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Trish and Lesley

Lesley: We have been in East Lothian for the past three years but we met in London. Trish is from Scotland originally and I’m from overseas. Our son Angus is five, our daughter Iona is seven months. I’m 47 and Trish is 39.

 

Trish: It’s something I’d always thought about, having children. I didn’t come out until I was 22. Before that I’d gone along with the usual, assuming boyfriends, marriage, children. When I came out my vision in terms of having children didn’t really change.

 

Lesley: I found out quite early that I couldn’t have children. I had a thrombosis when I was 17. Then the doctors found out I had polycystic ovarian syndrome as well, so I came to terms with not having children when I was really young. When I came out I thought, ‘Well at least it’s not a waste.’ In my country being female is all about being fertile. You’re not fulfilling your godly task as a woman unless you have children!

 

Trish: When we got together, I raised it right away but there was no urgency. I was 26-27, so I wasn’t ready to have children anyway. I said, “Let’s see what happens.”

Over time I felt the urge more. Then, when I was 31-32, a lesbian friend of ours had her first child. That was the start of thinking about it more seriously. I had Angus just before I was 34.

 

Initially we asked a gay male friend of Lesley’s in her home country, who said, “Thanks for asking but no thanks, the distance is too far.”

 

We asked another gay male friend in California but after a health check, he found he had no decent sperm!

 

We contacted a sperm bank in California too and even went through rigorous health checks and one insemination but it didn’t work. We tried them because they had a scheme where after a year you exchanged details with the donor you had chosen so you could have a relationship with him and that was quite important to us. Then we realised that having a donor in California was just too difficult when we were based in London, and that led to our decision to register with a London-based private clinic.

 

We went through the initial stages and again had one insemination but the whole experience was so horrible, we just knew it wasn’t for us.

 

Lesley: It was just so clinical, so impersonal. Using a sperm donor we hadn’t met wasn’t for us.

 

Trish: I registered with an NHS clinic in East London but they wouldn’t accept us because of my weight. The cut off was 16 stone.

 

We decided to start looking for our own donor, so we went on the computer for the first time. We tried Sperm Donors Worldwide because two friends had found donors through them. This felt like more of a risky thing to do but gave us the control over the process we wanted and a hopefully a much more personal experience.

 

We emailed three men and met up with them. The first two were absolute no-no’s. On paper they ticked the right boxes but I didn’t feel any warmth or engagement with them and that was important.

 

On reflection now, I realise that despite feeling quite a desperate urge to conceive and have a child by this stage, we did manage to find a good person and the best way to do it, for us. Lesley really helped us to stay grounded when my emotions took over and at the same time, she understood the urgency I felt. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though, there were stressful moments and I pushed a lot but the strength of our relationship helped.

 

Lesley: You are genetically wired to look for things in a mate, to resonate with them. We didn’t feel any connection until we met Matt. Then it was almost immediate for both of us. After that it was just the small details we worried about.

 

Trish: Matt is in the same professional role as me. We connected and it was the beginning of a trusting relationship.

 

Matt’s straight. He has an older son by his first marriage and his second wife Sandra has a daughter from her first marriage. He’s helped several other lesbian couples and he donated sperm anonymously to a sperm bank before the law changed, allowing children to trace their parents when they’re 16.

 

Lesley: The fact he’d donated to a sperm bank recently meant he had documentation about his sexual health, so we knew he was clean.

It was also important to us that his wife knew and it was all above board and out in the open, so nothing would come out of the woodwork later. He was happy to participate any way we wanted him to.

 

Trish: Matt’s 50 so he would have been in his early 40s then. We agreed we were happy to go for it, so we did – and I conceived first time.

 

Matt met Lesley in London with the sperm after work. It was in a camera-film container. Lesley brought it home on the train.

 

Lesley: I kept it warm in-between my breasts, at body temperature. The journey was about half an hour, so we knew it should be just about all right.

 

Trish: There was a stressful point, with me at home worrying: was Matt going to be there? Was Lesley going to bring back the sperm on the train? But there was a level of trust that has grown since and Matt has never let us down.

 

When Lesley got home, we used a baby medicine syringe from a pharmacy, so it was sterile.

