Single mums by choice; meet the women who decided to have children alone

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Anna Brech
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Today more than ever, we have the power to delay motherhood – waiting until we’ve reached the right point in our career, travelled the world or met the perfect partner before we commit to a family.

But from this freedom and empowerment has come a real modern dilemma that is facing many women in their mid to late thirties who want to have children but haven’t yet met the right person: to give up or to go it alone.

Some are taking matters into their own hands. With big leaps forward in donor conception and the process of adoption broadening its horizons, there are a plethora of choices for women who, for whatever reason, have decided to become single parents.  

We speak to five very different women who have chosen to abandon the search for a partner and start a family by themselves. With searing honesty, they tell us about the highs and lows of single motherhood, the logistics involved and how they balanced their children with their careers, and hopes of future relationships.

They prove that, with the necessary support, being a single mother by choice can be not only manageable but a dream come true. Scroll down to read their stories, along with need-to-know facts on donor conception and adoption as a single parent from the experts: 

'I was in denial about my failing relationship because I wanted children'

Mum-in-profile: Mika Bishop, 41, from Surrey, gave birth to twin boys Zak and Leo this January

Why I did it: I decided to embark on motherhood alone last year, when the last attempt at getting back together with my ex went wrong

How I did it:  I approached a fertility clinic to use donor sperm via artificial insemination and it worked on the third attempt.

Current work status: On maternity leave from my job with a travel PR agency

What was the crossroads moment when you decided to become a single mum? 

It came when the the last and final bash at getting back together with my ex went wrong. I realised I had been disillusioned - sadly we were finished long before, but I was in denial because I wanted to have children.

I did six months of soul-searching and research before finally deciding to take the leap of faith. I went through a phase of feeling a sense of loss because I was giving up on finding a man to have children with. I had a few moments of self-doubt but overall, I felt excited about what I was embarking on. The more I found out about it, the more right it felt.

How did you go about it? 

I began by finding a fertility clinic - the London Women's Clinic on Harley Street - and went to a seminar about donor conception there. Throughout the process, I was realistic and prepared for it not working but I knew I had to at least try otherwise I would regret it.

Choosing a donor was tough to begin with. Information about UK sperm donors is comparatively scant  (covering ethnicity, nationality, height, weight, education, job, hobbies and some medical history - whereas overseas sperm banks can include photos of the donor as a child, information on their family backgrounds and audio messages). But I wasn't looking for a partner who had to live up to certain criteria, I was simply looking for sperm.

 A UK-based donor became more important to me because, when and if the boys want to contact the donor, he won't be thousands of miles away and so the opportunity for them to meet will be greater. I am lucky because since having the boys, I've read the donor's pen sketch and he said he would indeed like to meet any children conceived with his sperm. I was inseminated three times (via artificial insemination, not IVF). The first time I miscarried at five weeks, the second time was a chemical pregnancy and the third time I conceived twins! Each try cost around £2,500 (including the cost of mild fertility drugs to stimulate the ovaries).

The time from when I decided I wanted to be a single mum to the successful conception was 18 months, including a period of research. 

How have you coped without a father in the picture? 

The first few months after my boys were born were intense. There were moments of feeling utterly overwhelmed but there simply wasn't the time to dwell and it wasn't practical to let things get on top of me. I did lose my sense of humour, though, and I couldn't honestly say I was enjoying it until about eight weeks in, when I began to get the hang of things.

When totally exhausted, I have wished I had a partner who could take over but I've taken things day by day. I'm lucky to have healthy and good-natured babies which makes things easier. Having surprise twins is certainly hard work but I know no different and I get double the joy!

I will normalise my boys' beginnings and our family set-up from as early as possible. I will explain my decision to have a donor conception when they are ready. The Donor Conception Network advises on this.

How has your experience impacted your view of relationships? 

It hasn't changed the way I think about romantic relationships, I still want one and intend to find one! I didn't date whilst pregnant, I will get back into it when I'm ready. I'd like to meet someone by the time I'm 44 or 45, and I think this is feasible.

How have friends and family reacted? 

