September 1, 2011
By: Abigail Levy/Special for TRT
I have been trying to get pregnant with a known donor’s sperm for almost two years. We, as many couples struggling with infertility, didn’t expect it take this long. We recently decided to take more aggressive steps from our midwife-assisted IUIs (Intrauterine Inseminations) and consult with the reproductive medicine center at a local hospital.
We met with Dr. L, who immediately told us what our health insurance would cover before laying an eye on me. We told her we had a known donor who had been tested for STIs and HIV and with whom I had been inseminating with for 20 months. She commented, “You know we don’t like that here.” She did not look at my charts, my cycles, my medical history, or my wife in the eye. She told us to go right to IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) and switch to an anonymous donor because it would be more efficient. As if our donor decision has not been well thought out and emotionally involved, Dr. L stated numerous excuses as to why they would not work with us with a known donor unless we quarantined the sperm ($) at a sperm bank ($$) for six months to test it twice ($$$) for STIs, and then freeze the sperm and ship it ($$$$) to their facility. Dr. L explained that due to the guidelines that the hospital follows, while a heterosexual couple could move immediately to IVF, a lesbian couple has to quarantine the sperm for six months, even if the individual has been exposed to the sperm prior to IVF.
Dr. L claimed that their program could not separate the social (my state-recognized marriage) from the medical (my inseminations with the donor) because they had a “moral obligation.” She explained this with an example of a family in which children had been removed from the home and how the hospital would have a moral obligation not to offer that couple IVF. We, as two women with a known donor, were being compared to a family in which children were removed from the home for abuse and/or neglect. This was Dr. L’s attempt to have a “mutual agreement” as to why the hospital would eventually deny us equal services that would have been offered had I been a married heterosexual woman, a single woman with a male partner, or had I simply just come in with the donor and said that we wanted to have a child (a.k.a. lied-kind of like we are forced to do on our federal tax forms, etc.). Dr. L instructed us to go to counseling to deal with our “issue.” I inquired about the subject of “issue”-my infertility or the way we are choosing to make our family and was told the latter. My wife stated that we felt discriminated by her actions and Dr. L merely replied, “It’s okay for you to feel that way.”
While Dr. L claimed they were not discriminatory because “we have been treating same-sex couples as long as there have been donors,” her actions speak otherwise. Dr. L has made no attempt to bridge understanding, practice compassionate care, offer us a referral, explain with sound medical reason as to why they can’t offer services, send us the hospital’s policies that we requested, or even apologize (which left me no other choice than to write this column for others to know.) In addition, it seems that the guidelines they follow (that are written by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine) are not providing equal treatment same-sex couples as they would for heterosexual couples in the same situation.
On a more positive note, we have found another center to work with. It is two hours away, but the drive is worth it because we are treated with respect and dignity. It has re-instilled hope that we can have the family we want.
I became aware of how much we felt disenfranchised by this institution when speaking to my mom in between conversations with Dr. L. My wife and I were worrying about what we could say or do that would allow us to move to IVF. My mom reacted strongly, “You are acting as if you need these people’s permission to raise a family. You have every right to create a family the way you want and you don’t need their, or anyone else’s permission.” It is when we feel oppressed, discriminated against, and helpless that we forget what is a right as a human being. (This is why we need allies to remind us!)
I chose to marry a woman, but I didn’t choose to be discriminated for it. I just think that Dr. L could have been kinder. It was so clear we made her uncomfortable, but I’m a human and like many others that she has helped get pregnant, I want a child. She wasn’t thinking of what my experience was because she was too stuck in her own discomfort to see past it to ours.
*Abigail Levy, a pseudonym used by the author to protect her identity, is a psychotherapist and has been married to her spouse for 5 years. They reside in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.