IVF UK: “I was single at 40, so I decided to become a solo parent through IVF”

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Here in the UK there has been a sharp rise in single women having babies through IVF. NHS figures show that 1,290 women became single mums through IVF in 2017, compared to just 351 in 2007. Here, single mum Amanda tells Stylist why she chose to have a baby by herself.

Ever since I was a child, I always knew that I wanted to have children

I assumed I’d be married with kids by the age of 28 but, when I started nearing my 30th birthday and still didn’t have a partner, I decided that if I wasn’t married by the time I was 39, I would do it myself.

It seemed like such a long way off but, before I knew it, it was nearly my 40th birthday. I work with a lot of child and adult psychiatrists in my job as a medical rep, so I decided to ask the ones I’m closest to whether it would be bad for my future child to be brought up without a dad

Essentially, my question was this: was I going to screw him up?

Both the psychiatrists I spoke to agreed we would be fine. They told me they had seen families where the parents had gone through a really tough break-up and it had affected the children. They noted other issues in two-parent families that had caused problems, too, such as one parent wanting to do something for the child and the other parent wanting to do something else.

I knew that I had a very loving family around me and that, with just me as the parent, there would only ever be one set of rules to follow.

Of course, I’m sure there are women who have met someone and settled down simply because they wanted to have a child. But is that any better? In my opinion, if you’re arguing constantly and you hate each other, that is much worse for your child.

IVF UK: the journey to conceiving a child

It took me nearly two years and over £40,000 of savings to become a mum. During that time I tried IUI, thawing eggs that I had frozen in my thirties and numerous rounds of IVF. On my fourth round of IVF I finally became pregnant but the doctor sensed something wasn’t quite right and, by seven to eight weeks, they couldn’t find my baby’s heartbeat. I had what my doctor called a missed miscarriage (I hadn’t had any bleeding). It was dire.

Then, at last, I visited a clinic in Spain and had a successful double-donor implantation, falling pregnant with a baby created using both donor sperm and a donor egg. It was quick, easy and there were no complications – I was so happy that I cried.

All sperm and egg donors in Spain are completely anonymous meaning that, unlike here in the UK, my son Joshua will never know anything about either of his donor parents. I’m sure he will be inquisitive about them at some point in his life but when I was going through this process in the UK, my fear was that he might track down his donors and find they didn’t want anything to do with him.

After all, some men only donate sperm because they get paid for it, and I’m sure a lot of donors are students. They might like the idea of having lots of kids out there but, in reality, if a child shows up, I don’t know how they would react.

In this case, I already have the answer for my son: he can’t track them down and he can’t be disappointed. I’ll make sure he knows that upfront.

single mum ivf
IVF UK: Amanda and her son, Joshua.

I’ve written a book for Joshua about his journey to being born and how much he was wanted. It’s got lots of pictures of me pregnant and ones of him as a baby being held by nurses and doctors at my clinic in the UK. He’s six months old now, and I’m going to show it to him from a young age, because I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, or for him to have a sudden shock when he’s older.

I’d like to hope that by the time he is at school age, when these things matter, he will have accepted it. Plus, I’m guessing there might be a parent like me in his class, and there will probably be children whose parents are divorced. I doubt all the children will be from 2.4 families. Plus, I’m part of a support network of mums who had a similar experience to me, which means Joshua will grow up with children in his life who are in the same situation.

IVF UK: the challenge of being a single mum

Of course, being a single mum by choice won’t be without its difficulties. Everything that happens is on my head, such as paying all the bills. I imagine there will be times when he goes to play football and rugby and his friends will all have their dads there, and he’ll just have me.

Plus, I’m sure there will come a day when he asks, “Why don’t I have a dad?” I know children can get angry – I see my niece and nephew say things to my sister sometimes – and I can imagine he might say something like “I want a dad” or “I hate you”. I’m sure I’m going to have my decision thrown back in my face at some point.

But I’m not sure about the results of the study that says children who grew up with a single mum missed out on having a dad – you just don’t know how the researchers asked the questions.

If you said to any child, “Would you like to live in a 15-bedroom house with five swimming pools, go on holiday every year and have whatever you want?” they would probably say yes.

Equally, if you asked a child, “Would you like to have both a mum and a dad?” they would probably say yes.

And if I was in the perfect relationship, I would want that for my child too. But if the question was, “Would you like to have any old dad, who fights and argues with your mum all day long?” I reckon the answer would be no.

As much as people can say, “But Joshua doesn’t have a dad” or “What will happen in the future?”, I’m glad I didn’t rush into a marriage that might have ended in a messy divorce with my child going between his parents. In my opinion that would have been far worse for him than not having a father.

IVF UK: looking back on the decision

The media goes on and on about how women pick their careers over meeting a man and having a baby, but that’s simply not true for any of the women I know. However career-minded they are, their decision to raise a child alone was because they didn’t meet the right person and they didn’t want to settle for someone who wasn’t quite right.

The women I know who have had children by themselves absolutely adore their kids. Obviously we all do. They wanted it so much that they gave up everything to make it happen.

Ultimately, you might regret not having a child but I don’t know any women who has done it my way and said, “Wow, I wish I’d just waited for a man”. Not a single one.

Amanda and Joshua pose for the camera
IVF UK: "The women I know who have had children by themselves absolutely adore their kids. Obviously we all do."

IVF UK and single mums: ask an expert

Stylist speaks to Dr Geeta Nargund, an experienced fertility doctor who regularly advises women on sperm donation and the decision to become a single parent through IVF.

Is it common for a woman to become a single mum through IVF?

“I have worked in IVF for 25 years, and have been treating single mothers for IVF using donor sperm for over 20 years. The number enquiring at my clinic has seen a significant increase, and we have now treated hundreds of women.”

Why are more women making the decision to become single mums?

“It’s due to a number of factors. Some women simply haven’t found a suitable partner or a partner willing to have a child, and decide to take matters into their own hands and opt to go it alone. Other women choose to concentrate on their career and focus on making greater strides towards workplace equality, which can result in the postponement of parenthood.

“In addition, I think the awareness and availability of fertility treatments such as sperm donation and fertility testing has increased the number of choices available to women – and is empowering them to make decisions that are right for them.”

What does a woman need to consider before having IVF without a partner?

“In my experience, the decision to pursue motherhood alone is never one taken lightly. All of the single women I have treated spend a long time ensuring they consider all options and outcomes before progressing. Strong family and friend networks will prove invaluable, and single women will typically visit our clinic accompanied by parents or a best friend who will be there every step of the way.

“All women are offered independent counselling before opting to go ahead with treatment, and receive ongoing support throughout to ensure that the welfare of both child and mother remain paramount. Situations can differ depending on whether a woman has chosen to use a known donor or an anonymous one, and this will affect how she prepares both herself and her child as they grow up – especially if anonymous, as women must be made aware of the UK law on donor anonymity. Age is also a strong influencer on the outcome of treatment, as it affects the health of mother and baby and whether a woman is able to use her own eggs or may have to use donor eggs along with donor sperm.

“These mothers have gone through a lot to bring their child into the world, and I have no doubt that these children are brought up in stable and loving homes that provide them with the support and affection they need to grow into healthy adults.”

What do your previous patients say about their journey into motherhood?

“So many of our previous patients come in to visit with their sons and daughters, and it is incredible to see how complete they feel. They all say it is the best thing they have ever done and this is echoed by the entire family.

“Having a child alone is no small undertaking, but I am positive that absolutely none of them would change their choice for the world.”

This feature was originally published in July 2016

Images: Getty, courtesy of Amanda Moss

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Commissioning Editor at Stylist. Follow her on Twitter