Alternative Families

Families can come in many different shapes and sizes and there are many routes you can take to achieve a family. An alternative family is a non-traditional family.

A traditional family consists of a married male and female (husband and wife) and their biological children. 

Same-sex parents, single parents, co-parents, heterosexual couples who used donor sperm/eggs, adoptive parents and foster parents are all seen as ‘alternative’ families as they differ from the norm. 

Single parents

A single parent is a mum or a dad parenting on their own who does not live with a partner. This could be because of separation, divorce, death or choice. A single parent has most of the daily responsibilities in raising their child(ren).

In the case of a heterosexual couple who have become single parents due to separation or divorce, the child’s mother is typically the primary caregiver, this means that the child lives with her for the majority of the time, making the child’s father the secondary caregiver. However, the child’s father could be the primary caregiver in some circumstances. 

If a same-sex couple separate and they have children together, the primary caregiver will typically be the child’s biological parent. Single men and women, heterosexual or homosexual, can also apply to adopt a child, this is known as single parent adoption. Sperm donation and egg donation/surrogates are also options for single gay men and single lesbians. 

Single parenting caused by separation or divorce can be stressful and confusing for a child that has been (and is used to) living with both parents. It is suggested that the child attends counselling for support if they are old enough to do so. 

Lesbian mums through donor conception

A lesbian couple can become parents through donor conception. This is the process in which a male’s sperm is used to inseminate the intended child’s biological mother to conceive a child. Lesbian couples can choose whether to use an anonymous donor via a fertility clinic or a known donor such as a friend or someone you meet through a connection service such as Pride Angel.

If a lesbian couple are in a civil partnership or married, the non-biological mother will automatically be the legal second parent of their child and will be named as such on their child’s birth certificate, whether they use home insemination or a fertility clinic. If the couple are not in a civil partnership or marriage, they will need to take further action for the child’s non-biological mother to gain legal parental rights. The feelings of the non-biological mother need to be thoroughly considered before thinking about donor conception to ensure that it is the option you both want. It is also important to consider the feelings of your potential donor-conceived child and what, how and when you will talk to them about how they came into the world. Research has shown that it is important and beneficial to the child to be open and honest right from the start. This will ensure that the child will have an understanding of being donor-conceived and it will feel like a normal part of their life to them if they grow up being informed about it. It will also ensure that throughout the child’s life, he/she will know how to respond if anyone comments or questions how they were conceived. 

‘What Makes a Baby’ by Cory Silverberg is a children’s book highly recommended for helping your child to understand how a baby is made.

“What Makes a Baby is a book for every kind of family and every kind of kid.

It is a twenty-first century children’s picture book about conception, gestation, and birth, which reflects the reality of our modern time by being inclusive of all kinds of kids, adults, and families, regardless of how many people were involved, their orientation, gender and other identity, or family composition.”

You can purchase the book online from sites such as Amazon or EBay. 

Gay dads through surrogacy

A gay couple can become parents through surrogacy. This is the process in which a female carries the embryo for the couple. Gay couples can choose whether to use a ‘traditional’ surrogate or a ‘gestational’ surrogate. Traditional surrogacy is the process in which the surrogates own eggs are used. Gestational surrogacy is the process in which the eggs of a donor are used and the surrogate is not the biological mother of the child. Depending on which type of surrogacy the couple use, the child will either be conceived by IUI or IVF.

Gay couples have to get a Parental Order (similar to an adoption order) which reassigns parenthood, obliterating the parental status of the surrogate mother which she has when the child is born, and granting full parental status and parental responsibility for both intended parents (the gay fathers). 

It is important to build a solid friendship with your intended surrogate before you start the process to build trust that she will not choose to keep the child, which she is entitled to do so before a Parental Order has been issued. It is also important to consider the feelings of the non-biological father before thinking about surrogacy to ensure that it is the option that you both want. The potential child’s feelings also need to be considered and the potential gay fathers will need to discuss and plan how and when they would talk to their child about his or her conception. 

Research has shown that it is important and beneficial to the child to be open and honest right from the start. This will ensure that the child will have an understanding of how they came into the world. If they are informed about it as they grow up, it will feel like a normal part of their life to them. It will also ensure that throughout the child’s life, he or she will know how to respond if anyone comments or questions how they were conceived. It is important that a child learns information about their conception from their parents, in this case, his or her fathers. 

‘What Makes a Baby’ by Cory Silverberg is a children’s book highly recommended for helping your child to understand how a baby is made.

“What Makes a Baby is a book for every kind of family and every kind of kid.

It is a twenty-first century children’s picture book about conception, gestation, and birth, which reflects the reality of our modern time by being inclusive of all kinds of kids, adults, and families, regardless of how many people were involved, their orientation, gender and other identity, or family composition.”

You can purchase the book online from sites such as Amazon or EBay. 

