“My Wife Had to Adopt Her Own Biological Baby”: How Reciprocal IVF and Adoption are Helping LGBTQ+ Families

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When Genavieve Jaffe, 35, and her wife, Jordana Jaffe, 38, decided to adopt a child, their process looked a bit different than most. The child they adopted was created with Jordana’s egg, an anonymous donor’s sperm, and Genavieve’s uterus.

The couple underwent a process called reciprocal IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) to start their family. Genavieve described reciprocal IVF as “the exact same thing as traditional surrogacy: taking an egg from someone, taking sperm from another person, fertilizing the egg, turning it into an embryo, and then putting that embryo into someone else.” But rather than finding a gestational carrier, Genavieve volunteered for the job. She carried the embryo that was created using her wife’s egg.

Reciprocal IVF is not a new idea. In fact, Genavieve noted that she learned about it from Instagram. When the couple first started the fertility process, they started following lesbian Instagram accounts, and one of the couples was going through reciprocal IVF.  “Social media can be a toxic place. But I think that it can really provide—especially for the LGBT+ community—a lot of acceptance, a lot of safety,” Jaffe said.

She’s having my baby

The Jaffe family didn’t intend to go down the reciprocal IVF route. The original plan was for each woman to carry a baby conceived through IUI (intrauterine insemination) with sperm from the same donor. Their two children would be half-siblings. Jordana, who is the older of the two, was set to try IUI first.

The process did not go as expected. Genavieve said, “My wife was on anxiety medication and had to lower [the dose] to get pregnant. And it was not great. Not a great experience.” The couple, who live in the Philadelphia area, paused the process to regroup.

Genavieve proposed that they switch the order so that she would try to get pregnant first. She said, “Jordana didn’t want to give up being pregnant and also give up having a biological child. So I said, ‘Why don’t I carry your eggs?’” Jordana underwent an egg retrieval and her fertility clinic was able to create three embryos.

Genavieve became pregnant with the embryo created from her wife’s egg. She gave birth to their first baby, Parker, now 4, in January 2017.

A (legal) family is born

Though the couple was overjoyed by their new baby, they took pains to confirm that their legal rights as parents were protected. Half of Parker’s DNA belongs to Jordana, but she is not necessarily recognized as his parent in every state. Genavieve said, “In most states, the gestational parent is considered the legal parent. Even though Jordana has a biological connection to our children, she still had to adopt them [to assume her full parental rights in the eyes of the federal government].”

Genavieve, who began her career as a corporate lawyer, said that laws can differ wildly from state to state. A birth certificate is an administrative document, but not necessarily a legal one. “It is not required that you go through the adoption process,” said Genavieve. “So why would we do it? To protect our family.” She cited death, divorce, the state of LGBTQ+ rights at the Supreme Court level as reasons parents who use reciprocal IVF to start their family might pursue legal adoption: “If you get divorced, what happens with custody? Can one parent keep the child from the other parent if they’re not biologically connected? What if the ‘non-legal’ parent dies? Is the child a true beneficiary in the eyes of the law in terms of life insurance and Social Security? It depends. The decision falls to an individual judge.”

Joanna Beck Wilkinson, a family building attorney licensed in Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois, noted that same-sex couples don’t have to adopt. “They could rely on so-called presumptions of parentage,” she said, but “the thing about presumptions is that they are rebuttable. And parentage is not exactly the kind of thing you want to take chances with.”

Any sort of couple using a gestational carrier, whether the parents are two men, two women, or a man and a woman, could benefit from legal adoption. However, Wilkinson noted that same-sex couples have “reason to have more concern about their parentage being challenged.”

After Jordana officially adopted Parker—a process that required a still-recovering Genavieve to show up in court just a few weeks after giving birth—the women could finally breathe a sigh of relief. 

Round two

The couple always knew they wanted more than one child, but the road to becoming a family of four was bumpy. Their new plan was for Genavieve to carry their second child, and they had two frozen embryos left from Jordana’s initial egg retrieval. One did not survive being “thawed.” The other was transferred to Genavieve’s uterus, but she didn’t get pregnant. Genavieve attempted three IUIs but none were successful.

At this point, the women were back to square one. They had no embryos left. So they proceeded exactly as they had the first time—retrieving eggs from Jordana, using the same donor’s sperm, and implanting the embryo in Genavieve’s uterus.

Genavieve was thrilled to carry another child and didn’t mind that it wasn’t biologically hers. She said, “After I had Parker, DNA meant nothing anymore. It wasn't important. I always thought I needed a child that would potentially look like me or had my mannerisms or had my eyes. But once you have a child, none of that matters at all. I had the privilege of carrying him. He couldn't have felt like any more mine.”

Jordana had some initial heartbreak at not carrying one of her own babies, but she quickly became content with her role as the biological mother. Genavieve joked that Jordana said: “‘Wait—I get to be pregnant outside my body? This is the greatest thing I’ve ever delegated!’”

Genavieve gave birth to their second child, Josie, in April of 2020. Because they used both egg and sperm from the same people, Josie and Parker are full siblings. Again, Jordana had to legally adopt her own biological child. The process felt even more vital to the couple because they now had Covid-related concerns, like their newborn potentially needing a health care proxy or power of attorney.

This time, the family did not have to drag themselves to the courthouse due to Covid-precautions. Jordana legally became a mother of two in their own home via Zoom. Josie was napping, Parker was climbing all over the place, and the couple was easily able to make legal what they knew already—that they were a family.

Connecting Rainbows

Always a serial entrepreneur, Genavieve couldn’t just sit back and enjoy her second newborn phase. Instead, she started a business.

Connecting Rainbows is an organization Jaffe created to help the LGBTQ+ community start, grow, and protect their families. She has compiled a list of fertility clinics, lawyers, experts, and resources that are LGBTQ+-friendly. Jaffe aims to connect parents-to-be with people to help them who she says are going to be “competent, compassionate, and kind. They're going to respect pronouns, they're not going make any assumptions about gender—and it's a safe space for people to connect.”

For those who have yet to start or complete their families, Genavieve offered this advice: “You absolutely can have the family you dream of. It may look different than you imagined. It may look different than currently planning. But once that child is in your arms, nothing else matters. Once that child is in your arms, you are a parent, no matter how that child came to you.”

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