From left: Toby Fleischman, Lemon the Shih Tzu, and Lindsay Lanciault
Usually, when a couple says “we’re pregnant,” it’s a figure of speech. But for married pair Lindsay Lanciault and Toby Fleischman, they mean it quite literally.
The two sit across from each other at a busy cafe sharing tomato soup and bread on a cloudy Saturday. Lanciault, 34, is a speech-language pathologist at UCLA while Fleischman, 41, is a celebrity makeup artist with clients like Evan Rachel Wood, Ellen Page, and Gabourey Sidibe. Both women are brunette with a California-cool style and similar toothy smiles. They’ve been married for almost three years, live in Los Angeles with their Shih Tzu Lemon (short for Liz Lemon), and have stumbled into a unique circumstance several years in the making: they are both pregnant at the same time.
Given the tangle of legal and medical processes, there simply aren’t many women who have experienced what they are going through.
“There was definitely a time in my life where I didn’t think kids really fit into my plan,” Fleischman says. “Then, when I met Lindsay, it was absolutely clear that she was someone that I wanted to raise children with.”
A Unique Situation
Stories like New York‘s coverage of Kate Elazegui and Emily Kehe last year and Discovery Health specials like Quads With Two Moms illustrate how parallel pregnancies for lesbian and queer couples can be not only rare, but difficult – and oftentimes sensationalized. And, as FiveThirtyEight reported in 2015, the odds of this situation are so slim, it’s hard to even gather data on it. Neither the CDC nor the Society for Artificial Reproductive Technology record comprehensive statistics on intrauterine inseminations. And because a large number of women decide to undergo insemination in the privacy of their own homes – like Lanciault and Fleischman did – or at a clinic, their successful pregnancies aren’t always reflected in the data that is collected, anyway. Given the tangle of legal and medical processes that come with two women in a relationship trying to get pregnant, there simply aren’t many women who have experienced what Lanciault and Fleischman are going through.
Dr. Kristin Bendikson, fertility specialist at University of Southern California Fertility, says the situation is as unlikely as it sounds. “The only time I’ve seen it happen is when I was a resident – and that was, like, 20 years ago,” Dr. Bendikson explains. “The overwhelming majority of lesbian couples that I see are usually focused on one person getting pregnant at a time.” In fact, so were Lanciault and Fleischman when they started their journey.
The process of getting pregnant seemed easy enough when Lanciault and Fleischman started to explore their options. The couple decided in August 2015 that Fleischman should try to get pregnant first, since she’s the oldest of the pair and her window for motherhood seemed slimmer. Lanciault supported the decision and aided in finding a sperm donor. With a donor in place, Lanciault tried at home via the “syringe method” – more technically known as intravaginal insemination (or, as Fleischhman laughingly refers to it, the “turkey baster” method.)
Fleischman and Lanciault’s insemination process was a lot simpler than you might assume; with guidance from their doctors, the two used menstrual cups (Diva Cups, specifically) as their syringe-method vehicles for inserting their donor’s sample. It was as easy as that.
“First try at home, I got pregnant,” she says. That pregnancy ended in miscarriage, however. Over the next year and a half, they kept trying, though complications arose. They faced the miscarriage and medical complications. It also became clear that their original donor’s samples were not going to be viable moving forward, which forced them to seek out a new donor. All of this kept them from achieving their dream of motherhood.
The process took a toll on their relationship. “It was probably the most stressful thing,” Lanciault says. “Not that we were going to get divorced over it, but . . . I didn’t want to come home. We were at odds.”
Deciding to Try Together
Due to the series of blocks standing in the way of motherhood, the two made the choice to shift focus from Fleischman to Lanciault after they successfully landed on a new donor. This brought up a lot of complicated feelings – the shift wasn’t as easy as passing a natal baton from one wife to another.
She remembers thinking: “We can’t be pregnant together. What are we, crazy?”
“I wasn’t ready to stop,” Fleischman remembers. She remembers thinking: “‘We can’t be pregnant together. What are we, crazy? We can’t do that.'”
With the help of Danica Thornberry, acupuncturist and author of Stick It To Me Baby!, the two were able to physically and emotionally anchor the process by focusing on fertility. “Women who identify as being infertile deal with a lot of jealousy and negativity as they see friends and sister-in-laws, family members, getting pregnant and they’re not,” Thornberry shared by phone. “To have ‘the enemy’ – a pregnant woman – in your house, when you’re not able to get pregnant and that’s your wife, that’s what made this case so unique.”
Fleischman can speak directly to this: “During that time, Danica was really helpful in emotionally dealing with some of these issues and trying to think about the process in an emotionally healthy and positive way, and not trying to control it, and not trying to be crazy about it, and not trying to be negative.”
“While [Lindsay]’s saying, ‘I think that I should start – you should stop,’ another birthday was nearing and there was kind of this mental block of that birthday,” Flesichman says. “I had to let go.”
