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Family Equality Council holds LGBTQ reproductive options panel discussion
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Family Equality Council held an "LGBTQ+ Paths to Pregnancy: Using Donor Sperm to Build Your Family" panel discussion June 12 at Women & Children First. Family building with donor sperm was the focus of the event.

Family Equality Council Family Formation Director Trystan Reese facilitated the event with panelists California Cryobank Vice President of Communication Scott Brown, West Suburban Midwife Associates Certified Nurse-Midwife Missy Furlette-Koski, Fertility Centers of Illinois' Dr. Juan P. Alvarez and Ross & Zuckerman, LLP Partner Heather Ross.

Reese told the packed crowd about the work Family Equality Council does to support LGBTQ families including online training for medical providers and hosting Family Week. He said they have been doing these family planning events with California Cryobank across the country for eight years. Reese explained that he is a transgender man who is married to a cisgender man and they have two adopted children ages eight and eleven and an almost two year old child that he gave birth to.

Brown said starting a family using a sperm donor is a complicated endeavor but not daunting. He explained that recently they changed the name from anonymous to unknown sperm donor. In terms of known donors, Brown said it is important to protect the non-birth parent so they have the same rights to the child that the birth parent does and prevent any future custody battles by having legal agreements with the donor. He explained that having known donor's sperm tested to make sure it is viable is very important and that is something his company does with every donor they work with.

As for unknown donors, Brown said this started in the 1970s with heterosexual couples and that has changed to more LGBTQ people utilizing this service. Brown explained that there has also been a shift in thinking around children knowing how they were conceived and contacting their birth parent when they are 18 years old. California Cryobank facilitates this contact but it has to be the child who initiates it. Brown said that as of three years ago this includes the donor's name and contact information through their ID Disclosure Donor agreement.

Brown explained that only one percent of donors ( they have about 550 donors currently ) make it through the facility's rigorous screening process that includes sperm quality, three generations of family medical history, genetic testing, having a college degree, psychology screening and a criminal background check. He also spoke about the differences between at home insemination verses doing it at the doctor's office.

"The process of choosing a sperm donor is amazing and you will never regret the choice you make," said Brown.

Furlette-Koski explained that she works for a full scope midwifery practice in Oak Park, Illinois that caters to anyone with a uterus. She spoke about being pregnant via in-vitro fertilization ( IVF ) after trying intra uterine insemination ( IUI ) and home insemination and pointed out that her wife is was in the audience. Furlette-Koski said talking with one's partner about the process and being on the same page in terms of how to go about it is vital. She explained that if a known donor is used they should get a full medical examination and agree on a time-frame that the donor will be available to provide the sperm for insemination.

When thinking about who will carry the fetus, Furlette-Koski said that person should track their basal body temperature to know when to inseminate and take pre-natal vitamins. She explained that one of the benefits of using a midwife during ones pregnancy process is they provide holistic healthcare.

Alvarez said he practices in the River North office and there are nine locations throughout the Chicagoland area. He explained that his specialty is reproductive endocrinology and infertility focused on the LGBTQ community. Alvarez said that a reproductive health checkup that includes evaluating the uterus and fallopian tubes is vital to know whether one can get pregnant. He explained that age is also a factor due to health issues that crop up and the decreasing amounts of eggs one has as they age.

In terms of preparing for a future pregnancy; Alvarez said the person should stop smoking if they are a smoker and decrease alcohol and caffeine consumption in addition to transitioning to a healthy diet. Alvarez explained that IUI is an effective method of insemination and is less money than doing it via IVF, although the success rates of IVF are higher.

Ross said she believes in the "belts and suspenders approach" to protecting ones family legally which means being cautious and thinking of every potential issue that may crop us. She explained this is especially vital when one is dealing with birth certificates and other legal documents for LGBTQ families. Ross said in Illinois both parents are put on the birth certificate if they are married no matter their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. She explained that LGBTQ couples should also get a court order that states both parents are legally recognized in the federal full faith and credit law since reproductive laws are state by state.

When dealing with known donors, Rossi said Illinois law requires the donor and couple to get separate attorneys to draw up the contract including any contact the donor will have with the child and this has to start before the insemination process begins.

A Q&A session followed.

Brown held a raffle at the close of the event where two winners received one free vial of sperm each from California Cryobank—the event sponsor.

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