Written by Priscilla Blossom
So you’re thinking about having a baby. It’s an exciting time, but you probably have a lot of questions.
First up, know that you’re part of a growing number of LGBTQ+ people who are choosing to start a family. The U.S. nonprofit Family Equality estimates that between 2 and 3.7 million children under the age of 18 have an LGBTQ+ parent.
You might be wondering whether you and your partner are ready for this major step, who will carry the pregnancy, whether you’ll explore fertility treatments, and if there are any LGBTQ+-inclusive fertility clinics near you.
Knowing that you’re going to be listened to and welcomed by the health care providers and staff at your fertility clinic is crucial. In fact, the UK-based LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall has revealed that nearly one in four health care patients have witnessed negative remarks about the LGBTQ+ community, and one in eight have encountered unequal treatment from health care staff.
Research published in the journal Sexualities has pointed to the ways LGBTQ+ individuals and their families are often misrecognized in fertility clinic settings, with staff continuing to make assumptions about patients based on body parts, sex, gender, sexual orientation, and more.
So, if you’re looking for an LGBTQ+-inclusive fertility clinic near you, we’ve broken down the process into manageable steps, so you’ll know exactly how to get started when the time comes.
Starting your search can feel overwhelming at first, so we’d recommend asking friends or people you know within the community for a recommendation.
“Getting information from other people who’ve gone through it can be helpful,” says Dr. Lauren Sundheimer, a board-certified OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at CCRM Fertility’s Newport Beach location.
Andrea, a book publishing and PR consultant in Richmond, CA, did just that: “My partner and I decided to try and get pregnant. We started with intrauterine insemination (IUI) at a clinic in San Francisco. Another lesbian couple recommended it, and we were very pleased with the service and how warm and open to lesbian couples they were.”
If you can’t think of anyone to ask, Andrea says that online forums run by and for LGBTQ+ parents are another good option.
“There are now some great resources on Facebook,” she explains. “Private groups where adults who have been or are going through the experience, like LGBT TTC (Trying to Conceive) and the LGBT Fertility Group. I would recommend starting there for information and support.”
Dr. Sundheimer also recommends going online to read reviews of local clinics to get a better idea of how accepting the clinics might be toward LGBTQ+ patients.
Looking through a clinic’s website, for example, can give you a feel for how inclusive they are.
“While I don’t think clinic websites represent the entirety of a clinic, [those] that have a dedicated LGBTQ+ section on their websites may be more likely to know how to accommodate the needs of this patient population,” says Dr. Amanda Adeleye, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago who specializes in reproductive endocrinology and infertility.
The websites of both the University of Chicago’s Center for Reproductive Medicine and Fertility and CCRM Fertility, for instance, include specially marked sections for LGBTQ+ family building, including information on fertility treatments for same-sex and trans couples.
“[Check] out the clinic’s website to see if it has any certifications through the Human Rights Campaign, Family Equality, or other related organizations that work to evaluate and designate equitable health care providers and businesses,” adds Dr. Mark Leondires, founder, medical director, and partner at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut.
Dr. Leondires is also the founder of Gay Parents To Be, an online resource that has a wealth of information regarding the various ways to become a parent, including how to use data from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology to evaluate fertility clinics near you.
Sometimes having a bit more hands-on assistance in your search can be helpful. Local LGBTQ+ nonprofits and health centers in your neighborhood may be able to provide you with some guidance.
“Being a transgender man who has undergone a hysterectomy, when my wife and I wanted to have a child, we knew we would need help,” says Trevor, a diversity specialist and LGBTQ+ motivational speaker. Having been a primary care patient at Fenway Health for a decade, Trevor already knew to ask them for help.
“[I] knew they offered a program tailored to the needs of LGBTQ+ patients seeking to grow their families,” Trevor explains. “We attended an orientation session that set us at ease with the process and what options may be available to us. We selected IUI and enrolled in the program.”
John P. Carnesecchi, founder and clinical director of Gateway to Solutions in New York City, says his LGBTQ+ affirmative mental health practice also provides services for individuals and couples hoping to build their families.
He recommends simply calling the clinics you’re considering for a consultation. That way you can get a better idea of the services offered and whether or not they’re a good fit.
