Baby, plan your birth!

A couple of queer expats in Singapore on a quest to make a baby


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Bull semen!

In Singapore, a doctor may not inseminate anyone but a married woman in a stable, heterosexual relationship. Even then, the sperm must be her husband’s or, if and only if they have demonstrated fertility problems, a donor’s.

We do not qualify. For so many reasons. This left two options: Inseminate E in another country, or play doctor in our apartment in Singapore. We began with the responsible option.

Enter, Google. One of the first hits in our search for fertility clinics in Asia was ivfmiraclebaby.com, a site that sometimes works. We exchanged a few incomprehensible emails with their international representative, and then dismissed them and moved on. This was March.

We spent weeks trawling through sites, ringing up clinics, and researching the laws of every country in Asia, and later, every country within ten hours of Singapore by plane. We made spreadsheets. We despaired. I will save you the details and summarize: there is no country in Asia (except Thailand – more on that in a minute) that will allow its doctors to inseminate a same-sex couple. We might have had more luck in one or two countries if we’d represented E as a single woman, but we hadn’t done that, and I don’t regret that decision. In farther flung countries (Australia, New Zealand, several countries in Europe), it is the importation of anonymous sperm that is not permitted.

In the midst of this search, we began to reconsider home insemination. We’d need to get the sperm shipped to Singapore, through Customs, and to our apartment. Singapore’s Customs website lists all kinds of prospective shipments with their regulations and duties. We learned that we can import bull semen, sheep semen, and goat semen. Human semen is not mentioned.

I emailed Singapore’s Customs Authority and Health Sciences Authority. The HSA wrote back first: “The importation of donor human sperm is not under the purview of Health Sciences Authority.”

Customs disagreed: “The import of human sperm under HS Heading 3001, may be regulated by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).” They added: “In addition, please be informed that, in general, all goods (including human sperm) imported into Singapore are subject to Goods and Services Tax (GST) levied at 7% of the CIF value (Cost, Insurance and Freight).

In short, no one seemed to know. It’s possible that no one’s tried this before. We abandoned this angle.

Thailand’s laws were more amenable to both the importation of anonymous sperm and the insemination of same-sex couples. Individual hospitals, however, we less eager to help. We were turned away from one after another.

In April, we revisited ivfmiraclebaby.com, which has its clinic in Bangkok, then the site of some relatively small-scale anti-government protests. We arranged a phone conversation with the international representative and made a list of questions. As it turned out, they were more than willing to import our baby-making juice and inseminate E, and the only barrier was language.

Shortly after, we transferred a few thousand dollars into a Thai bank account and crossed our fingers that we hadn’t fallen for some novel variation of the Nigerian prince scam. A few weeks later, we got an email saying that our sperm had arrived at the clinic in Thailand. A month after that, the political unrest became a full-fledged military coup. Martial law was imposed. Foreign embassies discouraged their citizens from traveling to Thailand. We stayed put.

The political situation in Thailand has since been resolved for now. The clinic still stands and is operating normally. If we can find a doctor here to do the ultrasounds required to line up the timing of insemination, we’ll fly to Bangkok in the next few months, meet the staff of ivfmiraclebaby.com, and start making this miracle baby.

-H

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Spermfinder! or Choosing a Pet Sperm

Based on E’s posts, some of you may wonder how we even got this far in the process, so I’m here to catch you up, starting with our adventures in getting hold of some xy genetic material.

We began the hunt for sperm in late 2013.

We’d already moved to Singapore and knew that, given our complicated legal status, this whole thing was going to be difficult. But we also knew that, given our complicated legal status, I wasn’t going to be employed during our three-year stay in Singapore. (E has a job here, which is what brought us to Singapore in the first place.) So while it’s a bad time/place to make a baby, it’s a great time/place to start raising a baby. We decided to go for it.

We considered a couple of avenues for the procurement of sperm, namely known donors and unknown donors. The choice was tough. On the one hand, we liked the idea of having more village. We thought it would be cool for our child to have some kind of relationship with the donor, placing him in sort of a godparent role. On the other hand, those situations sometimes go really horribly wrong, and the legal framework for these kinds of scenarios is still blurry. Not to mention the chance that we’d destroy a good friendship in the process.

