“So, which of you is the real Mom?”
This is the kind of question, amongst many others, that LGBTQ families hear when they are out and about with their children, which thankfully is happening in growing numbers, even though the sensitivity of questions has yet to catch up. According to the 2010 census, 111,000 same sex couples are raising 170,000 children under the age of 18; 10% of these couples are adoptive parents. The majority of these parents – 72% – are women. So most importantly, for LGBTQ couples, if you want to have a family, you are not alone! This issue has been politicized in recent years, especially with marriage equality on the forefront. Presently there are 17 states that recognize gay marriage, opening up the issue of family building for all kinds of couples. However each option deserves careful consideration and not every route to parenthood is right for every couple. Beyond the political aspect there is the humanistic aspect of how to honor our children’s roots, and guide them in the intimate process of claiming their identity. As parents, we need to be comfortable supporting our children in both these processes, and the ability or inability to do so, helps to inform couples as to which family building option is best for them.
As a Fertility and Adoption Coach I work with all kinds of couples and single women as they labor to bring children into their lives. For many, it can be an overwhelming process: navigating medical terminology, scheduling multiple doctor visits and coming up against one decision after another:
- Do we want a known or anonymous sperm donor?
- Do we use fresh or frozen eggs?
- If we need a surrogate, do we ask my sister or use a third party service?
- What is this going to cost and how will we pay for it?
The questions are endless. I work with people as they examine these questions and try to find their own place of comfort with them, which can be different than family members, or close well meaning friends. One barometer of which family building option is right for any future parent, is the ability to story a child’s beginnings that feels good and nests comfortably. For example, if you are a gay couple considering surrogacy with one partner’s sperm, an egg from a bank, and a surrogate you have never met before,you will need to develop language for your child around whose tummy they grew in and whose egg met up with your sperm, all of which you need to feel good about yourself. Children have that uncanny 6th sense about how awkward their parents really feel about something, even when words say something different. Sometimes I ask my clients to imagine out loud that they are telling their child the story of how they came into this world, even “ trying on” different scenarios to see which feels best. This is an essential foundation to then being able to support your child as they grow and develop their own identity.
Like everyone, LGBTQ families have an array of options available to them today, that didn’t exist in recent years because of the many advancements in ART – Artificial Reproductive Technology. However the choices come with the weight of questions that often have not been on anyones radar up till now :
- Am I comfortable with the potential of my child having full genetic siblings scattered around the country if I choose donor embryo?
- What will it be like if my partner has a genetic connection to our child and I don’t ?
- How do I feel about using a surrogate in a foreign country? In this country?
- Do we want an open relationship with our sperm/egg donor?
- What are my parameters around adoption regarding issues such as race, drug use, pregnancy as a product of rape, etc.?
- What kind of relationship do we want with our child’s genetic/birth/first parents?
These are questions that everyone must consider when looking at alternative ways of building a family. However there are additional issues unique to LGBTQ couples that invite attention. Some of these issues might be :
- Which partner’s egg/sperm will we use ?
- For lesbian couples doing IVF, who will carry the baby?
- What legal steps do we want to take to ensure both partners have legal rights as a parent?
- Finding providers who are sensitive to and supportive of LGBTQ couples
- How will we support our child’s identity development in a society where heterosexuality and biological families are both still the norm?
As these are addressed,practical choices and personal values emerge that illuminate which path will provide the most solid footing for a couple’s future family.
The story of how a child comes into this earthly world, though originally crafted by parents, ultimately belongs to that child. It is a story that needs to honor the truth and come from the heart, and can withstand the vagaries of shifting political winds and various personal biases. While the nitty gritty decisions outlined above are necessary, the heart and soul of a child’s foundation lies in our ability to narrate their life beginnings in a way that feels whole and true, and supports them in their journey through life.
Anne Belden, MS,PCC, practices in Portland Maine and also works on Skype with clients across the country.She works individually, facilitates several ongoing groups and offers retreats and workshops. She is a bio-adoptive parent having spent 10 years building her family. She is a Gestalt trained coach with a Masters in Human Development/Family Relations. Her website is annebelden.com