Young woman pregnantFamily…what comes to your mind when you hear that word? For me, over the years, the image of “family” has changed quite a bit. It comes in different numbers, genders, ages, and colors. In the end, family means love, caring, stress, happiness, patience and a lot of work.

I’ve been an OB/GYN in private practice for almost 15 years. During that time, I’ve been lucky enough to feel like a part of many families as I have the privilege of being present at the births of the newest family members.

One of my most favorite people in the world is a doula I work with who has 11 children! She birthed two, and fostered nine, eventually adopting all of them. Doesn’t that speak volumes about her? She’s the first to tell you, it did not matter to her whether she birthed them or adopted them. To her, they are equally all her children. I told her one day that her adopted children were lucky to have her as a mom, that she had changed the trajectory of those childrens’ lives. Her response was, no, she needed those children more than they needed her, and that she was the lucky one to have them in her life.

There are a variety of ways in which a child can become a part of your life. The most obvious way is the traditional route in which a man and a woman make love, the woman gets pregnant, and birth of a child occurs about 40 weeks later.

But in 2012, there’s a myriad of ways in which a child can come into your life.

  1. Fostering. I recently saw a patient of mine who decided to foster children in the hopes of adopting them eventually. The 3 children were birthed by one mother but were fathered by 3 different partners. Last year when I saw her, she seemed quite stressed. I can see and feel her doubts. I wondered could she and her partner actually go through with it all – the child services, the court dates, the in-home observations, the rights that the different fathers and the birth mother had over home visits. All of this added stress was in addition to what she and her partner needed to do on a daily basis, that is trying to do a good job raising them, loving them, feeding them, disciplining them, and educating them. A year has passed, and I saw her recently for her routine annual exam. No doubt in my mind she was still stressed, but I was able to see her determination in fighting for these children.  I sensed that love for these children had grown over the past year. Those 3 have become her children, her responsibility. Despite the stress and fatigue, she seemed happy, and ready to battle whatever lie ahead in order to keep and protect her children.
  2. Adoption.
  3. For the single woman without a partner, getting pregnant via artificial insemination from a donor’s sperm from the sperm bank or obtaining sperm from a friend may be an option.
  4. For our cancer patients, some may be eligible to freeze away their eggs prior to chemotherapy treatment. The eggs can be frozen by themselves, or may be frozen after they are fertilized by their partners’ sperm.
  5. For the women who would like to have the option of having children in the future but are not ready yet for career reasons or they don’t have a partner or any other reasons, they, too, have the option of freezing away their eggs until they are ready.
  6. For the woman who cannot actually carry the pregnancy for medical reasons or history of recurrent miscarriages, finding a surrogate to carry the pregnancy is an option.
  7. For our gay couples, we’ve delivered their children conceived via donor egg, fertilized with one of their sperm, and carried by a surrogate. One of our gay couples lived out of state, but the surrogate lived here in LA. At every visit, the out of state couple would join the visit via phone with the surrogate and me.
  8. For our lesbian couples, they have the option of getting pregnant with donor sperm. We’ve had each partner share in carrying the pregnancy and birth so both had the experience of pregnancy and birth, or just one of the couple getting pregnant and birthing every time.
  9. For the older women who experience recurrent miscarriages from poor egg quality, they have the option of obtaining eggs from a young female donor through an egg bank or from a friend or family member. The younger donor egg is then  fertilized by their partner’s sperm. This fertilized egg can then by carried by the older woman herself or by a surrogate.

For some, this all may sound too complicated. But I can tell you from my point of view, a mom with two boys, aged six and 10, they are worth it.