Still, we thought we should find out whether any of our potential known donors would even be willing, just so we’d know our options. So we made a list of a few close male friends with excellent genes who we thought might possibly be comfortable with a very modern family structure, and then asked them. Really awkwardly. It was so awkward. All were gracious and lovely and ultimately worried about many of the same things we were, and in the end, we all decided that this wasn’t the way to go.

Enter the California Cryobank, or as we call it “Petfinder for Sperm.” This is a sperm bank with several locations in the US (that, importantly, ships overseas) that targets really high-quality donors and then narrows them down to a select set of unbelievably perfect people. If this sounds eugenicsy already, just you wait. The website’s donor profiles have paywalls protecting various levels of information (hopefully true, factual information). If you pay them enough money, you can get everything from SAT scores to baby pictures, voice samples to the cause of death of their maternal aunts. You can pick a blond, blue-eyed med student who was an All American swimmer. You can pick a tall, dark, and handsome guitar-playing engineer. You can pick so many out-of-work actors. There are hundreds of choices.

We started by eliminating the completely anonymous donors in favor of willing-to-be-known unknown donors so our future offspring would have the option of contacting the donor upon reaching adulthood. From there, we went for a donor that looks reasonably similar to me since I’m to be the non-biological parent. Fortunately, that narrowed it down quite a lot. Curly hair does that. We finally reduced our choices to a few candidates and shelled out for the voice samples so we could hear them chat with the clinic staff. This was a good idea. One of the men was clearly an asshole, and while that’s probably not genetic, if our kid is going to be contacting this guy in 20 years feeling all vulnerable and hopeful, the last thing we want is some insensitive jerk on the other end of that conversation.

Finally, we picked one.

I’ll stop there for now. But in my next post, I’ll tell all you interested readers about the process of finding a country in which we can do the insemination. Spoilers: it’s definitely not Singapore…. or Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, or New Zealand.

 

-H


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The way it felt to be so small

With great anticipation, H and I headed to Dr. T’s office today. We navigated the sea of pregnant and formerly pregnant mothers and their children, husbands, and mothers. They gave us a tiny, pink appointment book – a place to track my visits and plot my weight as I grow and release a tiny human. We took a seat and browsed through magazines for the medical centre that offered advice on surviving the “confinement period” (many new Chinese mothers stay inside with their newborn for the first 30 days) and dispelled purportedly common myths like that eating mutton will give your child epilepsy. A nurse called my name, and we moved closer to the front of the long, narrow room. She asked my height, my last period. She whispered in my ear “do you have inverted nipples?” Precise and discreet.

An hour later, we sat down with the doctor. He was warm, professional, and he walked us step by step through the process of prepping me for IUI in Bangkok – detailing the required scans and the necessary information we need to provide. Should things go well, would he be willing to deliver our baby? Many places we called so far had said no. He paused, and he said he’d be open to it, though he’d never done it before for a same-sex couple. We smiled, laughed – it was our first time too.

We paid our $128 bill for the consultation. The nurse pulled me aside, and asked me quietly, “Do you need any home ovulation kits? I have extra. “ She has a Thai friend who has undergone IUI there, and she offered to put me in touch with her. I wanted to cry.

Dr. T called two hours later. He had thought on it and prayed on it. He couldn’t help with the delivery; it wasn’t in his beliefs. He was very sorry. I asked whether he could at least help with what we had discussed – providing a routine ultrasound and a few blood test. He apologized. He was very sorry. He offered a refund.

 

 


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Health Insurance, Smealth Insurance

Lesson of the day:  Buy insurance 10+ months before you want to give birth.  DO IT DO IT. Start looking 12 months in advance.  Start calling health insurance people and asking them very specific questions 11 months in advance.

The task “find insurance for wee one” has been on my todo list for about two weeks.  Finally, finally, I braved the Internets in hope of finding both health insurance coverage for a not-yet conceived human and maternity coverage for myself.

