Lesbian Parenting Options
Being a lesbian woman or couple does not have to mean going through life without having a family of your own. There are many options for lesbian women wanting to become parents. Although adoption or fostering may be an option for some people, many have an overwhelming desire to have their own biological child, even if the child has only half of their parent’s genes. Options for having your own child include donor insemination and co-parenting.
Adoption is a way of providing a new family for a child when living with their own family is not possible. For many children, adoption may be their only hope of experiencing secure family life.
If you are over 21 years old and you can provide a permanent, stable and caring home, you can be considered for adoption. It doesn't matter whether you are married or single, in or out of work, or whatever your race, religion or sexuality. Same-sex couples have been able to adopt a child jointly since 2002.
The key question an adoption agency will ask is: can you provide a stable home for a child until adulthood and beyond? All sorts of people can make a success of adoption. Couples can apply to adopt through a local authority or an adoption agency, and applications can be made within any local authority not just the one you live in.
Although most local authorities are keen to find lesbian and gay adoptive parents for children, the process can be lengthy and gruelling. However it is worth bearing in mind that many children available for adoption in the UK have had traumatic backgrounds and often bring challenging behaviour as a result.
Fostering is about caring for a child in your own home. For a whole variety of reasons there are around 42,300 children (in England year to March 2008) who are placed with foster carers by social services departments. Many of these children will eventually return to their families. In some cases this may take a matter of days or weeks in others it may take much longer.
If a return is not possible a decision may be made to find them a permanent new family, either through adoption or long-term fostering.
In the vast majority of cases children in foster care will have regular contact with their families and their parents will continue to have responsibilities towards them throughout the time they are in foster care.
Foster carers can be single or a couple, they do not need to be married. You can be gay, lesbian or heterosexual. Most fostering agencies welcome applications from people who are in their mid twenties, however it is quite common for people to foster up until their 60's.
The majority of children needing foster care have had troubled upbringing and often have challenging behaviour as a result. Authorities however do offer training and support to foster carers on how to deal with these difficulties.
Donor insemination involves using another man’s sperm to conceive a child. The donor can be an unknown person through a fertility clinic or alternatively you can receive donated sperm directly from a friend or someone you have met through a connection service such as Pride Angel. Donor insemination can be performed within a fertility clinic or home environment using a home insemination kit.
If you receive donor insemination through a HFEA registered clinic then you can ensure that the donor has been screened to check they are free from sexually transmitted infections and certain genetic disorders. The sperm is quarantined for 6 months and used only once you have tested negative for HIV and other infections.
If you're inseminated from an anonymous donor at a fertility clinic, the 'donor' father has no legal or financial obligations to the child (although any child born before April 2005 now has the legal right to track down the biological father at the age of 18).
With home insemination, the male donor, whether he's a friend or anonymous, may be classed as the child's legal father and therefore has parental rights. This is dependent upon whether you are single, married or within a civil partnership therefore it is important to get legal advice.
For lesbian couples parenting is a choice that has to be given serious consideration. There are many things to consider such as the feeling of the non-biological mother, whether to use a known donor or anonymous sperm donation. Some couples may even choose to have the father involved within the child’s life, by entering into a co-parenting arrangement.
Many women may wish to use a known donor such as a friend or a donor found through a parenting connection site such as Pride Angel. Using a known donor has many advantages, such as the ability to understand more about the donor’s personality. Women may also choose to use a known donor as they wish for them to be involved in the child’s life, maybe like an ‘uncle type’ figure in their lives, without having full parental responsibility.
It is important to realise the legal implications of using a known sperm donor. The law varies dependant on whether the woman is single in a civil partnership and whether the insemination took place at home or within a fertility clinic. Read more about how the fertility and parenting law and how the law effects you if you are using a known donor.
Co-parenting is typically an arrangement between a gay man and a lesbian woman or gay and lesbian couple, who team up to parent the child together, however this is not an exclusive option as many single people also choose this option as they may not have found the ‘right person’. In this situation parental responsibility is shared and many details need to be worked out such as , what role each parent will have, how much contact with the child will they have and how financial costs will be split. As this can be complicated it is advisable to get legal advice before entering into any co-parenting arrangement. Being able to discuss with your co-parent what you expect from the start, can prevent a lot of problems occurring further down the line.
However lesbian couples decide to have children, the most important emphasis is that children are raised in a safe and loving environment, with responsible parents meeting their needs. Good parenting regardless of sexuality requires consistency and security. Lesbian couples are just as likely as heterosexual parents to raise well adjusted and well rounded children. There is much recent evidence from studies to support this finding, that a child having gay or lesbian parents does not affect their self-esteem and well being.
Children from gay or lesbian parents may sometimes experience discrimination, the same as other minority groups face. Within schools teachers need to be diligent about protecting children from unfair treatment and bullying, as this can lead to low self-esteem if not handled correctly. Fortunately schools are becoming more aware of the difficulties that children experience and are recognising the importance of controlling bullying however this is something that can happen to any child, throughout their childhood regardless of their family dynamics.
In recent years acceptance of non-traditional families has increased, however there are unfortunately still many people who refuse to accept that gay or lesbian parents can offer children proper parenting. Attitudes vary considerably between countries and even within the same country. Typically more urban diverse areas are more likely to be tolerant and accepting of non-traditional families than more rural areas.
Studies have shown that children raised in gay or lesbian families are more likely to be empathetic and understanding of others, possibly because they have personal understanding that judging someone is unfair. Lessons in kindness and consideration to others are important within all families and heterosexual parents can help by talking to their children about the struggles that other children or families face.
Gay rights group Stonewall has produced a new guide for lesbians wanting to have children.
The free booklet, called Pregnant Pause, has practical advice and legal information on the current rights of lesbian parents in the UK.
The requirement that fertility clinics consider ‘the need for a father’ will be replaced with ‘the need for supportive parenting’ from 1 October 2009. This means health professionals can no longer refuse to treatment to female same-sex couples and single women.
When a lesbian couple has a child, the non-birth mother no longer has to adopt the child in order to be named joint legal guardian on the birth certificate. If the couple are in a civil partnership, or are conceiving via a licensed fertility clinic, both parents will automatically have legal parental responsibility as parents.
The guide, produced by Stonewall, can be downloaded from the Stonewall website (link opens as a .pdf). Alternatively, email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a hard copy version.