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An LGBTQ-Friendly Fertility Clinic Rethinks the Path Parenthood, One Step at a Time

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday June 17, 2021

Many of us in the LGBTQ community have had to reconcile our relationships with our birth families instead of creating chosen families that honor and support our sexual and gender identities. But shifting tides indicate that those two worlds don't need to exist separately. A desire to build a family is no longer just wishful thinking for queer parents-to-be.

A recent study by Family Equality indicates that regardless of annual household income, 45 to 53% of LGBTQ millennials plan to become parents for the first time or add another child to their family. But turning that idea into a reality requires patience, dedication, and an LGBTQ-friendly support system to help navigate the many decisions to be made along the way. The Houston Fertility Institute (HFI), part of Prelude Fertility, a network of top-tier fertility centers across the U.S., is at the forefront of such care, breaking down barriers long seen as insurmountable.

Dr. Heather Hoff, HFI's Director of LGBT Family Building, has acquired a breadth of knowledge and hands-on experience through her residency at the Mayo Clinic and fellowship at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She relocated to Houston with her wife, who is a high-risk obstetrician. Together, you might say, they're Houston's baby-making power couple.

"Increasing access to LGBTQ-focused fertility care is definitely one of my favorite and most rewarding parts of my job," says Dr. Hoff of her current position at HFI and the broader mission of Prelude Fertility. As the largest network of fertility clinics in the country, Prelude is also at the forefront with state-of-the-art labs and equipment, protocol-driven treatments, and an inclusive business model that celebrates family in all of its diverse forms.

Dr. Hoff and her team believe access to information is the first step toward making an informed decision about fertility options. Each circumstance is unique: from same-sex couples or single parents to the considerations of transgender patients bringing a child into the world, such as hormone treatments and potential body dysmorphia.

Seminars, webinars (and the hopeful return of in-person meetings) are often the first step to provide information to people who might otherwise be intimidated coming into a clinic. (The next virtual event is scheduled for June 22). A panel of doctors, along with an attorney and third-party donor coordinator, can offer a detailed yet accessible entry point for discussing fertility options and alleviate some of the fears of the unknown.

Dr. Hoff says that although fertility options have been available to the LGBTQ community for some time, accessibility has been long overlooked. Some of the country's largest teaching hospitals may be hampered by red tape and a bureaucratic board of directors. However, physician-driven decision-making at a private practice like Houston Fertility Institute and many of the clinics throughout the Prelude Fertility network means community outreach can quickly mobilize and respond to the needs of its patients.

Just as the LGBTQ community is comprised of an infinite number of life circumstances, so, too, are the narratives that emerge from those who want to have their own biological children. Dr. Hoff addresses some of the more common scenarios for EDGE:

Female Couples and Queer Women
As with any patient, a good fertility doctor will spend some time gathering medical and surgical history, as well as family goals. For a female couple, Dr. Hoff spends two to six weeks in what she refers to as the "homework" phase, gathering information about either or both of the women's ovarian reserve (egg count), hormone levels and other factors that could affect the pregnancy success rate.

There are several options for a sperm donor, including anonymous sperm banks and known donors. In any scenario with a known donor, a legal contract is imperative for the future of both parents and child. Artificial insemination may be the first course of treatment, but with a success rate of 5% to 25%, it may take several cycles for conception to occur. If pregnancy is not achieved after a few cycles, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is often the next course of treatment.

Dr. Hoff also encourages future mothers to consider plans for future children. Do both want to carry a child or never? Which partner is the best option for a successful pregnancy? A reputable fertility clinic will provide research-based evidence, combined with comprehensive patient data, to offer the best advice.

Male Couples and Queer Men
Dr. Hoff says that fertility options for men are "a bit more complicated." Still, integrated services mean Prelude Fertility can be a one-stop-shop to connect with a fertility clinic and agencies for egg donors and gestational carriers. This vetted network ensures that all medical, psychological and genetic traits from both the donor and carrier have been monitored and documented. Most often, for legal reasons and otherwise, the egg donor is anonymous. HFI, as with most fertility clinics, will follow the pregnancy with the men and carrier through the first ten weeks before their chosen obstetrician takes over.

The Transgender Community
HFI has gone a step beyond just working with potential parents. Dr. Hoff also considers education to be part of their obligation to the LGBTQ community, particularly when working with transgender youth. Candid but gentle conversations about hormone treatment, fertility preservation and potential gender dysphoria are all part of the process of presenting queer youth all of the options for the future, as is tracking the latest research.

Companies often toss out "LGBTQ-friendly" as a catchphrase used during Pride month. But for fertility treatment, "friendly" must also be accompanied by compassionate, empathetic and educated. Like a baby's first step, the path toward parenting might be wobbly at first. But with LGBTQ-affirming fertility care, those steps can someday be strides.

The Chance to Win a Lifetime of Pride and Joy
For Pride month, Prelude Fertility, in collaboration with Bundl, MyEggBank and Circle Surrogacy & Egg Donation, has launched a too-good-to-be-true (except it is!) giveaway: "A Lifetime of Pride and Joy" package, including a customized fertility plan and associated services supporting an individual or couple's dream to start a family. With a grand prize retail value of $75,000, the giveaway will provide the opportunity for the winner to build their own family through a customized fertility plan and associated services from each of these premier, nationally-recognized fertility service providers.

The giveaway is accepting entries through June 30. (Full details can be found here.)

Matthew Wexler is EDGE's Senior Editor, Features & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at www.wexlerwrites.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.