The Winding Path To Queer Pregnancy

Produced by Yvonne Marquez

Molly Foeman and Kayla Rodriguez met at a bar they both worked at in 2019.

Molly Foeman: We met…

Kayla Rodriguez: …one romantic night.

Molly Foeman: laughs

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Kayla, a masculine-presenting woman, instantly was attracted to Molly, a fashion-forward femme. They both flirted with each other but nobody made a move until two months after they met.

Molly Foeman: We went to a friend of ours. She and her friend were putting on a Beyonce and Rihanna dance party. So I went and I had my like crew of girls with me, and then Kayla went and…[Molly laughs]

Kayla Rodriguez: I had just got into a bike accident so my tooth was chipped. I was bleeding. My lip was busted. I was sweaty. It was hot. I was feeling good. I was drunk, but I looked like a little mess. I’m not going to lie.

Molly Foeman: I had a lot of tequila and I, embarrassingly, was like touching her face. I was like, “Oh, you got in an accident.” And then I just started, I, we, just started making out.

Kayla Rodriguez: You just kissed me, laid one on me.

Molly Foeman: laughs

[hip hop music fades]

Now three years later, Molly and Kayla are engaged and planning a pregnancy. As a lesbian couple, making a baby isn’t easy. It’s an intentional process that takes time and money, often costing thousands of dollars at a doctor’s office.

When Molly and Kayla first started dating, they weren’t even sure they wanted kids.

Molly Foeman: Both of us were like that’s not in the cards for us and we just want to have like a fabulous life. And then I think we both were lying to ourselves because both of us actually did want a family.

A solo trip to Miami changed everything.

[beach waves begins]

Right before the pandemic, Molly was lounging on the beach, eating fruit, and meditating, when she had a vision of herself pregnant.

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She knew at that moment that she definitely wanted to have kids.

Molly Foeman: It can be really challenging as you get older, you know, you’re not sure you ever going to have a kid, you know, relationships aren’t working out. You don’t really know how things are going to go. And I think for me, it was like a defense mechanism to say like, oh, I don’t want this because it’s easier to say I don’t want it than to think it might not happen for me.

But then I was like, no, I definitely want this and I need to like find a way to like, make this happen.

Molly Foeman: And then I came home from the trip and we talked about it.

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Kayla Rodriguez: It was very emotional

Molly Foeman: And I was like crying. Cause I was like, I need to tell you something. I wasn’t sure how she was going to take it. And I told her I wanted a family and she was like me too.

[hopeful synth music begins]

Molly Foeman: So it was like really, really, really, really nice.

Kayla Rodriguez: We both were just on the same page and it’s just like having to break down all those walls you put up with other people that you’re with or the expectations you put up and to be in that moment and be like, I want to have a kid, it really was like an open, it was like a new level was unlocked.

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Molly and Kayla began researching their options and knew right away that it would be expensive, even with insurance coverage through Aetna. Molly is a stylist at Bloomingdale’s and Kayla is a jewelry designer who sells her art on the street. If they wanted to have a baby, they would have to save money.

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The price of fertility services varies greatly. As two cisgender queer women, Molly and Kayla considered two options: in-vitro fertilization or intrauterine insemination.

In-vitro fertilization or IVF is when an egg is inseminated in a lab and then implanted into the uterus. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the average cost of one IVF cycle is nearly $12,500. For Molly and Kayla, IVF was too expensive.

The more affordable option for them is intrauterine insemination or IUI. That’s when donor sperm is placed directly in the uterus during ovulation. Each vial of donor sperm is about $1,000 each. Multiple vials plus doctor’s appointments, medications to help with ovulation and tests can run upwards of $4,000.

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Kodiak Soled: The cost of care — it has been identified as one of the greatest barriers to access to infertility care in the U S and I’m pretty sure that comes from a heterosexual cisgender sample, but it certainly applies to queer folks as well.

That’s Kodiak Soled, a public health reasearcher who did a study on queer and trans pregnancy. She says one reason fertility services are so expensive for LGBTQ people is because it’s usually not covered by insurance.

Kodiak Soled: The challenge that insurance companies, a lot of times, dictate pathways. So the typical definition that insurance companies will have to access. things like IUI in a clinic, IVF, things like that will, um, you need an infertility diagnosis, which is typically like failure to achieve pregnancy, gestational status, within 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.

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But for a cisgender lesbian couple, the “infertility” diagnosis doesn’t apply to them because they don’t have sperm.

Kodiak Soled: So it really automatically, um, denies, uh, cisgender queer women from access to that.

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To prepare for the costs, Molly and Kayla started a “baby budget” with the aim of saving at least $5,000. In January, they decided to go to a fertility clinic for IUI.

Molly Foeman: We, um, so we found this clinic and I just, I only sigh because I have so much regret about going to this stinkin clinic, but, we went to it because like the reviews were like, out of this world

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The couple eagerly went to their first consultation, shelling out $600 for the visit. The doctor explained the insemination process. He also explained that since Molly is 35, it might be more difficult for her to become pregnant because of her age. He kept suggesting that Kayla, who is 26, should carry because she is younger and has a higher chance of success. But that’s not what either of them want.

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While the visit wasn’t ideal, Molly and Kayla were still excited about starting the process. Ten days later, Molly got a phone call from the doctor about her test results that sent her into a spiral.

Molly Foeman: He’s like, “So we’ve got your AMH levels back.” Like, Okay. “They are drastically low for where they should be at your age. You should freeze your eggs immediately.” And I’m like, oh, okay. Like, what do you mean? Like, can you explain this to me?

[discordant synth music begins]

Molly Foeman: And he was like, well, we’d like to see it at like a six or a seven and you’re at a 0.57. And you know, this is really low and you need to freeze your eggs or have it, or maybe your partner can carry. And that was like his words to me.

