I’m 23, I’m queer, and I want kids – not now, but in the next decade. It’s my inherent desire, but it’s not without complications. I hear all the time that I’m too young to be worrying about something as far-off in the future as a family, but most people don’t understand the costs of accomplishing queer parenthood.
Everyone grows up hearing kids are expensive. What queers don’t hear – because a lot of us aren’t out when we’re young, and because heteronormativity dominates popular discussion of family – is that our children will probably be even more expensive than other people’s kids. Because, for us, conception and parental rights aren’t free.
As a millennial, I am: college educated, underemployed, and saddled with high student loan debt and an increasingly obscene cost of living. In these ways, I’m hardly unique. But, when you find yourself googling the price of sperm while planning your monthly budget, you realize your fiscal concerns are different from those of the average millennial. Although I’m young, if I have children, it will be because I financially plan for them now.
The median price of artificial insemination (cost #1) with donor sperm (cost #2) hovers around $ 2,500, and it can take upwards of four tries (cost #3, 4, 5) for an embryo to be fertilized. Artificial insemination is often supplemented with monthly fertility drugs (cost #6), because frozen sperm has a lower success rate for fertilization. The price of attempting biological parenthood is variable, but generally expensive. Adoption through foster care can cost next to nothing, though it’s a much less controlled process than private adoptions, which can be as affordable as $ 5,000, and as expensive as $ 50,000. Regardless, joint same-sex adoptions are not explicitly legal in the majority of US states.
All these price tags don’t include the additional fees attached when you want your partner’s parenthood to be legally recognized. Don’t let the repeal of Doma fool you: in the state of New York, I could have a biological kid through artificial insemination, and still have to pay for my wife to adopt our child, so that her parental rights exist in the 30 other states that won’t automatically recognize them. Co-parenting or using a friend’s sperm are more economically accessible, but every option ultimately requires legal fees to ensure that you (and your partner) have parental rights. So, I’m paying off my college degree at the same time that I’m saving to start and support a family within the timeframe I’d like to.
I’d be lying if I claimed to know the ins and outs of every option for family building available to queers. It’s virtually impossible to master the system because there isn’t a clear one in place. After all, the concept of being a parent – not just the archetypal “special aunt or uncle” in a family structure – is a relatively new thing for queer people. And so many aspects of queer family building, down to the very legality of my desire to be a parent, vary from state to state in our country.
So, there is no exact amount I should save to attempt adoption or childbirth, because there is no such thing as a straightforward path to queer parenthood. In this world of modern family planning, the intersection of socioeconomics and sexual orientation makes one wonder: just who in the queer community is eligible for parenthood?
My confidence of having a nuclear family is concretely rooted in my upper middle class background. While queers can happily dream of biological reproduction, and feel emboldened by the growing legality of same-sex adoptions, we are also confronted with the economics of our lives. For queer millennials, it’s easy to feel like children will not be a financial reality – at least not without a tight budget, more loans or credit cards.
Yes, straight couples faced with infertility or people opting for single-parenthood are also confronted with alternative family planning options. But the narrative of these hetero experiences is one of struggle – an abnormality that warrants sympathy and understanding. For queers, this struggle the norm – and our reproductive narrative isn’t really encountered outside our own community. Usually, it just surfaces when our ability to parent is being called into question.
We also face expenses that can’t be quantified. The experience of being evaluated by a social worker and, ultimately, a judge, in order to complete the second-parent adoption of your own child, born in the context of your (hard-fought, sometimes-recognized) marriage. It’s frustrating knowing that, in your home state, you can’t jointly adopt a child with your partner, means one of you might have more parental rights than the other. Then there’s the aggravation of being the lesser choice among prospective adoptive families because of your orientation.
Queer millennialhood is a strange space to occupy. It means existing in a world that is sometimes equal parts acceptance and discrimination. It also means believing we can have (and often wanting) kids, while also discovering that because of the continued discrimination, the financial feasibility of queer parenthood is anything but guaranteed – and may be out of reach for many prospective loving parents.