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Counseling Issues for Gay men and Lesbians Seeking Assisted Reproductive Technology

Gay and lesbian family building is growing by leaps and bounds. With advances in reproductive medicine and greater tolerance being afforded to an individual’s sexual orientation, we are seeing more and more children having same-sex parents. It is clear that all parents have concerns regarding their parenting skills and how to best nurture and protect the children they bring into this world but gay and lesbian couples have some additional challenges that can be best addressed through counseling prior to proceeding with their family building plans.

There are four counseling components recommended for same-sex couples wanting to have children, which can facilitate the process and ease the concerns for all involved. The focus of the counseling would be on how to best proceed with the child’s best interest in mind.

Four Counseling Components

1.Medical Options and Considerations

2.Knowledge of Legal Statutes in Residing Jurisdiction

3.Become Familiar with the Sociocultural Climate

4.Tackling Personal Biases and Emotional Challenges

Medical Options and Considerations:

This involves want to be parents learning about the family building option most suitable to their situation based on their age, gender, and reproductive status and personal health. This discussion will include sperm quality and viability, intrauterine susceptibility, and one's general health. In addition, same sex couples would be wise to consider the medical suitability of the third party whether it is a sperm donor, an egg donor, or a gestational carrier. The pragmatics of where and how to identify a suitable third-party provider would also be addressed such that an appropriate decision could be made as it would be prudent to think about his/her reproductive and general health.

Knowledge of Legal Statutes:

The legal statutes need to be identified regarding same-sex parenting. This

would depend on the state one resides in, as there are different laws and rights afforded to heterosexual couples that are not granted to same-sex

couples. Some states support civil unions, some have legalized marriages, and some do not. Whatever rights that have been legally granted in one jurisdiction does not necessarily cross state lines. There are legal imperatives that need to be put into place so that each partner’s parental rights, whether gay or lesbian, Is respect, honored and protected.

Become Familiar with the Sociocultural Climate:

Seeking counsel to address one's feelings regarding this socio-cultural climate one lives in is critical. When living in a homophobic society, lesbian and gay families face unique concerns that differ from heterosexual families. Gay and lesbian families are sometimes marginalized and discriminated against in obvious and some not so obvious ways. Children need to be taught how to handle such situation such that their self-worth is not put in harm’s way. Teaching children how to respond to others who make remarks that are inappropriate or prejudicial is the responsibility of the parent and sometimes parents need some guidance in navigating this road. What we do know about children who have gay or lesbian parents is that they do not differ from other children in regards to their emotional development or relationships with other individuals. Research has supported the notion that the quality of the parent-child relationship and not their sexual orientation is what makes for healthy children.

Tackling Personal Biases and Emotional Challenges:

Same-sex couples sometimes question their ‘right’ to have children having to do with their own personal and concerns. These worries have been fueled by their own life experiences about being lesbian or gay. A concept referred to as internalized homophobic where negative views about one's homosexuality has been internalized. This would inevitably impact their relationship with their children in a not so healthy way. Confronting one's own biases and prejudices must be addressed prior to enlisting the help of reproductive technology in order to become a parent. Counseling issues would include the parents level of 'outness' or openness shown to others be it family members, friends, coworkers, or the community at large.

Parenting concerns are universal for all individuals that have or are thinking about having children. Having to also utilize assisted reproductive interventions adds an array of additional concerns and worries such as biological connectedness, third-party helpers, societal bias, and much more.

How and what to disclose to children born to same-sex parents? What to say about the donor or carrier? Issues of disclosure are relevant to all users of third party helpers but for the gay and lesbian couple it can be even more complicated. The question of whether someone is the ‘real’ parent often surfaces when someone else's sperm, egg, or uterus is being used to create a child. Does the non-genetic or non-biological parent have the status of a ‘real’ parent, one whose rights and responsibilities are established and respected?

A final thought….

Gay and lesbian family building is coming into its own and we have yet to write the ultimate guidebook on how to navigate these murky waters. There are things we know that have proven helpful and that counseling is imperative. Same sex families will definitely become more commonplace but until then these parents have additional challenges to attend to. It require them to process and think through their feelings of what it means to become a parent in a same-sex partnership and how in today's climate to raise a healthy, confident, and happy child.