Ashley Hemphill has always known that she would have a family that included children. Once she realized she was not going to be in a heterosexual relationship, she said it never occurred to her that children might not be a part of that future.
Today, Hemphill and her partner Pam Netzky, who live in Chicago, have experienced two successful in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures with the help of Fertility Centers of Illinois (FCI) and aParent IVF.
"We had a couple of straight friends who had used Dr. Brian Kaplan [physician at FCI] when they were having some fertility issues and highly recommended him," Ashley said. "From the moment we met him, it was truly love. He makes you feel comfortable and he is just the sweetest man. I can't say enough good things about him, truthfully."
Hemphill and Netzky decided that they would use Netzky's eggs, but that Hemphill would carry the baby.
"I guess I felt, having been adopted, I am very clear on the reality that it doesn't matter that you are biologically related to have this feeling of family and this is your parent, and love, but Netzky wasn't adopted. I felt like it would allow her to feel closer to the baby, because even though she wasn't giving birth, she would know that it was her's. I knew that for me that wouldn't be an issue."
Once they had made the decision to have a baby through IVF and had met with Kaplan, the couple had to face the issues of legal documents and insurance coverage.
"The first thing we needed to do, because we are not married, is we had to get our own lawyers and have legal documents drawn up to ensure that all of the parameters of how we were going to raise this child and allowing the child to be adopted would be handled as soon as the baby was born. This would ensure that if anything happened between Netzky and I, that because we did this together, the original intent would be there so we would both be able to raise the child. In Illinois, the birth mother is actually the legal parent. So even though biologically they were Netzky's children I was legally the mother so I had to let Netzky adopt her own children."
Hemphill also worked with her insurance company to get the approval for the procedures.
Kaplan explained that insurance can be a trickier issue for a same-sex couple, having to prove that they have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for a certain period of time. Still, he said that his organization works with the couples to help them make their case for special approval from their insurance.
Just like any other IVF couple that might be using someone else's eggs or a carrier, Hemphill and Netzky also had to go through a list of required screenings, including medical history and psychological testing, to qualify for the procedure.
Several shots were necessary to prepare for the pregnancy, but the first cycle was a success. Hemphill found out that she was pregnant after the first IVF cycle. She then said she had another series of shots, 72 shots to be exact, for more than two months. The couple had their son Brody in 2006.
After a year had gone by Hemphill and Netzky began the process for a second pregnancy. During the initial IVF cycle they had chosen to freeze Netzky's eggs for a future pregnancy.
Hemphill said that after the first time had been so easy, getting pregnant so quickly, the couple hadn't really considered that the second time might not go as smoothly.
"They actually did testing at the lab for a number of genetic issues, and we are really happy that they did because with this second round there were a number that looked good on the surface, but after getting the genetic testing back would not have made it through the full pregnancy."
In the end, Hemphill did get pregnant during the following cycle and delivered the pair's second baby boy, Landon, in 2009.
Even with the challenges, Hemphill recommends IVF to other couples struggling to have a baby.
She noted, "When you think about all the people who are at FCI not for the reasons that we are, because we are a same-sex couple, but because they truly have tried for years to get pregnant and just haven't been able to and they've tried cycle after cycle. For us, you have to keep it in perspective, which is, we've been so lucky."