Once you’ve made a list of clinics you’d like to visit, it’s important to arrive prepared. If you’re having your baby with a partner with a uterus then you may want to consider who will be carrying the pregnancy. Will it be you, your partner, or a surrogate? If you want to know more about your fertility chances, you can ask a fertility specialist for an assessment. You’ll also want to decide whose sperm and whose egg you’ll be using.
It’s also great to get familiar with all the different ways you and your partner can have a baby. For example, you may want to look into IUI treatments, as they tend to be more affordable than in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF is also more involved and may be a better option if IUI treatments have been unsuccessful. Once you know your options, write down a list of questions for the staff and specialists at the clinic you’re considering.
You may want to ask about the risks and expenses associated with each fertility method; the timeframe of family planning techniques; and the support in place before, during, and after pregnancy and birth. Different clinics offer different services, and sometimes those services can communicate just how inclusive they are.
“Another aspect to look for is [if the clinic is] offering advanced fertility methods to have [a] biological connection regardless of your identity,” says Carnesecchi. “Those clinics that provide medical services like split egg retrieval or reciprocal IVF are genuinely dedicated to our community as well.”
Don’t be afraid to ask all the questions you can think of at your consultation. Being prepared is part of becoming a parent.
While a clinic might present itself as inclusive online, you won’t know for sure how welcoming it is until you’re there and interacting with staff and health care providers.
“When you arrive at the clinic, take a quick scan of the waiting room for a rainbow flag and signage for an all-gender bathroom,” says Dr. Leondires.
You can also look over the forms that you’re asked to fill out as another great way to distinguish an inclusive fertility clinic from one that isn’t taking LGBTQ+ patients’ needs to heart.
“The order in which questions are asked impacts the impression of inclusivity,” says Trevor. “If [the] questionnaire asks a lesbian couple multiple questions about sperm count and production, before asking if the couple includes a male who produces sperm, it is a waste of everyone’s time. Change what you can and understand that mistakes will happen.”
Many fertility clinics also often have pamphlets or posters on the wall that new patients can look through. Dr. Adeleye says you can look at these and see whether LGBTQ+ people are included in the images and patient information.
Meeting your potential fertility specialist will also help you figure out whether you’re at the right inclusive clinic for you.
“I ask everyone about their pronouns right after I introduce myself with my pronouns,” says Dr. Adeleye. “For my patients who identify as transgender, non-binary, or genderqueer, it is a good starting point for me to ask other questions. Importantly, I only ask questions that I believe would be relevant to their care.”
Dr. Adeleye warns against health care providers making assumptions about LGBTQ+ patients. As an ally, she says it’s important for health care providers to remain humble: “We aren’t always going to get it right. When we don’t, it is important to listen, take the feedback, and grow.”
If your health care provider becomes defensive or makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, it’s probably time to look elsewhere. Dr. Sundheimer says she’s welcomed patients into her practice who had negative experiences elsewhere: “I’ve heard from a lot of patients that they just felt like they were a number turning through this big system, and I think that sometimes people want that more personal feeling… especially when they aren’t a cisgender, heterosexual couple.”
You may also want to ask:
- How many LGBTQ+ patients have you personally worked with?
- And how long has the clinic been working with LGBTQ+ patients?
- Are you actively involved with the LGBTQ+ community and support centers in your area?
- Do you have contacts with any family lawyers who support LGBTQ+ people in family planning?
- How much control does the couple or individual have over their fertility process and is there mental health support available for LGBTQ+ people and couples?
Dr. Sundheimer says a health care provider’s approach can also make a big impact on a patient’s experience: “If the patient doesn’t feel supported, then it’s going to be a much more different experience than if they did. It should be, ideally, an exciting, hopeful time, and it should be seen positively. A supportive health care provider can really make a difference.”
Finding an LGBTQ+-inclusive fertility clinic near you can feel like a daunting task. However, there are signs you can look for before and during your first consultation to indicate if your specialist is LGBTQ+ inclusive.
If you’re trying to find an LGBTQ+-inclusive clinic, you can ask your primary health care provider or gynecologist for a referral. Also, consider asking friends or acquaintances within the LGBTQ+ community who have been through the process for a recommendation.
Having a health care provider who doesn’t make assumptions about your pronouns, sexuality, or relationship status and listens to your questions and needs can make a world of difference when starting a family. And you should feel fully supported through what can be an emotional but ultimately really exciting time.