly favourable light, but that’s honestly how I felt.  Oddly, I felt all that along with some sort of weird guilt that I was depriving these guys of the chance to have a child when their options were so much more limited than ours. Phew.

Although we halfheartedly emailed a couple more people after that, and still checked the sites on a semi-regular basis, I think it made us both realise that a co-parenting/known donor scenario just wasn’t for us.  Who knows, we might have met someone and created a fantastic family, but I’m far more inclined to believe it wouldn’t have been great for either party…

As I said in the comments on my last post, we do know (vaguely – not nearly well enough to talk that authoritatively about the details) a lesbian couple who ‘used’ a straight guy from one of those websites who did the job over about a year and has now vanished back to his life, and they have a wonderful 3 year old son.   I’m certainly not saying it’s not something that doesn’t work out for people all the time, and I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m being judgemental towards people who have chosen this route.  Whatever works for you. For us, this wouldn’t work!

How we got to where we are now…

So in all honesty, I probably could have started this blog 4 or 5 years ago.  It would have gone quiet for a few years in between – with some sporadic posting – and then would have started again in earnest about a year ago.

L (my partner) and I have been together for 11 years (which makes me feel almost old!).  We were very young when we got together and very quickly moved in together, planned to spend the rest of our lives together and from the off were very clear that life would involve children.  Beyond loved up ‘won’t it be amazing’ conversations it was 3 or 4 years before we got down to talking about the practicalities.  Now we’re at the ‘about to start actually trying’ stage it feels a very long way away from the endless conversations, some lovely, some very stressful, the change of hearts (over the how, never actually wanting children – we’ve always been absolutely positive over this) and the second guessing ourselves.  Now we’ve made some concrete decisions it seems inconceivable that we ever would have picked another route (I’m sure this is how everyone feels) but it feels like I’d be leaving whole chunks of the journey out if I didn’t talk about the paths we decided against, and how we settled on the path we’re about to embark on.

It would also seem on paper (on blog?) that we’d reached an easy decision/conclusion when in fact it’s been anything but.  I always wonder how many children would be born if straight couples had to do as much thinking, planning, self justifying and justifying to the outside world as lesbian couples have to!  I’ve always felt it’s such an immense pressure to make the right/perfect decision when it seems there are endless options to be considered whereas straight couples (with the big proviso of “straight couples with no fertility issues”) wouldn’t need to, or perhaps aren’t expected to, do anything other than the norm.  I guess part of the pressure to make the right choices for your child is just one of those things that come with parenthood, it’s just the pressure starts even earlier for us as we try to decide what’s right for us as a couple, then as a (hopeful) family, then imagine how your child will react to it at ages 0 to 90!

So this doesn’t turn into the longest post ever – and send my (as yet largely fictional!) readers running for the hills – this how-we-got-to-where-we-are now section of the blog will probably run across several posts, I’m not sure how structured it’ll end up being, and forgive me for my rambling in advance.  The options we considered (or decided not to consider) went right from co-parent, to adoption, to known donor to anonymous donor, to a donor through a clinic to an existing friend to someone we’d try to meet for the purpose of either co-parenting or donation.  So I guess I’ll start from somewhere there…right now I’m going to feed our most attention seeking cat before she covers the entire keyboard in dribble (and yes, I am aware of what a lesbian stereotype I am!)

Hello world!

Hello internet.

Right, where to begin!  My partner and I are about to finally (finally!) embark on trying to have a baby.  As the title of my blog suggests hopefully Operation Baby will be successful in 2012…possible the naive hope of two beginners!

After spending months reading funny, warm, far-better-written-than-I-have-hopes-of-achieveing blogs on the subject of lesbian conception I’ve taken the plunge and decided to start one of my own.

It’ll probably just be a kind of diary that no one but me reads, it’ll hopefully last more than a few entries, and even more hopefully chart our time from now until operation Baby succeeds!  Right, now I’m off to read some more blogs and perhaps even find out a bit about how this blog thing works…