Written by Liss LaFleur (from the Queer Birth Project)
Image above: Britt Balkcom and Liss LaFleur, Texas, 2021. Photo by Steph Grant.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR FAMILY:
This summer, we are celebrating our FIFTEENTH (!!) anniversary. In that time, we’ve lived (both together and long-distance) in Austin, San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, Davidson (NC), and now here in Denton. We’re both artists (Liss is a visual artist and Britt’s a musician) and minimalists who try to keep things simple but fun. When we’re not at home with our 13-year-old rescue Chihuahua, Delilah, we spend most of our time outside chasing sunshine & good coffee.
WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THE OTHER WHEN YOU FIRST MET?
Liss: The first thing I remember about Britt was her Myspace photo and how cute she was. She was wearing this blue crop top with saggy jeans, eating yogurt with an amazing Davey Havok inspired asymmetrical haircut. She was mysterious and compassionate, and I was immediately attracted to her queerness. We were both in high school at the time, and when we were finally able to meet in real life it felt like magnets or electricity. Like we walked into our own bubble and the world around us became blurry. We didn’t become an official couple until college, when we basically u-hauled it together in Austin and never looked back. I always say she’s the yin to my yang: whereas I’m extroverted and outgoing, she’s calm and quiet-natured; and while I tend to be more spontaneous, she’s the kind of person who has a backup plan for her backup plan. She is my everything and I’m so grateful for the kind of love we’ve been able to nourish over all these years.
Britt: Well, Liss really aged us with that Myspace comment (haha), but yes — it was absolutely that kind of magnetic, can’t-take-my-eyes-off-of-you energy the first time we met; and truthfully, that never went away. She was energetic, spunky, opinionated, and she acted on her instincts. It’s true that we u-hauled it in Austin, but the part she left out is that her moving there was completely spontaneous! We had this instant spark when we met, but I was starting school at UT the next month, so I moved. She came to visit once, and I will never forget the day she called me, maybe two weeks later, and said, “hey! I think I’m going to move to Austin, too, if you want to look for a place together.” I was like, 1) this is completely bananas; and 2) yes, I do. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PREGNANCY PROCESS.
We first want to recognize the joy that exists for us in this moment: Britt is pregnant with our first child, and he is due in December 2021! But this process has been absolutely nothing like what we expected. We spent probably 5 years just talking about whether we even wanted kids. It had always been a “maybe/probably” for us, but we needed to be 1000% certain before we took such a huge leap. We actually had a running journal entry (like, pen-and-paper style, kept on the bedside table) where we asked each other every morning, “do you want kids today?” and we half-jokingly said that when our answer was “yes” for a solid year, it would be go-time.
Once we got things rolling, there were several more months of waiting while we navigated all of the weird Texas laws pertaining to our family. We used a known donor, so there was a lot of legal paperwork to be done, genetic testing, sperm donations and banking, and then of course, the FDA-mandated 6-month waiting period to access that sperm. We were cleared to start trying in early 2019, and we went through a fertility clinic as advised by our lawyer (again, Texas laws are weird for same-sex couples).
At the clinic, we said to our doctor, “we’re not infertile, we’re just gay!” Turns out, that wasn’t entirely true. Liss was always the one who planned to carry for us, but when she had trouble getting/staying pregnant, we changed plans to start reciprocal IVF where she would carry Britt’s embryos instead. In all of that, we went through 9 cycles at the fertility clinic, two miscarriages, a surgery with multiple complications, and we found out that Liss has a genetic condition which puts her at a very high risk for complications if she were to carry a pregnancy to term. At that point, we changed plans again, and Britt was going to start trying; but we also… ran out of frozen sperm, and were looking at another 6-9 months of testing + banking + waiting for another round.
It wasn’t until we gave up on trying to do everything “the right way” that things finally fell into place for us. After all we’d been through, and nearly $15,000 spent at the lawyer/sperm bank/clinic later, Britt ended up getting pregnant at home (mad props to our donor who was at the ready!) using a $0.99 sterile cup and syringe from Amazon.
In many ways, we wish we would have started out trying this way. But this process had its means of bringing into focus our priorities in a profound way. We navigated countless difficult conversations about genetics/biology, bodily vulnerability and autonomy, our decision to use a known sperm donor, our identities as parents, etc. Ultimately these conversations brought us closer together and gave each of us the opportunity to express what’s important to us & why.
WHAT WAS ONE OF THE MOST CHALLENGING THINGS YOU FACED WHEN TRYING TO GET PREGNANT? WHAT BROUGHT YOU CLOSER TOGETHER DURING THESE TIMES AND WHAT MADE YOU FEEL FURTHER APART?
The most challenging thing about this process was the unpredictability of it all. We were constantly waiting & trying & hoping & celebrating & then grieving, and always coming up with the next-next-next plan. It was exhausting, simultaneously being in-the-moment while working through the many ways grief and trauma can affect you, both physically and mentally. What brought us closer through all of it was knowing that, however our family takes shape, it’s our family, and we will have made it together on our own terms.
WHAT IS A BIT OF ADVICE YOU’D GIVE TO LGBTQ+ FAMILIES WANTING TO HAVE KIDS?
There are countless ways to start a family, so start out by asking yourselves and each other the hard questions!
1. Is a biological connection important to you (and why)? 2. What is your ideal role in the process, and what other roles are you comfortable with? 3. What’s best for your finances? 4. If you’re using a known donor, make sure you both explicitly trust them. 5. Find a good lawyer! In many states, the non-gestational parent will need to do a second-parent adoption to secure their rights — even if they’re listed on the birth certificate.