King’s Fertility offers a wide range of possibilities for same-sex couples and people transitioning gender to start their own families, writes Doctor Ippokratis Sarris.
Since civil partnerships came to be in 2005, the number of same-sex couples looking to conceive has rocketed. In a landmark year, 2012 saw two-mum families increase by more than a third. By 2017 there were nearly 100,000 same-sex UK families. Through assisted reproductive technologies that number continues to multiply.
Heterosexual couples seek the support of fertility experts because natural avenues haven’t worked, usually due to medical reasons. For LGBT couples though the need to engage with a fertility expert, more often than not, is unrelated to an infertility problem, and therefore should not be treated as “patients” in the conventional sense. Conception itself is largely about assisting to create opportunities in the correct circumstance.
Same-sex couples might be tempted to bypass what can be a lengthy and uncertain fertility process and opt to accomplish pregnancy at home. Using unofficial sperm donors and surrogates can cause later problems around the issue of legal parenthood, genetic abnormalities and STIs. By using a regulated fertility clinic, not only is there a rigorous donor-screening process, parenthood is protected by a tight legal framework.
For same-sex couples, and many heterosexual couples for that matter, who want to conceive, fertility options include sperm donation, egg donation, intrauterine insemination, IVF and surrogacy.
Those considering a donor, sperm or egg, can opt for a known donor or an unknown donor. But before taking the decision, expert guidance is essential. This should support and advise couples, so they are fully aware of the process, the merits and the facts around each avenue.
When a person is transitioning gender, future fertility may not be at the forefront of one’s thoughts. Yet, it is important to consider options about preserving fertility and doing so at the right point of the journey. We are often called on to offer fertility advice to people who are transitioning: helping them to know how, when and where they can take appropriate steps. This includes pointing out services that are freely available through the NHS.
More than other medical procedures, fertility treatment is a huge psychological undertaking. Unknowns, anxiety, stress – as difficult decisions are made, the process can easily put relationships to the test. What is vitally important in the process is an appreciation of the often-complex decisions involved.
It is impossible to understate the importance of a strong, experienced and caring team to support and guide future parents through the journey to life. It can be physically and psychologically tough, but at King’s Fertility we are fortunate to have an experienced team who have forged professional partnerships with some of the world’s leading organisations to service the diverse needs of all. Not only were we one of the first clinics in the UK to assist single women to become pregnant using donor sperm, we were also among the first to complete a same-sex partner egg donation (when a woman in a same-sex relationship donates eggs to her partner, so she can carry the pregnancy).
While the progress machine drives social awareness around changing family dynamics, academia continues to put paid to medical and psychological objections. Studies have found that children conceived with assisted reproductive technologies — regardless of whether they were genetically related to their parents — don’t differ in their levels of psychological adjustment.
We are in an era where the stigmas are crumbling and perceptions are shifting. One way to ensure cultural barriers continue to break is to stay at the cutting edge of what’s possible in fertility, and to continue to normalise, embrace and encourage the creation of loving families regardless of sexuality, race, gender identity or religion. At King’s fertility our mission is to ensure anyone, who dreams of becoming a parent, can.
Doctor Ippokratis Sarris is a Consultant in Reproductive Medicine and the Director of King’s Fertility
Fetal Medicine Research Institute
16-20 Windsor Walk