My friends and peers were wholly supportive about my decision to become a single mum. It is surprising how many people know someone who has done the same. I didn't tell random people about my decision and now I don't tell everyone - it depends on who they are and how I think they'll react. Apart from the obvious of not being able to go out when I want in the evenings, I've kept my social life going as well as I can, by taking the train and driving long distances with my boys. 

Were your workplace supportive of your decision? 

My workplace has been supportive so far, but I'm currently on maternity leave so I've yet to see how it will impact my career .

What do you wish you'd known beforehand and what advice would you give others?

When I made my decision, I faced scepticism, some negativity and shock from the older generation but I was prepared for that. To those interested in becoming a single parent, I would say go for it - there's plenty of support out there in terms of forums, websites and single mum networks. I think the future is positive. Why not? There are many different family set-ups these days. Love is the most important thing.

'I ached to have a child - I just had to find a different way of making it happen'

Mum-in-profile: Vanessa Frances, 40, from South West London, adopted four-year-old K in Autumn 2013

Why I did it: I decided that finding Mr Right in order to have a family was just too hard and I alone was enough for a child. 

How I did it: I chose to adopt via a local authority. The process took 20 months, from going to open evenings with local boroughs to getting my son.

Current work status: I work part-time, 33 hours a week, in marketing. 

What was the crossroads moment when you decided to become a single mum? 

I left home at sixteen, was married by 21 and divorced by 28. Conceiving a child proved impossible in my marriage and a subsequent long-term relationship years later.

Finding myself single in my late thirties, I either met men who had great careers but had never found the one to have children with (which I could not biologically produce), or divorced men who had had their kids but didn’t want anymore. 

I ached to have a child and I realised I could still have my dream - I just had to find a different way of creating it. I decided that finding Mr Right in order to have a family was just too hard, and that I alone was enough for a child. Once I got my head around this, I felt empowered. Whereas before, I had felt guilty to proceed - I grew up without a father and I wanted my child to have what I didn't.

How did you go about it? 

I knew I would love a child that was given to me as much as one I’d given birth to, so I knew adopting was the right choice for me. Finding a local authority that I clicked with proved hard. The process is very dated with knock-you-down type of approach. If you still come up for air, then you are serious. I looked at a magazine called Children Who Wait and approached a local authority about particular children in there. There are local open evenings to gain a closer understanding of the whole process, but sometimes you can wait months for one of these to come about. Don't be afraid to contact local authorities outside of your area - often placements are made not locally anyway so that you and your child have no chance of bumping into any birth family.

You can approach an agency for free and they have children from the whole country not just one borough. But I felt I wanted to deal directly with the social workers who knew the children.

How have you coped without a father in the picture? 

I felt amazing becoming a mum. It is everything I always wanted, and is equally exhilarating and exhausting. It's different having a child as opposed to a baby, as you are plunged in the deep end when it comes to getting to know each other. 

I think it is hard to get a break when you are on your own. I stopped trying to be everything -  mother, father, playmate and disciplinarian. I am just me, my son's mummy. K really wants a sibling so hopefully we can make this happen in the future.

He already knows that I wasn't able to grow babies in my tummy.

How has your experience impacted your view of relationships? 

It hasn't change my mind about romantic relationships. Just because I am bringing a child into my life without a father, it doesn't mean that they won't ever have a dad in the future.

But I didn't date whilst going through the process as I didn't want to meet someone, and it throw the spanner in the works. I was told that it's best that you either adopt on your own, or with a partner you have lived with for at least two years. 

How have friends and family reacted? 

No-one could believe you could adopt on your own. Certain people weren't that supportive but I think that is only because they can't imagine doing it themselves. I got a sarcastic comment from my boss about being Angelina Jolie, but I think that was just out of embarrassment because he didn't know what to say. Good friends and certain people who have experienced adoption themselves in some form have been amazing. 

Have your workplace been supportive of your decision? 

I was given the same rights as statutory maternity pay, but as I didn't know a specific date when I would be leaving - as a pregnant woman would  - it caused a bit of friction. It is best to pre-warn your work before you go to an adoption approval panel, so that they are prepared. The whole process can move very quickly once you are approved. My work were supportive in my reducing my hours when I returned from adoption leave, which was a relief.

