Lesbian and Gay Parenting book coverIn a Family Way

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev


Posted By on July 1, 2009

By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev
On and off, for the past ten years I have unsuccessfully tried to get pregnant. Infertility is one of those of those unspoken topics in polite conversation, and this has been true in our lesbian communities also.

Although lesbian parenting was not a mainstream topic 20 years ago, in my small enclave when I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area and working in a feminist (and lesbian) run Women’s Health Collective, lesbians were planning, conceiving and birthing children in large numbers. It never occurred to me that reproducing might be more complex than finding a male friend to be a donor, or using the resources of a sperm bank.

When I moved back east over a decade ago, I was somewhat surprised that so few lesbians had children. When I began to try to get pregnant there was as much confusion and resistance within my lesbian social network as there was among heterosexual family and the medical community.

It has been a lonely process. I have watched many friends who had never considered having children, become interested, start trying, conceive, and start families, while I was still unable to get pregnant. In the beginning, I tried at home with a donor friend and a support team. Now, at forty, I find myself at early morning clinics, sitting in waiting rooms with other depressed women, waiting for doctors to probe my body and recommend hormones and surgeries to facilitate pregnancy. I, who entered this process working with herbs and tarot cards, have been reduced to hospital gowns and procedures I would never have imagined volunteering for.

Infertility is frankly depressing. No one really wants to hear about it. As I have learned, most people don’t really understand what it is you are dealing with. One friend who has been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for the past few months, recently said to me, "I just didn’t get it what it meant when you would tell me you got your period." Indeed, most people just don’t get it. They don’t understand the pain and loss and disappointment that happens every month. They don’t get the lack of sympathy from the cold medical professionals. They don’t get how hard it is to hear of others successes. They don’t get the feeling of desperation and powerless one feels towards their body that has let them down. They simply cannot imagine the stress on one’s finances, and emotional health. I have known relationships that have ended due to the disappointment and pain. I long to be able to talk about my infertility in the lesbian community and not have my pain minimized or trivialized. I have had people say to me, "I guess it wasn’t meant to be", "Maybe some part of you really doesn’t want to get pregnant", and "Why are you so obsessed about this?" I would like to speak about my experiences without receiving spiritual pronouncements or medical advice.

I am very lucky. In the fall of 1995, I adopted a wonderful week old baby. My partner and I now have a family, and I love being a mom. This, however, does not end the pain of infertility. For the first few years I was too busy being a mom to think about getting pregnant. The reality is, though, that I still grieve not being able to conceive, and have still not given up trying. Yes, I would adopt again; adoption is a lovely way to build a family. Adoption, however, is not a solution for infertility, and this body still longs to carry a child.

I have decided to write this as another way of "coming out." I want us all, especially those of us who are already parents, to develop sensitivity to those who are still trying, and especially those of us who may never succeed. It is a desire only those who long to conceive and carry a child can know, and a pain only those who "fail" can experience. As supportive friends you can offer an ear to listen, or a hand to hold. Most of all, before you share other’s good fortune, successful and easy conceptions , please remember this may trigger feelings of jealousy, anger, or sadness for lesbians struggling with infertility. Be gentle with us, because the doctors are not gentle with our bodies, and we are often not gentle enough with our own spirits.