In the ever-evolving landscape of family building, the LGBTQIA community has found avenues to parenthood through options like surrogacy and donor conception. Lisa Schuman, the Founding Director of the Center for Family Building and host of a podcast called Donor Conception Conversations, has been at the forefront of this journey, offering counseling and consulting services to those navigating these paths. She’s recently teamed up with Dr. Leondires, the Medical Director of Illume Fertility and founder of Gay Parents to Be, to co-author a book on the subject called Building Your Family: The Complete Guide to Donor Conception.
In a recent webinar hosted by Fairfax Surrogacy, Joyce Wheeler sat down with Lisa Schuman and Dr. Leondires to explore the challenges, considerations, and advice surrounding surrogacy and donor conception for the LGBTQIA community. Drawing from their personal experiences and professional expertise, they shed light on the intricacies of surrogacy and donor conception for LGBTQIA individuals and couples.
Challenges for the LGBTQIA Community in Surrogacy and Donor Conception
Navigating the path to parenthood is a deeply personal and often complex journey. For members of the LGBTQIA community, this journey has unique challenges and considerations, especially when it comes to surrogacy and donor conception.
Dr. Leondires highlights a poignant reality: LGBTQIA individuals require an egg or sperm donor to conceive. This isn’t just a clinical procedure, though; it’s an emotional process. There’s an inherent sadness and a weight of unrealized expectations in needing someone else’s genetics to build your family. The casual remarks like “they just need a donor” can be disheartening, overlooking the profound emotional and logistical challenges involved.
“As a member of the LGBTQIA community, in general, you’re going to need a donor. I think that there’s a certain amount of sadness about that and an unrealized expectation of how hard it is.” – Dr. Leondires
The journey doesn’t end with finding a donor. The LGBTQIA community grapples with additional hurdles, from the extra education, increased costs, and the time it takes to choose a donor and find the right surrogate. Dr. Leondires emphasizes that the community often makes countless decisions that no one in history has ever faced to bring their family to life.
A significant concern for many, especially same-sex male couples, is the desire to have a child with both partners’ genetics. With twin pregnancies no longer recommended for health reasons, couples face the heart-wrenching decision of choosing whose genetics to use or embarking on two separate, costly surrogate journeys.
Lisa Schuman brings another perspective, emphasizing the importance of finding supportive and competent medical professionals. It’s crucial for LGBTQIA individuals to find a doctor or therapist who is not only an ally but also excels in their field. The journey is not just about embracing one’s identity but ensuring that medical professionals can effectively assist in the conception process.
The Importance of Thorough Screening in Surrogacy and Donor Conception
When embarking on the journey of surrogacy or donor conception, the importance of thorough screening cannot be overstated. Lisa Schuman emphasizes the critical nature of this process, highlighting that while organizations like Fairfax conduct rigorous screenings, not all do. It’s imperative for both gestational carriers and donors to undergo comprehensive evaluations.
For gestational carriers, the focus is twofold: ensuring they can manage the relationship dynamics and the medical process. In contrast, when considering donors, the primary concern revolves around genetics and potential hereditary traits passed on to the child.
Regardless of the role, mental health history remains a pivotal aspect of the screening process. Tools like the PAI or MMPI psychological tests are employed to assess psychopathology. Intriguingly, these tests also gauge deception, with scales designed to detect both overt and covert lying. This is crucial, as any dishonesty might indicate falsified information, posing risks to the entire process.
Lisa underscores the importance of objectivity in the screening process. It’s essential to engage independent practitioners who can evaluate donors or gestational carriers without any biases. This ensures that decisions aren’t just rubber-stamped but are made with the utmost care and consideration.
“It’s very important to have someone who’s skilled and who’s experienced and who you can really trust. Very often when you go to some places that employ mental health professionals, you may not get an objective person doing the screening. It’s very important to get an objective person doing the screening.” – Lisa Schuman
Dr. Leondires brings another perspective, urging individuals to think long-term. While the immediate goal might be to have a baby, it’s essential to remember that these babies will grow into adults. The choices made today will impact their lives for years to come. From his personal experience with his own donor-conceived children, he stresses the importance of viewing the process through the lens of the child’s future.
“As somebody who has two donor conceived children, my lens has been affected through their perspective. And I think that we want to really be honest with ourselves as we choose a donor, that this is a multiyear commitment of the donor and the child.” – Dr. Leondires
The screening process is not just about the present but the future. It’s about ensuring that the decisions made today pave the way for healthy, stable, and secure futures for the children born out of these processes.
Communicating Your Child’s Story: Early, Often, and with Love
One of the most crucial aspects of this journey is how to communicate the story to the children born out of these processes.
