When I was younger I firmly believed that, by my early 30s, I would be married and well on the way to being a member of the ‘2.4 children’ club. Things haven’t quite panned out that way though. Here I am, in my early 40s, still single and on my way to becoming a ‘solo mum’. Yes, that’s right I’ve made the decision to become a single mother by choice. I am a woman having a baby alone. I’m picking ‘the one’ from a selection of donors from an online sperm bank. And no, I didn’t see that coming (no pun intended!).
Let’s rewind a little bit. For the last 10 years, it’s fair to say I’ve been unlucky in love. I’ve had a few serious boyfriends in that time, but they haven’t been marriage (or father) material. I’ve dipped my toe in the online dating world, mostly to appease friends, but quickly realised it wasn’t for me. And I certainly didn’t want to be promiscuous just to conceive by going down the accidentally on purpose route. I think that would be morally disingenuous. It’s not in me to deceive a man just for a baby and then cross my fingers that co-parenting works out and he’s a decent sort. Besides, I don’t want someone I hardly know suddenly having 50% rights to any potential child. So I guess you can say I fall into the category of childfree by circumstance, because I always knew I wanted kids but it hasn’t happened in the context of a ‘typical’ relationship.
I thought long and hard and decided not to let societal norms or media hyperbole about my fertility dropping completely off the radar, or indeed a lack of available or appealing partners get in my way…
A few friends knew of couples who had success going down the sperm donation route, and were able to recommend a gynaecology & fertility clinic in my hometown, so at the end of last year my journey into the unknown began.
In the Autumn of 2015 I went along to one of their monthly open evenings – an informal event which provided an opportunity for prospective patients to look around the clinic, meet the team, ask questions and get an understanding of the fertility services offered there. I asked one of the fertility nurses what my first steps would be and was recommended an ovarian reserve test. This checks both the quality and quantity of eggs left in the ovary (which normally decline as a woman ages) and consists of a blood test to measure the levels of various hormones that affect fertility and a transvaginal ultrasound scan to find out how many follicles are present in each ovary. The findings are then written up and next-steps discussed face-to-face with a consultant. I left the clinic feeling excited about the future and inquisitive to find out more.
Having recently turned 40, and as someone who’d been on the pill for most of my adult life, I had no idea what state my baby making equipment was in – after all, there’s no point trying for a little one if you don’t know what’s going on inside, so I booked myself in for the test (which was no worse than giving blood or having a smear), and waited for the results. There was quite a bit of paperwork to read through and fill out beforehand (terms & conditions, patient/clinic guide, price list. registration form, consent form, payment agreement etc) but this was all pretty straightforward, with the cost around £350. The offer of a free counselling session was discussed with the clinic, but I didn’t feel I needed it. I’d talked a lot with family and a few close friends about the emotional and practical implications of my decision.
As one of the most important things I’d considered doing, it seemed right to ask my mum to the consultant meeting with me for moral support, just in case the news wasn’t what I had expected. The findings indicated that my uterus and ovaries were fine, but my ovarian reserve was lower than average for my age, so I was recommended donor sperm insemination with superovulation (as opposed to IVF treatment) to maximise my chances of a successful outcome. The process for this treatment was discussed, along with the likely chances of success, procurement of donor sperm (no sniggering!) and overall cost.
In layman terms, for someone my age, the success rate was exactly the same as if I was trying to conceive naturally with a partner (which was good to hear) – the cost I knew would be quite high and came in at around £1,500 per attempt (this figure included all scans, medication, donor sperm and insemination). With a lot to take in and digest, I left the consultation and considered my options over Christmas.
In 2015 there was a ’22 per cent hike in the number of women choosing to go through IVF alone in just one year, marking a 226 per cent increase since 2006‘. ( Victoria Lambert 2015 in The Telegraph)
In the New Year, having chatted to my siblings, who both have young children, I drew up a ‘solo mum’ spreadsheet which detailed all the clinic costs, monthly expenditure post birth, maternity pay etc so that I had an approximate idea of what was possible financially. With savings and an imminent remortgage (which allowed me to release some equity), and having talked through everything with my family, I decided on 6 donor sperm insemination attempts and 6 months’ maternity should everything go according to plan.
I often wonder why I didn’t start the process to become a solo mum a few years ago, when my ovarian reserve might have been better. However, I just wasn’t in the right place mentally or financially. My job up until recently was extremely stressful and a long commute away, so albeit a little late in the day, the timing now feels right. I’m not worried about being a solo mum – I’m under no illusion that it’s going to be hard, but I have a great family unit around me and lots of amazing friends so I don’t feel unduly worried. Better this way than suddenly finding yourself single and raising your baby alone.
