Something that we are proud of at Birth Beat is our commitment to supporting all parents on their journey to parenthood – regardless of what that journey may look like.
If I’m honest, this isn’t even something I actively thought of when I first started Birth Beat. I was working with heterosexual couples to help them prepare for childbirth. Of course, I worked with couples who had used assisted reproductive technology such as IVF in order to get pregnant, but at that point they were already pregnant and embarking on the next stage of their pregnancy by preparing for labour.
That was until I had two fathers from Sydney come to one of my face-to-face courses. They wanted to learn about childbirth and be prepared for the birth of their bubba who was being born via a surrogate. It was then that I saw the power of childbirth education and that it had a far greater potential to impact parents-to-be than I first considered. Regardless of how you get pregnant or bring a baby into the world – understanding the process of childbirth, being informed about healthcare options and potential outcomes, is empowering for all parents.
There are so many ways to fall pregnant or become a parent – all of them amazing and miraculous. No one way is the right way or the better way, each couple and each parent are different.
With that in mind I thought it would be useful to do a quick-reference guide on alternative pathways to pregnancy for anyone considering potential options or simply to understand how other couples begin their pregnancy journey.
Understanding fertility is a complex topic that I could probably write a whole blog post on! However, what’s important to remember is that fertility is an important consideration for both the male and female, single-sex couples and single women who wish to get pregnant.
There are many things that can impact fertility including; egg and sperm health, the structure and function of the male and female reproductive systems, age as well as hormonal and immune conditions.
Fertility testing may be required in the early stages of an alternative pathway to pregnancy or indeed a typical pregnancy. Fertility tests include; blood tests, ultrasound scans, egg-count tests, semen analysis and genetic testing.
Perhaps the most well-known fertility treatment, IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) is when an egg is fertilised by the sperm in a laboratory before the embryo is then transferred into the woman’s uterus.
There are many various ways this can happen, including donor eggs, donor sperm and even via a surrogate (where another woman who is not the biological mother, carries the pregnancy).
IVF is available to heterosexual couples who have been unable to fall pregnant naturally. Usually, prior to trying IVF the couple will have tried other fertility treatments.
IVF is also available to lesbian couples and single women who want to have a baby without a partner. In both these instances there needs to be a sperm donor which may be someone known to the couple or woman, an Australian donor or an International Donor. Laws vary from state to state and can also vary depending on how you access or purchase donor sperm.
Any couples or individuals undertaking IVF are counselled on their options and the processes involved which can be lengthy and expensive – sometimes up to $10,000 per treatment cycle (rebates are available depending on individual circumstances).
As with all things health, pregnancy and childbirth; everyone’s experience and success rate will vary with IVF depending on many factors including age and overall health. IVF is just one fertility treatment and there are other options available which we will look at briefly as well.
There is no hard and fast rule about when is the right time to seek fertility treatment and it always pays to speak to your healthcare provider if you can any worries or doubt. However, for those couples that have been unsuccessful with falling pregnant naturally, the general rule of thumb is that you should seek medical advice after 12 months of trying to fall pregnant without success if you’re under 35, and after 6 months if you’re over 35.
Complementary therapies or alternative therapies are any treatments outside of conventional medicine. These can include things such as; meditation, acupuncture, naturopathy, herbal medicines and supplements, Reiki, Bowen Therapy, Chinese Medicine plus many more.
We’ve probably all heard stories from either someone we know or someone online who has fallen pregnant after changing their diet and lifestyle or using complementary therapies, which is fantastic! However, there is very little published medical literature to prove that specific complementary therapies work.
While generally speaking, eating well, looking after yourself and reducing stress are all fantastic for fertility, it is important to discuss any complementary therapies you’re considering with your healthcare provider as some can interfere fertility treatments. If you get the green light from your nurse, midwife, GP and/or obstetrician and some of these alternative options make you feel like a healthier, less stressed and better version of you then that can only be a good thing, even if it just means you’re taking a little bit of time each day for guilt-free ‘me-time’!
Assisted conception is a broad-term that encompasses a whole range of treatments – essentially, it’s any method that helps overcome fertility issues in order to become pregnant.
Examples of assisted reproductive treatments include;
- Surgery to unblock fallopian tubes or to remove endometrial tissue
- Ovulation induction
- Artificial insemination
- Donor conception (donor eggs and/or donor sperm)
- FSH injections, FSH induces the development of multiple follicles in the woman’s ovaries
And there are many more…
Each couple and individual will have different needs and depending on what fertility issues you’re trying to overcome, your age, general health and personal circumstances; there will be different assisted conception options available to you.
Surrogacy is an alternative pathway to pregnancy that is available for both heterosexual and same-sex couples as well as individuals. Thanks to celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Kayne West have had their last two babies Chicago and Psalm via surrogate, surrogacy has become more widely discussed and accepted as a viable pathway to parenthood.
The West’s have used surrogacy as Kim reportedly had several complications with her first two pregnancies including pre-eclampsia and a condition whereby the placenta does not detach itself from the uterine wall after birth – both which can be potentially life-threatening for the mother. There are many reasons why using a surrogate may be an option including when a woman is unable to carry a pregnancy or has had repeated miscarriages.
Surrogacy is when a woman carries the pregnancy and gives birth to a baby that is not biologically hers. In the case of heterosexual couples, the surrogate has an embryo implanted via IVF using the egg and sperm of the couple. For gay couples the egg is usually donated and the sperm from one father is used – but there are so many different variations.
In Australia, commercial surrogacy (paying the surrogate to carry a pregnancy for you) is illegal however in most states altruistic (volunteering to carry a pregnancy without financial incentive is allowed. Some Australian couples have been known to use a surrogate in another country so that they can pay them and the process is more clearly defined as a service rather than having to deal with the legalities and potential complications of a friend or family member doing it as a very generous favour (!).
While it is a viable option for some, surrogacy is still a complex, time consuming and expensive process. Either way – I think it is truly incredible to consider what is possible with these types of treatments and options! It blows me away.
I think it’s important to openly discuss these options and to share that there is no single pathway to pregnancy and parenthood. Even if infertility or an alternative pathway to pregnancy has not been a part of your journey, I think the more that we can openly discuss the fact that there is no on right way to become pregnant or to become a parent the better it is for all parents and parents-to-be. The process and story will be as unique as the individual and couple. What’s important is that we support others and their decisions, particularly anyone that you know who may be having a tough time working through infertility.
If you would like to know more or support with infertility or your journey to parenthood, here are some great resources: