Where do babies come from?

Cassie Cooties

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There still seems to be this ingrained notion in our society that all babies come from a cisgender and heterosexual couple having sex and then giving birth to a child or children they will then parent. It’s what my mum taught me, it’s what my sex ed classes in school taught me, and it’s what the majority of media representations of families taught me. The truth is, though, that’s baloney; people become parents in a variety of ways, no matter their gender, sexual identity or relationship status. This normalisation of one certain way of becoming a parent is harmful. It means that kids who are adopted may be made to feel that the relationship with their adoptive parents is lesser. It names babies born out IVF “test tube babies”. It makes people assume that LGBTIQA people cannot have babies, and the children of LGBTIQA families have to either constantly correct people’s assumptions, or else hide or lie about who their parents are. Becoming a parent is really not so easy. It often can be pricey, and there are a wide variety of ways to become parents, so I decided we all need a re-education in where babies come from. Read and learn.

(I tried my best to use language that was inclusive and non-hierarchical, but it was incredibly difficult, as society has placed a higher value on child/parent relationships born from sex and genetics. I apologise to anyone who is offended by language used in this article and welcome you to contact me with corrections and comments.)

Adoption refers to a process where a person assumes the roles and responsibilities of parenting a child that is not genetically their child. Adoption can occur in a variety of ways, at any age. Adoption is often referred to as legal jargon, however, it is not simply a legal process (though this is often an important part of it in our society). Adoption can occur before legal recognition, or without legal recognition.

Legal adoption, however, has been, and continues to be, an important issue for LGBTIQ people. The first legally recognised adoption by a gay couple only occurred in 2007 – just seven years ago! Presently, the only states in Australia that offer full legal equality in regards to adoption are NSW, ACT, WA and Tasmania. Further, sometimes a “step-parent” adoption can be legally required when LGBTIQ people give birth to a child together if the child is genetically related to just one of them, meaning that the other parent/s are left off the child’s birth certificate. Alternatively, when a cisgender and heterosexual couple give birth to a child together, and one of the parents is not genetically related, they are still able to include both their names on the birth certificate and be legally recognised as parents.

Foster parents or carers take on the roles and responsibilities of parenting for a period of time for children who are no longer able to live with their families. These periods of time can greatly vary from days to weeks to years, and the stated aim of foster care is to eventually return children to their families of origin. Occasionally however, long-term foster care placements can lead to adoption. To become a foster parent, you must go through an assessment, and then, if found to be eligible, a training process.

LGBTIQ partners and singles are able to become foster parents, however, some non-government agencies do discriminate, and they are allowed to do so because of legal exemptions for religious organisations.

Surrogacy refers to an agreement where a person will give birth to a child so that another person or people may become parents to the child. The surrogate may become pregnant in a variety of ways, and the child may or may not be genetically related to the surrogate or the parents. There are two forms of surrogacy agreements that are (terribly) referred to as “commercial surrogacy” and “altruistic surrogacy”. “Commercial surrogacy” refers to an arrangement where the surrogate receives payment or “financial reward” for giving birth to a child – this is illegal in every state of Australia other than NT. “Altruistic surrogacy” refers to giving birth to a child for no further payment than what is medically or personally necessary during pregnancy.

“Altruistic surrogacy” is legal for LGBTIQ couples in all states except for WA and SA.

Insemination involves inserting prepared semen through the neck of the womb (cervix) and into the uterus, close to the time of ovulation. A parent’s own semen can be used, or it could be from a donor.

In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) is a process in which a sperm fertilises an egg in a laboratory rather than in a uterus. The fertilised embryos are developed in a lab and then transferred to a uterus. As the sperm and egg are collected and grown to an embryo outside of the uterus, both, one or neither can come from the parents or donors.

The same legal rights apply to both insemination and IVF. Both are legal for LGBTIQ people in all states except for South Australia, where insemination and IVF are only allowed for those who are “medically infertile”. Medicare also does not provide a rebate on either, unless there is “medical problem”, which leaves many LGBTIQ people with a hefty bill – this is discrimination.

Sex. Wait, what? LGBTIQ people can have babies through sex? But this goes against everything we’ve been taught right!

This is because we’ve been taught that uterus, ovum, vagina equals woman and semen and penis equals man, when this is in fact not the case. Sex and gender does not fit so neatly into these classifications; reproductive organs come in a variety of combinations and can exist on people of any gender. So two women can have sex and become parents if the combo has a sperm and egg present, and likewise for two men. Yes, men can have babies! This was brought to media attention by Thomas Beattie, who spoke up as a trans man who was pregnant, and he has since given birth to three children. Also, LGBTIQ people can just have babies through having sex with anybody, a partner, an ex-partner, a fling, a one-night stand, or a friend they want to co-parent with. You shouldn’t just assume that any person became a parent by any process, because there are so many ways to become a parent no matter your gender, sexual identity or relationship status!