The path to parenthood

As I let the three Blue Moons I had enjoyed at my going-away lunch with my PGN colleagues wear off, I watched the snow pile up outside the window from the poorly forecasted, pre-Christmas surprise storm. I was anxiously awaiting the sound of my wife’s car pulling into the driveway; we knew the doctor would be calling that day with the news of her pregnancy test and agreed she’d wait to share it with me in person, good or bad. The serendipity of the fact that we were getting the result the day I left my longtime position as PGN editor wasn’t lost on me. I had made the tough decision to move on from the paper in large part to be closer to home in the suburbs as we got ready to have kids.

However, we’d already had two negatives and were bracing for the “third time’s a charm” cliché to be just that. But when my wife, Ashlee, opened the door, covered in snow, I knew right away it was good news. She was beaming and holding out a onesie she had haphazardly grabbed from Walmart on her way home from work. Before the tears started flowing, she asked, “Are you ready to start a family?”

The months preceding that momentous occasion were filled with what seemed like an endless cascade of decisions. Some caused Ashlee and me to have really tough, even awkward conversations. A few prompted slammed doors and just as many brought on tears. Others ended in hilarious memories. In hindsight, the choices we agonized with in the past year fit like a puzzle to form that joyous moment when those “What if” and “When we’re pregnant” musings finally became a reality; but as we were getting to that point, everything felt, frankly, like a hot mess.

Ashlee and I started dating in 2007, bucked the lesbian trend and waited three years to move in together. We tied the knot in 2015 and it was around that time that, as we settled into the reality of being legally married (a relatively new concept for Pennsylvania at that time), we started to talk seriously about having kids. How would we do it? When should we start? We both had agreed early on in our relationship that we wanted kids, but that we waited so long into our relationship to get into the nitty-gritty was as much a testament to our fear of taking this monumental step as it was to the rapidly evolving landscape for LGBT parenting.

LGBT couples have a plethora of family-building options available to them: adoption, foster care, artificial insemination, surrogacy. We weighed a number of factors. Cost figured into it significantly, as did our evolving understanding of ourselves. We are both self-described Type A control freaks and struggle with patience, all of which we thought would make adoption or fostering a poor fit. We pivoted toward artificial reproduction — but quickly learned that any type of family-building seems to require ample patience and emotional fortitude, as well as a willingness to relinquish control to chance.

As Ashlee is an employee of a local hospital that operates its own reproductive center, choosing our provider was an easy decision. Another quick choice was who would carry: We both got fertility testing done in 2016 to evaluate our egg count and quality. Both were relatively good and, since Ashlee is about a year older than me, we decided she would go first and I would follow in about two years. Neither of us was particularly insistent upon having a genetic connection to our future children so, as we’ve done for most of our relationship, we aimed for parity and decided to each carry and use the same donor throughout the process.

Picking the donor was one of the strangest, funniest and most stress-inducing parts of this whole process. There are a variety of sperm-donation options, and we considered them all: a family member (too weird), a friend (too much risk of losing the friendship if he couldn’t comply with our view of legal parentage) or going completely anonymous and working with a cryobank. We decided the latter had the right structure to guide us through this already-confusing process. And though we favored the anonymity offered by a cryobank, an increasing number of donors (including the one we ultimately selected) allow for children who result from their donation to contact them once they reach adulthood. This took a lot of consideration, but we came to the conclusion that such an option should be available if our children ever feel like they need to learn more about where they came from.

We started off with completely open minds, considering each and every one of the several-hundred donors in the cryobank’s online database. That quickly went south, as we realized we loved Donor A’s baby picture but Donor B’s written essay and Donor C’s educational background. We sat on our couch many a night and tried to narrow do`wn the factors that we cared most about, ultimately coming to the conclusion that having a healthy baby was our main goal. So, we prioritized the health of the donor. The cryobank we worked with included a thorough medical history for each donor and we weeded out those — even the ones with the baby picture and the essay we loved — with a heavy familial history of cancer or diabetes. Once we narrowed the choices, we opted to pay the added fee to purchase the donor’s adult photo. (Hint: Register on the cryobank’s website under all your family and friends’ email addresses for continuous coupons to make add-ons like photos less expensive!). It was relatively uncomfortable to visualize the stranger with whom our DNA would eventually be forever linked, but it also helped to make this pipe dream much more of a reality.

One factor that did cause many sleepless nights was cost. We met with the reproductive center at the start of the process to get a handle on costs and started trying to squirrel money away. We opted to start with intrauterine insemination (IUI), in which the sperm is placed directly into the uterus, rather than in-vitro fertilization (IVF), in which the egg is fertilized outside the body. IVF has a higher success rate but also a much higher price tag than IUI. Even still, each IUI procedure and the associated medications cost about $1,200 a month (and that was with Ashlee’s employee discount).

We also had to visit the reproductive center multiple times a month, with a $30 co-pay each time, which adds up, and there were several rounds of hormone drugs that cost in the hundreds. And don’t forget the sperm: Each vial cost about $800 and, having been told that every attempt only has about a 20-percent chance of success — and to prepare for a future sibling — we got eight. That purchase led to a particularly emotional joint breakdown in the parking lot of the Willow Grove Public Library —where we had pulled over to call the cryobank and order the sperm right away to avoid the stock being sold out (more on that next month!).

While we knew the relative costs going into this process, the fear of how many attempts it could take, whether we would have to eventually give up on IUI and move on to IVF and if we would have to order another batch of sperm donations had us plotting to harvest our organs for extra cash.
While overwhelmingly stressful, the concept of bringing a human life into being from your individual series of choices is a surreal, yet in some ways, empowering and definitely exciting experience. LGBT individuals typically have to be extremely intentional about having kids, a component of the parenting journey that isn’t always universal. That commitment creates its own set of challenges, yet also paves the way for new discoveries — about yourself, your partner and this new little being that you’ve envisioned into existence.

Though we’ve experienced lots of highs and lows in the last few months, we’ve learned to become more confident in our decision-making, to anticipate curveballs and to depend on each other for support — all lessons that will likely be helpful when we welcome our child in about four months. As we’ve found out, while each decision on the path to parenthood may incite agony and anxiety, the dedication and drive that have taken prospective parents to the point of starting this journey is all they really need.

Jen Colletta is the managing editor of a national business publication and the former editor of PGN.