What do you wish you'd known beforehand and what advice would you give others?

Some things have got to give and striving for perfection is impossible. Ask for help and take shortcuts with chores. We can't fit in the traditional homemaker and working woman in one, there are not enough hours in the day. What we can all learn from our children is to live in the moment and enjoy the simple things - they are the most important things anyway.

For anyone considering a similar move, I would say do it. I didn't want to get to my 70's and my only regret to be that I hadn't had a family. The last year since having K has been the most challenging, rewarding and wonderful time of my life. He has filled my world to overflowing. I like the person I am – the mum I’ve become.

Everyone commented on how hard it would be; but for me, not having a family would have been harder. Every second of the interviews/interrogation, the paperwork, the bureaucracy has been worth it because I got K. 

K said to me only yesterday: "Mummy I have a lovely life... ." With a lump in my throat I said, "So do I darling, because I’ve got you."

' I accepted that Happy Ever After with a man was not for me'

Mum-in-profile: Catherine Gaywood, 37 from Essex gave birth to twins Mae and Phoebe in February

Why I did it: I found out I had limited eggs and my relationships weren't working out, so I decided to go it alone. 

How I did it: I underwent IVF using sperm donation at a private fertility clinic

Current work status: on maternity leave from my job as a consultation adviser for High Speed 2 

What was the crossroads moment when you decided to become a single mum? 

In February 20113, I had a series of blood tests that indicated I had limited eggs. I had no time and I decided I wanted to try for a child alone. Accepting that the traditional 'happy ever after' was no longer my future was hard, but that was my issue. I resolved to give IVF one go and then get on with my life. I just knew that I did not want to have any regrets.    

How did you go about it? 

To find a fertility clinic, I looked on the  HFEA website, which is the governing body for fertility treatment in the UK. My clinic then told me about Brighton Fertility Associates, a company that offers a UK- based sperm bank. I made contact with them and found them really supportive.  They worked with my clinic to make all the necessary arrangements. Choosing a sperm donor is like internet dating but without the pictures. You can filter results by employment status, education attainment, height, hair colour, eye colour, body type and so on.  If I had not required IVF, I would have gone down the informal route and asked people if they would donate (turkey-basting style).  But I would have set up ‘terms of reference’ around the involvement of that person with the child – emotionally and financially - before starting. 

All in all, the treatment, tests, drugs and sperm cost me £10,000.  But I suppose I did get a bit of a buy one, get one free deal!

How have you coped without a father in the picture? 

With the babies here, the support I need is the same any new mum. What is harder for me is not getting a break in the evening or at weekends that someone in a relationship would. I am jealous of mums of single babies as they seem to have more time to spend just enjoying their child, whereas I always seem to be fulfilling some task and I never have time to myself.  But I think this is the same for any parent of multiples. Some people also questioned whether I could afford to do this, and my finances are very tight. 

My parents have been amazing and it is them that I turn to for support.  I will see them several time each week where I can hand over the girls and be fed.

I was never concerned that the girls would not have a father.  I actually feel that my choice is healthy, and one I can hold my head up and be proud of.  As a role model for them, I have not settled or compromised and the environment that I will bring them up will hopefully remain stable.  I have been very open about the fact I used donor sperm. I will make sure the girls are aware of this right from the start -  "the donor" will be spoken about.  

How has your experience impacted your view of relationships?  

My journey into single motherhood came about once I had admitted to myself that I wanted children, and that this desire was influencing other areas of my life, particularly romance.  Whenever I dated someone, I would rush the  relationship to seek the next level of commitment. Ultimately, I pushed too hard and the bloke ended up leaving.  

Going forward, my hope is that when I meet someone new, I will be able to appreciate that person in their own right rather than assessing them on what they can offer (for the last few years this had been his reproductive potential).  

How have friends and family reacted? 

When I first told my parents what I was planning to do, they reacted with shock.  My mum's first comment to me was, "What do you think you are doing? You can barely look after yourself, how do you expect to look after a child on your own?" 

