When I first came out, at 27, I was often asked, “But don’t you want to have kids?” That question always came as surprise, no matter how many times it was asked.
The thought that I couldn’t — or wouldn’t — have kids had never crossed my mind. I didn’t know if I could biologically have children, since I hadn’t tried to, yet this was the question popping out of people’s mouths. Though I was well aware that starting a family in a same-sex relationship would have its own set of challenges, both physically and financially, it by no means meant that I didn’t want to.
I met my wife, Karyne, on a dating app, during a time when I was “casually dating.” But after a few dates, we quickly became inseparable. From the beginning we were both really open about what we were looking for in our lives, including that we wanted kids. Although we had both recently gotten out of long-term relationships, things still progressed quickly for us. We moved in together after a couple months, got two puppies, and bought a new couch.
Over the next two years we talked about what our family could look like. Through Instagram and some queer-focused websites, I’d come across a few lesbian couples who had created their families in a way that involved both partners; the process is called reciprocal IVF, or shared maternity. I was immediately intrigued. I’d always known I wanted to be pregnant, just as Karyne had always known she had no desire to ever carry. She had long ago given up the idea that she would have a biological child, but through reciprocal IVF, we could both be a part of our child’s conception. It was the final piece we needed when figuring out how to start our family.
We were married in the fall of 2016 and decided we’d wait a year until starting the official journey to parenthood. In the summer of 2017 to prep for this I had my IUD removed, knowing it could take my body up to eight months to reset and regain normalcy in my menstrual cycle. We also started researching fertility clinics in our area: Like most American couples, regardless of sexual orientation, we had no fertility insurance coverage.
Despite having had IUDs for over seven years, and not having any period during that time, my cycle reset immediately. We decided to start by looking into the Glow fertility program; they offer a discount and work with local fertility clinics. We lined up a consultation with a fertility clinic in August, and really connected with everyone who worked there. We clearly weren’t their first LGBTQ patients, but we quickly got the sense that we were one of the few to be doing reciprocal IVF. It took the staff a little time to sort out what our pricing would be, as they had no standard forms for our situation.
To document our process, we began recording a weekly podcast called The Gayest Show On Birth. Originally it was to create a way for our friends and family to stay up-to-date with our journey. But to our surprise, the bulk of our listeners ended up being complete strangers.
During this time, we also had to buy sperm, which was a bigger task than we first imagined it would be: How do we find the perfect donor among the millions of donors out there? In order to help narrow things down, we went with a local, nonprofit sperm bank. They were founded in the '80s, and are one of the first banks in the US to allow unmarried or single people access to sperm donors, because at the time, other banks wouldn’t. They offer stricter regulations when it comes to how many children can come from one donor, and they make all their donors sign a contract that they are willing to be contacted in the future, should the child want to when they turn 18. That part was really important to us; we want our kid to know where he came from, and that includes being able to contact the donor when, or if, the time comes.
But choosing a donor is like a weird dating process. Most banks, including ours, only show you a baby or kid photo of the donor, along with answers from detailed interviews with bank staff. Since we were planning on using Karyne’s eggs, we tried to find a donor that had similar coloring and traits to me in an attempt to have our baby look somewhat like both of us.
Next up: Getting all the meds. About a third of the price of IVF comes from the different prescription hormones we had to take — and that included giving ourselves shots, which ended up not being as scary as we thought. Luckily, because both Karyne and I were going through this process, we got to split up the task. During Karyne’s portion she took meds that caused her follicles to mature at the same time in preparation for the retrieval.
The egg retrieval went smoothly: We got 21 eggs, and 18 of them fertilized. The clinic called us every few days with an update about how many embryos were continuing to grow. Before we started the process, we decided that we would genetically test the embryos, because of Karyne’s age: The older the egg, the more likely that there could be something genetically abnormal. Waiting for each call to hear how many were still in the running was incredibly stressful. About a week later, we found out that of the nine embryos we sent to be tested, three of them came back genetically normal, two boys and one girl.
We’re often asked how we chose which embryo to transfer. Our plan was to always go with the strongest embryo or whichever our doctor recommended. Embryos are graded on a number of things like cell quality, whether or not they’ve started hatching (yes, embryos actually hatch! ), along with other criteria. All three of our embryos came back as the highest grade. They were scientifically perfect! Our doctor said he could randomly pick one for us or we could tell him if we wanted a boy or girl. We decided to go with a boy first, since we had more than one. The other two embryos are frozen in storage, for potential future use.
While the embryos were developing and being tested, my uterus was being prepped for transfer. This included taking estrogen pills and then progesterone injections, which I definitely don’t miss. I also was going to a fertility acupuncturist one a week to help increase blood flow to my uterus prior to the embryo transfer.
The big day for the transfer was December 15. That procedure was pretty easy as well, aside from the fact I had to arrive to the doctor with a full bladder — and keep it full during the procedure, as it allows the doctor to have a clearer view of the uterus. But getting to see the exact moment that our son was transferred into my uterus was incredible. We’re not very superstitious people, but we did hear that French fries helps with making a baby stick, so we definitely drove to In-N-Out to test that theory. Our whole family did as well, for, you know, solidarity.
We were now in the dreaded “two-week wait” to find out if we were indeed pregnant. We would’ve been able to have our blood work done to test for pregnancy on day 10, but that fell on Christmas Day, so all the labs and doctor’s office were closed. After resisting the urge to use at-home tests all week, on December 24 I couldn’t sleep and peed on a stick at 2 o’clock in the morning. To our complete and utter surprise it was positive. I told Karyne not to look at it and that we had to go back to bed. I took a few more tests later that morning and all were strong solid positives. A couple days later our blood work confirmed what we already knew: We were pregnant!
We’re now at 31 weeks with a healthy baby boy and cannot wait to meet him in a few weeks. It’s still incredibly surreal. We feel so fortunate to have gotten pregnant on our first round. Sharing our experience has been an awesome process, and we’ve made some terrific friends along the way. Hearing from people across the country, some who have gone through similar processes along with those who never plan on having children, is amazing. We plan to continue sharing the story of our pregnancy, birth, and parenthood journey through our podcast to contribute to the vast fabric of families in our world.
To hear more about Kate and Karyne's reciprocal IVF journey, check out the Gayest Show on Birth website and podcast here.