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13 Common LGBTQ+ Family Planning Terms You Need to Know

A helpful guide for those embarking on a family-building journey or looking to better understand LGBTQ+ fertility terminology.

June 5th, 2024 | 10 min. read

By Sierra Dehmler

The language of LGBTQ+ family planning can be dense and daunting. While it isn't necessary to learn every single medical term or acronym, having a basic understanding of the jargon you may encounter on your journey will help you feel more informed and empowered.

In this article:

The Language of LGBTQ+ Family Building

You’ve probably already heard some of the terms on this list, as many of them are becoming more common knowledge. However, the actual field definitions are usually a little more specific and can reveal important details.

At Illume Fertility, we aim to make the family-building process easier for each patient we work with, and understand the unique challenges and additional layers of complexity of hopeful LGBTQ+ parents to be. With that goal in mind, we’ve compiled this mini glossary of standard LGBTQ+ family-building language.

Taking the time to get familiar with these terms and acronyms will not only help you feel more in the know, it may even open up additional family-building pathways or options for you to explore.

We suggest bookmarking this guide so you’ll always be ready for a quick cram session when needed. It may even be helpful to sneak a peek on your phone in the waiting room before a doctor’s appointment so you feel more prepared! 

What is an REI?

We'll start with the professional title for the doctors you'll meet if you choose to work with a fertility clinic like Illume Fertility. This definition is a little longer, but the more you know about your doctor's training and experience, the better.

Endocrinology is the field of studying and treating hormone-related issues in the body. Put simply, a reproductive endocrinologist (REI) is a doctor who studies and treats hormonal issues related to the human reproductive system.

REIs specialize in:

The great news is that reproductive endocrinologists go through a lot of training – meaning they have to be extremely dedicated and passionate about what they do. After working through a typical medical residency program, future REIs then apply for highly competitive 3-year programs for additional training. Once they’re in a program, they focus exclusively on studying hormones and the reproductive system.

This means that an REI typically has at least 15 years of medical training

To officially become an REI, these doctors then have to pass rigorous testing and receive board certification from the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in not one, but two fields: Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.

It's important to note that just because a provider calls themselves a fertility specialist, it does not necessarily mean they are a fully trained, board-certified reproductive endocrinologist. Learn more about the differences in our in-depth guide.

What is IUI?

IUI is the shorthand term for intrauterine insemination, a specialized fertility treatment technique that delivers sperm directly into the uterus. You may know this process by a more general term, like "artificial insemination" or "assisted insemination."

How does it work? IUI allows for better sperm delivery to the fallopian tube, helping the sperm and egg interact in closer proximity. 

It’s a common treatment pathway for moms-to-be, or for couples where the male partner has mild to moderate deficits in their semen analysis (which may indicate low volume, motility, or morphology of the sperm).

IUI treatments are typically used in conjunction with medications that increase the number of eggs per cycle and trigger ovulation. Think of IUI as a triple threat approach: better sperm delivery, perfect targets for the sperm, and ideal timing. 

Feel more prepared:

Grab our free, downloadable fertility consultation worksheet to help you make the most of your first appointment with a fertility specialist.

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What is IVF?

IVF stands for in vitro fertilization and refers to a series of procedures that all share one common goal: achieving a pregnancy. Here is a simple explanation of the three phases of IVF:

Phase 1: Ovarian Stimulation

The first phase of IVF involves stimulating egg production via fertility medications. These meds are taken either by an egg donor or a person with ovaries who wants to biologically contribute to the creation of your future child. This process is often called "superovulation."

Phase 2: Egg Retrieval & Embryo Development

In the second phase of IVF, those eggs (oocytes) are collected from the ovaries with a minimally-invasive surgical procedure called an egg retrieval, then combined with sperm in the fertility clinic's laboratory to create embryos.

Those embryos are then cryopreserved, genetically tested, or transferred into the uterus of the person who will be carrying the pregnancy to term (this may be the intended parent or a gestational carrier).

Phase 3: Embryo Transfer

In the third and final phase of IVF, an embryo is transferred into the uterus of a gestational carrier or intended parent to try and achieve a pregnancy.

What is RIVF?

With reciprocal IVF (RIVF), Partner A donates eggs to Partner B, and then Partner A carries the pregnancy to term. For some LGBTQ+ couples, this is a way for both partners to physically participate in the conception and carrying process and feel more intimately involved in the creation of their child.

How does it work? One partner undergoes superovulation (with the help of fertility medication) to produce multiple eggs and then has an egg retrieval.

After egg retrieval, Partner A's eggs are combined with the couples' designated donor sperm in the IVF laboratory. The carrying partner (Partner B) then goes on medication to prepare their uterus for an embryo transfer (and hopefully, a healthy pregnancy and delivery). 

What is PGT-A?

