The journey to parenthood for LGBTQ+ individuals and couples may not be always be straight forward – but difficult roads can still lead to beautiful destinations.
Starting a family is an exciting and life-changing time. For those who identify as LGBTQ+ however, the route is often unclear - so knowing all your options can help you determine the best path.
The good news is that lots of people within the LGBTQ+ community are raising families, and along with increasing support for equal rights around the world, the acceptance and visibility of LGBTQ+ people and families continues to grow.
The process of conceiving a child is different for everyone - whether it’s an opposite-sex couple, a same-sex couple or a single individual. Many future parents need a little assistance, and thanks to tremendous advances in reproductive technologies, as well as evolving perspectives on what makes a family, there are plenty of options for LGBTQ+ parents-to-be who want to welcome a baby into their lives.
At the most basic level, there are four primary paths for members of the LGBTQ+ community who are looking to become parents.
This route can include assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF (in vitro fertilization), IUI (intrauterine insemination) and ICI (intracervical insemination); surrogacy; or co-parenting. There may be additional considerations for transgender parents-to-be, such as potentially banking eggs or sperm prior to medical transition, or pausing the use of gender-affirming hormones during conception and gestation.
Having sperm meet egg without involving sex - either in a petri dish or in utero - is a popular option for same-sex couples and single parents-to-be alike. The four main methods of artificial insemination are:
In vitro fertilization (IVF) Where egg and sperm meet outside of the body, then the fertilized egg (embryo) is placed in the uterus. Reciprocal IVF is a similar process that allows lesbian or trans men partners to both biologically participate in a pregnancy, which involves using the egg of one partner and transferring the embryo into the uterus of the non-donor partner.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) - where sperm is placed directly into the uterus by a medical provider.
Intracervical insemination (ICI) - where sperm is placed in the cervix rather than in the uterus.
Intravaginal insemination (IVI) – where sperm is placed into the vagina with a syringe. This can be done at home and is an option many choose to do themselves.
If you decide to look for donor insemination, you should go to a licensed clinic where the sperm is screened. This ensures that the sperm is free from sexually transmitted infections and certain genetic disorders. Fertility clinics also have access to wellbeing support and the legal guidance that you may need.
Surrogacy is when a gestational carrier (often referred to as a surrogate mother) carries a pregnancy for you. There are multiple ways that surrogacy can help LGBTQ+ parents-to-be create their families. This may be the right option for an LGBTQ+ individual or couple where a baby can’t be carried for biological, hormonal, personal or medical reasons.
Because the surrogacy process can be overwhelming, many LGBTQ+ parents-to-be choose to work with agencies that specialise in supporting them. Surrogacy also can be prohibitively expensive for many hopeful LGBTQ+ parents-to-be. Laws vary significantly between countries when it comes to parental rights, and involves the help of legal specialists. Additional considerations also include::
Selecting a donor (egg or sperm)
Identifying a carrier (gestational carrier or donor carrier)
Ensuring legal coverage, such as second-parent adoption for a partner not biologically involved
Two or more people co-parenting a child has become increasingly less unusual in recent years. In the past, co-parenting was used in the context of a divorced opposite-sex couple, but today, the concept is applied to non-traditional families that can include LGBTQ+ people, who share parental rights, duties and responsibilities without marriage or involvement in a romantic relationship.
Children from these arrangements can be adopted, conceived through assisted reproduction, welcomed via surrogacy - or sometimes, through sexual intercourse.
Adoption & Fostering
Defined as the creation of a legal parent-child relationship between a parent who is not automatically recognised as a child’s parent at birth, adoption is a common path to parenthood for LGBTQ+ people. Overall, same-sex couples are four times more likely than opposite-sex couples to have adopted children or stepchildren: 21 percent of same-sex couples are raising an adopted child compared to just 3 percent of opposite-sex couples.
Aside from conception during previous opposite-sex relationships, adoption is the most common route to parenthood for LGBTQ+ parents. For parents-to-be who don’t feel strongly about having a genetic relationship with their child, and who appreciate that the process can be lengthy, adoption may be a good choice.
LGBT+ couples in the UK can adopt or foster a child together. You can apply to adopt or foster through a local authority, or an adoption or foster agency. You will have to complete an assessment to become an adoptive or foster parent, with the help of a social worker and preparation training. For more information you can visit New Family Social, the charity for LGBT+ adoptive and foster parents. Once you have taken the time to consider whether adoption is a suitable option, you can speak with an adoption agency who will be able to support you.
Choosing Your Path
Given the many options for creating a family, selecting the right path for you depends on lots of factors and considerations, including personal preferences, financial resources, life circumstances, and community and family support.
The reality for the overwhelming number of LGBTQ+ people is that starting a family will require a significant amount of advanced planning, research and resilience. The road to parenthood can be long and winding, so securing the support of family, friends and networks can help lessen the burden along the way.
But if the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, then the first step toward LGBTQ+ parenthood is to do your research. Be inspired by families that already have been down the road before you, connect with resource groups and take time to listen and learn from the experiences of others.