 

Lesley: We made it romantic, we had champagne. We did it the old-fashioned way only using implements!

 

Trish: I raised my hips and lay there for the whole evening.

 

Lesley: She could hardly wait to do the tests, she was so impatient.

 

Trish: When I tested negative on day 11 or 12, I cried. I felt quite disappointed. I went jogging again (I’d been trying to lose weight), cleared out the loft and then drank a whole bottle of red wine that night. I’d always had regular periods and a 28 day cycle, and when I did a test again on day 15, it was positive!

 

We let Matt know pretty soon after, by text. We had to tell him we wouldn’t be meeting again for sperm. We had intermittent contact with him during the pregnancy – letting him know we’d had a scan, when the due date was. He didn’t intrude on us in any way. The trust grew as he left us alone. We’d agreed there would be some sort of relationship between Matt and the baby but that it would emerge over time.

 

It was a very straightforward pregnancy with Angus, up until the labour. We planned a home birth and everything in the run up was fine.

 

Lesley: I went into the hospital with Trish towards the end, though, and thought there was an underlying something, in terms of how we were treated as a couple – which prompted Trish to propose!

 

Trish: Lesley is the romantic one, I’m more practical.

 

Lesley: When I first proposed to Trish earlier, she said, “No, there’s no need” – then one day towards the end of her pregnancy, I came home and she insisted, “We have to get married!”

 

So we got married in the February, partly in case there were problems with the pregnancy, so I wouldn’t have to refer to a family member if things went wrong. Until then, I kept having to spell it out, that when I said I was her partner, I didn’t just mean her birthing partner, I was her lover – we were lesbians.

 

Trish: We started the labour at home but unfortunately the community midwives made errors and did not offer the support we needed, so we ended up in hospital for two days. Angus was born by emergency C section.

 

I’d always said to Lesley, “Whatever happens to me, you have to stay with Angus.”

 

Lesley: It was brilliant because the staff gave him straight to me from the womb. I cleaned him and weighed him, it was incredible!

 

Trish: I was still on the table, they were still suturing me.

 

Lesley: I think they had started to take me seriously by then. There had been a series of unhelpful medical interventions before a really great midwife interceded to get Trish into surgery and I had to get quite assertive. You have to be confident in your role as the partner. If the birth mother gets into difficulties you have to step up.

 

On the whole we’ve found midwives are more concerned about you, the person, than the doctors.

 

Once we got home with Angus, we got caught up in life with a baby. We didn’t think about having other children at that stage.

 

Matt saw Angus every six months or so. We took photos of them, so we could show them to Angus later on.

 

Lesley: We’ve also made him a family book with information in it about all of us and our families, grandparents and aunties and uncles. Periodically he’ll be really into it, reshuffle things about in it – then he’ll put it away.

 

Trish: Now he’s five, he has questions about parents and babies and how he came about. We’ve been very honest with him, saying Matt was a very kind man who gave his sperm to us, and mummy grew him in her tummy. I think it’s important to answer children’s questions with facts, but in an age-appropriate way.

 

Matt used “Daddy” to describe himself, which we were uncomfortable with in the beginning, because we were very clear that we were Angus’s parents – even though we wanted Matt to know Angus and Angus to know him. But we’ve grown used to it and it’s what Angus calls him. Any alternative would be quite a hard concept to explain to a five year old child.

 

Angus calls me Mummy and Lesley, Mummy-Ma or just Ma.

 

Lesley: When Angus was about 18 months old, we moved to Scotland, where Trish was born. We wanted to bring Angus up in the countryside, where he could feel free and look at bugs and live a good life. We’d both been brought up in the countryside and we were feeling quite tired of London.

 

Trish: We moved to a little cottage my mum had on the coast to start with. Then to a small seaside town, not far from Edinburgh. I went back to work four days a week.

 

Lesley: It would have been nice if other LGBT families had been here but that wasn’t an issue. We have a few lesbian friends here, and some siblings, but most of our friends here are straight.

 

Whoever is going to be the parent involved in the local community has to be strong. There can be some resistance if you’re out. The waters can part if you’re asked, “So what does your husband do?” and you say, “She is a… ” It’s taken a long time to build relationships.