Preimplantation genetic testing for aneuploidy (PGT-A) refers to the process of testing embryos to determine which ones have a normal amount of chromosomes.

Embryos with a normal amount of chromosomes have the best chance of resulting in a full-term pregnancy and healthy baby. Embryos with missing or additional chromosomes are more likely to result in both pregnancy loss (miscarriage) and implantation failure.

Note: Science advances quickly, and so does medical terminology! PGT-A was previously referred to as "PGS" (or preimplantation genetic screening). Because of this, you may still occasionally come across articles or materials referencing the term "PGS." 

What is PGT-M?

Preimplantation genetic testing for monogenic diseases (PGT-M) refers to the process of testing embryos for single gene defects. This test can help to identify any embryos carrying those genes and prevent that disease from being passed along to your future child, reducing the risk of serious health conditions.

For example, if you have a family history of serious medical conditions, this form of preimplantation genetic testing can be genuinely life-saving.

Note: PGT-M was previously called "PGD" - or preimplantation genetic diagnosis.

What is a sperm donor?

A sperm donor is exactly as it sounds: a person who donates sperm to a help create a pregnancy for someone else.

Sometimes the donor's identity is known and sometimes they choose to be de-identified (anonymous). It's important to note that given the accessibility of DNA testing, even a so-called "anonymous" donor's identity may be discoverable.

We encourage you to explore the benefits to choosing an "open door" or "open ID" sperm donor as you decide which of these options is best for your family. Organizations such as Donor Conceived Community also offer education and support for donor conceived people and their families.

Note: While Illume Fertility does not operate its own sperm bank, we’re able to refer patients to FDA-registered and compliant sperm banks so you can select a donor who is the right fit for you and your needs.

What is an egg donor?

An egg donor is someone who chooses to donate their eggs to help create a pregnancy for another person(s). Like a sperm donor, egg donors can be either "known" or de-identified (anonymous). It is important to consider what sort of connection you want to have (and want your child to have) with an egg donor as you move through the process.

What is an intended parent?

Intended parent (IP) is a term that refers to the person (or people) who will be legally responsible for caring for and raising the child. This status applies regardless of who has given birth to the child or if the intended parent(s) are genetically linked to the child.

What is a surrogate?

Put simply, a surrogate is a person who carries a pregnancy to term for another family.

You’ve probably heard the terms "surrogate" and "surrogacy" a lot as they are now common knowledge. However, medical terminology has evolved beyond that basic definition, and the term "gestational carrier" is often used in place of the term "surrogate." 

What is a gestational carrier?

A gestational carrier (often referred to in shorthand as "GC") is a more modern term for "surrogate." However, it still means the same thing: a gestational carrier is a person who carries a pregnancy to term for another family.

In the past, some families were formed using traditional surrogacy, where the surrogate contributed both her egg and uterus to the process. However, traditional surrogacy is legally complex, as the surrogate is genetically linked to the child in those instances, so this form of surrogacy is much less common today as a result. 

Meet a Surrogate

In this story, a gestational carrier named Savannah shares how her experience working in a fertility clinic led to her becoming a surrogate herself.

Read More

What does legal parentage mean?

Legal parentage refers to the legal recognition of an individual as a parent of a child, regardless of biological or marital ties. Establishing legal parentage is crucial, as it ensures that all parents have the same rights and responsibilities regarding their child's upbringing, including custody, visitation, and medical decision-making.

If a married person gives birth, their spouse is automatically presumed to be the other legal parent (this typically applies to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples). While marital presumption applies nationwide, state laws can vary on other aspects of LGBTQ+ parentage, such as the recognition of parentage established in other states, the rights of non-biological parents in the event of separation, and the process for second-parent adoption.

Note: It's crucial that you consult with an attorney specializing in LGBTQ+ family law to understand the specific laws in your state (and the state your child is born in, which may be different than your home state, particularly in the case of gestational surrogacy). 

What is second-parent adoption?

Second-parent adoption is a legal process that allows a non-biological parent to adopt their partner's child without terminating the first parent's legal rights. It's particularly relevant for LGBTQ+ families and other non-traditional family structures.

The process varies by state, but often involves filing a petition with the court, undergoing a home study and background check, and attending a court hearing. In states like Connecticut, recent legislation has streamlined this process, removing the need for home studies and court appearances in some cases.

Knowledge is Power

By taking the time to educate yourself on the many different terms and acronyms of the fertility and family-building space, you are setting yourself up for success.

While your doctor will certainly not expect you to speak their language fluently and will always be happy to explain each step of the process, having a solid grasp of these common terms can help you feel much more prepared and confident as you move forward.

Looking for more information? Reach out now to speak with an LGBTQ+ family-building expert and find the right path to parenthood for you. 

Sierra Dehmler

Sierra Dehmler is Illume Fertility’s Content Marketing Manager - and also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other fertility patients by demystifying the fertility treatment process.

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