Choosing pregnancy alone or as a same-sex couple
There’s plenty of help and support for women and same-sex couples interested in starting a family. Here are some options and considerations.
Sophie Harper always knew she wanted to be a mum.
“I imagined I’d do it in the way schoolgirls imagine… I’d fall in love with a man, he’d fall in love with me and the family would naturally follow,” she explains.
But becoming a mum was to be a different experience. Many years later, Sophie came out to family and friends; a weight lifted but reality sunk in. “The thing I felt saddest about letting go of was the idea of creating a baby biologically with the person I was in love with and for us to be a family,” she recalls.
Approaching her late-30s, Sophie gave herself a deadline. “I’d always known I wanted a baby and gave myself a time limit to take action (age 37) based on declining fertility statistics.
“As 37 approached and I was still single, I accepted and then embraced the fact that I’d be doing it alone.”
Today, Sophie lives in Canberra with her now 5-year-old daughter, surrounded by family. She shares her journey in a documentary podcast series, Not by accident.
Fertility specialist and gynaecologist Dr Lyndon Hale is medical director at a Melbourne fertility clinic and head of reproductive surgery at The Royal Women’s Hospital in Victoria.
He says there’s a growing number of single women and same-sex couples visiting clinics to help start their families.
State data collected by the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) shows there were 437 women treated with donor sperm in 2016-17, with single women making up the largest proportion (53%), followed by women in same-sex relationships (34%) and heterosexual relationships (13%). This is a rise from 383 women treated with donor sperm the year before.
For single women trying for a baby, Dr Hale says it’s mostly about having limitations on their reproductive window. “They feel they want to be a parent so much that they’re prepared to do it on their own,” he explains.
“We say ‘on their own’ but that idea of a nuclear family and there only being one model has changed a lot in my view. You’ll see women with very supportive parents and the extended family are helping bring the kids up. Often they have very good support networks.”
People who start a family via donor conception use donated sperm, eggs or embryos. Women access donor sperm through someone they know or by using an unknown donor in Australia or overseas.
VARTA explains that using a donor in Australia can have advantages. An Australian donor has the benefit of legal protections that ensure they can be known to your potential child, and to you, for example. It can also help you to reduce costs. Learn more about finding a donor
Sophie Harper, who was living in Denmark at the time, used a sperm bank and carefully selected the donor. “It seemed to me that if I was choosing a donor, it was responsible to choose the best gene pool to complement mine, for my child’s sake. If I couldn’t procreate through love, at least I could do this.”
Surrogacy is an arrangement for a woman to become pregnant and give birth to a child for another couple (same-sex or heterosexual) or an individual (for example a woman with medical issues).
Surrogacy Australia says that although the laws differ between states and territories, altruistic surrogacy is legal. In an altruistic surrogacy agreement, a surrogate doesn’t receive any payment or reward for acting as a surrogate.
There are many legal, medical and financial issues to consider, including applying to have a baby legally recognised as your own, so it’s best to do your research through avenues such as VARTA, fertility clinics and lawyers.
IVF expert and author Dr Raphael Kuhn says egg freezing is worth considering if you’re aged 30-36 and pregnancy isn’t on your immediate life agenda. This could be because you don’t have a partner. Or you may have a partner but aren’t planning, or able, to try for a baby in the foreseeable future.
For some women who want to have a child (without using a donor) there can be medical reasons for egg freezing. The prospect of chemotherapy is one example.
“It should be a priority for any woman who’s diagnosed with cancer and will or may need to have chemotherapy,” says Dr Kuhn, author of IVF Success, An Evidence-Based Guide to Getting Pregnant and Clues to Why You Are Not Pregnant Now.
If you’re considering becoming a solo mum or a surrogate, and you want to be covered for pregnancy and birth services in the private system, you need to get the right level of hospital cover 12 months before your baby is born. HCF cover options include our My Family and My Family Plus packages.
To claim for (listed) assisted reproductive services, you’ll need HCF Premium Hospital cover. As with pregnancy and birth, a 12-month waiting period applies.
It’s important to know that a number of pregnancy and assisted reproduction services are outpatient, and only in-hospital (inpatient) services can be covered by private health insurance, whichever fund you choose.
You may be able claim a Medicare rebate for certain elements of your care.
Before starting any treatment, be clear about what your health insurance can cover, what Medicare rebates you can expect and what your out-of-pocket costs are likely to be.
Whatever your situation, there’s plenty of online support for every type of family. Examples include:
- Blended families, single-parent and same-sex couples: raisingchildren.net.au
- Single mums: National Council of Single Mothers and their Children
- Same-sex couples: Rainbow Families
- Surrogacy: Families Through Surrogacy
When it comes to supporting your child(ren), Dr Hale says that explaining your journey early on will help them understand how special they are and ensure it becomes part of their family story while they’re little.
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