The definition of “family” is changing. Many of us have been programmed to believe that a family includes grandparents, a mom and a dad, brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc. Families are becoming more diverse than we ever imagined!
Fertility treatment is expanding these possibilities. Things such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF), intrauterine insemination (IUI), and the use of donor tissue (eggs, sperm, or donated embryos) are some of the options that someone can use to have a baby. In some cases, if the use of donor tissue is chosen, people opt to have an anonymous donor or a known donor; there are many organizations out there that work with anonymous tissue donors and known donors can be siblings, cousins, or friends! I’ll give some examples below:
Say, a non-binary femme and a transgender male want to conceive a child together. The non-binary femme decides that she would like to carry the child with her own eggs. The transgender male cannot produce sperm, so they ask their brother to be a known sperm donor. They work out an agreement and seek care at a fertility clinic to begin treatment. A few weeks later, the non-binary femme becomes pregnant, yippee! Nine months later, she gives birth and she and her partner raise the baby together, as the “parents”. And the known sperm donor is in the baby’s life. But wait! He is also the uncle, but is technically the baby’s father. How do we address him? Families put much thought into this! For this reason, there is chatter in the medical community that we will need to start coming up with different names for family members. This example could be an excellent reason why.
In the case of a same-sex female couple, one female may decide that she wants to carry the child and her partner may have her eggs retrieved to create embryos with either anonymous sperm or a known sperm donor. The embryos are then transferred into the uterus of the woman who wants to carry the child. One woman is genetically related to the child while her partner carries the baby.
In same sex-male couples, a gestational carrier and egg donor is needed to have a child where in same-sex female couples, usually one of the partners carries the baby. Partners will often choose whose sperm will be used to create an embryo based on the health of the sperm or the desire to be genetically related to the child.
In all of these scenarios, families are able to decide who parents the child, what the child will call their family members, and if they choose to have the gestational carrier or tissue donor be a part of the child’s life. While anonymous donors still exist today, the genetic technology that is present and expanding may not allow for anonymous donors in the future. This could be important for some people wishing to stay anonymous. In other cases, people who donate tissue are more than willing to meet the child when the child turns 18 or to be a part of the child’s life in a different way. Either of these scenarios is perfectly fine and something to consider.
For trans folks, I just want to note that there is the option to freeze either your sperm or eggs before going through hormone-replacement therapy if you’d like to have your own child one day. Seek out the resources in your area to learn how to access this option!
As a doula, this is incredible to learn about and to provide care to these families is important. It’s even more important for society to acknowledge and accept this change. Our families and family dynamic are changing; it’s truly exciting to see what others explore to make their dream of starting a family a reality.