Although in the 21st century it has become easier for homosexual couples to become parents, they’re still faced with the tricky decision of choosing the best route to bring a baby into the world.
There are around 20,000 dependent children living in same-sex couple families, according to the most recent official government estimate.
We spoke to three couples who started their families in different ways to find out how they chose which route would be right for them.
*Names have been changed.
1. Sperm donation
Rachel*, 37, and Alex*, 38, have been together for 13 years. They have two children, aged two and four, both conceived through sperm donation.
“We always knew we both wanted children,” said Rachel.
“The logistics of how we’d start our family weren’t clear initially though.”
The couple explored all the routes they could to start a family and felt sperm donation was the best option for them.
“We chose this option pretty much the same way as straight people who wouldn’t always go to adoption first,” Rachel explained.
“We wanted to have some genetic and biological connection to our children.”
But she said the process wasn’t easy.
“There were some parts of it that we felt a little uneasy about initially, for example the idea of selecting a donor,” Rachel said. “It’s such a huge decision, but we overcame these hurdles after more research.
“We hated the portrayal of choosing a donor in some media as catalogue shopping, like some sort of flippant choice.
“I had spent a lot of time thinking about whether I felt it was right for me to bring a child up in a same-sex relationship, and eventually consulted a child psychologist to find out their thoughts on the potential impact of same-sex parents on a child’s wellbeing.
“I’ve never looked back since hearing her thoughts - she said being a good parent was, in her opinion, nothing to do with gender, it was to do with the quality of the parenting.”
It took Rachel and Alex two “very long and difficult” years to conceive their first child.
“Like many people’s experience of trying to conceive, it was tough, mentally, emotionally and physically, and was obviously a bit more invasive than more ‘conventional’ (for want of a better word) routes,” Rachel explained.
“I suppose on reflection, for people who can conceive on their own there might be a little less pressure - going into a clinic setting can seem daunting and very formal, especially when you’re meeting people you don’t know and sharing such personal information.
“When it happened it was wonderful, although having to tell people you’re pregnant when you’re at work and they know you’re gay was tricky as sometimes it came as a bit of a shock.”
Around 1,300 babies are born each year in the UK from donated sperm.
Donor sperm is usually used to help a woman become pregnant via insemination. It’s a straightforward procedure where a fine tube or syringe with the donor sperm inside is inserted into the vagina, cervix or uterus during the woman’s fertile time of the month.
Source: NHS Choices.
Rachel and Alex decided to use the same process, just over a year later when conceiving their second child. They found it easier the second time around.
“It took us so long, but now we’re here it’s wonderful,” Rachel said.
“It feels really trite to say this, but we both feel so, so lucky to have them and it’s an honour to have the privilege of bringing them up.
“Yes, it’s exhausting and sometimes frustrating, but the way they both hold your hand, or reach out for you for a cuddle, or just look up to you and smile - we’re very, very lucky.
“Several years ago, I’m not sure I would have had the option of becoming a parent in this way, or becoming a parent as a gay person at all, and that saddens me immensely.
“I often reflect on the fact that had I been born a couple of decades earlier, my life as a gay woman would have been very, very different, and I’m all too aware of that and try to never take it for granted.”
Andrew*, 39, and Stefan*, 30, met at university and have been together for nine years. They have one seven-year-old son together.
They knew, not long after they’d met, that they wanted a family, but didn’t properly consider it until they’d been together for four years.
“This was the point when we started our research into adoption and also the effects of having same-sex parents on a child,” Stefan explained.
“Andrew has always worked with children and after a few years I joined him providing respite care for children with behavioural or emotional problems, which included children who had been fostered and adopted.
“For me it was eye-opening how much I enjoyed being around kids and caring for them. We continue to work with kids together as a couple and decided three years ago to start seriously preparing to adopt a child.”
The couple said they decided to adopt rather than any other route as they didn’t feel the need to have the child genetically linked to them.
“We also were happy to adopt an older child and wanted to make a real positive difference to a child’s life,” Stefan added.
“We found the adoption process in general very good. It only took seven months from when we started officially (stage one interview) to being placed with our child (a seven-year-old boy).”
But although it was a quick process, Stefan said it was “exhausting” at times.
“Your whole life story and really what makes you ‘tick’ is dissected by social workers and presented in a single document like a CV,” he explained.
