Our fertility journey and the story of how we became a family is filled with diligent research, planning, patience, faith, a little bit of magic and a whole lotta love. It’s also a little bit less conventional, but we are excited to share it and shed some light on an option that isn’t widely discussed: we conceived all three of our kids at home with the help of a midwife. It took us a combined total of 5 IUI’s, and we spent around $10K.
One note before I dive in: there are SO many paths to creating a family, and no particular path is better than another. Like many things in life, it’s a highly personal decision about what is best for you and your family. We took the path we did because it felt right for us and we feel truly blessed that our “ideal” actually worked out.
Planning with doctors
My wife and I had always planned on having children. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a mother. It felt like the central purpose of my existence. Being a lesbian never really swayed me from that deeply-held belief, but I knew the path to get there would just be a little different.
Liz and I met when we were in our early 20’s. Having kids was something we discussed early on, but we took our time and spent our 20’s and early 30’s in New York City before we reached the point where we felt ready to start a family. We both wanted to carry. Liz is older, and thus it made sense for her to go first.
At her annual gynecologist visit, Liz mentioned our interest in wanting to have a baby in the near future. The gynecologist was very supportive and immediately was like, “oh, well you should definitely see this fertility specialist – he’s one of the best in the city.” She handed Liz a piece of paper with a name.
We were on the brink of moving to California and decided to table the fertility visit until we were settled in our new home. A few months later, Liz made an appointment with a new gynecologist to get the ball rolling and find a local fertility specialist. The gynecologist’s response? “Great! Go ahead and start trying!”
Wait. What? Don’t we need some fertility testing? Drugs? Do we need to see a fertility specialist?
She was like, “you don’t appear to have any issues that might indicate a fertility challenge. So go ahead and start trying, however you prefer. If it doesn’t work after a period of time, then you can think about a fertility specialist.”
We took that suggestion and ran with it.
Carving out our own path
We initially assumed that our conception journey would occur in a clinic. My research nerd proclivities led us to discover something utterly mind-blowing: we could hire a local midwife to come to our home and do an IUI, without fertility drugs.
Once we learned that there was an option to do it at home, we knew it was the best fit for us. The privacy and comfort of inseminating at home felt very natural and empowering.
Working with a midwife was also something we immediately felt strongly about. My mom is a midwife and so is Liz’s cousin: we both have great reverence for the art/science of midwifery. The holistic and empowering approach midwives take to childbirth translates equally well, in my opinion, when it comes to matters of fertility.
The flexibility of having a midwife essentially “on-call” to do the insemination at home meant we could avoid trigger shots/fertility drugs and base the timing on our natural cycles. Frozen sperm has a pretty short viability window, so timing insemination for your peak fertility is crucial. And sometimes, you hit peak fertility at 11pm on a weekend.
We both have legit anxiety surrounding taking medications of any sort, so the concept of a naturally-timed, unmedicated cycle was highly appealing.
Another big benefit is cost. Doing a simple, unmedicated IUI at home with a midwife has the potential to be far less expensive than to do a medicated/monitored IUI or IVF cycle in a clinic (our insurance wouldn’t cover any of it). The lower upfront costs allowed us to start much sooner than if we had been saving up for IVF.
So putting all that together, our new plan looked something like this:
- Get a few months of detailed cycle-tracking to understand peak fertility
- Get our sperm situation sorted
- Hire a local midwife to perform an at-home IUI
The bank and the donor
From day one, we were fairly set on working with The Sperm Bank of California. We loved their mission and history, but the biggest reasons we felt strongly about them:
- They have an identity-release program (now the only option they offer) so that our kids would have the option of knowing their donor once they’re 18.
- They have a strict family limit of 10 families per donor.
They are also a non-profit that publishes research on donor-conceived children, which we appreciated and found to be a super valuable resource.
They are based in Berkeley, CA. We live less than an hour and half away, so we could feasibly drive to Berkeley for tank pick-up and drop-off, saving a good chunk of change on shipment. It was a total blessing, despite the couple times I had to lug a tank AND push an umbrella stroller from a parking garage to their office.
We found a donor that we really loved. The only downside? He was “out of stock” for 4 months.
So we were wait-listed for sperm. Not long after, by way of pure luck and diligence, we managed to catch a random update to his availability on the website. I immediately called the bank and was told they just released some “2-for-1” vials, which meant they had lower motility and sperm count than their guaranteed regular vials. They were intended to be used together as a single insemination.
So, I scored 3 sets and we were ready for business! After all, you only need 1 sperm, right? (spoiler alert: true, and our first-born son is living proof!)
So, how long did it actually take?
Liz, who was 34 at the time, got pregnant on her first IUI (using only 1 set of the 2-for-1 vials), which was a pleasant shock. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy 9 months later!
A year and half after our son was born, we decided it was my turn. We had some remaining sperm from our initial purchase and decided to purchase a couple more regular sets. I tried not to get my hopes up of having similar beginner’s luck. Indeed, my journey had more ups and downs. I ultimately got pregnant on my 4th IUI. My first two were seemingly well-timed, but didn’t take. My 3rd was a bit experimental to test a timing theory and didn’t take, either. It was painfully disappointing, to say the least.