Fleischman followed Thornberry’s The SEED Fertility program, a diet Thornberry says “optimizes fertilization,” and credits it with helping make her insemination after two years of struggles a success. “After a month and a half on this diet, I had this perfect, beautiful, normal ovulation – and that’s the month I got pregnant. I’m very lucky I got pregnant ‘naturally’ at home by syringe method.”
“Is This the Right Thing to Do?”
The two found out Fleischman was pregnant the same week Lanciault was starting her efforts in November 2016. Instead of abandoning the work she had put into her own attempt to become pregnant, Lanciault attempted to get pregnant, too, via the same donor and method – and it worked. Quickly. She, too, was pregnant by December.
The two have just a three-week difference between their due dates – Lanciault is four months along; Fleischman is five – and found out about Lanciault’s pregnancy the week following the election of Donald Trump, which placed a shadow over the news.
“There was this level of ‘Is this the right thing to do? Bring children into this world?'” Lanciault says. “We were so fearful.”
These fears aren’t entirely unwarranted. Emily Hecht-McGowan, chief policy officer at the Family Equality Council, says the process of non-traditional parenting is complicated to begin with, and that the Trump administration’s stances on LGBTQ issues could further hinder the process. That potential future aside, she finds that this all has to do with a handful of roadblocks that LGBTQ persons face in trying to start a family.
“Information is probably the first barrier,” she says. “Lots of same-sex couples (or prospective single parents or LGBTQ people) generally don’t know the host of options that are available to them. The other piece is financial. All of these processes cost money, whether it’s adoption through foster care or hiring a surrogate to help you create a family. Nothing is free.” That cost, according to Dr. Bendickson, can range from hundreds of dollars for a sperm sample to tens of thousands for more advanced treatments like in vitro fertilization.
Policies and practices on a state and national level also stand in the way of LGBTQ persons becoming parents since laws do not exist to protect them. This leaves queer parents and their children vulnerable and can make starting a family impossible for some.
Beyond this, Emily sees actions like a reported religious freedom executive order as validating for anti-LGBTQ attitudes – especially as they relate to potential queer parents. She advises all potential queer parents to talk to an expert who understands the laws in their state – and warns that simply being married might not resolve all the issues that LGBTQ families can face in their day-to-day lives.
While Lanciault and Fleischman are concerned, they’re confident in their state’s policies and legal protections and feel very fortunate to be where they are in America. “We’re really lucky that we live in Los Angeles,” Lanciault says. “Hopefully, our kids won’t feel like they’re different because they have two moms.”
But being Californians hasn’t meant there has been any relaxing regarding LGBTQ parenting rights. As Lambda Legal advises, all same-sex and queer parents today must take the proper steps toward adoption as soon as possible, particularly second-parent adoptions.
Lanciault and Fleischman aren’t taking such advice lightly. “We’re very eager to adopt each other’s children as soon as legally possible just to solidify that aspect of it . . . just in case!” Fleischman says. “You just don’t know. We live in this lovely world of California but you just don’t know.”
Rising to the Challenge
Still, Fleischman sees starting a family as a welcome challenge – especially considering that the couple will be birthing a set of boys. The couple were very confident with the idea of raising strong women, because they themselves are strong women. But men? This is a challenge they admit they didn’t initially think through. “We have this huge responsibility to raise respectful, compassionate, feminist men,” Fleischman says.
As far as her advice for other lesbians who want to start a family? Fleischman believes women should figure out their fertility standing as soon as possible. “The top headlines of advice have been to go to a fertility specialist early, no matter how old you are or how regular you are or how healthy you think you are,” she says.
Lanciault also takes the opportunity to remind people to be aware that many women – straight or gay – face fertility challenges. “People think it’s okay to ask a woman who is maybe of childbearing years or who just got married, ‘Are you going to start trying soon?’ But you don’t know if they actually have been trying. You don’t know what their situation is. We’ve gotten that ‘When are you going to start?’ question and it’s like . . . we’ve been trying for six months. You don’t know what somebody’s going through.”
“If she’s feeling something that I’ve gone through, I can validate it and say that that’s normal.”
Lanciault concurs. “As a lesbian couple we have that extra, added ‘How do we do this?’,” she says.
While they look forward to being mothers, Lanciault says they’re “a little nervous” about the potential for dueling labors, and Fleischman knows caring for two children while they’re both recovering from birth will require some assistance; “We’re going to have to get a nurse for the first month.”
Overall, though, sharing the experience of pregnancy has brought the pair even closer together.
“If she’s feeling something that I’ve gone through, I can validate it and say that that’s normal,” Fleischman says. “But, like I said, there are a lot of hormones in the house and we go through waves – in one day – of being obsessed and in love with each other and so euphoric, to ‘I don’t want to be next to you. Please don’t talk to me.'”