Fertility Options for LGBTQ+ Women

by | Jul 25, 2023 | Fertility 101, LGBTQIA+

Donor sperm, IVF, and shared maternity IVF

When it comes to fertility options, LGBTQ+ women have several paths to build their family through collaborative reproduction. Each of these options exist on a spectrum of cost, effectiveness, and convenience. We’ve written this guide as an introduction to the different treatments available for lesbian couples and single intended parents. Most of this article applies to patients with a uterus. You can read more about fertility options for transgender, gender non-conforming, and nonbinary individuals here.

Overall Fertility Options for LGBTQ+ Women

Pregnancy requires three components: an egg, sperm, and uterus. Single parents or Intended parents who do not have all three biological components between them can still experience pregnancy and/or biological children through collaborative reproduction. Collaborative reproduction is an umbrella term for fertility treatments involving donor eggs/sperm/embryos and/or a gestational carrier (“surrogate”).

Single and partnered cisgender women with viable eggs and the ability to carry a pregnancy can conceive through donor sperm. You can read more about choosing a sperm donor here. We partner with several FDA-approved sperm banks and are happy to provide resources for making this decision. Women unable to provide eggs or carry a pregnancy may be able to have a child through donor eggs or embryos and/or a gestational carrier.

The first step in any fertility journey is an initial consultation and assessment for you and your partner. This combination of interview and physical tests will provide a complete picture of your current reproductive health. With that information, your fertility specialist can recommend which options may provide the best chances to achieve your family’s goals. Three common paths to conception for lesbian couples are: intrauterine insemination (IUI), in vitro fertilization (IVF), and shared IVF/shared maternity.

Intrauterine Insemination for LGBTQ+ women

This fertility option is often the most straightforward and cost-effective for LGBTQ+ women. In intrauterine insemination, or IUI, a doctor inserts donor sperm directly into the uterus. Some patients take medications to increase their chances of conception, depending on their initial fertility assessment. Your clinic will schedule your IUI procedure based on your ovulation timeline.

The success of IUI depends on the health and quality of the patient’s eggs. To this end, IUI may not be as successful for patients with fertility challenges such as low ovarian reserve or quality.

Some LGBTQ+ women use a fertility option called intracervical insemination, or ICI. As its name suggests, ICI places the sperm into the cervix, rather than the uterus, and can be done at home. ICI requires fresh donor sperm, rather than frozen, which typically means it comes from a directed (known) donor, rather than a donor sperm bank. Because IUI has higher success rates and better medical oversight, PNWF, along with other fertility clinics, typically recommend IUI over ICI.

PNWF Center for Collaborative Reproduction

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

In vitro fertilization (IVF) involves combining an egg and sperm in a fertility lab to develop an embryo, which a doctor then transfers into a uterus. During traditional IVF, the eggs are retrieved from the same person who then receives the uterus and carries a pregnancy. For LGBTQ+ women, this can be a good fertility option where medical reasons such as tubal disease or diminished egg reserve make IUI less successful.

Shared IVF, aka Shared Maternity, aka Co-IVF, aka Reciprocal IVF

LGBTQ+ couples where both partners have healthy eggs and wish to carry a pregnancy have another fertility option. This treatment goes by many names, including shared IVF, shared maternity, co-IVF, and reciprocal IVF. At PNWF, we tend to use the terms shared IVF and shared maternity, although we are happy to adjust our wording to best fit our patients’ needs and preferences.

In shared IVF, one partner has her eggs retrieved, which are then fertilized into embryos. The other partner then receives the embryo, carries the pregnancy, and delivers the baby. This provides an opportunity for parents to share a biological connection to their child, either through genetics or through the experience of pregnancy. Shared maternity often has high success rates, particularly if both partners are healthy with no history of infertility.

Find Affirming Fertility Options for LGBTQ+ Women at PNW Fertility

Whether you’re interested in IUI, IVF, or shared maternity, we are here to support you on your fertility journey. At PNWF, we believe everyone should be able to build their family, and we proudly support our LGBTQ+ community.

If you and your partner are LGBTQ+ women looking to explore your fertility options, contact the Center for LGBTQ+ Fertility at PNWF today to schedule your initial consultation.