Fertility Options for Transgender, Gender-Queer, and Nonbinary (TGNB) Individuals
The face of fertility treatment continues to evolve, with more and more LGBTQ+ couples and individuals seeking to become parents. Transgender, gender-queer, and nonbinary (TGNB) individuals have multiple options for starting a family, including fertility preservation treatment and using a donor or surrogate for several or more of the components of biological conception. Below, we explain more about the fertility considerations specific to TGNB individuals and potential paths to explore as you plan to start a family.
How does transitioning affect fertility?
Each person’s journey to parenthood looks different. Transgender, gender-queer, and nonbinary individuals have specific factors to consider in planning for a family, as the biological process of transitioning may affect your ability to conceive.
Many transgender and nonbinary individuals take hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and testosterone blockers, or anti-androgens, while transitioning. Testosterone suppresses feminine physical traits and induces masculine ones in transgender men and some nonbinary individuals, such as facial and body hair and a deeper voice. Estrogen increases feminine characteristics like breast development and facial and body hair reduction in transgender women and some nonbinary individuals.
Researchers are still learning about the impact of testosterone and estrogen therapy on long-term reproductive function. While prolonged testosterone and estrogen use often stop sperm production and ovulation, respectively, some evidence, like a 2019 study on transgender fertility from Boston IVF, suggests that these effects are reversible upon discontinuation of the treatment.
Based on eight years of patient data, the Boston IVF study found that transgender men who underwent egg freezing for fertility preservation had similar egg yields as cisgender women, or women whose sex assigned at birth was female. More than half of the study’s transgender male participants had taken testosterone before pursuing ovarian stimulation treatment, all of whom had discontinued use of the hormone for an average of four months prior to starting their egg freezing cycle.
While the study’s results affirm that hormone therapy may not necessarily prevent you from having children biologically, every person’s situation is different. If you are considering hormone therapy and want to have children in the future, consult with your doctor about the possibility of freezing your eggs or sperm for future use, a process we explain in more detail below.
In addition, there is currently no definitive evidence that testosterone therapy will prevent individuals assigned female sex at birth from becoming pregnant. Depending on your ideal timeline for starting a family, you may also want to discuss contraception options with your healthcare provider.
Gender confirmation surgery
For many transgender and nonbinary individuals, gender confirmation surgery is an important aspect of transitioning. It plays a crucial role in addressing gender dysphoria, the distress caused by the disconnect between your gender identity and the sex you were assigned at birth.
Depending on the circumstances, gender confirmation surgery may permanently affect your reproductive function. For instance, hysterectomies are performed in some female-to-male transitions, which prevents the possibility of carrying a child in the future. The removal of testicles during a male-to-female transition may also impact your ability to have biological children.
By planning for the future and discussing your reproductive options with your healthcare provider before undergoing gender confirmation surgery, you may be able to preserve your fertility options.
Fertility preservation treatment for TGNB individuals
Many transgender and nonbinary individuals choose to preserve their eggs or sperm for future use before beginning the biological process of transitioning. Sperm freezing helps transgender women plan for a future family before starting estrogen therapy.
This is a fairly simple process in which a sperm sample is either surgically retrieved or collected by the person freezing their sperm. Doctors will then analyze that initial sperm sample to determine if additional samples are needed. Your sperm will then be stored in vials with cryoprotectant agents that will help ensure its long-term viability.
In egg freezing, transgender men take fertility medications to stimulate egg production. Once the eggs are developed, your doctor will retrieve them from you in a minimally invasive procedure. Your eggs can then be frozen and stored for later use. Depending on how many eggs are yielded, you may have to undergo more than one cycle of egg freezing.
Read our previous blog to learn more about what to expect during egg freezing.
Fertility treatment and conception options
Transgender and nonbinary individuals and families have multiple options for having children biologically, including intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF).
In IUI, transgender women can use their frozen sperm and have it placed into their partner’s or a surrogate’s uterus. If you elect to use a surrogate, they will also take on the role of egg donor, meaning that they will be the biological mother of your child.
In IVF, eggs and sperm are combined in a laboratory. The fertilized eggs, or embryos, are then placed into the uterus with the potential outcome of a pregnancy. As with IUI, transgender individuals have multiple options with IVF.
Transgender men can use their own eggs or those of their partner or a donor to have the fertilized embryo implanted into their own uterus. The sperm may come from their partner or a donor. Alternatively, their partner or a gestational carrier may have the embryos implanted into their uterus. (A gestational carrier carries and delivers a child for an individual or couple and is not genetically related to that child whereas a surrogate offers both her eggs and uterus.)
Transgender women can have their sperm fertilized with eggs from their partner or a donor. Then, their partner or a gestational carrier may have the embryos implanted into their uterus.
IVF is a more complicated process than IUI from a medical standpoint, as it involves more fertility medications and an egg retrieval process. However, IUI can be more emotionally and legally complicated if you are using a surrogate. Take time to research all of your options so that you can determine the best one for your needs and know what to expect going in.
Legal considerations of IUI and IVF
If you are exploring using a donor or surrogate, it’s critical to research your state’s laws about legal parentage procedures once your baby is born. In some states, a surrogate may automatically receive parental rights after your child’s birth since they are the biological mother, which will have to be legally terminated. Explore Movement Advancement Project’s interactive map on parental recognition laws as a starting point. You should also speak with an experienced LGBTQ+ family lawyer in your state before starting the process.Learn more about these paths to parenthood, including the related legal aspects.
Fertility treatment is a significant investment, both financially and emotionally. Determining how to pay for these expenses is an important part of planning your family. There are many resources such as EMD Serono’s financial assistance programs for fertility medications. Family Equality council also has a list of family-building grants that help LGBTQ+ families afford fertility treatment. Be sure to ask your fertility clinic about available financial assistance programs and payment plans.
At Alto, we’re committed to doing whatever we can to minimize stress during fertility treatment, including supporting your financial well-being. If fertility medications are a part of your path to parenthood, we will work with your doctor, your insurance (if applicable), and any third party savings programs that you may qualify for to make your medications as affordable as possible.
Read our previous post on managing the costs of fertility treatment.
A fertility pharmacy partner you can rely on
Alto is here to support your journey with starting a family. We know that there are many paths to parenthood and that each individual or family’s needs are different. Our team of patient care pharmacists has experience working with the TGNB community, and we’ll be here at every step of the way if you choose to pursue any of the fertility treatments described above. We also offer discrete, private packaging and free, same-day delivery to keep stress at minimum during this special time in your life.
Reach out any time through in-app secure messaging or by phone at 1-800-874-5881.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.