Dr. Marjorie Dixon helps clear up some of the myths around creating and growing a queer family…
Queer people joke that straights can have a drunken fumble and accidentally end up with kids, while we have to create a plan. While there’s some truth to that, the stereotype hides some of the reality. While 2SLGBTQ+ people often do need a plan – and often help from others – to grow their families, there’s increased clarity and support for doing so. The journey to parenthood doesn’t have to be a wander through the woods with lots of dead ends.
There are myths around growing a queer family that need to be dispelled, strategies that need to be shared.
Ignore any feelings of unworthiness
Same-sex couples who would like to become parents may be putting off the idea because they’ve bought into heterosexist ideas that they shouldn’t be having kids, that it’s beyond their ability, or that it’s only ‘cutting-edge’ same-sex couples who are up to having kids. But these days you don’t have to be a trailblazer to be a parent. “We make what you think is impossible, possible,” says Dr. Marjorie Dixon, founder and CEO of Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health, a fertility centre with locations in southern Ontario. The ecosystem of laws, technology, available services and attitudes of healthcare professionals and society have changed tremendously over the past few decades, perhaps outpacing individuals’ and couples’ feelings of what they are capable of and what they deserve to do in their lives.
More than one path to parenthood
Reproductive science is always moving forward, and the various services available to help individuals and couples become parents are becoming more sophisticated and customized. Many 2SLGBTQ+ people don’t know about or misunderstand the options available to them. “When I founded Anova, it was off-putting that in Canada, the community didn’t know where to begin,” says Dixon. So Anova partnered with Pride Parenthood, a service designed to guide 2SLGBTQ+ couples through existing reproductive technologies, services and legalities to grow a family. Pride Parenthood’s CEO and founder is Kim Kopyl, who is, not coincidentally, Dixon’s wife. Their three children were created through IVF. “We understand the process from start to finish – we have been through the process of raising these children into beautiful teenagers,” says Kopyl. Between the two of them, they know the medical, legal and emotional challenges that must be navigated, whether it’s IVF, sperm donation, egg donation and/or surrogacy.
Parenthood is equal-opportunity creation
There can be a perception that one of the parents will be more involved in the creation of a family than the other. But what’s called reciprocal IVF can allow two parents to share the experience, provided that each has eggs and a uterus. One partner contributes eggs to form an embryo with donated sperm, while the other receives the embryo and carries the pregnancy. This option is becoming increasingly popular among lesbian couples and trans men who still have ovaries. “Often lesbian couples don’t even know that’s a thing,” says Dixon.
Different pathways will proceed at different speeds
IVF is very different from surrogacy, for example, and so the expectations need to be different for each journey. The egg donation process, for example, is easier and less time-consuming than gestational surrogacy. Usually, creation of the embryos happens first, taking between two and four months, while finding a surrogate takes longer, perhaps six months to a year. “Those two processes are going on in tandem to help save time,” says Dixon. “The embryos are frozen so they’re ready to go as soon as you find a surrogate. Then we can assess the surrogate to see if they’re the right person to carry the baby.” For the different kinds of IVF, finding donor sperm is a much faster step, which makes the whole process shorter.
The right provider is out there
When 2SLGBTQ+ individuals and couples turn to fertility and reproductive health experts to grow their families, they are outnumbered by heterosexual couples grappling with infertility issues – and much of the field is geared to the needs of the majority. “Some doctors may not see people from our community,” says Kopyl. Even when straight service providers are open to and capable of helping same-sex parents, they might not have the language and attitudes to make 2SLGBTQ+ people feel welcome and comfortable. “A lot of places want to do it, but they don’t have the acumen,” says Dixon. Choosing a service provider who is informed by real-life 2SLGBTQ+ experiences can reduce the anxieties. “In our community, it’s important to not feel just paid lip service to; it’s important to see yourself in your healthcare providers and the people who are providing the supports for you.”
Canada’s laws around surrogacy aren’t what people think they are
Though Canadian laws and policies around surrogacy are different than those in the United States, our rules do permit surrogacy and there are well-trodden ways to go through the process close to home. It’s a matter of finding the right lawyers and following the current guidelines. “There is the myth that gestational surrogacy or egg donation is illegal in Canada, but that needs to be dispelled,” says Dixon. “Canada’s Assisted Human Reproduction Act sanctions and directs us, and not all centres are primary facilities that can do this. There are clinics in Ontario and all through Canada that don’t have the knowledge to do this. You need a healthcare provider in the centre that understands the laws.”
Health screening is part of the process
Not only those who contribute eggs and sperm, but those who are carrying the baby, all go through health testing as part of the journey. By looking at the genetic contents of the embryo, medical practitioners can screen for genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and sickle cell anemia to give expecting parents more peace of mind.
Costs, and insurance coverage, may surprise you
Employees are often unaware of what fertility and reproductive treatments are covered by their company’s health plan. Support systems like Pride Parenthood know what’s available and who qualifies for what. “We have a list of all the insurance providers, which employers use them, what they provide and what they don’t. People may not know that their employer gives $50,000 for IVF,” says Kopyl. “We reach out to different employers, letting them know that this is a competitive employment marketplace and that one of the best ways to retain your employees is to offer these kinds of services. Through Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health, we’ve been a big pioneer in getting financial assistance for this process in Canada.”
The journey to planning and building your future family can take many unique forms. For more information about beginning your pathway to parenthood, please visit prideparenthood.com.