The lesbian journey to get pregnant

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Family planning has a totally different meaning for LGBT couples. While accidents and unwanted pregnancies happen on a daily basis, gays and lesbians instead have to plan well ahead – and spend a considerable amount of time and money doing so – for the mere chance of having a child. Often, insemination fails the first time around, so distraught couples try again, waiting and hoping for good news. But in the worst case scenario, it just never comes. 

Five years ago, Hongkonger Bess Hepworth and her wife Kirsty Smith decided they wanted a child, and went through the process of finding a sperm donor. “I heard my clock ticking,” says the 35-year-old Hepworth. “Gay men can be fabulous forever, but lesbians age.”

She and her partner then sought out friends that they knew in Hong Kong with the hope that one of them would meet their requirements. “It was important to me that we found a known donor,” she says. “My mother died when I was young, so I wanted my child to have every opportunity to know his father.”

Finding a match, however, proved difficult. Some donors want to be heavily involved in the child’s life and some want to be completely uninvolved. Hepworth and Smith were looking for more of an ‘uncle’ figure – someone involved – but not on a day-to-day basis. “It’s all about communicating. We asked about eight different people. Some didn’t fit what we were looking for and others rejected us after further consideration.”

With no eligible man in sight, the ladies decided to head down a different route and fly over to San Francisco to popular lesbian-owned sperm bank called, Pacific Reproductive Services (pacrepro.com). It was there that they were able to sift through catalogues, check character profiles like match.com and even watch a video of potential candidates. “The video was the most important part – getting that first impression made it much easier to choose,” Hepworth says. “We showed the guy we chose to our straight friends and they thought he was good enough to shag [chuckles] – so that was enough for us.”

After the choice was made, the hard part began: Hepworth needed to get pregnant. She literally peed on a stick each day to check if she was ovulating. And if she was, it was a swift flight back to San Francisco from Hong Kong to attempt the insemination process. She made three trips doing so and it failed all three times. “The most important advice I have for any parents doing this, either gay or straight, is prepare for rejection because it can be heartbreaking. It can take years for it to work, so you’re going to need all your friends and family for emotional support.”

Eventually Hepworth found a better process. First, she went to a fertility doctor who could scan her eggs to check in advance when her ovulation period would be. Second, she had vials of sperm shipped (US$2,600) from San Fran to Bangkok. In Bangkok as well as in Hong Kong, only heterosexual married couples are legally eligible for the insemination process, which means single heterosexual women and homosexuals are excluded. Luckily however, clinics in Bangkok turn a blind eye. “What many people don’t know is that they have these brokers,” says Hepworth. “They deal with immigration in getting your sperm into the country and make sure the vials get to the clinic before it melts. Then they have forms filled out for a fake husband.” Hepworth gave the IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) three more tries and, after waiting seven months, she finally got pregnant.

Each IUI costs the couple US$700 and each vial of genetic material cost US$675. On top of that, the ‘pay-as-you-go’ process at the San Francisco clinic for registration, catalogues, videos plus travel expenses probably set the couple back a total of US$22,000. And as she cradles her now 17-month-old son, Flynn, Hepworth concludes: “No other group [LGBT people] gives parenthood as much prior commitment.” Arthur Tam

To find out more about Hepworth’s journey email her at bess.hepworth@pinkseason.hk

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