“We were fortunate that our willingness to adopt an older child with more complicated behaviours meant we were quickly linked.
“Waiting was the hardest part, especially once we were linked.
“Things were going very badly for him and we received daily reports that the child (who could not be told at the time he was going to be adopted) was upset, angry and failing at school. It was agonising.
“These behaviours almost meant we would not be able to adopt him, despite the fact the main reason the behaviours occurred was because he was waiting for a new family.”
During the year ending 31 March 2015, 8.5% (450) of children were adopted by same-sex couples.
Source: Adoption UK.
It has been nearly 10 months since their son was placed in their home, and Stefan and Andrew said they love being parents.
“Our boy has made exceptional progress in all parts of his life,” Stefan said.
“He is now happy, loving, doing great at school and making progress in learning how to make friends and keep them.”
Michael, 42, and Jerome, 38, have been together for eight years. They are dads to Rupert, 18 months, who was born via surrogacy.
One of Michael’s best friends from university and his partner had a child through surrogacy in the US, so it had always been an option the couple had considered. In April 2013, the couple joined Surrogacy UK’s waiting list to find a match, but they found it difficult.
“It was the unknown,” Jerome said. “We didn’t know when or if anything would happen. We would go to social events and there wouldn’t be enough potential surrogates there.”
Michael explained: “Soon after we got an email from a new surrogacy organisation, Brilliant Beginnings. Very quickly, they introduced us to Anna, our lovely surrogate in Bournemouth in January 2014.
“They had decided we would work well together. We had a telephone conversation and then a face-to-face meeting with her and Helen, Brilliant Beginnings representative in Bournemouth.
“It was nerve-wracking meeting each other for the first time, but we all got on so well.”
The two families met up three times and then agreed they wanted to go ahead with their surrogacy journey.
Michael had already given sperm to a clinic and the couple were on a waiting list for donor eggs. When this came through, the transfer happened in July 2014.
During Anna’s pregnancy, Michael and Jerome attended every scan appointment. They had a Whatsapp group to keep in contact daily and spent one evening a week on a Skype call.
“We went to Bournemouth about 25 times in nine months,” Michael said. “Towards the end we were going every week. It was important to be part of the pregnancy and bond with our unborn baby.
“The plan was, if she went into labour we’d drop everything and go.”
It just so happened that Anna went into labour shortly after the couple had left Bournemouth following a visit for a routine scan. So they turned around and came back.
“We thought we would be well on time,” said Jerome. “But we got there and an hour later he popped out.
“We had two rooms in the hospital - one for our family and one for Anna and her partner. We were very lucky.
“After 20 hours we left and the second we got home, the whole fact we had a baby through surrogacy was irrelevant.
“We just had a baby. The only time we were reminded of the fact this was a surrogacy process was when we applied for parental order, three months after the birth.”
Advice on surrogacy
1. Invest in your relationship – surrogacy needs teamwork, and communication is key.
2. Think about the long term – decisions you make now may affect your child long into the future, so plan ahead.
3. Understand how the law works – be clear about what you need to do and when, as there will be a process to go through to sort out parenthood, birth certificates and nationality.
Source - Natalie Gamble Associates.
Speaking about challenges, Michael called the legal framework around surrogacy “outdated”, as the parental order can only be granted three months after birth. Up until then, Anna was their son’s legal parent along with Michael because his sperm was used. Jerome was not.
The couple remain good friends with Anna, who has had another baby herself since, and still meet up as friends.
“We call her Auntie Anna at the moment,” Jerome explained. “We’ll be honest with Rupert when he is old enough and say Anna carried you in her tummy, when it is age appropriate.”
The couple said becoming parents has been “life changing”.
“You can’t imagine how amazing it is until it happens,” said Michael. “I still can’t believe I live in a time when it’s possible to do this.”
For more information:
London Sperm Bank: Organisation specialising in sperm donation and help those who want to have children.
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority: Advice and information on the legalities of sperm donation.
Adoption UK: Charity run by and for adopters providing information, training and guidance at all stages of the adoption process.
Brilliant Beginnings: Non profit-making agency based in the UK creating families through surrogacy.
Natalie Gamble Associates: The first UK fertility law firm specialising in fertility law, family law, surrogacy, same sex parenting, assisted reproduction and family law disputes.
LGBT Parents: An online network of LGBT parents and those looking to start a family.