By the time I was in the second half of my pregnancy they were fully supportive; mum was coming to appointments with me, dad was painting the nursery, and so on.  Now the girls are here, I cannot find two more dotting and proud grand parents.   

A very close friend who would normally be with me through thick and thin did not get what I was going through, or why it was so important to me. I found it quite a strain on the friendship, as I felt that she let me down.  Obviously she hadn’t, but because her head was not in the same space it was hard for her to understand or empathise. 

Were your workplace supportive of your decision? 

My career had already suffered  - because I knew I wanted children I’d stopped pushing for promotions, as I did not want a job that I would struggle to do part time. In the office, I did not go into detail about my IVF.  This did result in a lot of gossiping and one poor chap had his name banded about as the potential father. Once I realised what was going on, I was a bit more open. 

What do you wish you'd known beforehand and what advice would you give others?

I wish someone had said to me 'freeze your eggs' when I was in my mid to late 20’s.  I had disposable income and your body is at its peak health and fertility then. The eggs can stay frozen for 10 years, so it would have taken the pressure off me both for my career and relationships.  

It is absolutely vital to have a support network to become and be a single mum.  Deciding to do this is a journey and different people will have a greater and lesser role at different stages of your journey.  Accept all offers of help and support and make sure you have a support network for every step of the way.

'People treat me differently when they find out I'm a single mum'

Mum-in-profile: Marianne Miles from London was 20 years old when she gave birth to son Tyrell in 1994

Why I did it: My boyfriend and I were both very young when I fell pregnant and he didn't support me. Once I returned to work, I decided to go it alone

How I did it: I had the crucial support of my parents and I finished my college course through evening classes, before going into work part-time in PR

Current work status: I now run my own PR & media agency, and I work with organisations like and to reverse the negative image of what a single parent is

What was the crossroads moment when you decided to become a single mum? 

It was a combination of things. My partner and I were both immature 19-year-olds when I became pregnant and once our son was born, I was the only one being responsible or thinking about his future.  Finances were very limited, and I kept seeing him buying things for himself, and never spending anything on our child. I worked through my pregnancy to buy the main items such as a  buggy and cot. I hoped my boyfriend's attitude might change after he got a job, but it didn't. Once I was able to work - when our son was 18 months old - I felt able enough to go it alone.

How did you go about it? 

When I became a single mother I was at college, so I finished my course in evening classes and I never even told anyone in the class that I had a child. It would be a completely different story without the guidance and support of my parents. They have made it possible for me to have a career, get an education and even have a social life, whilst being a single mother.  I've never had to get a babysitter because my parents always stepped in when needed. My mum looked after Tyrell daily when I was working part-time.

How have you coped without a father in the picture? 

It was a relief to be honest, because he was the cause of a lot of stress. My parents and brothers were very hands-on with Tyrell, so I wasn't worried about my son not having a father figure, or a positive male role model.  

I was very young, so I was bewildered  at first, but it has been a great experience.  Growing up with my son has been a good thing, because as I learn new things about myself I teach him. We have the same taste in music and being his primary parent, I have to  ensure he can always speak to me about anything.  

I have sacrificed a lot, including a great job opportunity in New York! I was also planning to leave home to go to university when I got pregnant, but in the end I didn't get my degree until Tyrell was older. Without a child I would have been more carefree with money - splurging on holidays, cars and expensive items - but I don't feel like I've missed out on anything.

I do struggle with finances, and guilt. We don't have holidays every year like most families. I can't always give my son everything he wants even though he deserves it. When he was younger, it was hard to explain his father actions because I didn't have the answers. People always ask me why I'm a single parent and don't seem to understand that at the time it was my only option.  

How has your experience impacted your view of relationships? 

It didn't change my thinking about romantic relationships at all. I knew a few people who had children alone and had gone on to have healthy relationships. I myself went onto have another child from a new relationship; my boys are now 20 and 13.

How have friends and family reacted? 

Amazingly, everyone was really supportive, especially my family and friends who had seen the situation play out and saw how sad it was making me.  I didn't get any negative feedback from anyone I knew. When I started working, a few of my new colleagues were judgemental but that didn't affect me.

Were your workplace supportive of your decision? 

