By Katie McKenzie
There’s a saying that goes, ‘don’t worry about [the cost of] babies, they bring their own pizza.’ But as a queer woman, I don’t worry about the cost of raising a child, well, no more so than anyone else. I worry about the cost of bringing a child into the world and the many unknowns of the financial and emotional cost of doing so. My partner and I know that we want to settle down, buy a house and start a family. But when we began to think seriously about how we might start to plan for the future, the many financial inequalities faced by queer women and families quickly became apparent.
Women and money
There are many factors, when added to the already established gender pay gap in the UK, which contribute to the financial insecurity faced by marginalised sexualities and genders.
Studies have shown that 60% of trans employees have faced some type of workplace discrimination and 53% have felt the need to stay stealth (hiding their transgender identy) from colleagues. Rightfully, we live in a country with specific legislation targeted at keeping queer people safe within the workplace, but this isn’t always the case in practice.
Luckily, I work in an environment where my identity is not only accepted but celebrated – but this is far from the case for many queer people.
The potential hostility faced by queer people in the the workplace and the lower wages across the lifespan aren’t the only financial barriers women face. How women spend and save reveals the gender disparity in financial literacy in and of itself. It’s well documented that women tend to invest in the market less than men and report lacking an understanding of the financial world which makes them less likely to put their capital at risk. Equally, if my girlfriend and I are able to have a family, we’ll have to contend with double the financial impact. The gender wage gap means that we will sacrifice at least some of our years when our earning potential is the highest to make and raise a family, without the assistance straight women may have of a husband or male partner’s (statistically) higher paycheck.
All of which is not impossible, it just requires a bit of planning.
This of course, comes with the massive caveat that I am a white, English speaking, able-bodied, almost neurotypical, cisgendered, straight-passing woman. This gives me a massive head start – I am able to plan around these issues against a background of financial security and literacy so many of my queer brothers and sisters don’t have access to.
Saving for a family
Like a lot of women in their 20’s, I’d like to put off thinking about starting a family until I’m ready to do so. Aside from cooing at the odd cute baby or wrestling with the overwhelming broodiness that my monthly cycle brings, I’d mostly like to put babies to the back of my mind – at least for another few years.
However, as queer influencers I follow have all started to document their journeys towards starting a family, I’ve fallen into a rabbit hole of content all about the various methods and costs associated with making a baby sans a cisgender male.
And I know I’m not the only one. The potential difficulty and huge cost of starting a family is a regular topic of conversation among my queer friends of all genders, with our concerns for the future ranging from, ‘this is so unfair’ to ‘how will I ever afford this?’
The truth is, having a family which involves getting pregnant in an unconventional way is extremely expensive – and it can be a postcode lottery when it comes to NHS resources or indeed seeking out help from the private sector. Another prominent issue seems to be that nothing is standard. Everyone’s experiences trying to conceive can be so different – it’s difficult to put a price on fertility treatment.
The unknown cost
In order to seek fertility treatment on the NHS, there are many hoops for couples to jump through. The issue? The literature doesn’t even mention queer couples.
According to the NHS website, women under 40 are entitled to 3 cycles of IVF if;
- they’ve been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected sex for 2 years
- they’ve not been able to get pregnant after 12 cycles of artificial insemination
Despite these obvious hurdles, it can often depend on the priorities of your local trust whether you will be offered NHS help to conceive a baby. Whilst, like most queer couples, we’re planning for the future with the optismistic hope that the rights afforded to queer families will only continue grow, we also have to prepare for the eventuality that things might just stay the same, or even get worse.
So for many queer couples, private fertility treatment is the only guaranteed option, and this can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of pounds per round, all with no guarantee of a baby. Then there is the issue of sperm – and it’s more expensive than you might think. There are many factors which contribute to the cost, from the country you’re sourcing from and how far it’ll have to be shipped while frozen, to whether you’re selecting a donor who will supply only you versus many families.
If you’re considering having more babies in the future and it’s important to you that your children are related, you’ll have to purchase extra samples. When you factor in the potential fertility issues that many women face and consider how many rounds of treatment you may need to undertake, the cost of sperm can quickly skyrocket. You can even pay more for more mobile, active sperm – there is no end to the number of factors that contribute to buying sperm – and all of this can quickly add up.
Samples can cost anything between £500 and thousands of pounds and need to be stored in specific conditions to preserve them. The spiraling cost of fertility treatment has also led to the emergence of a sperm ‘black market’ which plays out in hidden Facebook groups, often filled with men who put pressure on women to inseminate ‘naturally’. This poses a significant risk to the safety and wellbeing of queer couples who may feel this is their only affordable option.
The emotional toll
It’s easy to understand how couples could find themselves in debt when trying to finance starting a family. One influencer I follow often remarks on the £60K price tag of her five children (two sets of twins and a single baby) and I get it. How can you put a price on family? How can you contemplate money being the barrier to something which comes naturally for so many? How do you deal with the emotional toll of fertility treatments, coupled with the mounting costs, both financial and emotional, of trying to get pregnant?
My partner and I regularly talk about the future – how will we afford children and what lengths we’d be prepared to go to in order to have a family of our own. Rather than worry about how we’ll afford baby clothes and nursery fees, we’re concerned about sourcing sperm and setting limits on how much we’d be prepared to spend. Ultimately, we know there will need to be a budget – which is such a crass word to have to associate with a human miracle.
We’ll need to keep the roof over our head and enough for our future, with or without any children we might give birth to, and that will mean a limit on the number of rounds of fertility treatment we undertake. Of course, we live in hope that NHS treatment will become more widely available for couples like us over the next few years but for now, we plan.
Making a plan
When it comes to saving, I suppose saving for fertility treatment is like saving for any other goal. A big scary number broken down into manageable chunks and milestones. Luckily, we have two wombs that are firing on all cylinders (we hope) which should double our chances of being able to carry a child, whichever way we choose to do it.
Finding financial wellbeing will look like employing the phrase, ‘that’s not in my budget’ when it comes to saving for something that’s really important to us as a couple. We often joke that we should ask for donations when older family members ask when we’re thinking of having children in the way that they so often do. That being said, we’re incredibly lucky to have the support of our families – there are two sets of future grandparents eagerly waiting in the wings to babysit and provide practical help with any children we might have.
Despite all of the dreams we have and number-crunching we’ve done, finding financial wellbeing might also look like knowing when to call it a day, however devastating that may be.
There’s a lot of planning involved but almost no certainties – and maybe that’s ok. Ultimately, we believe that what will be will be and if we can make a baby, however we manage it, that’ll be pretty magical.
Katie is a queer, Scottish writer who lives with her girlfriend and many houseplants. You’ll find her writing about anything from music to food and TikTok.