After one final ‘bells & whistles’ holiday (as it might be my last one for a while!), I started shopping for a suitable donor. The clinic’s ‘bank of choice’ is in Denmark, with their donor list accessed via their website. Due to HFEA regulations, only donors classified as ‘open’ are available for use in the UK. This means any child born from donation may apply for information about their genetic parent once they reach the age of 18. The donor has no parental rights to a child born as a result of treatment and is unable to receive information about the identity of the recipient or child at any time.
So with a laptop, a large glass of Prosecco in my hand, and my best girlfriend by my side, we proceeded to spend the evening shopping for a potential ‘dad’.
After narrowing down the list of available donors by race, eye colour, hair colour, height and weight, we were presented with 12 options. We carefully read each profile (which reminded me of the MySingleFriend dating website as it’s written by someone else), and narrowed it down to 3. Although a serious business, it was actually good fun chatting about the profile and potential of each candidate. It felt humanizing and enjoyable. A bit more ‘The Back Up Plan’ with me as J-Lo, and a bit less grim stainless steel, stirrups and syringes or folk telling me in an incredulous tone ‘how hard it will be by myself’. I had a firm favourite but I wanted my family involved too, so I emailed over the 3 URLs and waited for their ‘no conferring’ opinions to come back. And the decision was made, luckily my front runner coming up trumps.
I decided to tell a few other close friends of my plans to become a solo mum – my friends mean the world to me and with such an important life decision I wanted them to share my experience, keep me grounded and be there if things didn’t go to plan. The childfree lot thought I was bonkers, those with children, including my siblings, were super excited and my best buddy worried our friendship would change (less hanging out being silly of a weekend), but all were 100% behind me. I also let work know that I had some ‘gynae issues’ that required a few trips to the doctors every month. I was super-lucky as the response was a quick ‘ok that’s fine, feel free to work from home on those days’. So with everything set, I waited for my monthly cycle to kick start my plans.
What actually happens or ‘here comes the science bit’
On day one of my period, the clinic was notified and scan appointments booked in on days nine & 11, with medication to stimulate follicle growth taken on day two for five days (are you keeping up?!). I was already au fait with the ultrasound scan – seeing what follicles were growing inside my ovaries was really exciting to see on the screen – and these were measured and noted. This same process was repeated at the second scan, and you could see how much they had grown in 2 days. After this appointment the insemination date was booked for a few days later. In the run up to this day, I was to test my hormones with a simple ovulation kit (that you can pick up in Boots) and should I see a ‘surge’ I was to let the clinic know so they could get me in sooner. If I didn’t, and this was the case for me, I had to inject myself 24 hours before my appointment to kick off ovulation. This was a bit of an ‘exsqueeze me?’ moment – they wanted me to inject myself with a prefilled pen by myself, with no-one around to help? As it turned out, it was fine – the instructions were very clear and the needle was so short and thin that I didn’t feel it at all (phew).
For me to become a solo mum, I am going the insemination route. The process of insemination is practically the same as a smear test, except instead of being swabbed, the ‘donation’ is deposited via a catheter straight into your uterus. Before the insemination, your identity is double checked, as is the donation to ensure you’ve got the one you ordered (no nasty surprises please!). As a naturally inquisitive person, I asked whether, as soon as I stood up, said donation would end up trickling down my leg (you know the scenario ladies) but was told it wouldn’t which was good to hear (mad dash to the loo averted). And that was it – I was to do a pregnancy test in two weeks’ time (not sooner as the hormone injection could give a false positive) and there was to be no heavy lifting or increase to my core temperature (a legitimate excuse to avoid the gym for two weeks – yes!).
The Donors Network for more information on having a child by yourself. Mother’s stories & networking with others.
Single Mothers By Choice (US)
Love Comes First “Filmmaker Nina Davenport documents her experience of motherhood, from pregnancy to raising a child on her own.” Available on Netflixs (tlfw thought this was great for exploring the emotional issues and family relationships. Highly recommend.)
Where am I now?
For those of you who clocked that I was halfway through my journey, you’ll have figured out that my first 3 attempts have been unsuccessful. Whilst disappointing, I do understand that age is against me, and have always taken a really pragmatic approach to my journey – if it happens it happens, if it doesn’t I’m sure it will be emotional and I’m going to be sad and upset, but not distraught. I am confident in myself that I’ll bounce back.
After giving my body a break, which allowed the consultant to revisit my notes and allowed me to go somewhere hot and relax by the pool, I picked a new donor (to increase my chances) and am currently in the ‘2 weeks before doing a pregnancy test phase’. Of course, whilst I will be sad if all my attempts fail, and on some levels can anticipate the emotions of loss or grief, on another level Like I say – I know I will be OK and it will not define me or hold me back in life.
I have a great family and lovely friends who I can really talk to. I have a good life: I’m an auntie to 4, a mum to my fur-baby (I ‘heart’ my kitty and may get another!) and will be able to jet off on holiday whenever I want. Or I will become a solo mum, which will be just as amazing. The journey isn’t over yet..