Gay Parents: Advice on Starting a Family

 Interview with Dr. Ian Kerner, Sex and Family Therapist

Anybody going through fertility treatments will face challenges, but the experience for gay singles and couples has additional elements to navigate.

Ian Kerner, PhD, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist and nationally recognized sexuality counselor who specializes in sex therapy, couples therapy, and working with individuals on a range of relationship issues. Half of his private practice includes LGBTQ singles and couples looking for support, and he has helped many work through their fertility process.

Dr. Kerner shared some advice on how you can manage the questions that inevitably arise when you’re looking to start a family as non-heterosexual parents.

In your experience, what are some issues that gay men or women may face when planning to start their families?
There is more to figure out, like the legal infrastructure. I was just working with a lesbian couple that wants to have a baby. They know who the biological birth mother will be; but will the other woman [of the couple] legally become a parent? How will that happen? They’ve been avoiding talking about it. Hetero “normal” couples have a lot built in and don’t need to have these difficult conversations.
In this case, it’s a new couple and they’re not married. It’s been a lifelong dream of one of them to have a child. This woman is not ready to have her partner sign on as a parent.

Ask yourself: If we were a hetero couple, would we face this question and have to answer it?

A lot of LGBTQ couples haven’t necessarily considered the finances and how to set up egalitarian financial structures that benefit the child. Sometimes one partner wants the child more than the other, and this becomes an issue regarding who is paying for what. I encounter that with a lot of gay couples who haven’t figured out how to co-manage their finances. Of course having a baby together adds another layer. So, if you don’t have those foundations already in place, and many gay couples I’ve worked with don’t, having a child/children complicates it.

Not all couples are at the same stage of being out. I work with couples where one person is uncomfortable with public displays of affection or admitting that their partner is of the same sex. Couples are already navigating these complexities and now they have to navigate even more with a child.

There are ascensions built into a hetero script that the couple doesn’t have to think about. A hetero couple gets married, sets up a bank account, and the husband and wife are both legal guardians of a child that they have together. LGBTQ couples don’t have this. They have more choice and this can create areas of conflict and confusion.

How can someone in the unfortunate position of being judged by family or friends for starting a family respond to people who haven’t accepted this reality?
Pick your allies and advocates. Surround yourself with people who support you. You and your partner need to figure out who is being called mom, for instance. You have to figure out your values together and how you are handling things.
Having a kid is really a wake-up call to look at your shared values and vision and decide where you agree and disagree. Consider having a [planned] statement (to respond to inappropriate questions).

Gay couples who want to have child(ren) but aren’t adopting must rely on a donor and/or a surrogate. What should a couple do when have differing views on how to pick a surrogate and/or donor?
I’ve had a lot of couples wrestle with how they’ll approach that question. Frankly, the options and cost affects their decision. What you want isn’t necessarily what you can afford to do.  
Begin to explore all the factors and narrow down to what’s in your ability (legally and financially) and look at choices from there. If you’re really arguing then you should consider going to your local LGBT center. Lots of organizations provide classes, workshops, and consultations. And, if you’ve done your best to look at options and are still disagreeing, you may need to consult a lawyer, counselor, or use other external resources to help you with some of your decisions.

I’ve had couples come to me with donor profiles that have asked me what attributes I think are important or asked me who will pay or what if it doesn’t work the first time. Sometimes couples need a third party to be a sounding board.

If people are nosy and ask specifics about who your donor was, whose sperm or egg was used, etc., how can these people best respond
People really do have all of these questions and sometimes they’re coming from a place of genuine interest and curiosity; but hetero couples don’t have to explain all of their child-rearing decisions they way some LGBTQ people do.
This may be a good exercise. Ask yourself: If we were a hetero couple, would we face this question and have to answer it? If the answer is no, consider a polite response like, “We can’t answer that now, sorry.”

If you genuinely want to address it, you can say, “If you were talking to a straight couple, you may not be asking this question at all. But here’s our response…”

You should not have to be subject to constant journalistic investigation and inquiry.

Remember: This is your process. You don’t owe anyone an explanation when it comes to your personal life.

For more on Dr. Ian Kerner’s work and practice, visit



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