Being Diagnosed with PCOS After Trying At-Home Insemination with Donor Sperm

After tracking ovulation and trying at-home insemination with donor sperm from a Californian sperm bank, Amanda and Thea found out that it was unlikely that they’d get pregnant without assistance thanks to a PCOS diagnosis. They went through surgeries, and another 6 assisted IUI treatments in clinic to create their family. 

Tell us about your love story. How did you meet? Are you married? What are the things that make your relationship special?

We met as co-teachers in New Orleans, Louisiana. We taught 5th grade reading together. We began as close friends for years and then Thea decided to move to Boston. As she prepared to leave we realized that our feelings went beyond friendship. We were long distance for two years before I (Amanda) moved up to Boston to be with her. We got engaged within the first few months after I moved there. We then moved to California to be closer to family and got married in 2018.

As a queer couple, what did the decision to have children together look like, and how did you decide who would carry?

Thea and I always knew that we wanted to be parents and we were open to exploring all the options to make that happen. As I turned 34, I realized that I really wanted to try to carry a child for us. We started exploring fertility support in 2019 and began the earliest testing in January 2020.

Ultimately we would both like to carry a child but I am a little older and while we were both ready to have a baby, I was much more ready to be pregnant than Thea.

What considerations did you have about finding a sperm donor to assist in your fertility journey?

We were very lucky to live in the Bay Area (Oakland, California) as we began exploring options for sperm. So many of our doctors had been supporting LGBTQ+ families to get pregnant for decades and offered tons of support and resources as we explored the sperm donation process.

Pretty early on we decided that we preferred buying sperm from a bank for building our family. There were so many options and information we could gather about the sperm available at the banks where we were registered and we didn’t want to get too lost in ALL the things we could examine. Ultimately we chose our donor(s) – we tried various donors during the process of getting pregnant – by looking for a few descriptors that were similar to Thea since I would be carrying and using my own egg.

Tell us about deciding to try home insemination first, then moving to IUI in the clinic after a PCOS diagnosis?

Early on we had a doctor who had been supporting LQBTQ families to get pregnant since the 70s and she said that she thought we could purchase sperm and try it at home. We had decided to get more medical support and started that process in early 2020. When Covid hit and everything shut down, we were put on an impossibly long waitlist and it was unclear when we would be able to get medical assistance to try. 

So, in late summer of 2020 we began purchasing sperm and trying at home. 

After 8 months of tracking my ovulation and trying at home with no success, we were able to find a new fertility clinic and were matched with a queer doctor. It was lovely to have a doctor who understood our hopes for a family and who cared deeply about helping queer couples to build a family. 

He ended up diagnosing me with PCOS and sharing that our at home attempts were really unlikely to be successful because my ovulation was pretty inconsistent and hard to track. We had several more months of tests and creating a treatment plan before we did our first round of medically assisted IUI in August 2021. 

Over the course of the next year we had several IUI attempts— additionally I had to have a surgery to remove polyps, several invasive tests to determine if my ovaries were blocked and different drug combinations. In the meantime we had the opportunity to change insurance so that I could be fully covered for IVF. To that point, we had paid out of pocket for sperm and all treatments — in fact we had moved in with Thea’s parents to be able to afford the everything. After 5 failed IUI rounds, we were eager to start IVF to try something new BUT insurance said we had to “prove infertility” by having 6 rounds of IUI at a clinic — they wouldn’t count any of our at home attempts towards this total.

Pretty discouraged (and about 2.5 years into trying) we did our “last” round of IUI in May 2022 and as life often goes we were shocked that was the time when IUI finally worked for us.

What was the pregnancy like for both parents?

I really enjoyed pregnancy. I was fortunate to have very few symptoms and I was able to stay pretty active throughout my pregnancy. We had one scary doctors appointment when our baby’s heart rate was super elevated and had to be on a fetal heart monitor for a full day BUT that was the only hiccup in an otherwise uneventful 9 months. I really loved getting to feel his kicks and movement!

For Thea that time was exciting but I think she was really eager to meet our son and was ready for him to be born much sooner than me. As a person who one days hopes to also carry a baby I think she was also really interested in the process and all of the ways it changes your body. Our son, Skylar, was also not in any rush to be born and we ultimately had an induction a week after his due date because he wasn’t showing any signs of coming. 

I think birth was very eye opening and intense for Thea — I had a pretty long labor and pushing and I think Thea viewed it as someone who could go through it one day and that made her intensely empathetic to how intense labor is!

What was the experience like having a photographer capture your queer family?

We never really get photos taken (our only other photos are from our wedding and the photographer was from the resort where we had our destination wedding so we didn’t choose him or meet him before our wedding day) but this was something I really wanted us to capture. 

My birthday is two weeks after my son’s so this was my big birthday present to myself. A friend had posted her family photos on instagram and I really loved how natural and fun the photos looked. I looked up the photographer’s page and loved everything she had for newborns and family photos so I reached out. Sia (photographer) was so sweet and excited for us to start our family. She was also super flexible and in her model charges a very low fee to take the pictures and then you pay for whatever you decide to order. She also focuses on helping you order the prints as artwork or framed so that you actually share the pictures you get taken. She came to our house after the photo shoot to show us all the prints and was able to mock up exactly how the pictures would look in our space and on our walls.

What support systems and resources have been invaluable to you throughout your family-building journey as an LGBTQ+ couple?

We loved having a queer fertility doctor who helped us access a network of queer doctors throughout our journey (he connected us with queer OBGYNs and pediatricians which has been so affirming for our family!) We also randomly met another lesbian couple with a baby around our son’s age who introduced us to the Born Collective in the Bay Area — its a group of queer parents that have in person and Zoom meet ups. We love having some time to connect with other LGBTQ families.

We also really appreciated having the opportunity to talk to a family counselor as we embarked on our journey. Talking to someone who had experience with infertility and the road to family building was really helpful for us.

Can you share how you balance parenting roles and responsibilities as a queer couple without typical gender roles?

One thing we love about being a queer family is that we love that we feel less societal pressure about prescribed roles and responsibilities in our day to day.

For USA, we also had a little more generous leave than other places — I took 4 months away from work and Thea was able to take 3 months. We staggered our leave a little so that Skylar didn’t have to go to daycare until 6 months old — although that had its own ups and downs and he didn’t start at a consistent spot until he was 10 months old. We both mostly work from home so we tried as much as possible to juggle our meetings so we could split roles.

We try as much as possible to check in often and figure out how we are splitting responsibilities so we both feel supported — for example I would often take middle of the night feeding while Thea would wake up early with him and I would sleep in. I struggled to produce enough breastmilk so we have supplemented with formula from early on — and in many ways that meant we could really evenly divide up feedings and wake ups.

I am definitely the research parent who always wants to read everything about parenting and planning ahead for the next milestones (I spent a lot of time decided what high chair to get and how to support baby-led weaning) while Thea has pretty boundless energy for playing. Thea loves to research and buy baby gear and I love to find the next silly activity or toy we can introduce at home.

Photography by Sia Ingram Photography

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