Co-parenting 

Co-parenting is an arrangement made between two or more people to raise a child together when the two biological parents are not in a relationship with one another. 

This could be a single man and a single woman (heterosexual or homosexual) who have not found a companion but want to have a child. 

Or this could be a lesbian couple and a gay couple who agree to raise a child together which will be biological related to one of the lesbian mothers and one of the gay fathers. In this case the child would be bought up by 4 parents.
Co-parenting can also be a same-sex couple and a single person of the opposite sex, in this case the child would be brought up by 3 parents, for example, two fathers and one mother. 

Parental responsibility is shared between all parents involved and they must discuss what each of them expect from their co-parenting arrangement from the very beginning to avoid and prevent problems from occurring in the future. They must also discuss what role each parents will have in the child’s life, how much contact each parent will get with the child and how they will split financial costs. It is important that all potential parents involved have a strong friendship with one another and that any couples involved have a strong and loving relationship. If a gay couple co-parent with a single female, only she and the biological father of the child will be legal parents. However the biological father’s same-sex partner can gain status in respect of the child by signing a parental responsibility agreement. However, if a gay couple co-parent with a female couple, the female couple will be treated as parents of the child and the biological father’s rights are removed. In this situation, the co-parenting arrangement is done informally. Co-parenting is complex and it is strongly advised that you seek legal advice before considering it as an option. 

Heterosexual couples needing donor sperm, eggs, embryos or surrogacy

Sometimes, heterosexual couples can also need assistance with having a baby. For heterosexual couples, it is known as infertility. This means a couple have not been able to get pregnant despite having frequent, unprotected sex for 12 months. Infertility can result for a number of different reasons. 
Factors that can cause male and female infertility are: 

  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases 
  • Genetic factors 
  • DNA damage 
  • General factors such as diabetes or thyroid disorders, 
  • Hypothalamic-pituitary factors such as hyperprolactinemia, 
  • Environmental factors such as toxins or tobacco - tobacco smokers are 60% more likely to be infertile than non-smokers. 

There are also factors that can occur individually in males and females. The main cause of male infertility is low semen quality/low sperm count. 

The main causes of infertility in females arise from structural problems in the Fallopian tube/uterus, or problems with releasing eggs.

If a couple have been trying to get pregnant for a long time, they may result to fertility treatment which may involve donor sperm, eggs, embryos or a surrogate, depending on the reasons behind their infertility. 
If infertility is caused by the male’s sperm, then the couple may want to consider a sperm donor, this process would involve using the donor’s sperm to inseminate the intended mother through the process of IUI or IVF. 
If infertility is caused by problems with the female’s eggs, then the couple may want to consider an egg donor. This process would involve the donated eggs being fertilised with the intended father’s sperm using IVF. The resulting embryos are then transferred to the infertile female’s uterus.

If infertility is caused by problems with both the male’s sperm and the female’s eggs, then they may want to consider embryo donation. This process is an option if both donor sperm and donor eggs are required. Embryos can be donated from people who have completed their fertility treatment or cannot use them in their fertility treatment. The donor embryos are transferred to the intended mother’s uterus (womb). The clinic the couple use will try to select donors whose physical characteristics match those of both intended parents as best they can. 
If the couple experience miscarriages and they are being caused by problems with the female carrying a child, then the couple may want to consider using a surrogate mother. This would involve another female carrying the couple’s child for them, either through the process of IVF (if the intended mother’s eggs are being used), through the process of IUI or IVF (if the couple are using donor eggs due to the female having problems with her eggs and with carrying a child) or through the process of transferring an embryo (genetically related to both intended parents) to the surrogate’s uterus. 

Same-sex couples know that they have no option other than to use donors (unless they are adopting/fostering) because they cannot biologically have a child together, but heterosexual couples can biologically have a child together, and therefore they can have a hard time accepting that they may need help with conceiving a child and may need to use donors. Couples must support each other when accepting that they cannot have a child genetically related to both of them and it is important that they do not blame one another for their infertility. 

Adoption/fostering 

When it is not possible for a child to live in their own home with their biological family, fostering provides a child in need with a new home and adoption provides a child with a new, permanent home and an official new family. 
Single men and women can adopt or foster a child, heterosexual couples can adopt or foster a child, and same-sex couples can adopt or foster a child. 

You can adopt or foster a child regardless of marital status, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, income, disability or whether you already have children or not. As long as you can provide a child with a loving home, you can be considered for fostering, and as long as you can provide a child with a permanent and loving home, you can be considered for adoption. 

Children who are in care waiting for foster carers or adoptive parents often have challenging behaviour as a result of their traumatic backgrounds and this must be taken into consideration. 

To become an adoptive parent or a foster carer, you must undergo many different checks and training to ensure that you are suitable and that you have a full understanding of the adoption/fostering process.