Sam tells Rory this bedtime story for a few reasons; to help him understand how he was made, so that she doesn’t have to sit him down at the age of 11 and shock him with the news that his dad is a Spanish man his mums don’t know. She also tells him so that the idea of two women having a child together seems perfectly “normal” in his mind, and so that, if anyone ever says anything hurtful about his parents in the future, he’ll feel loved enough and secure enough to deal with it... or so, at least, she hopes.
Since 2002, same-sex couples in the UK have legally held the right to adopt a child, allowing both people in a same-sex relationship to have their names sit on an adoption certificate. It’s only since 2009 however – a measly seven years ago – that parents of the same sex can both be named on a child’s birth certificate. If they go through a licensed UK fertility clinic, they don’t actually have to be married or in a civil partnership to qualify as a child’s legal parents – the birth mother can choose who is to be put on the birth certificate as second parent.
This choice technically gives same-sex couples an equal footing to heterosexual couples when it comes to having children. The reality, however, is that while same-sex couples in the UK might enjoy legal equality today – the right to marry, co-parent and adopt – their lived experience of bringing up kids in a same-sex household will not always feel equal. This can start right from conception, since two women or men cannot biologically have a child together (yet), and manifest in expensive fertility treatment, encounters with homophobic healthcare professionals, and difficulties finding a sperm donor or surrogate.
Whoever that donor was, I bless him every day of my life
IVF can be pricey, costing up to £5000 a try, but is often the best bet for women with low fertility – whether that be due to their egg count, their age, or both. Sam said that, for her and Molly, the UK fertility clinic they visited slapped them with a huge bill each time they walked through the door. Meanwhile, Sam says they offered little emotional support for Molly as she was having to inject herself in the stomach with fertility drugs, and have fertilised eggs inserted into her womb repeatedly. All with no guarantee of falling pregnant. The whole thing felt incredibly cold and clinical, says Sam. “You think people will be kind to you and when that doesn’t happen it’s quite a difficult experience.”
Sam and Molly did not investigate the NHS as an option for their baby’s conception; because of their ages, they were “in too much of a hurry to get on with it”. Jane, 29, from Derby, however, is in the process of trying to conceive a baby on the NHS with her partner Kate, 33. The couple already have two sons, T, 9, and J, 5, who were born by Jane’s ex-boyfriend, with Kate now acting as their step mum. They’ve been undergoing fertility testing for a third child at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. Spread out over three appointments with waiting lists, the testing part alone takes around six months, explains Jane. Insemination plus sperm will cost them £1,700 for a first try, plus £200 for sibling sperm, which would mean they could have another baby with the same DNA later on.
If things are really equal then why do gay couples have to pay for artificial insemination at all?
This, says Jane, “still goes on the logic that being gay is a choice, a choice which you have to pay for.” The cost of insemination on the NHS means that not all gay couples can afford it – some having to opt for the less reliable method of finding a sperm donor and inserting the sperm manually at home, for example. Jane finds the lack of funding options for gay couples objectionable: “Every human being deserves the right to have a child and we are lucky enough to earn the money, but if you don't have it, well, I can imagine people who have had one night stands in order to get pregnant – which is degrading, violating and can ruin gay relationships.”
Now, Jessica and Alice have decided that using an anonymous donor is the most straightforward option for them, after considering the complications of involving a friend or family member. They’ve signed up to a sperm bank, and are waiting for the right guy to come along. Jessica has a sperm bank app on her phone; you get a notification when someone new donates, along with their basic information like ethnicity, height and eye colour. “The sperm goes fast,” she says, “so if you want it you have to ‘Buy It Now’”. The sperm costs £1000, and then it’s a further £900 for insemination at one of the sperm bank’s sister fertility clinics. “It’s not very romantic, is it?” she jokes.
I feel like the public see us as a mother and her friend helping out
Although their interactions with healthcare professionals were mostly positive, Marie also details an “upsetting exchange” with a nurse who came to their home one week after their son was born. “She hadn’t read our notes and asked us 'where's the father?'" recalls Marie. “Her attitude throughout that first meeting, when we were such new and fragile parents, made us feel judged and unsupported.” And then there’s prenatal and postnatal appointments; it wasn’t always her experience says Marie, but sometimes she felt left out; “the healthcare professionals would direct the conversation to Anna as the 'birth-mother' and ask for her opinion about decisions relating to Max's welfare and healthcare. Perhaps this is how men feel during the process too.”
I am different as a gay parent – better
We are his parents and we will love, nurture and provide for him as a heterosexual couple would
Names have been changed.