Conceivable Options: Why Women Are Choosing Artificial Insemination

By Kurukulasuriya, Lasanda | Herizons, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

Conceivable Options: Why Women Are Choosing Artificial Insemination


Kurukulasuriya, Lasanda, Herizons


Why Women are Choosing Artificial Insemination: Conceivable Options.

When Susan and Leslie started sending Molly to daycare, other two and three-year-olds thought she was the luckiest person in the world.

"I mean, what could be better than to have two mothers? All their favorite people are the mothers, you know!" says Susan.

Susan Cole, senior editor at Now magazine, is the non-biological parent of six-year-old Molly, born to her partner Leslie Chud, who became pregnant through artificial insemination. Leslie and Susan are among a growing number of women without male partners who are using this procedure to have children.

"It's really something women can do-very much part of controlling our reproduction," says Susan.

I certainly learned... that this was something you did not have to invite the state into, or invite the medical profession into at all."

Artificial insemination (AI*) has been carried out in clinical settings in Canada for 45 years for women whose partners have low sperm-count or absence of sperm. However, the demand for AI services by women without male partners is a relatively recent phenomenon. The majority of fertility clinics across Canada still discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and family status.

Out of 33 AI programs surveyed by the Canadian Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies (RCNRT), 20 would exclude single women, and 19 would refuse lesbians, the commission's 1993 report reveals.

Over the past two decades a few women without male partners, but wanting children, have begun to take matters into their own hands. They have sought out a male friend, or a friend of a friend, or a relative who was willing to donate sperm, and inseminated themselves, using a (needle-less) syringe purchased from a drugstore.

This is not a complicated procedure. It's not mysterious... to my way of thinking, it's not even a technology," says Susan.

Women have been using AI outside of clinical settings from at least the mid 1970s onwards in Britain and the United States, and from at least the late 1970s in Canada.

It hasn't taken long for self-insemination (SI) to become synonymous with the now-proverbial turkey baster. The reluctance of the medical establishment, generally, to accept unmarried women as recipients of AI on the one hand, and the simplicity of SI on the other, seem to have made it an obvious choice for lesbians who wanted to form families in the late 1970s and 1980s. THE NEW MOTHERS OF CONVENTION

Single heterosexual women too, are beginning to see AI as a reproductive option that frees them of the need for involvement with men, as mates or co-parents, or both.

Cathy is a single woman who had her baby with the assistance of a Toronto clinic. She says she would probably have married and had a family if she had met a man she wanted to spend her life with. Having very much wanted a child, from the age of about 25 she had begun to think of AI as a last resort.

Cathy lives with her mother and has a secure government job. She carefully considered her options-adoption, asking a male friend to be a sperm donor-before choosing to be inseminated at a clinic. Her daughter Megan is two years old.

The fact that women are seeking to have children by AI through choice, not sheer necessary, has revolutionary implications. The decision of a lesbian or single heterosexual woman who uses. AI is more visible than that of a woman who has no other option than to use AI with donor sperm owing to her male partner's infertility.

For a woman trying to form a family in the context of a heterosexual relationship, the inability to have a child with genetic links to both parents is usually a cause of grief. The situation of a woman without a male partner is not comparable; she makes no secret of her project.

But for the most part AI's increasing popularity among women without male partners has gone unnoticed, partly owing to the monopolization of the procedure by medical practitioners, and partly owing to popular misconceptions as to what AI is

Even the use of AI with donor sperm in a clinical setting, by women whose male partner is infertile, is being subjected to public debate only now, under the general rubric of new reproductive technologies (NRTs). …

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