Every year numerous single lesbians, bi women and same-sex
couples conceive and bring children into loving families. For us,
conception isn't necessarily easy but planning ahead pays off.
Here, DIVA guides you through some things you will need to bear in
How to prepare.
Firstly, it is a good idea to discuss your plans to start a
family with your GP. You (and your partner, if you have one) should
take a sexual health test to make sure no STIs are passed on to the
child. You may also want to take a fertility test (which can be
expensive). If your fertility is low, you may qualify for help with
conceiving from the NHS.
How to make sure you have the best chance of
Lifestyle, diet, weight, smoking, drinking and age will all
affect your chance of conception. There is also no point in trying
to conceive if you don't know when you are ovulating. You can work
this out by purchasing an ovulation test or basal body thermometer.
You ovulate anywhere between 12-24 hours, however sperm can survive
inside the body for up to six days prior to this.
How to find sperm.
There are two types of sperm donor, known or unknown. A known
donor would be a friend, relative or someone you met through an
advert -someone whose identity is known to you - and an unknown
donor is a stranger who donated sperm via a sperm bank or fertility
clinic. While sperm from known donors is usually free, donor sperm
from sperm banks or clinics can cost from £50 to over £100 per
vial, with one vial required for every cycle of treatment.
Purchasing sperm online that isn't from the UK can be cheaper but
it is crucial to use a registered clinic. In the UK, the law has
changed so that when a child born from donor sperm turns 18 they
can find out the identity of the donor. Outside the UK it is still
possible for men to donate anonymously, so your child would not be
able to trace their donor. If you don't know anyone suitable to be
your known donor, you may find one via any number of online forums
devoted to linking donors with would-be mums. In this case, it is
up to you to negotiate what presence (if any) he will have in your
child's life. You may want to consider a co-parenting arrangement,
where you raise the child together with the donor, by prior
It is absolutely crucial that any donor sperm you put into your
body is tested for STIs. If you are being treated at a registered
fertility clinic, they will screen for STIs and inherited diseases.
If you are inseminating at home your donor should get tested for
STIs and inherited diseases by a GP. There may be a charge for this
How to conceive.
Artificial insemination (AI) is a low-tech option that can be
done at home, where sperm is inserted in to the vagina with a
needle-less syringe. Clinics are more likely to use a
technique called intrauterine insemination (IUI) in which the sperm
is introduced directly into the uterus via the cervix. No fertility
treatment is guaranteed to work first time, or, indeed, at all. IUI
success rates are 8-15% depending on your age and fertility levels,
so it may take a few months of trying. Privately, IUI can cost up
to £1000 per cycle, though many clinics offer treatment packages
which include initial consultation, tests and screening. The NHS
currently allows individual Primary Care Trusts to decide locally
what treatment to offer for free. This means that there is no
nationwide policy and although you may be entitled to six free
cycles of IUI in one area, a few miles away you may not be entitled
to anything at all. Legally though, PCTs cannot discriminate
against lesbians, so if they allow straight women free treatment,
they must allow you the same or an equivalent. If you are hoping to
access free treatment, contact your PCT and find out what their
Keep track of your attempts to conceive. If you are unlucky you
may be entitled to a number of free cycles of IVF on the NHS.
(Individual PCTs will have an upper age limit and may enforce other
restrictions.) At private clinics, cycles cost on average £4000.
IVF is a technique whereby your eggs are collected and combined
with sperm in a laboratory. After several days, if the embryo is
growing normally, it can be inserted in to the uterus. Often
several embryos are implanted at once and the treatment is more
likely to result in multiple births than other methods of
conception. IVF success rates vary and you can work out how
successful it may be for you here: http://www.prideangel.com/p140/IVF-Calculator.aspx
When the mother is infertile, donor eggs can be used. Egg donors in
the UK are subject to the same laws as sperm donors and must agree
to be traceable when any resulting child reaches 18. Women who
donated via foreign clinics may be anonymous.
Reciprocal IVF (RIVF) is where one partner provides eggs and the
other partner carries the child, allowing both women to be
physically involved in the pregnancy. The process is basically the
same as IVF except the couple must synchronize their menstrual
cycles. The partner donating eggs will take medication to stimulate
the maturation of multiple eggs and the partner who is having the
embryo implanted will take medication to prepare the uterus for
Laws affecting you and your child.
If you are having a child with a known donor, or if you and your
partner are not civil partnered, it is a very good idea to get
legal advice before attempting to conceive. The law surrounding
parenting can be complex but in many instances you will have the
same rights as heterosexual parents. The mother who gives birth to
the child, regardless of whether she used a donated egg, is
automatically considered a legal parent. The non-birth mother will
automatically be considered a legal parent if they are in a civil
partnership or if they conceived at a registered fertility clinic,
which can supply legal papers that both parents must sign. However,
if you conceived through sexual intercourse with a man or are not
in a civil partnership and inseminate at home, this may mean the
non-birth mother will not be considered legally a parent unless she
adopts the child. If you use a known donor, you will need to
thoroughly discuss what role he will play in the child's life, if
any. You would be well-advised to have a lawyer experienced in LGBT
family law draw up a parenting agreement, signed by all parties. In
the event of a serious disagreement, this can prove the original
intention of all parties, although it is not legally binding.
What happens if you break up with your
If you are in a civil partnership at the time of conception and
then break up after the child is born you will both still be
considered legal parents. This also applies if you went through a
fertility clinic and signed to acknowledge your parenthood. If you
inseminated at home and were not in a civil partnership then the
non-birth mother would have no legal rights unless she had
previously adopted the child.
Some single lesbians and same-sex couples choose to adopt a
child. This is a great idea as there are currently around 7000
children in the UK waiting for adoption. This can be a lengthy
procedure but it can also be highly rewarding. For more information
about adoption and fostering, visit: www.lgbtadoptfosterweek.org.uk
Lastly, you may want to know that the average cost of raising a
child to 18 is £67,700 (don't let that put you off, it's the same
for everyone!) and research shows that children from lesbian
parents are not disadvantaged in any respect compared to those
raised by straight parents.
For more information and advice, we recommend Stonewall's