The way I was treated in reaction to the stereotype of a single mum has been a big surprise. People will know me from work or a professional environment and treat me with respect. But then they will either stop speaking to me or treat me differently when they find out I'm a single mother, especially when they find out I had a child at 20 years old.

What do you wish you'd known beforehand and what advice would you give others?

Stop worrying about your child not having a mother or a father.  Don't think you have to step in for the absent parent or make up for what they are missing, because you can't do that. Just be the best parent you can be.  And most importantly don't feel guilty, being a single parent is admirable not morally reprehensible.  You are allowed to be tired, scared, fed up, you are allowed to need space and a day off.

Don't try to be super-parent and don't let other people's unfair assumptions affect how you see yourself and your family. The stories of council-flat, benefit scrounger single mums are so far-fetched. Tyrell is at university now studying law, which doesn't fit any stereotype of a single parent child, and goes to highlight that it is possible to raise a productive child by yourself. 

It IS hard work without any support. I had constant support and still found it hard. There needs to be more support, and definitely more mediation so co-parenting is a feasible option. 

'It’s the hardest thing you will ever do' 

Mum-in-profile: Vanessa Gray from London was 42 when she gave birth to Theo last March

Why I did it: I have been single since 2008 and had kind of given up on meeting anyone

How I did it: I approached a fertility clinic and was artificially inseminated via an anonymous sperm donor. It worked on my first attempt

Current work status: I am working full-time at an Equipment Support Office and used to play rugby for England 

What was the crossroads moment when you decided to become a single mum? 

I have been single since 2008 and by the time 2013 came round, I had kind of given up on meeting anyone. I just decided, 'Sod it, I'm going to have a baby on my own.'

How did you go about it? 

I decided to try artificial insemination via an anonymous sperm donor. It was very difficult to choose the right sperm donor - you only have the descriptions of donor features and personalities provided by the clinic to go on. 

Fortunately for me, I conceived on the first insemination.

I approached the clinic at the end of April 2013, checked my cycle in May, then during my June cycle I took the hormone injections and was inseminated on 6 July. I found out I was pregnant 14 days later - it was an utterly amazing experience

The process cost around £5,000 in total, and I am still paying it off. 

How have you coped without a father in the picture? 

The whole process was quite scary really, although I was in a bit of denial until my son Theo arrived  - and then it was like 'OMG!' It was much harder than I expected, and very tiring.

I was still working two weeks before the birth and  then I moved in with my mum for the first five months after Theo was born.

It had a massive impact mum's lifestyle, as she was the person I looked to the most for support and advice. But she was able to provide the mother's help that makes the difference; she made sure I was eating and resting and Theo's clothes were all laundered.

In general, I don’t tend to rely on anyone other than myself. I do things that are within my limits and trying to balance the weekends with Theo over doing chores - Theo wins hands down. I couldn’t imagine life without him. Things are getting a bit easier and there's always something new he is doing.

I didn’t even consider not having a father around an issue. I've made a lot of sacrifices in different areas. I am still paying for the whole fertility process that I underwent in order to become pregnant. I would love for Theo to have a brother or sister from the same donor but I think having another baby may be one step too far on my own, plus financially I really can't afford to do it again. 

How has your experience impacted your view of relationships? 

I haven’t dated since 2008, although I would still like to meet someone and have a relationship. At some point, I know Theo will ask me about why he doesn’t have a Daddy, but as there has never been a predominant male in his life I think he will be OK with it.

How have friends and family reacted? 

My friends were thrilled and no-one was negative towards my decision. However, my mum and some other family members were a little bit more uncertain as it goes against the concept of a conventional family, and I had never really considered before doing it that this would be my way of life. I don’t have a social life, really. I see friends at the weekend during the day and that’s it. I try to go out once or twice a month if I’m lucky, but financially I don’t have the spare cash to go out and also my life is different now it doesn’t really interest me. I prefer to go out with Theo.

Were your workplace supportive of your decision? 

I work in an equipment support office and my line managers and all my work colleagues were over the moon for me. They have been brilliant and very supportive, as my role is a fairly manual role with a lot of lifting, driving and generally running around.

What do you wish you'd known beforehand and what advice would you give others?

