When my spouse and I first tried to start our family 17 years ago, we searched vainly for a book on assisted reproduction that was authoritative, detailed, and inclusive. A new book by a fertility expert — who also happens to be a lesbian mom herself — is just the book we would have hoped to have.
Your Future Family: The Essential Guide to Assisted Reproduction, by Kim Bergman, Ph.D., (Conari Press), offers a detailed look at assisted reproductive technology (ART), including assisted insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy, written in a way that doesn’t take a medical degree to understand. Her goal, she explains, “is not just to provide the nuts and bolts of assisted reproduction but also to share the human element of the process.” To this end, the book is filled with stories of real individuals and couples (same- and different-sex) on their paths to parenthood.
Bergman tells us the book is for “anyone who is contemplating having a baby with the help of others.” Additionally, she hopes that families, friends and others, “in particular, grandparents, aunts, and uncles,” will read it in order to support those having the baby. She is as inclusive of families who choose ART from the start (mostly same-sex couples and single parents by choice) as of those who turn to it because of fertility problems.
Bergman herself is a licensed psychologist who, for nearly three decades, has specialized in helping same-sex couples, single parents and others using assisted reproduction. She is a senior partner at Growing Generations, an egg donation and surrogacy agency, and serves on the Corporate Board of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, where she also chairs the LGBTQ Special Interest Group.
Just as relevant as her professional expertise is that she and her spouse Natalie of (now) 35 years started their family through assisted reproduction. Their two daughters are now in college and graduate school, meaning that Kim and Natalie “were in the vanguard” of queer families forming through assisted reproduction. She weaves in parts of her story when relevant (e.g., describing her feelings about an early miscarriage), but also does so for families whose stories differ from hers.
All readers will appreciate Bergman’s sensible and calming tone and her holistic awareness of what goes into creating a family. “Being aware of where you’re at emotionally, spiritually and financially is an important first step in the process,” she advises. She then introduces readers to the people they are likely to meet in their journey, such as a reproductive endocrinologist and a reproductive attorney. A psychologist herself, she opines, “Having the support of a mental health professional specializing in fertility and ART to help you through the process is not just a luxury; it is essential.” Having gone through reciprocal IVF with my spouse without such a professional, I know it may not be true in all cases — but I would agree that speaking with a mental health professional can provide much value.
Bergman dives into the details of what it takes to make a baby, including finding sperm and egg (as needed), conception and embryo formation, and what happens in the womb and during the birth process. People wondering, “How should I choose a sperm or egg donor?” “Which partner’s sperm should we use?” “How many eggs should I transfer through IVF?” or “How should I choose a surrogate?” will find much information to help guide them. Bergman also assures readers that research shows children born through ART are just as healthy as those that are non-ART.
Throughout, Bergman offers encouragement and optimism, even titling one section, “You Can Build a Family, No Matter What.” At the same time, she doesn’t shirk from describing the challenges people may encounter. She suggests ways of coping with them, such as finding an online or in-person support group, journaling and meeting with a mental health professional.
Bergman devotes a whole chapter to the ways of talking to the world and your child(ren) about their creation. Here she does not hold back her opinion, “I believe very strongly that you should tell your child the truth about how he or she came into the world. And the earlier you do this, the better.” As for the rest of the world, she says, “Your story belongs to you and your child, so you can share it or withhold it as you please. Just don’t withhold it from your child.”
My one criticism is that the book could be more inclusive of transgender and nonbinary identities. Phrases like “eggs can be removed from the intended mother” or “the intended father’s sperm” could have been changed to “intended parent” and the sentences would still be understandable, while also being inclusive of transgender men who use IVF and transgender women who provide sperm.
Similarly, “A woman is considered pregnant when . . ..” could have been “A person is considered pregnant when . . ..” After I communicated with Bergman online about this, however, she told me she would update this language to be more inclusive if she ever has the chance. Let’s hope that means the book will have future editions; the rest of it is good enough to warrant a long life.
Prospective parents of all sexual orientations who by choice or necessity turn to ART should appreciate the information and reassurance Bergman offers. More importantly, they will appreciate her overarching premise that “Biology is not the determining factor in parenthood. It’s love that makes a family, not genetics.”
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.