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How Prelude Fertility Helps Potential LGBTQ Military Parents Turn Dreams Into Reality

by Merryn Johns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday December 13, 2021
Originally published on December 9, 2021

How Prelude Fertility Helps Potential LGBTQ Military Parents Turn Dreams Into Reality
  (Source:Getty Images)

For LGBTQ+ people, becoming a biological parent will most likely require fertility assistance. Whether you are seeking sperm or eggs, a surrogate, IVF, egg freezing, or genetic screening, the path to parenthood can be limited and expensive for LGBTQ+ people.

Other obstacles can present themselves depending on where you live and what you do for a living. If you serve in the military and LGBTQ+, workplace health benefits aren't the same as your heterosexual counterparts when it comes to creating a family.

Service members and veterans who wish to access fertility services through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must meet stringent criteria that effectively exclude same-sex couples, queer individuals and transgender folks from fertility services.

For example, the prospective parent must be legally married — ruling out single parents. The service member or their spouse must have an intact uterus, at least one functioning ovary, or own cryopreserved eggs — excluding gay male parents. And the service member or their spouse must be able to produce sperm or own cryopreserved sperm — therefore denying most lesbian parents. Plus, fertility assistance should only be available to those who had incurred infertility due to service, not through gender identity — which shuts out transgender people.

November was declared Military Family Month in 1996. Still, ever since, the military's definition of "family" has been limited to a heterosexual and cisgender understanding of biology and the family unit.

The Veterans Infertility Treatment Act of 2021, introduced to the House in March 2021, might one day make infertility care, including IVF, a part of VA healthcare for enrolled Veterans struggling with infertility — regardless of marital status, service-connection, or need for donated genetic material.

In the meantime, to assist queer military personnel in accessing fertility programs, Prelude Fertility, the largest network of fertility clinics in North America, offered a Military Families Month special through one of its Texas partners, Aspire Fertility. This offer gave veterans and active duty service members an opportunity to create or expand their biological families through comprehensive and patient-focused fertility care.

Throughout November, active duty and veterans received a discounted diagnostics package, as well as 15% off in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle packages.

"Active duty service members and veterans have literally sacrificed their lives for the benefit of our country, and they shouldn't have to face barriers when building their families," says T.J. Farnsworth, Founder and CEO of Inception Fertility, Prelude's parent company. "Through this offer, Prelude and its Aspire clinics are honored to help them through their fertility journeys — regardless of their reasons and how they need to build that family."

"As a member of the United States military for almost two decades, it is an honor to be able to give back to our community and welcome deserving service members to our practices whose dream it is to have a family," says Justin Smith, Regional Chief Operation Officer for Prelude Central Texas. "No one should face limitations in having a baby, and this special program is one way Prelude and its Aspire clinics are recognizing — and thanking — these brave and selfless men and women for their contributions to our country."

LGBTQ+ Military Parents: Diverse Needs and Solutions

Smith says that Prelude Fertility has a wide range of LGBTQ+ clients. "There's no cookie-cutter answer to each individual. Our doctors will come up with the best diagnosis for each patient individually," he says.

There are gay women attempting to become mothers before their biological clock runs down and need to access IVF; others at advanced maternal age, 30s-40s, find their ovarian reserve is low and need donor eggs because their eggs may not be viable to produce an embryo that will generate a pregnancy.

For transgender women and men wanting a child, Smith recommends fertility preservation for future reproductive use, such as freezing sperm or eggs for a prospective partner or gestational carrier.

More gay male couples want children, and Smith says Prelude will "work with them and their surrogacy agency or we will connect them with the assistance they need. For example, our egg bank, so they can get donor eggs, and being males, inseminate the eggs with both of their sperm if they want to have the child carry both their genes. We can carry them through the entire process, from finding a surrogacy agency to working with surrogates to get their eggs retrieved," says Smith.

"If they need a separate gestational carrier, then we'll work with them to find the insurance agencies that will cover them, that will connect them with a lawyer who will actually give them the surrogacy contract or gestational carrier contracts. We have services in place that help facilitate this process," says Smith.

But during his five years with Prelude and his own years serving in the military, Smith says a recurring issue he observed with hopeful parents was time: they need to start earlier.

"We are just now getting a grasp on fertility preservation. Go ahead and freeze your eggs, especially if you are career-driven and in your mid-30s," he says. "Don't wait until you decide that you are ready to have a child, then all of a sudden, you're paying tens of thousands of dollars to find out if you're fertile. The sooner that you do some form of fertility preservation, the better your chances are of having a viable pregnancy later on."

What a Difference a Discount Makes

(Source: Getty Images)

Third-party reproduction is expensive, so Prelude's 15% military discount is nothing to sneeze at.

Surrogacy, for example, is particularly pricey when you factor in the surrogate fees, the surrogacy lawyer, insurance, the IVF cycle itself, and the postpartum care for your gestational carrier — Smith estimates this process can cost between $75,000 and $100,000 in the open market.

Prelude also offers a special price of $750 to do a full diagnostic workup that would typically cost between $1,400 to $2,000 that helps gauge what is possible for the client who wants to grow their family.

With government-funded VA programs, Smith feels the latest cutting-edge technology is not available to the few service members that can access the program. But with Prelude Fertility, Smith says patients are given access to the latest services, including genetic testing that looks for "the best possible outcome. Every time you go in for your IVF cycle in the military, it's essentially a crapshoot, whatever you pick as the embryo. Hopefully, it's a good embryo that will implant. So, on top of the lack of access to the military program, you're not given the opportunity for the best possible outcome."

Prelude Fertility also offers expert legal counsel depending on the client's geographic location, and there is also cross-communication between regions connected through the fertility programs: for example, a same-sex couple in Texas with a gestational carrier in Georgia.

"We're working together to make sure that we're doing everything according to the law that will get us cleared to have the pregnancy successfully without any legal hiccups," says Smith. "We also reach out to lawyers who specialize in reproductive law so they will deal with contracts for surrogates from their gestational carriers."

Also available are licensed clinical social workers and counselors who will give the client a psychological evaluation and an informational session to let them know about the emotional ups and downs of the journey they are about to embark on.

With American service members in hostile environments, from training to deployment and potential exposure to chemicals, explosives, unfriendly fire and discrimination, "something could potentially happen while you're serving this country," says Smith, altering the trajectory of parenthood.

But that's what Prelude Fertility is for — to help put hopeful LGBTQ+ military parents in the military on a path to personalized fertility care.

Merryn Johns is a writer and editor based in New York City. She is also a public speaker on ethical travel and a consultant on marketing to the LGBT community.