How Do Lesbians Get Pregnant? Let Me Count the Ways

The following is the 3rd installment of a hilarious ongoing series by author and squirrel hunter (seriously) Amy Bronwen Zemser called “How to Thaw Your Unborn Child,” about sperm donation and artificial insemination when you’ve got an acute case of lesbianism. Each essay stands alone, but if you prefer, you can start with Part 1 here:

There are a million ways to get pregnant.  The heterosexual model is probably the most fun, but I’ve heard that lesbian fertility sex can be a good time, too.  Anyone recall the scenes with Ellen DeGeneres and Sharon Stone in If These Walls Could Talk 2?

My partner Moira and I used the fertility clinic, so we didn’t exactly have a sexy time trying to get pregnant.  We took the old-fashioned route and used an an old-school technique, which is to closely examine bodily fluids — cervical mucous, to be exact — in order to determine that the time was right. (Oh, don’t get all haughty and squeamish.  You need that stuff to make a baby, you know.  It’s the ocean that the swimmers do the butterfly stroke in to get to the egg.)

Moira emerged from the bathroom with something clear and gelatinous on her fingertips.  She called me over.

“You think this is the stuff?” she asked.

“It sure looks like it,” I said.

“Do you think it’s long enough?  Stretchy?  Egg whitey?”

We spent a few minutes analyzing and observing and speculating.  Toni Weschler wrote a wonderful book on the subject of achieving pregnancy called Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and I strongly encourage you, dear reader, to get this book if you are so much as beginning to think about getting pregnant. The book has pages and pages of specific information about charting your menstrual cycle and pinpointing your fertility window (not everyone ovulates on Day 14).

I love this book.  You get to be your own little science project, with charts and graphs and basal thermometers and daily underpants analysis.

We went down to the fertility clinic, where they defrosted, warmed up, and spun our donor-friend Kai’s sperm inside a centrifuge to separate the dead from the living.  Then the nurse syringed up the tiny ink cartridge full of liquid (the whole thing is about as big as the first third of your pinky) and inserted a catheter into Moira using a process called Intrauterine Insemination.

If you are getting it on with your husband or your known donor friend, you just put some of that stuff in there and let it swim up to its destination. But if you are using a fertility clinic and you are a lesbian, they won’t let you just show up with a nice friend who wants to help his lady friend get pregnant.  Your friend has to be analyzed and tested and quarantined and have his seeds frozen for future distribution.  Which isn’t fair considering that a married couple can just go in there and do their thing.  Sure, they test everyone for all the diseases.  But you can still go in with your husband and get inseminated with his fresh goods.  Which makes no sense because even your husband could have had a one-night stand with someone the night before your insemination, contract hepatitis or god forbid HIV and pass it on the very next day in the office.  It’s just another irritating example of how discrimination plays itself out.

But, there we were.  Moira had planned ahead and there already were a bunch of Kai’s frozen spermsicles waiting for us at the office.

A lot of people want to know how lesbians get pregnant.  They have a vague sense of a sperm donor or a male friend in the picture, but they rarely know the details and are often curious.  Near as I can tell it, there are four ways you can get pregnant in this day and age:

  1. You can have heterosexual intercourse.
  2. You can have something called an Intracervical Insemination, or ICI, for short.  This means you get fresh sperm, suck it up in a syringe or a turkey baster and, doing the same work of the penis, get as close to the cervix, or the doorway to the uterus, as possible.
  3. Take it up a notch and get an Intrauterine Insemination, or IUI. This is slightly more involved because the sperm has to have a little shower before it can go into the uterus.  You can’t put fresh sperm directly in there because unwashed semen has bacteria and other junk in it that could lead to extreme uterine cramping, or infection.  IUI is often successful because you are bypassing all that vaginal travel and placing the swimmers right where the egg is.
  4. IVF:  This is when everything happens outside the body: sperm meets egg in a petri dish (often they just use one lone sperm in a procedure called ICSI) and takes a few days to grow into an embryo.  Embryos are transferred into the uterus.