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AMH or anti-mullerian hormone is produced in cells inside the ovaries. Testing for AMH levels is one way to determine someone’s remaining egg supply, which decreases with age. But the test doesn’t accurately predict who will or won’t become pregnant. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, results from one test shouldn’t be used to counsel people about their fertility. But that’s not what happened on Molly’s call with the doctor.

[static begins]

Molly Foeman: I was so confused and he was just like so abrupt and it was like very hard to hear that because it made me feel like, fuck, like, am I not going to be able to like, get pregnant? Like is something wrong with me? Like, what is going on? Like what did I suddenly lose my chances?

[static fades]

[synth music begins]

Molly Foeman: I’ve truly have, can’t explain that feeling of thinking that suddenly you don’t know if you’re going to ever be able to get pregnant as someone who’s always saw myself as not only being a mother, but also getting pregnant too and going through the experience of, of having a baby, like from my body.

[synth music fades]

The couple did not go back to the first clinic and decided to find a second opinion, where another doctor kept asking the same question as the first.

Molly Foeman: He was saying, okay, well, Kayla, why don’t, why don’t you want to get pregnant?

Kayla Rodriguez: Right. And then when I was like, you know, I just like, don’t really, I want to have a baby, but I don’t have the urge to have a baby.

He has like, he proceeded to ask me if I was transitioning. And I was like, no, I was born a female. And he was like, oh, I’m just asking you.

[synth music begins]

Kayla Rodriguez: It’s one thing to ask me why I don’t want to carry. It’s another thing to like, straight up assume that I’m like transitioning. It was just so very uncomfortable.

Molly and Kayla decided to ditch that clinic too because they felt uneasy with the doctor.

Kayla Rodriguez: I feel like sometimes it’s either like, There’s so many that just like are so about the medicine and it’s like, they’re not looking at the person.

They’re not looking at the experience and, and the personality and like what people bring, they’re just thinking about, I’m going to put this baby inside of you. Like I’m doing this thing as a medical miracle.

[synth music fades]

Kodiak says hetero-cisnormativity or, the assumption that cisgender and heterosexual people are the norm, permeates our society and culture, including fertility clinics. She says providers often don’t know how to counsel queer and trans people.

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In order to better serve LGBTQ patients, she says it requires an entire perspective shift.

Kodiak Soled: There’s a lot of cultural incompetency and lack of knowledge and stigma around family formation and just assumptions that are made. Right. So much less harm could be inflicted if we just weren’t to make assumptions. And we were to just understand that families are formed in all these different ways.

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For Molly and Kayla, the third time’s a charm. They finally found a clinic and a doctor they could trust. Their doctor has respected their choices and reassured them about the process.

Kayla Rodriguez: She like cared about her job. She wanted to know more.

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Even when she was counting Molly’s eggs, she was just like, you know, it’s just the way she said it. She was like, you know, it only takes one.

Molly Foeman: Every time she said that, I almost cried.

Kayla Rodriguez: It was just like, just like, wow. You not only care about your fucking job.

But you care about us and maybe you don’t, but I feel like you do, you know, it was just like…

[hopeful synth music fades]

After going to the first doctor, Molly became worried about her timeline to get pregnant. The couple decided to speed along the process. They wanted to wait after they got married in August to start trying but now they feel it’s best to not lose momentum.

Molly Foeman: we had an ultrasound, I have, I have eggs in there, but I don’t have like a ton and I am 35. I know people say, oh, people get pregnant when they’re at this stage. And that age like, yeah, they do. But some don’t, you know, so. I’m trying to be more realistic than I was before, because I think before I always thought like, oh, no problem. Like, I’m healthy, I’m this I’m that I shouldn’t have any issues. And it’s like, none of those things really matter. I don’t want to keep pushing it off and regret it.

Currently, Molly and Kayla are working with their clinic to find a sperm bank and eventually a sperm donor. The couple have some requirements in mind.

Kayla Rodriguez: I want it to look like me. I’m Puerto Rican, El Salvadorian and Greek, but like the Spaniard, it comes out more. So I don’t know, tall dark hair,

Molly Foeman: We want our kids to look like they could be from us. We don’t, we that we, we think that would be great for our family just to feel like this is someone from us.

Kayla Rodriguez: A little blend.

Molly Foeman: They’re not really like, I don’t know. You never know how they’re going to mix up anyways. but we’re starting there. And then I think more importantly, we want to feel like it’s a good human.

Why would anyone want to spend thousands of dollars and go through all the trouble of having a baby in the first place?

According to participants in Kodiak’s queer and trans pregnancy study, their families provide purpose and meaning to their lives.

Kodiak Soled: It’s unfortunate that queer folks are forced to be resilient. I term that as “obligatory resilience,” that’s like effort and energy that we have to go through to have our families. That it’s really, it’s a structural issue that, that exists and it shouldn’t exist. But just because it exists, doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve to have families.

[outro begins]

For Molly and Kayla, building a family together is about choosing joy and love.

Kayla Rodriguez: Just like having the ability to bring like little people into this world and like give them that ability to love and also care and be better than, than we were is like my goal. You know what I’m saying?

Molly Foeman:This process has been really like emotional and it’s, um, really challenging to go through this as like a same-sex couple. And it’s a lot harder than going through it with, you know, a heterosexual couple. And there’s this feeling in my heart. That’s like, I wouldn’t want to be going through this with anyone else, but Kayla and I wouldn’t want to have to do anything like this, except for with her. Like, I just know that we’re supposed to be parents together.

And I know that we’re supposed to like bring children into this world. I can’t wait.

[outro music fades]