 

Trish: And we’re not people who don’t integrate, we like to be part of the community.

 

Lesley: You have to participate and you have to keep at it.

 

Trish: You have to be a positive role model for your children, too. You have to be a normal family so your children feel they’re a normal family and the community do too.

 

We’ve always been very open. I went and had a meeting with Angus’s head teacher and said, “This is our family and our son is coming to your school. She said, “There are children from all sorts of families in our school, he will be welcomed just like anyone else” and then to our surprise his teachers went out and bought some books – that was lovely. The teachers said, “We haven’t had a two-mum family before but here we are” and they were very welcoming. I feel that’s a two-way street.

 

I also did a ‘show and tell’ with Iona, after she was born, to Angus’s class. We talked about what babies like and read a story about families by Todd Parr. All Angus’s friends know Angus has two mummies and a daddy.

 

Lesley: We’ve always been very open, we don’t make too much of an issue of it, we just live. A friend of Angus’s said the other day, “I think you’re really lucky that you have two mums, I think that’s really cool.” I think that’s really cool!

 

Angus is really happy to discuss the fact he has two mums and a dad. He’s not embarrassed, he’s confident. We want our children to have full lives, not feel they’re different – because they’re not different. Their home life is exactly the same as every other family’s.

 

Trish: When we moved, we still saw Matt every six months and then we met his wife, Sandra. We went to his home and had lunch, so the relationship progressed. Gradually we started to think about having another child.

 

It did feel different the second time, because we felt we were asking Sandra as well – it wasn’t as simple but it was still something we were all willing to do.

 

I started monitoring my cycle again. The website, Taking Charge of Your Fertility – www.tcoyf.com – was brilliant, so I read the threads and used their diary chart.

 

I would take my temperature and look at my cervical mucus so when all the signs were really strong I would know when I was ovulating. I’d send Matt a text and we’d drive the 400 miles to see him. We’d stay in a hotel for one night or two and he would bring the sperm sample to Lesley, just like before. Getting the sperm, looking after the sperm, that was always her role because that way it was a shared experience, a shared responsibility.

 

It took me four cycles to get pregnant with Iona. Once we were pregnant we didn’t see Matt for about a year. The whole process of conceiving was quite stressful this time around. We all needed a bit of space afterwards.

 

I saw the GP and then I was referred to the community midwives service. They were absolutely brilliant, both in terms of care and in terms of us being a same-sex couple.

 

There’s nothing much to say about the second pregnancy really because it was all straightforward. The whole experience with the hospital was a lot less stressful, too – I had to have a C section again but it was planned and there was none of the consultant arrogance there was in London. There just seemed to be more acceptance about the fact that we were a same-sex couple, more openness.

 

Lesley was there for the C section and she was given Iona right away. With postnatal care it was the same rule for us as for heterosexual couples, so she wasn’t able to stay overnight.

 

A midwife at Simpson’s [maternity unit, Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh] tells me there are quite a few lesbian couples coming through now.

 

We didn’t know in advance that we were having a boy with Angus but we found out with Iona and kept it to ourselves as Angus had said he wanted it to be a surprise.

 

When we first met Matt, he had graying hair so we hadn’t expected it when Angus was born with red hair. Then when we saw pictures of Matt as a boy, he had red hair, which he grew out of.

 

Angus looks like Matt and Iona looks a bit more like me. Angus has a lot of his Ma’s traits though, as she has been the one at home raising him for the past three years. He has her accent and they are very close.

 

Getting pregnant as a lesbian couple in a small village has been an experience, and I am glad to say mostly a positive one. I find it quite funny that people really express their approval that Iona has the same father as Angus. I guess it’s just the norm. If we hadn’t been able to have Iona with Matt, I’m not sure we would have used another donor. It would have felt like having a whole new mountain to climb.

 

Now we have Iona, that’s the family complete – both from an age perspective and because two is plenty! We are very blessed.

 

Our advice?

 

Keep an open mind as to how you’re going to have children because there’s lots of different options available. What’s important is sticking to your values eg. if you want a known donor, stick to that but be open to the possibilities of how that might happen.

 

Don’t wait.

 

If you’re positive and open about who you are, that tends to be returned by others.

 

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