Your eggs, my uterus: shared motherhood
Globe and Mail, 01 April 2008
When Melanie Parish and Mel Rutherford
decided to have a baby together, both women wanted to have a biological
connection to their child.
So, four years ago, they harvested
Ms. Rutherford's eggs, inseminated them with a donor's sperm through in
vitro fertilization and implanted the embryos into Ms. Parish's uterus.
Today, Ms. Rutherford is the genetic mother and Ms. Parish is the
gestational mother of twin three-year-old boys - and they both feel
equally "related" to their kids.
"For me, motherhood is about
carrying the baby," says Ms. Parish, an executive coach living in
Hamilton. "For her it is about being genetically connected."
a new shared-motherhood model that's increasingly being considered by
same-sex couples, says Rachel Epstein, co-ordinator of the LGBT
Parenting Network at the Sherbourne Health Centre in Toronto.
Epstein, who runs a course called "Dykes Planning Tykes," says there's
usually at least one couple in her class either going through it or
Inter-spousal egg donation, as it is legally
called, is not for the faint of heart. The cost can easily run to
$18,000, only about one-third of which is covered by drug plans. And
there's no guarantee you'll get pregnant right away. Ms. Rutherford had
to endure two rounds of egg harvesting and Ms. Parish went through six
implantations over two years.
Egg donation, in particular, is
physically demanding. It involves drugs to stimulate and mature extra
follicles, whose progress has to be checked every few days by
ultrasound. The drugs can affect your mood and balloon out your
abdomen. "There was definitely some physical discomfort," Ms. Parish
"I didn't really understand what it would involve," says
another mother, Jen (not her real name). Four years ago, Jen gave birth
to a baby girl through straightforward donor insemination. But her
partner, Kaye (also not her real name), who stayed at home to look
after their daughter, was eager to experience carrying a baby, too.
When donor insemination didn't work for her, their fertility doctor
raised the option of Jen donating eggs to Kaye.
gruelling," says Jen, an academic who lives in Toronto. She recalls
injecting herself with drugs daily for about two weeks. She was bruised
and uncomfortable. But she's glad she did it; two months ago, their son
Though their daughter was born to Jen and their son to
Kaye, genetically the kids are full siblings. For Jen, that's not so
important. "Genetics for me is scientific," she says. "Our family is
not based on genetics."
Kaye feels slightly differently. "I
wanted them to have that connection," she says, "of feeling they're
connected to each other and to us."
When Ms. Parish and Ms.
Rutherford started out, there were also compelling legal reasons to
consider this route. "We both wanted to be legally recognized as
parents," Ms. Rutherford says. At that time, a child born to a same-sex
couple had to be adopted by the non-gestational parent.
women hoped that, given their demonstrable biological ties to the
children, they would be able to win the right to both be recognized on
the birth certificate - something that already had precedent in three
U.S. states. After their sons were born, they were part of a legal
challenge that led to Ontario's same-sex mothers winning that right as
Ms. Parish and Ms. Rutherford have been open with friends
and family about how their kids were created. Although sometimes
surprised, they've been supportive. "People make babies in different
ways," says Ms. Rutherford, an associate professor of psychology at
Her mother, Janice Rutherford, who lives in
Eugene, Ore., says she was excited when they told her. "I thought, wow,
that makes sense." She says it's also heartwarming to see hints of her
daughter in her grandchildren. "I see my kids in their faces," she
says. "They do resemble Mel and her brother."
Jen and Kaye are
keeping their arrangement private for now. Only Jen's sister and a few
close friends know. They intend to tell the children about their birth
stories when they're a bit older and everything is out in the open.
all its high-tech history, though, Jen points out that their family is
pretty much like any other. "In some ways it's as ordinary and mundane
as it gets. Someone has to wash the bottles so the milk can be pumped,
and the laundry still has to be folded."