From IVF to surrogacy: How these queer couples are diving into parenthood

When Belinda and her partner Astrid first contacted a fertility clinic last year, they were surprised by how quickly everything snowballed.

After finding out Astrid was “almost infertile”, the specialist laid out two options for the Gippsland-based couple.

“We could have done IUI treatment — which some people call ‘turkey basting’ — where they squirt the sperm in you,” Belinda says.

“But because of Astrid’s infertility issues we ended up doing IVF and I’m carrying her egg.”

The couple found out 12 days after the egg transplant they were pregnant.

Belinda and Astrid are part of a growing group of same-sex couples in Victoria having children using donor sperm.

According to VARTA’s 2021 report, single women are still the largest group using donor sperm (53 per cent), followed by women in same-sex relationships (34 per cent) — compared to people in heterosexual relationships (17 per cent).

That’s despite a sperm shortage in Australia — leading some couples to consider options outside of fertility clinics.

We chatted to a few same-sex couples about their experiences with IVF, surrogacy, and donating sperm.

‘Just trying to stay positive’

Belinda says even though the fertility process was quicker she expected, it was still expensive.

“We heard a lot of stories from people saying that usually it doesn’t happen the first time around … but we were just trying to stay positive and hope for the best,” she says.

Overall, their costs for one round of IVF were $14,000.

“And then with a Medicare rebate we got less than half of that back,” Belinda says.

As a LGTBQIA+ person you are only eligible for a Medicare rebate if you are “medically infertile”. Astrid was eligible for a Medicare rebate because she has low egg stores.

Belinda says the associated costs of fertility treatment may mean some LGBTQIA+ couples aren’t be able to afford it and overall, costs are a “huge barrier for our community”.

But she thinks there is more “support” for queer couples wanting families.

“I absolutely think the stigma is dropping,” Belinda says.

‘We got a big loan’

Damien, Fletcher, and Cris live in Shepparton.(Supplied)

In Shepparton, where Damien and Cris Stevens-Todd live, LGBTQIA+ families aren’t common — but Damien says more of his friends are considering having kids.

Damien and his husband Cris turned to international surrogacy options six years ago.

Surrogacy arrangements are legally (as well as financially and emotionally) complex, with laws affecting surrogacy varying between Australian states and territories, and also internationally.

Surrogacy laws in Australia mean that paid surrogates are illegal, though unpaid gestational surrogacy (where the surrogate’s egg is not used in conception) is practised by Victorian fertility clinics.

City Fertility Victoria Medical Director Anne Poliness says more gay male couples are looking for surrogate mothers to carry their baby.

“Same-sex gay male couples are also increasingly engaging with fertility clinics to set up surrogacy arrangements with an egg donor in Victoria rather than overseas,” she says.

It was harder to find a surrogate mother for Damien and Cris Stevens six years ago, when they found a surrogate mother in Canada.

“We got a big loan, our now four-year-old Fletcher would have easily cost us $100,000 dollars … but she’s definitely worth it,” Damien says.

“I think the bank still owns her to be honest!”

‘It makes me really proud’

Daniel and Craig (pictured far left and right) keep in touch with the children who were conceived as a result of their sperm donation.(Supplied)

Daniel Mainville and his partner Craig Hemphill were the first couple in Victoria to donate sperm.

“Previously gay men weren’t allowed to donate sperm because of the supposed risk of spreading AIDS,” Daniel says.

“In 2004 I rang [the clinic] and told them I’d like to donate. They said ‘that’s great’, and asked me if I was in a relationship. I said yes and I my partner would like to donate as well … and then there was this silence.

“The receptionist told me they weren’t allowed to accept donations from gay people.

“I was a bit disappointed … but as soon as the rules changed, I got on the phone and booked an appointment.”

Daniel’s partner Craig loved the idea and tagged along to the appointment because he “didn’t want to miss out on all the fun”.

Loading

Both Daniel and Craig have contributed to 14 children, and they remain in contact with some of the kids regularly.

“I see one child semi-regularly and I see another five children occasionally,” says Daniel.

“It makes me really proud to [contribute to] so many lives.”

For Belinda and Astrid, they’re grateful and itching to meet their first baby girl in June.

“I think for Astrid, it was very emotional finding out she was almost infertile, so we call her out little miracle because she was the only chance we had with getting a baby with Astrid’s DNA,” Belinda says.

“I look forward to meeting our little miracle and squishing my face into her face.”

ABC Everyday in your inbox

Get our newsletter for the best of ABC Everyday each week