Reciprocal IVF: A Story of Love, Hope, and Reality

by Christy Leonardo

Follow Christy on Instagram at @makerofmajic

Our journey to parenthood

It was a warm late spring afternoon when my partner and I sat inside a tiny room with a stack of papers in front of us. Scanning over cycling fees again and again. Contending with a financial director over the daunting cost and insurmountable desire to expand our family unit by one more tiny human.

My partner grew up with the perception that she would never have a biological child of her own. That limited understanding changed once she learned the advantages of assisted reproductive technology.

For years, we considered the possibilities of growing our family. Envisioning a unique and beautiful experience in which we both could contribute. To accomplish it, we needed the help of a fertility clinic. More specifically, we needed a reproductive endocrinologist to carry out a variation of in vitro fertilization (IVF) called reciprocal IVF.

Reciprocal IVF uses the egg of Partner A (genetic parent) to create an embryo that will be carried by Partner B (birth parent). A symbiotic conception of our love that would bring our family-building experience full circle, through genetic and biological bonds. That was over 6 years ago now. The procedure worked. I carried my partner’s DNA inside my womb and gave birth to our daughter the following spring. Our plan was a great success, and our family is complete. As simple as that statement reads, the process to get to where we are now was a bit more complex.

A turn for the unexpected

Partner-assisted reproduction was and still is a relatively new concept. The clinic that we used provided us with an initial cost sheet, detailing the prices of what a standard IVF procedure would entail. It seemed typical for a heterosexual couple undergoing IVF and not much different than our own need for an egg retrieval, fertilization, and subsequent embryo transfer.

Only after we began this course were we presented with additional fees. There was some confusion on the original package pricing apparently. The cost for us was no longer standard, and a clear justification as to why was not provided. This was incredibly frustrating. Why couldn’t we be treated the same as any other woman going through this process? We felt inferior and singled out. We trusted our doctor, but this one staff member in particular made us apprehensive.

Based on principle, we considered seeking services elsewhere. But as anyone engrossed in these procedures knows, there are many investments and time is of the essence. Starting the entire process over again would leave us with additional financial burdens and emotional unrest. If we did find another clinic, would we find ourselves facing the same hurdles?

With all of these factors weighing on us, it seemed as if our hands were tied, And thus, we decided to continue. Completing our dream was the goal that ultimately propelled us forward. Despite the feeling of prejudice. A sting that partly resides today.

A long way to go

Our experience is not singular. Before our family goal was achieved, I became a surrogate to help grow families who otherwise could not do so themselves. I carried three babies for two gay men. During my time as a surrogate, I witnessed many struggles legally, financially, and otherwise. Even now, with more than 13 years of experience within the community, I find support and representation lacking.

Inclusion within reproductive rights is essential. Many LGBTQIA+ communities, who often require the existence of a third party in order to procreate face adversity along their path to parenthood. Most rely on advanced technologies, such as common IVF procedures and surrogacy. Which can prove to be difficult in many areas of our country.

Each state has its own laws governing surrogacy and third-party reproduction. This can become tricky and overwhelming. Some states will not legally recognize parentage for same-sex couples. Others prohibit it altogether. In addition to inconsistent and unfavorable laws, prospective parents may face bias with professionals and even discrimination from surrogates themselves.

Regardless of sexual orientation, infertility and third-party reproductive needs are a global health concern. Every human deserves the right to expand their family. It is imperative that prospective parents work directly with experienced attorneys and surrogacy professionals who are not only familiar with reproductive law, but also share the common goal of advocacy.

It’s not enough to simply navigate these troubled waters. We must collectively work together to dismantle the archaic systems that threaten to disrupt the right for individuals to freely decide how and when they choose to procreate.