IVF and Family Planning


"Family planning" isn't a bad word – in fact, it's a responsible approach to building the family of your dreams. For example, timing the arrival of one or more children can give a couple the time they need to be sure they are mentally, emotionally, and financially prepared for the responsibilities that accompany the joys of parenting.

Assisted reproductive technologies like IVF are a good fit for same-sex couples, who already need to bring a special intentionality to family building. Not only is IVF a way to boost the chances for a successful pregnancy, but the process allows couples to plan and prepare for a future that unfolds according to a timeline that makes sense for them. Since every family is different, their family building plans need to be customized, and IVF allows for the kind of tailoring that will suit each unique family.

IVF – which stands for in vitro fertilization – involves bringing together the genetic material needed for new life. A sperm and an egg are united in a laboratory to create an embryo. After five to seven days of development the embryo is ready for transfer into the uterus of the carrying partner or the gestational carrier (often called a surrogate).

But there's another option: IVF involves creating multiple embryos at the same time, which means that unused embryos can be saved for future pregnancies. In other words, a young couple can prepare years in advance for a family building journey that includes one, two, three, or more children, with each birth timed according to the couple's plans.

At the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco – part of The Prelude Network, the largest and fastest-growing network of fertility centers in North America – this planning is enhanced by the professional guidance and expertise of a care team that includes doctors, nurses, technicians, genetic counselors, and other specialists, all of whom are respectfully inclusive and fully supportive of LGBTQ+ families.

"We have three doctors and two nurse practitioners," notes Claire Bettencourt, a nurse at the Pacific Fertility Center. Bettencourt specializes in third-party reproduction which is, she explains, when a family or an individual "needs a third source for their journey to parenthood," be it an egg donor, a sperm donor, or a gestational carrier.

"I think that there's a very special niche for third party reproduction," Bettencourt reflects. "I stumbled upon it through a connection in women's health" – a fortuitous circumstance, since, Bettencourt noted with a laugh, the subject was barely broached in nursing school.

"We had one slide of IVF information," she recalled, "one slide in one PowerPoint in one lecture one day." But once she found her way to third party reproductive care, "a whole world opened up."

And that world is populated with professionals who utilize both their empathy and expertise to help LGBTQ+ couples build their families.

The clinic's staff are dedicated to tailoring the plans of care to each family's specific goals as they address questions such as: Who will provide the sperm and/or the egg? Who will carry the pregnancy? What timeline works for us?

Families "start off with the doctors," who "create the plans of care. They're the ones who are doing all of the family planning, counseling, and having the conversations of what the goals are," Bettencourt details. "After they have the appointments with the doctors, we have coordinators that help prepare the patients. They go over the administrative paperwork and guide them through all of the different appointments that need to happen," such as genetic screenings for donors and preparing for ovarian stimulation cycles for the party providing the eggs that will be fertilized. "But then, once we reach IVF stage, the nurses are the primary point of contact for our patients."

This is where the "cycles" begin.

"The cycle is the process of retrieving the eggs and creating the embryos for the couples," Bettencourt explains. "Our nursing team manages all of the questions, whether they're symptoms or what the next steps look like. Our patients have access to them 24/7; the nursing team always tries to get back to the patients the same day, and it's the same with the coordinators. We really are highly available for the patients, because the process is so intensive in terms of preparing to cycle, and once you're in the cycle."

There are other routes to parenthood, such as adoption, but, Bettencourt noted, there's a special intimacy involved with IVF.

"IVF really supports the desire for some sort of biological connection" between prospective parents and the children they dream of having, Bettencourt notes. That desire can help motivate prospective parents to overcome the financial, organizational, and emotional challenges that any sort of reproductive intervention can entail. But they're never alone on that journey.

"Truthfully, I think it's important to try to support the patients and their desired outcomes," Bettencourt reiterates. From the selection of donors to matching with gestational carriers and ensuring that questions are answered at every step of the process, "we want to be able to support them in trying to reach their family building goals to the best of our ability," Bettencourt says.

"And I think that IVF really supports that because, you know, you have the time to kind of look into all of the different pieces and get familiar with it," she adds. "And honestly, it gives back a little bit of autonomy. Some ability to make decisions and have a better understanding of the processes is huge, and really empowering for our patients.

"I really focus on trying to lay out what that path looks like with patients early on, so that they have a good idea of what the timeline looks like," Bettencourt adds, "because everybody that's coming in here wanted to have a family, you know, yesterday..

"Support for the patients is a huge focus [for] my team and I," Bettencourt summarizes.

With such a wealth of options to choose from, expertise isn't enough. Attentive, affirming care is called for. That's the mission of The Prelude Network, where it's understood that the details around family planning are crucial, but just as important is the knowledge that love makes a family – and all families matter.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

This story is part of our special report: "Inception Fertility". Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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