Sixteen years ago, there were no Facebook groups or Fertility Clinics offering information sessions, so word of mouth was all that was available for prospective same sex parents. We became ‘those friends’ who had been through the process, and so would often be contacted by ‘friends of friends’ to field questions about all issues related to lesbian parenting. It was rare for us to see another lesbian couple at our fertility clinic, and if we did, we would be quietly thrilled to know that there were others out there like us, who shared our dream of creating our own family.
We never spoke to others, not because we weren’t friendly, but because those who have been through the assisted reproduction process know there is an unwritten ‘code of silence’ that exists in the blood test ‘queue’ at the clinic – no-one speaks to anyone.
It is bizarre but very much widely practiced: you keep to yourself and don’t attempt to be social.
Tensions are high and people are filled full of hormone-inducing fertility drugs. The atmosphere feels somewhat like a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality – like there are only so many viable pregnancies up for grabs, and so everyone is in competition.
Many a time I have felt self conscious for taking older kids in with me to the fertility clinic – I felt eyes boring into me as though I was being ‘greedy’ for wanting more. It was worse in the early years as you literally had to line up down the corridor of the dingy Watkins Building on Wickham Terrace, waiting to get in before going off to work for the day. The new digs in Upper Edward street are far more friendly, but the ‘code of silence’ still very much exists.
It isn’t the place to strike up a random conversation.
It isn’t the place to forge new connections.
You get in, and you get out.
Back to the questions: I answered the questions from not just other lesbians, but also heterosexual people too, simply because I believed then, and still do, that awareness is the first step in our journey towards greater acceptance. Although the range of question type varies and can even border on intrusive at times, I have always tried to answer them as honestly and openly as I can. I know how valuable it would have been for us to have been able to chat to someone else about the process. I recall feeling like it was such a strange phenomenon that we could possibly be legally permitted to access mainstream fertility treatment. I had been able to access the same obstetrician as both my aunt, and a couple of my good friends, which to me seemed unreal given the climate at that time was generally not favourable towards same sex families.
I had imagined the whole process would be more prohibitive and complicated, but really, it was the same for us as for anyone else: a referral from a GP and some readily available funds and we were on our way.
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve explained the process we went through to have our babies: from getting a referral to a reputable obstetrician, to choosing an anonymous donor, to deciding on who was carrying the baby, to beginning the whole assisted conception process, to telling families about the news, to coping with negative reactions…the endless list goes on and on. The process itself wasn’t difficult, but the issues surrounding it were. So many factors had to be considered, and weighed up.
I now read through the plethora of questions on social media pages and the ease with which people connect and discuss options and it astounds me.
I am so thrilled that these connections within our community are now readily available. What a wonderful network to have at your fingertips! It felt like a secret loophole in legislation in the early 2000s that we had stumbled across that allowed us to have assisted reproductive technology. I honestly feared that as soon as the more conservative groups within the wider community realised that we had entitlements to such treatment, social pressure would result in these rights being stripped away. The backyard do-it-yourself method was fraught with risks and did not appeal at all. So there was almost a bit of an ‘us versus them’ mentality underlying our desire to help others like us who wanted to create their own family.
The problems posed by not having access to a clinic were plentiful: I worried about the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the very real potential for custody issues down the track. The irony in this statement does not escape me now, given that I have joint custody of my older three children – but think about how nightmarish our present situation might be if there was another additional party with a vested interest in custody of the children. Massively messy. So for me, having the protection of a clinic, as well as access to assistive reproduction techniques such as IVF was a mammoth blessing. It allowed us legal protection as well as access to sperm that had been tested for not only sexually transmitted diseases, but also screened for many major genetic disorders.
As it turned out, without such assistance I fear I may not have had my family at all, given my difficulties in conceiving successfully on my own.
Ellen DeGeneres and Sharon Stone appearing in iconic lesbian shows like ‘If These Walls Could Talk 2’ painted such an enviable picture of the conception of a child as a same sex couple. There could be actual romance involved!!! The reality was vastly different. In our circles here in Australia, that’s pretty much unheard of. I can only imagine how wonderful the experience must be for women in the United States who have access to major sperm banks and can literally just go there, buy fully screened sperm by the vial and take it home to ‘use’ themselves. For us here in Australia, there is literally zero romance. Zilch. Like heterosexual couples who seek fertility treatments such as IVF, the conception of our children is clinical, intrusive and a means to an end.
And yet we are so very lucky to have it.