If you’re not part of a heterosexual couple the cost of IVF can be prohibitive, says Lotte Jeffs.
Late last year, I got on the train to York thinking I was pregnant and got off knowing I wasn’t. The nurse at the London Women’s Clinic – with whom I’d become friendly with over the three years I’d been having fertility treatment – phoned me between Peterborough and Doncaster to say my hCG blood test (measuring hormone levels that can indicate pregnancy) had come back too low to be viable. The positive result I’d seen 12 days after my embryo transfer was what’s known as a chemical pregnancy.
I looked out of the window as the train plunged into the darkness of a tunnel. I didn’t want my wife and our three-year-old daughter to see me cry. Jen reached for my hand but there was nothing she could say. For 24 hours we had believed in a life that barely existed, and then it didn’t exist – I felt we could hardly call it a ‘loss’, as I was chemically pregnant for less than a day. Our grief was for a chimera and no more.
It was the sixth time I’d found out that fertility treatment had been unsuccessful. But it was the furthest I’d ever got and, when the word ‘pregnant’ had appeared on the test stick after an agonising two-week wait, I took a photo of it and excitedly sent it to the friends, family and colleagues who were involved in my IVF journey. It’s exhausting to keep fertility treatment a secret, so I’d stopped trying. As the train pulled into the next station, I messaged everyone to say that, actually, it hadn’t worked. But not to worry, I was fine.
I’d already decided this would be my last attempt to get pregnant; partly due to the emotional toll of trying, then waiting, then failing, then trying then waiting then failing again. The decision was also a lot to do with the physical effects of three daily hormone injections and progesterone pills that left me feeling heavy and tired and not at all myself. But honestly, the main reason I had to stop was the eye-watering price of trying to get pregnant when you’re a same-sex couple.
Each round of IVF costs roughly £10,000. I’d had to borrow money to fund it and it would have been reckless to take on any more debt. Same-sex couples and single women must pay for 12 intrauterine inseminations (IUI, where sperm is directly inserted into the womb, often used with donated sperm) or IVF treatments (where the egg is removed and fertilised in a laboratory), to ‘prove’ medical infertility before they are eligible for NHS treatment. This can cost £30,000 or more. By contrast, most cis-gendered heterosexual couples only have to try to conceive naturally for two years.
The fact that we already had a child together (my wife carried our first daughter, using a sperm donor), was a prohibitive factor for NHS treatment in our case. But for lesbian couples trying for the first time to start a family, the lack of access to treatment highlights a great inequality. Lesbian influencer couple Megan and Whitney Bacon-Evans are currently suing the NHS over its ‘discriminatory’ fertility policy and have launched a petition to highlight the issue. ‘We’re doing this for every LGBT+ couple who had to give up on their dreams of creating a family,’ Megan has said.
But even if money were no object, this felt like the right time to end my baby-making endeavours. After a day stomping around York, trying to have fun for our daughter’s sake, I lay in the hotel bed staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. I played the banal injustice of infertility over and over again in my head until it faded to a duller kind of ache, making space for a bright new feeling of relief. I wouldn’t have to put myself through the intense stress of IVF ever again. And I’d never have to listen to straight women suggest I ‘try acupuncture’ or tell me that it took them a good six months to conceive, and it was when they were on holiday and truly relaxed that it finally worked. Had I considered relaxing more?
In many ways, we’re lucky that there are two of us who have the potential to carry a child – there is another option for us to expand our family as and when we’re ready to. But it would have been exciting to see how my genes, with the same donor, produced a sibling for my non-biological daughter – connecting me to my wife and our children like a constellation of stars.
Having a biological child ‘each’ might have had its own challenges though – would my wife have been able to bond with ‘my’ child, having experienced the physicality of carrying and breastfeeding? Would it have messed with our parenting dynamic? We’d have figured it out, I’m sure, and what an amazing privilege it would have been to experience pregnancy from both sides – as the partner and as the birthing person. It’ll take a while for us to fully let go of this as the dream of our future family.
I can’t help but wonder if I’ll feel any jealousy towards my wife should she ‘succeed’ in getting pregnant again where I didn’t. Anyone trying to conceive will recognise the competing feelings of joy and deep, angry resentment that can arise when friends and family announce their pregnancies. But indulging any kind of envy in my case would be futile – having children in LGBTQ+ partnerships is already a complex process that demands you dig deep into your motivations (and often your bank balance) to make it a reality, and that you queer your expectations of nature and nurture. Should our family grow in a way we hadn’t originally planned, I anticipate that all I’ll really feel is gratitude and love.