Coming to terms with the limits of lesbian conception

Guest post by Nicole Vermeer


The first words out of my mother’s mouth when I told her that I was no longer questioning my sexuality, and I really did identify as lesbian were: “Am I still going to have grandkids?”

“Yes, mom,” I said, in that general teenager-ish way.

Maybe I only remember that one part because it makes for a pretty funny anecdote. I know she also assured me that it was totally fine, and she’d always love and support me, but her inquiry into my having kids someday is the only part of that conversation I clearly remember.

For a few years I didn’t really think I would want kids, however, I’ve gotten older and changed and realized that I really do. Not for any specific reason that I can name, it’s just what I feel. And luckily I now have a partner who I am absolutely in love with and wants to have kids with me. Well, we want to build a family together. It only recently struck me that as much as I want to … I can never conceive a child with my chosen partner.

There are so many ways for a lesbian couple to conceive, and so many resources that it’s not really necessary for me to discuss that aspect. I’ve never thought of parents as “two people who make a baby” — I think family can be any number of people who share a loving connection.

But somehow it really just hit me: I cannot physically conceive a baby with my future wife. I realize it might sound silly, and of course I always knew I would never be able to conceive with our bodies, but it never really struck me until recently.

It came when I was reading a post here on Offbeat Mama about infertility. I was doing totally fine, reading about how some people tried infertility drugs, some people didn’t, and some managed to get pregnant on their own. I was reading some comments when someone mentioned they were currently “ttc.” First I thought to myself, Isn’t this a no-acronym zone? What does “ttc” even mean? Then I realized: Oh. Trying to conceive.

I thought about what that entailed, and suddenly I had tears running down my face, because it had never hit me that hard that no matter what I did, or what kind of medical help I enlisted, I couldn’t “make” a baby with my fiancée.

I felt a huge empty hole somewhere inside when I thought about the fact that as much as we love each other, our physical love can never translate into a new addition to our family.

I had already planned on what kind of birth I would someday have, already checked out cloth diapering sites, but never really internalized the details of how I would get pregnant. I felt a huge empty hole somewhere inside when I thought about the fact that as much as we love each other, our physical love can never translate into a new addition to our family. We could never have a “happy accident,” as it were. (The only happy accident we could have that would result in pregnancy is accidentally tripping over a sperm bank delivery, and for some reason I don’t see it happening that way…)

I am considering adoption in my future, as well as possibly conceiving through a sperm donor, and I don’t think any one way of having a child is better than any other. I don’t think adopted children would be any less a part of my family as a biological child. This isn’t about that at all, and like I said: I know families are made in all kinds of ways. But it’s clear that certain ways are simply not an option for me and my partner.

My fiancée jokes about it once in a while, something along the lines of “if I could make it happen you would be so pregnant right now.” And sometimes we act it out, pretending that we are conceiving a child, and that a tiny new person for us to love will soon be growing inside my belly. She even rubs my lower abdomen sometimes in anticipation.

In the end, I guess this is something I have to come to terms with. I know that I’m not planning on getting a partner with a different sex anytime soon. What I’m the most sure of though is that all the love we put into our relationship, and all the positive thoughts we have about our future children will someday translate into a very happy family … regardless of how that family comes together.

Comments on Coming to terms with the limits of lesbian conception

  1. ahh,I hear you.
    Me and my lady aren’t currently trying to conceive (we’re still working on nudging our lives into the right direction and getting married), but we had talks about the possibilities of sometime adding a child to our family. We both have felt the same sadness of never being able to actually conceive of a child together. The closest we’d get to a biological child would be if my brother donated his sperm, but the thought of getting her (or me, for that matter) pregnant with “some guy’s” sperm kinda weirds us out. We might opt for adoption when the time is right.

    Best wishes and good luck to your family! 😀

    • I wonder how often gay couples go with the egg or sperm from a sibling. That’s the closest you could get to your own DNA, and you’d still have the same grandparents and family heritage.

      My husband was surprised the first time he heard my brother laugh just like me – he said something like “It’s so weird to hear YOUR voice coming out of HIM”. My brother and I aren’t the same on everything, but we’re similar enough that I’d think we could serve as each other’s DNA donors, if needed, for reproduction.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this raw experience; it’s something I never thought of from the perspective of a lesbian couple.