The third option, IUI, is not too bad a procedure, if it’s done by the right practitioner. It’s not terribly expensive if you’re not on medication to produce extra eggs.  You can even do it yourself, if you get a good nurse practitioner or midwife to show you how.  The practitioner puts in a speculum so the cervix is visible, threads a little catheter into the cervical os, or entrance to the uterus, and injects the washed sperm on through.  If your practitioner is particularly skilled the whole thing takes about a minute and you can hardly feel anything.

Frozen sperm has a shorter shelf life than fresh sperm, though, so you really want to get it in there as soon as you are about to lay an egg, which can be tricky.  Usually fertility doctors like to give women a shot to induce ovulation within 36 hours, effectively narrowing the window.  In Moira’s case, we were willing to try and do it all as “naturally” as possible, without any hormone injections.

And, miracle of miracles she got pregnant on the very first try. (There is only a 20% chance of getting pregnant the regular way under normal circumstances, by the way.)  We worried during the first trimester that she would have a miscarriage (chances are higher after 35 and Moira was 36) but that didn’t happen either.  It just went.  It was amazing.  To be pregnant on the first attempt seemed unheard of, but there we were.

Kai came over and we celebrated.  Everyone was happy.  We’d beaten the odds.

Moira and I were really in love during that pregnancy.  We used to hold our hands up to each other and press our palms together across restaurant tables while gazing sickeningly into each others’ eyes.  We would give each other long, loving looks and laugh and feel ridiculous.  We didn’t care who saw us doing what or where.

At that time, in 2003, there was no gay marriage in New York.  We bought each other rings made of platinum and made private vows.  We were as good as married.  When she got pregnant, we’d been together about a year.

It all felt so natural and normal and wonderful that once, after she kissed me goodbye on the street in front of the subway station, I was surprised to hear a blood-curdling scream ring out from in front of a nearby bodega.  At first I thought maybe someone had been struck by a car, the screams were at such a high pitch.  I snapped my head around to see what the screams were about and was shocked to find that the screams were about us.  A clump of uniformed catholic school girls were passing by and saw us kiss.  Imagine it.

But even that didn’t bother us too much.  We were having a baby and everything was good.  My father was skeptical about the whole process, but my mother was ecstatic.  Your parents may have trouble with your lesbian partner, but everyone gets happy when a new baby is coming to town.

Readers, I attended every single doctor’s appointment and listened carefully to every pregnancy symptom and empathized with the nausea and the swelling and the food preferences.  We were together when we figured out which herbs promoted good brain development and I held her hand when, for the first 30 seconds of the first ultrasound, the sonographer was unable to find a heartbeat, and then she found it, and we both cried.  I helped choose the doula and the midwifery practice and I had my arms around her when she was screaming during transition and I watched an incredible curly cue of a doody swirl right out of her onto the bed before the baby’s face came out looking exactly like an upside-down ice-cream cone.

“Is the baby’s head supposed to look like that?” her brother whispered to me, when Moira was being stitched up and the baby was in my arms.

“I think so,” I said, pained.  “I’m not sure.”

We took the baby home and massaged her with olive oil until she smelled like a Mediterranean salad.  We swaddled her and crooned at her and sang her Brazilian lullabies.  She wore cloth diapers and organic cotton onesies.  We were surely insufferable, but we were in a blissful state, in love with each other and this beautiful baby and our beautiful lives.

Until the baby turned about ten days old.  I mentioned in passing that I was looking forward to filling out the paperwork so the baby could be mine both emotionally and legally (it takes many months for a second-parent adoption to go through the legal system) and I saw a shadow pass across Moira’s face.  A flicker of hesitation.

“Maybe we should wait a little,” she said.  “Just to see, you know, how things go.”

It took a few days for the words to sink in, but when they did, the implication of what my  partner was telling me was pretty clear.

I am not sure I want to be with you forever.  I am not sure I want you to be: the Other Mother.

Read the next installment of “How to Thaw Your Unborn Child” here.

Amy on coming out, homophilia & sexual identity:
My Husband Has No Penis