As an expat in Singapore, I’m not eligible for coverage through the government schemes.  My employer provides health insurance coverage to me (and to my wife!  Thanks!) , but that coverage is quite limited (caps out at $40k) and excludes everything maternity and any children fewer than 15 days old.

Until today, we had planned to pay out-of-pocket for everything birth related.  In part, this is because birth pricing is very transparent  – the government reports average costs at every Singapore hospital, down to the roughly $500 for the epidural (such a deal!). So we’re estimating that we get some “maternity package” that many OBs offer for ~ $600-800 covering pre-natal exams, and then expect to pay $6k-$7k for delivery.

The other reason for planning to pay out of pocket is that, well, looking for insurance is zero fun, moderately stressful, and invites me to think about all sorts of vague but dire healthcare scenarios.  They usually involve blood, beeping machines, and all our money.

So first there was skimming for insurance plans, and a general sense that meh, we don’t need insurance. Everyone else we know said they wished they had insurance but ultimately didn’t, like it was some dream unicorn we could never capture.  But then scenarios started playing, where I’m bleeding everywhere and there’s a tiny pre-mature human … and suddenly no one’s insured and everybody’s bankrupt and there’s so much blood … And have you ever googled “flee Singapore medical debts”?  It’s not a happy road.

Within Singapore, there is “baby insurance.”  You give them $300, and if your baby is born with any one of 18 awful conditions (“Absence of Two Limbs,” for instance) – they will give you $5000.  And promptly cancel your policy. Woo.  You now have a giant ball of fingers (Fey, 2010) and $5000.  Great. They also throw in a free thermometer.  I’m not kidding.

Fortunately, a number of big insurance companies with names that sound like toys our future child could one day play with – Aetna, Cigna, Bupa – offer better health insurance coverage with limits that would actually cover impatient care and – lo! – offer maternity packages that cover all sorts of things.  This is very appealing.  I pay them a few thousand dollars, and they cover delivery, pre-natal/post-natal care.  They even cover my tiny finger ball, providing it with all sorts of tests and surgeries.

But.

There are catches.

– 10 month waiting period (all plans, at best).  I have to be covered for 10 months until they cover whatever person is inside me.  This means PLANNING is important.  This would have been key information to internalize 10 months ago, but it’s doable.

– You have to be insured with you partner (some plans).  That’s right, if you’re a single woman giving birth – NO MATERNITY INSURANCE FOR YOU.

–  Your baby cannot be conceived via “artificial” means.  So if I, sexy gay lady, sleep with the first guy on the street, get pregnant, and have a baby (at least 10 months after I start my plan!), I am 100% covered.  If I, sexy gay lady, visit a fancy doctor’s office and have tested, washed, re-tested sperm put inside my person with sterile medical equipment, I am 0% covered.  Because that is “artificial,”  and therefore risky.

My less snarky self assumes that the underwriters freak out at the word “artificial” because people using artificial methods might be more risky on average, but (1) that’s not very nice and (2) I’m not feeling very risky.  Which isn’t very nice of me, but it’s also every person for herself here in the cold, dark world of NOT BEING INSURED.

So the hunt continues for an international health insurance plan that will cover one lady and one baby conceived artificially 10 months from today. The clock is ticking…

 

– E


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Hello

Hello.

We are two ladies (well, one lady and one not-so-ladyish genderqueer human) on a quest to increase our family size by 50%.

The catch?  Besides the obvious  – low sperm counts – we currently reside in Singapore, home of idiosyncratic paternalism and a very confusing healthcare system.

Today we’ve learned a few things: HEALTH INSURANCE IS IMPOSSIBLE.

Okay, maybe one thing.

We started our quest back in the US of A in 2013, and we’ve since learned a lot of things.  We look forward to recounting these fond lessons.

We hope this blog might be useful to those folks in our unique situation – expat gays off in Singapore, as well as baby-making gays anywhere, and other artificial reproducing folks finding themselves outside their home country.  We also hope that the ranting might substitute for thousands of dollars in later therapy to process our feelings. So many feelings.

 

–  E