    I definitely hope we see you again, once you’ve started to build your family, however that may be. <3

  3. Just having the door closed-not being able to create a child born of our bodies is the part that makes me sad. Yes, there are other options but just like getting a civil union vs a marriage, it’s the lack of choice that hurts me. Like infertility, taking that whole option out of the equation.

    My wife and I will build a family but it won’t be in a manner of our choosing-or else I’d go home tonight and make a baby tonight with her.

  4. What a beautiful post! Thank you so much for writing. I recently read about an experiment where scientists were able to create offspring using the DNA of two male mice. While the applications for humans are probably still far off, my hope is that this technology may someday give gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to conceive their own genetic offspring together. But as you said, there are many different kinds of families and blood alone does not a family make. Good luck to you and your partner on your journey to becoming parents!

    • Thanks for the kind words and also the information. I had read about that before, thanks for posting it here. I hope that it does become a possibility some day for two women to conceive!

  5. Great post. I’m glad to hear from other Lesbians on OBM. My wife and I are expecting our first soon (I’m term in less than two weeks!). Last year when we were discussing sperm donors we realized that there is no way we would have chosen each other as sperm donors! Of course we would have loved to make a baby together but getting to choose the genetic other half of our children has been interesting. For instance, my wife has had melanoma and I’m at risk with more funny-looking moles than you can count. So instead of our poor child getting a double-wammy on the skin cancer front, we picked a donor with no skin cancer history in his family and slightly darker coloring than the pasty two of us. We weren’t picky at all with superficial characteristics (eye color, hair color) but tried to pick someone with a healthy history that would simply help even out the genes that we will be passing on. Hopefully it will work out okay. And we’ll be sure and use waaaaaaaay more sunscreen than our parents did.

    Nicole (and all the other dykes and single mothers by choice), if you end up going with a sperm donor, I highly recommend The Sperm Bank of California. They are just up the street from you in Berkeley. Also, the Choice Chats for Choice Moms podcasts (aimed at single mothers by choice) have some really good discussions of sperm banks and conceiving from donor sperm that I found really helpful before selecting my bank and going through the process of inseminating. Good luck!

    • Thanks for the information! I’ll keep those places in mind.

      And you’re right that being able to choose a sperm donor can be a plus. I actually hadn’t thought of it that way.

  6. Nicole,
    I am right there with you. It was a fact that I always knew, but had never really gotten. Then I got it and I had to mourn the loss of something that I never knew I had: the feeling that just wanting a child would be enough. And so we wait for the “perfect” time… And know that we are not alone… And that it totally sucks… In a HUGE way.

  7. Nicole- thanks for writing this. I’m there with you. My partner’s a transman and I’m dreading any well-intentioned “s/he looks just like you!” Don’t we wish, wouldn’t that be amazing! It’s almost enough to make me want to get donor eggs to make it “fair,” but that’s just more $ and seems silly if mine work okay. Realizing that two people can’t make a baby together that want to is definitely something to mourn.

    • My partner donated to a lesbian couple, who have become close to our family as a result. he have up his legal rights, and the non-bio mom adopted the kids. The non-bio mom gets comments all the time about how the girls look just like her! She just smiles and nods. Although if you put everyone in a room together, it’s obvious he’s related. One of the girls is the spitting image of him!

  8. Thank you for this moving post. I’ve thought a lot about this issue, as I compare the journey my husband and I moved through to conceive with that taken by my gay and single friends. I’m reminded by Emily (above) of a dear friend who used a sperm donor, saying that she had much more choice in terms of her child’s genes (he’s now a happy, healthy 7-year old) than any straight couple she knows.

  9. I always imagined doing a home insemination. So long as there are no other fertility issues, this is an option. We’d make love and I WOULD be the one who got her pregnant (physically, if not biologically).

  10. Thank you for this lovely and moving perspective. Though I’m also FIRMLY of the belief that love, not biology, is how family is made, I’m about to give birth for the first time, and can’t help but be excited to see how my husband’s traits combine with mine, it’s a bit like a grand experiment.

    But there’s always also nurture in addition to nature. You and your sweetie will be brilliant parents to your wee one however it’s done!

