Ten years ago, my ex-partner and I paid $6,000 to buy 12 vials of sperm from a cryobank.
At the time, we both identified as women and had the benefit of Vermont’s civil union laws for same-sex couples. Still, we knew we would incur out-of-pocket expenses because we are queer. Insurance covered the costs of the intrauterine insemination (IUI) attempts my ex-partner had administered at our hospital’s fertility clinic, but we still had to pay for the shipping and storage costs of the frozen sperm.
She went on to become pregnant twice and birth three children: Our first child is 9 and our twins are 6. Living in Vermont meant I could be listed on my child’s birth certificate as the second parent, even though I am not biologically related.
Our children were born before same-sex marriage was made legal nationwide in 2015. The risk of not being recognized as my children’s parent caused me to pay thousands of dollars to have lawyers create pre-birth documents that designated me the legal decision-maker and guardian over my unborn child if something should happen to their birth mother.
Then, after my children were born, I adopted them. There were no federal protections for LGBTQIA+ nonbiological parents and each state’s acceptance and recognition of same-sex people and parents varied. If we want to be guaranteed legal parent status, we must go through the degrading process of adopting our own kids: Background checks. Fingerprinting. Thousands in legal fees. I was their parent from conception, but the level of scrutiny I endured was as if I were a newcomer, a stranger, a risk.
We spent at least $10,000 out-of-pocket to add children to our lives. The amount we paid is not uncommon for LGBTQIA+ folks hoping to start a family. Some queer couples will spend more without ever achieving their goal of becoming parents.
Abigail Swetz and Angela Baerwolf are married and live in Wisconsin, and have been trying to become pregnant for two years. The women looked into adoption before trying to conceive but adopting can often take much longer for gay couples compared to straight couples. Many states still deny or are actively writing bills to prohibit queer couples from adopting. International adoption can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $70,000, an option Swetz and Baerwolf said was too cost prohibitive for them.
The couple started with a donor they knew and at-home inseminations, because it’s the least expensive option. That still cost about $1,500, according to Swetz. Eventually, she said, they decided to pursue clinic inseminations.
That’s when “the expenses skyrocketed,” said Swetz. In vitro fertilization cost the couple $24,000 plus thousands more in medication costs.
When they did get pregnant, they experienced a heartbreaking miscarriage. They have since purchased sperm from a cryobank.
Insurance has not covered any expenses.
Insurance didn’t cover any pre-birth expenses for Jeff and Brian Bernstein, either. They are gay dads living in Pennsylvania with almost-3-year-old twins. Before deciding surrogacy was their best option, they considered adoption but discrimination can be especially high for prospective queer parents, and the number of home screenings and background checks that would have been required felt too invasive for the Bernsteins.
The couple stuck to a strict budget to be able to afford their chance at becoming dads, picking up extra work and forgoing any discretionary costs. It took two and a half years and four eligible egg donors before finding success. By the time they were finally able to hold their babies for the first time, they had spent $150,000.
For Rachel and Lili Morgan, the cost of their four children — two sets of twins, ages 11 and 6 — put them into debt.
“We don’t have money,” said Rachel. “We took on quite a bit of debt and stress to become a family. For the first two years of our daughters’ lives, we paid over $200 a month more to cover them through my insurance than we would have with my wife’s insurance, because she could not legally call them her own.”
When they started their family building journey 12 years ago, the Morgans were not able to foster or adopt in their home state of Florida because they are an openly gay couple. To pay for the cost of sperm and visits to the fertility clinic, the women bought a rundown house in foreclosure and took out a home-equity loan to cover the $6,000 needed to get Rachel pregnant. Two years later, Lili tried to get pregnant. It took eight failed IUI attempts and two IVF cycles to achieve pregnancy. Insurance covered some of the expenses, but the women still paid $25,000 out of pocket.
The couple paid nearly $6,000 to complete two second-parent adoptions. To make this happen, the family had to move out of state because at the time Florida did not legally recognize same-sex parents.
As it is now, more LGBTQIA+ folks live at or below the poverty line than their non-LGBTQIA+ peers. Twenty-nine percent of LGBTQIA+ people reported in the Family Equality survey had an annual household income under $25,000, which is below the poverty line for a family of four in the United States according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And in most income brackets, LGBTQIA+ earners brought home less than their non-LGBTQIA+ counterparts.
The report showed that the desire to have a child didn’t fluctuate much between income brackets within the LGBTQIA+ community.
No matter how much money they brought home, they also wanted to bring home a child.