pregnancy

Tahleah and Leah didn't think they'd be able to conceive in their own home. Until it happened.

Neither Leah or Tahleah ever thought they’d be able to create a family on their own terms; to choose the how, when or even the where of it all.

As a same-sex couple, even the possibility of conceiving in their own home, with any sense of intimacy, seemed “out of reach”. Tahleah presumed it would all happen in a doctor’s surgery, with a gown and a set of stirrups – clinical, sterile.

“[But] It didn’t sit right with us, when medically there was nothing wrong,” the 30-year-old Navy employee told Mamamia. “We didn’t need that service; it’s just that, biologically, we didn’t have all the things we need to make a baby.”

And so, like a growing number of Australian women, the Sydney couple turned to the internet and pharmacy shelves to create their family. And it worked. Their first child is due in April.

“It took three seconds for the positive sign to come up,” Tahleah said. “I just jumped on Leah in bed. It was pretty exciting.”

To create a biological child as a single woman or female same-sex couple is far from simple, and that’s not counting the challenges associated with finding and securing a donor.

Take IUI (intrauterine insemination), for example. This is essentially the clinical version of artificial insemination, which involves inserting semen (that been tested, washed and concentrated) through the cervix and into the uterus. For female couples with no fertility issues, there is no Medicare rebate available for this service, meaning the first cycle will cost around $4500, and $2500 for each one thereafter. The chance for first-cycle conception with a mother aged 30-34 is roughly 11 per cent.

IVF is another popular, though more medically invasive option. Recent Australian research indicated chances of a live birth resulting from the first round hover at 43.4 per cent for 30-34-year-old mother. But again, out-of-pocket costs will sit at around $4500 for that cycle.

Heterosexual intercourse with a donor, meanwhile, generally has a success rate of around 20 per cent for a 30-year-old. However, it presents significant legal hurdles. If sex has taken place, the man assumes legal parentage over the resulting child, in place of the birth mother’s de-facto partner.

This leaves at-home insemination.

at home insemination
Leah and Tahleah. Image: Nix Cartel.
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This was the route Leah and Tahleah chose, and one many others opt for as a first step.

After intensive "Google-spirals" and multiple fertility seminars, they decided to use a combination of over-the-counter syringes and an at-home insemination kit called The Stork.

The $129.95 product uses a condom-like, Latex-free sheath, which contains a cervical cap to collect the sperm. This cap is then inserted into the vagina via an applicator and deposited against the cervix, where it remains for 4-6 hours before removal. Success rates for cervical cap insemination like this are quoted at roughly 10-20 per cent.

"We found it really simple and easy, and to be able to do it in the comfort of our own home was a big thing for us," Leah said.

To obtain the sperm, the couple took advantage of the boom in online donor-finding services, which users claim serve as a more personal alternative to commercial clinics.

After rigorous research, they chose their candidate, met with him multiple times, each consulted lawyers, and had a legal document drawn up to ensure their intentions aligned.

One donation was all it took.

"Our donor is lovely and was able to come to our house and stay for a little," Tahleah said. "It was just very straightforward. We were able to use [the donation] then finish what we're doing; you know, cook dinner, watch a movie, just relax."

The facts about falling pregnant. (Post continues below.)

Dr Genia Rozen, a fertility specialist at The Royal Women's Hospital and Melbourne IVF, said if couples or single women using donor sperm opt for at-home approach, there are risk factors that need to be considered.

Medically speaking, that includes the risk of sexually transmitted infection, injury to the vagina and perforation of the uterus. There is also, she notes, no guarantee of the quality of the donated sperm, nor scrutiny around the number of donations the man has made previously or intends to make.

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But it's the the potential legal ramifications, Dr Rozen argues, that is perhaps the most crucial risk factor of the do-it-yourself approach.

"When women are choosing to do this themselves it can severely compromise their legal rights. There are no rules around informal sperm donation, and if the men change their minds and want to be part of the child's life, there's less legal framework on how to challenge that [than if the donation is obtained via a registered clinic].

"And we know that does happen; there have been lots of cases where things develop years and years down the track," she told Mamamia.

"There's so much more at stake here than just the pregnancy itself."

Leah and Tahleah's baby is due in April. Image: Craig Walton.

If women choose this path, she recommends that they thoroughly research the risks, consult their doctor, obtain a fertility workup, request that the donor have an STI screening and have a legal agreement drawn up around the terms of donation.

Having weighed the risks, taken the precautions, Leah and Tahleah wouldn't hesitate to recommend the process to others.

"I think if same-sex couples had the knowledge around that it doesn't have to be clinical, it doesn't have to be hard, it doesn't have to be draining. You can create the family how you choose to; that's one thing I never thought I would be able to do," Tahleah said.

"All you need is the resources; so how to prepare your body, making sure from a legal perspective you have the right advice, and of course also having the right tools as well."

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