  11. Thanks so much for sharing this. I recently gave birth to my wife and my first daughter in October, and I think we definitely went through similar struggles accepting the fact that any child we had wouldn’t be “part her, part me.” But of course, none of the biology matters when I’m watching my partner feed her, snuggle her, nurture her, and love her unconditionally. I wish you peace and nothing but happiness as you continue down the path that will eventually lead to the creation of exactly the family you and your future wife were meant to have.

  12. Thanks everyone for your kind comments, it’s great to hear that there’s other couples feeling the same thing. And it’s also great to hear from lesbian couples who had good experiences with becoming pregnant, so thanks to everyone!

    • nicole, I’d love to talk to you about where you’re at with this – I’m writing a book, “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Fertility” (Random House 2020) and would love to use a quote from here for my LGBTQ chapter.

  13. Thanks for this beautiful post. It is very touching. I had an idea, which you may have considered already but I’m going to throw it out there anyway. You could be the Gestational Carrier for your partner’s fertilized egg. This way your baby would have her DNA and your blood coursing through her body, literally making both of you the baby’s biological mothers! Just an idea, but what ever you do I wish your family the best. You sound like you will be a stellar mama!

  14. I read the same post about infertility, and felt similar. As a member of the trans community the post hurt me, more than reassured, knowing that my husband and I will never be able to conceive a child. For people in our boat, it’s not so much an ‘infertility’ issue, as it is a ‘difficulty obtaining a child’ issue.

  15. I so relate to this. I always knew I’d have babies with some dude’s frozen sperm. But then I fell in love with my wonderful partner. I went through a little grief when we starting trying to get pregnant. I look at the goofy pictures of her as a little kid and know I’ll never look at my child’s face and see that her adorable crooked grin or laughing eyes.

  16. My soon to be wife and I are planning on starting our family this coming fall. I had always planned on adopting because I have numerous health problems that I would feel guilty passing on to a child. I have had years to make peace with this, but it was a long time coming. While others women my struggle with feeling like they are missing out on something, I’m excited that my wife will be carrying our baby. I was going to do this alone, but now I love the though of seeing her face looking back at me in our child. I had never thought about how she felt about the child not looking like me until we were discussing different sperm banks. She is adamant that we find someone who resembles me because she wants that same feeling of seeing me in our child. I guess the feeling of wanting to “see” the woman you love reflected in your child goes both ways.

  17. My girlfriend/partner and I have been mourning this a lot lately. Firstly, because financially having a child the way we find closest to ideal (her eggs, my womb) would cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. But even more so than that, I find myself–a woman who never even cared about bio kids, who insisted that I thought all those desperate fertility treatments were unnecessary and silly, who didn’t think twice when my doctor told me I might have difficulty conceiving years ago–mourning that no baby will ever be half me and half the love of my life.

    It sucks. It brings tears to my eyes when I think of it.

    To complicate things further, we both desperately want children that reflect each other more so than we want them to carry our traits. I imagine tiny versions of her growing up in our home before my eyes while she longs for little ones who share my signature curls and big brown eyes.

    Thanks for putting this into words so beautifully. It’s good to know that others are feeling the way we do and that more folks understand the pain of knowing no matter what you do or how hard you try, sharing that particular part of having children will always be impossible.

    Nonetheless, even just thinking about babies with her puts butterflies in my stomach and a huge smile on my face. When I put it into perspective I just want to share our love with children, no matter what their genetic makeup or where they come from.

    • You and Jenny will be amazing mommies–I wish I could wave a magic wand (or win the lottery) and help you guys do it exactly how you want, but no matter what, your kiddos will be blessed. (says the proud big sister *grins*) I totally thought of you guys when I read this, and I scroll to the bottom and there you are!

      Nicole, thank you for sharing. The honesty and openness from you and others on this site are why I keep coming back. I think so often in discussions about trying to conceive, at least on mainstream sites, people are told that they should just be happy that they can conceive at all and their right to mourn what almost all of us want in one way or another–the chance to create something (someone) amazing and beautiful and unique with the person we love–is swept under the rug.

  18. Beautiful post – I remember when I first came to the same realisation. My partner and I are both so ready to start our family and knowing that we have to get ‘help’ in that regard can be hard to deal with. The line where you refer to your partner rubbing your belly is so true!! We do that all the time!!! Good luck with it all.

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