We re-grouped with the midwife, who considered that I may not actually be ovulating each cycle. We decided to try once more before taking a break (we only had 2 vials of sperm left). It was our “Hail-Mary” of sorts. A few days after my 34th birthday, we did the 4th IUI….and I got pregnant! We then got the surprise of a lifetime at our first ultrasound when we found out I was carrying twins! They’re fraternal, so clearly #4 was a magical cycle where I released 2 eggs.
We started out by doing some cycle-tracking. As I mentioned, it is critical you understand your signs of “peak fertility” for naturally-timed insemination. The strongest indicators can vary from person to person. For a really good understanding of this topic, I would encourage you to check out the book that our midwife suggested: “The Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception”. We found a used copy on Ebay for like, $5. Required reading for anyone interested in doing the at-home route.
You can download printable charts for tracking, but my favorite was using the “OvaGraph” app.
Once we had some data, we had a consultation with our midwife and hatched a plan. Her knowledge on peak fertility and timing inseminations was invaluable.
We gave her a head’s up on approximately what days looked like ovulation time so she could be “on-call” for insemination. We also planned our tank pick-up for a couple days beforehand.
Once we hit a day or two before expected ovulation, we would begin testing multiple times a day for LH surge using OPK (ovulation predictor kits) test strips. Pro-tip: get a combo of cheap test strips AND the ClearBlue ones with the smiley face so you can test often. We targeted the time windows based on individual symptoms of peak fertility AND a strong positive line/smiley face on the test strip. Once those things aligned, it was go time!
We would call the midwife and discuss what we all felt was the best timing for her to arrive and do the insemination. After she arrived, we usually got set up on the bed. We’d thaw the sperm and then she would do the IUI. It was a super chill vibe. The whole visit lasted maybe 30-45 minutes? And then she would be on her way!
We typically did two inseminations per cycle, so we timed them about 12 hours apart (based on research and our Midwife’s recommendation). So she would come back approximately 12 hours after the first insemination to do the second one. Then we would return the tank to Berkeley and begin the torturous two week wait!
A word about cost
For most LGBTQ+ people, creating a family can be insanely expensive. And many times, it’s totally out-of-pocket. We recognize that this is something we were incredibly privileged to afford.
The cost of doing an at-home, naturally-timed IUI with a midwife has the potential to be substantially less expensive than doing a medicated, or even naturally-timed IUI in a clinic. We didn’t do any lab work, had no ultrasounding (other than the ultrasound to confirm pregnancy with our OBGYN) or any other kind of monitoring. The difference can be even more dramatic when compared to IVF.
We thank our lucky stars every day that it took us a combined 5 tries to have 3 children (thanks ovaries for the hyperovulation deal!). The grand total cost for both of us to conceive worked out to be around $10K. This includes sperm, sperm storage, tank rental, and the at-home IUI procedures. We paid for it in different phases along the 3 year journey. This cost estimate is based on 2015-2017 pricing, so I’m sure things have gone up since then.
Again, we recognize it’s a lot of money, but IVF would have likely required at least that amount (possibly twice as much) for a single cycle, paid upfront. And we would have had to put off the process for a few years while we saved up.
Advice for those interested in pursuing a similar path
A naturally-timed, at-home IUI with a midwife can be a really wonderful option for some folks. If you are considering IUI with donor sperm and don’t have any signs of fertility issues, I would encourage you to look into it. Especially if you are 35 and under, there is a good chance (statistically-speaking) you could conceive in 4 or less cycles.
If doing an IUI at home with a midwife is something that appeals to you, I would suggest the following as a starting point:
- Track your cycles in detail and get to know your body’s signs of peak fertility (as I mentioned above, our midwife suggested we read “The Ultimate Guide to Lesbian Conception.” Find a used copy.)
- Dig into the data/research on IUI’s and determine how you feel about the odds – it’s a very personal decision.
- Research local midwives who perform at-home IUI’s.
As I said at the beginning, there are so many paths to creating a family, and no particular path is better than another. I am really excited to share our story because I want to help inform and inspire others in the LGBTQ+ community who might be researching options.
When we talk about our fertility story with other couples, we tend to get a lot of questions. And I totally get it: we certainly didn’t come across any success stories of at-home IUIs with a midwife when we were starting our journey. Our perception was that if you didn’t do a clinical IUI or go through IVF, the only other options were pretty DIY (think “turkey baster” or actually sleeping with a known donor).
Even today, I mostly read about same-sex couples who conceived through IVF and clinical IUIs. These are wonderful options for many, and thank goodness they exist. But there are other possibilities out there that can be a good fit for some folks.
We are eternally grateful for the many small moments of pure serendipity, the decisions we made, and the knowledge/wisdom/help from others along the way that all magically came together to give us our three greatest blessings: our boys
Written by: Natalya Apostolou
Natalya is an LGBTQ mama and writer who lives with her wife and 3 young boys in Northern California.
check out our featured sperm bank page for free donor searches!
WATCH our vlog with a couple who did at home insemination on the same weekend and BOTH got pregnant. one with a singleton and one with twins.