Profile of an IVF Provider: Dr. Heather Hoff


Dr. Heather Hoff, a provider with Aspire HFI in Houston, Texas, embodies the expertise and understanding that clinics in The Prelude Network – the largest and fastest-growing network of fertility clinics in North America – offers to LGBTQ+ families hoping to add children to their lives.

All too often, LGBTQ+ people encounter ignorance, disinterest, or even hostility from the medical community. That unfortunate disparity can be especially painful for families who just want to become parents – not to feel judged for who they are and who they build their lives with.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and as part of a married same-sex couple, Dr. Hoff understands first-hand. But that's not all: Dr. Hoff's understanding and empathy extends to the IVF parenting journey, as she and her wife share two children that assisted reproductive technology made possible.

"My wife and I met in residency," Dr. Hoff recounts. "We did our OBGYN residency at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and then we both pursued advanced training. I did a fellowship in fertility in the University of North Carolina, and she did a fellowship in maternal fetal medicine, or high-risk OB, at Baylor in Houston. And then I came to Houston to be with her."

"And then we actually went through the reciprocal IVF process," Dr. Hoff discloses – a deeply intimate experience for couples with ovaries and/or a uterus that allows both partners to uniquely participate in the family building process. Reciprocal IVF is a two-step process that consists of embryo creation with Partner A's eggs, while Partner B undergoes a fresh or frozen embryo transfer in hopes to become pregnant and carry the pregnancy to term.⁣ In this way, both parents have a special bond with their children, as well as a deeper, richer bond with one another.

Dr. Heather Hoff

The experience informs Dr. Hoff's connection with her patients, as well. "It was a bit of a journey for us too," she says of her and her wife's experience, "but it has made me such a better doctor. And I think especially for my [patients who are] same-sex couples, it really allows me to walk them through the process from a perspective that is not possible otherwise."

And by that, she means from the very starting point; in her case, it was identifying the source of the donated sperm cells that fertilized her and her wife's eggs.

"We did go through that process," Dr. Hoff recalls. "I can tell [my patients] everything about the different websites and the catalogs and help them understand how to prioritize what they find to be the most important aspects and the donor."

Securing donated gametes is just one early step on a thrilling, but sometimes arduous, journey, and Dr. Hoff is well-qualified in a human, as well as medical, sense to be there for, and with, her patients through each step of the process.

"We actually had a year of difficulty and canceled cycles and challenges with our cycles," Dr. Hoff explains about her own family's IVF journey, referring to the process of stimulating the ovaries to produce multiple eggs at a time before retrieving them for fertilization in a laboratory.

"Sometimes there is something that comes up that is a hurdle we weren't anticipating," Dr. Hoff adds, "and then we have to figure out, 'How do we navigate that?' I think that's something I've learned that has changed my approach and my perspective [when counseling my patients], and it has been enormously beneficial."

It's such a marked difference that Dr. Hoff can easily see it when she compares her earlier professional years to now.

"I think back to my residency, when I used to counsel patients on pregnancy. I was an OBGYN, and that was my primary training – and I had never been pregnant. I knew the studies, I knew the data, and I told them that. But now I've lived it, so I still know the studies, and I still know the data, but now I can also say, 'Let me tell you about the real world. Let me tell you about what this was really like.'

"I think that it has made me such a better doctor," she continues, "and I think that my patients can see that, and they can see my passion. And that's something that helps them know that they can come to me with anything. This is this is an emotional journey, you know, and I want to be able to make them feel that they can ask me anything and we can figure out the obstacles that may come up. Hopefully they don't have any; hopefully, we get it on the first try, they have their family, and they come back to see me for babies number two and three if they want. But if they don't have as easy of a time as we hope, then we're going to have a plan."

While nothing is certain, and the best-laid plans might not always work out, that sense of understanding and affirmation enhances the journey. That's true for all the families that come to Dr. Hoff, who points out that her enhanced perspective isn't limited to her personal experience.

"Obviously, we work with a lot of same sex male couples, and they go through a lot of the same process because we're looking at egg donors," she notes. "And when we're considering [gestational] carriers, that's something that the knowledge I have has proven enormously beneficial for – being able to walk them through that process."

Families come in all colors of the rainbow, but no matter who they are, Dr. Hoff notes, couples may find that their IVF journey brings rewards beyond family building, enhancing existing bonds even as it helps create new ones.

"One of the beautiful things that I think is true with our LGBTQ+ population is that the decision to have a family is so intentional, and it's so desired," she explains. "Every aspect of this has to be coordinated and planned, and so much thought goes into it, that it really can be a very bonding experience for the couple to prepare for this. It can be full of trials, also, but in general it's a very rewarding and bonding experience that can bring the couple closer together and make them stronger – and, in most cases, it does."

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

This story is part of our special report: "Inception Fertility". Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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