Lisa Schuman emphasizes the importance of sharing the story of conception early and often. While some parents in the LGBTQIA+ community might assume their child will naturally understand their conception story, it’s essential to be proactive. Introducing the narrative from day one allows it to become a natural part of the child’s identity. This approach prevents the potential shock and identity crisis that can arise if the child discovers their conception story later in life.
Practicing the narrative, even when the child is still an infant, can help parents become comfortable with the story. By the time the child is old enough to understand, the narrative will flow naturally, ensuring the child feels loved, wanted, and secure in their origin story.
“Your child’s story should be one of feeling grateful and feeling appreciative for your gestational carrier and feeling happy about everything that you did to bring your child into the world.” – Lisa Schuman
Dr. Leondires adds that the narrative should evolve as the child grows, ensuring it remains age-appropriate. The foundational story might begin with explaining the need for “special cells” or someone else to carry them. As the child matures, the narrative can expand, always emphasizing love, intention, and the unique journey that brought them into the world.
Whether through surrogacy or donor conception, the narrative belongs to the child. It’s a story of love, intention, and the extraordinary lengths parents went to bring their cherished child into the world.
Navigating the Path of Surrogacy and Donor Conception: Advice for Aspiring Parents
Embarking on the journey of surrogacy or donor conception can be both exhilarating and daunting. For those just starting out, it’s essential to have a full understanding of the intricacies of the process to ensure a smooth journey.
- Embrace the Village Approach: It’s essential to lean on each other, be advocates, and support friends and family in their family-building endeavors.
- Prioritize Mental and Emotional Well-being: The decisions made during the surrogacy or donation process can have long-term effects on all parties involved, including the child. Ensuring the mental and emotional well-being of the surrogate or donor can contribute to positive long-term outcomes for everyone. Tools like the PAI or MMPI psychological tests can screen for psychopathology and even detect deception, ensuring the donor or gestational carrier is genuine about their motivations and health history.
- Seek Professional Guidance: Engage with experts, from choosing the right agency to mental health professionals and lawyers.
- Craft and Share the Conception Story Early: Practicing this story, even during pregnancy, ensures it becomes a natural conversation as the child grows.
- Focus on the Child’s Perspective: Remember, the journey isn’t just about conception; it’s about raising a well-adjusted individual. It’s essential to be honest and transparent, ensuring the child feels loved and wanted.
- Educate Yourself: Resources like the book Building Your Family: The Complete Guide to Donor Conception can be invaluable for parents-to-be considering a sperm or egg donor to build their family, helping them prepare not only themselves but also their future child.
Expert Guidance for the LGBTQIA Community
The journey to parenthood is unique for every individual, and for members of the LGBTQIA community, this path can be filled with unique challenges and considerations. With the right guidance, support, and resources, it can be navigated with confidence and joy. Lisa Schuman and Dr. Leondires’ book offers a roadmap for those embarking on this unique journey.
If you’re seeking more information or guidance on this journey, don’t hesitate to reach out to Fairfax Surrogacy. We’re here to help and guide you every step of the way.
About Lisa Schuman, LCSW
Lisa Schuman, LCSW, is a seasoned family building expert with nearly three decades of experience in reproductive medicine and family building. As the founding director of The Center for Family Building, Lisa has dedicated her career to providing support, education, and counseling to individuals and families navigating the complex world of fertility. With a Master’s degree in Social Work from Yale University, Lisa’s extensive knowledge and compassionate approach have made her a sought-after expert in her field. She has worked with numerous fertility clinics, testified before the state Senate Judiciary Committee to legalize surrogacy in New York, and has been recognized with several awards for her outstanding contribution to the field. Lisa’s personal journey through fertility challenges enriches her professional insights, making her a profoundly empathetic counselor. Through her practice, Lisa aims to empower individuals and couples with the knowledge and support they need to build their families successfully.
About Dr. Mark P. Leondires
Dr. Mark P. Leondires is the esteemed Founder and Medical Director of Illume Fertility, as well as the driving force behind Gay Parents To Be. With board certifications in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, he brings a wealth of expertise to the field. Dr. Leondires actively contributes to the community, serving on RESOLVE’s Physician Council and ASRM’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Task Force. He has previously held the position of President for ASRM’s LGBTQ Special Interest Group and has been recognized as a Castle Connolly “Top Doctor” in both Connecticut and New York for several years. His journey in medicine, from serving in the army to directing the A.R.T. Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and then founding Illume Fertility in Connecticut, reflects his passion for solving the unique puzzles each fertility patient presents. His personal and professional experiences led to the creation of Gay Parents To Be, emphasizing inclusivity in fertility practices. Dr. Leondires is dedicated to fostering a wholly inclusive environment at Illume Fertility.