I was very anxious and upset at times, however I did use the Time To Talk service, which really helped.  I am coming up to the final week of my CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) course, which has really helped with my anxiety and worry, which was at a height post-natally in the first three months and when I went back to work.

I would say if you're thinking of conceiving via a donor, just do it! I did it at the right time for me and I have absolutely no regrets. It’s the hardest thing you will ever do and you don’t find that out until you’re doing it!

Donor conception as a single mum: FAQs

There is a network of fertility clinics, both NHS and private, across the UK, which are licensed by the government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association (HFEA). Dr Venkat from the Harley Street Fertility Clinic talks us the main stages of donor conception at her private clinic. We’ve also included a section on  in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and  intrauterine insemination (IUI) via the NHS. 

What does the process involve?

The first thing we do is schedule in a consultation to assess a woman’s fertility status. We will perform a scan of the ovaries and uterus and blood test to check the hormones. These two investigations will give us information about the fertility status of the woman. Based on this, the treatment options can be discussed.


If there are no fertility issues, the woman can choose to proceed with donor conception via  intrauterine insemination (IUI). This process involves monitoring a woman’s ovulation cycle to determine the best point to place donor sperm in a woman’s womb; fertilization takes place within the body. This is a simple and more natural form of assisted conception.

If there are fertility problems, a woman will be offered in vitro fertilisation (IVF), using donor sperm. Here, a woman receives daily hormone injections to stimulate her ovaries to produce multiple eggs. These eggs will then be retrieved under mild anaesthesia and fertilized using donor sperm in the laboratory. The fertilized egg or embryo is then replaced into the uterus.
Egg freezing

There is also the option of egg freezing, whereby women undergo a round of ovarian stimulation to retrieve eggs for storage. They can remain frozen for up to 10 years. When the woman is ready to attempt pregnancy the eggs are thawed, injected with a single sperm from a donor to achieve fertilization (using a process known as ICSI - intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection) and transferred to the uterus as embryos. Historically, the resulting success rate from egg freezing is not high but vitrification (a new rapid method for egg freezing) has recently been shown to improve the chance of eggs surviving the freeze-thaw process and therefore increase the success rate.
This is a particularly good option for women who may be interested in having a child alone but aren’t ready yet; they can have their eggs frozen in their late 20s or early thirties and it takes the pressure off. They don’t have to panic that they are running out of time to find someone in a hurry to have a baby with. 

How long does the process take?

Both IUI and IVF can take as little as a month for each attempt, from the first consultation to the actual treatment. For IVF, hormone injections are taken over a period of 10-12 days and the fertilization (developing the embryos before embryo transfer) takes three to five days. It takes approximately 4-6 weeks to complete the treatment. 

How much does it cost?

At the Harley Street Fertility Clinic, IUI costs around £1,000 a go, with an additional £800-£1000 for each sperm donation. For IVF, it costs from £5,000 a cycle (the price may go up depending on what dosage of medication is required for the hormone injection stage), and then £800-£1000 per sperm donation (each donation covers two rounds of IVF).

To have your eggs frozen, it costs roughly £4,000 - £,5000 for the process itself (we have options for young women to pay in installments, over a series of years), then £25 a month after that to store the eggs until the point that you use them. The egg thaw, fertilization and embryo transfer procedure costs approximately £3,000-£3,500.

How does sperm donation work?

We have our own bank of donors at the Harley Street Fertility Clinic, or a woman can choose to import sperm from a European or United States bank (where there is generally more information available on the donors), or via a friend who volunteers. We have a vigorous screening process for all sperm donors, as laid out by HFEA. We assess donors’ medical history using information from their GPs and require them to undergo a series of blood tests to check for infections and any genetic defects.

If they are choosing from our bank of anonymous donors, women select from profiles that include information such as age, family background, hobbies and interests (to see if say, they are creative or more sporty) and a physical description. People always ask, ‘Is he good-looking? Is he nice?’ And I joke, ‘What, you want George Clooney?!’ But in fact, this kind of process will always attract nice, young and easy-going people who want to help out and volunteer.

Women also fill out a form of their own detailing physical traits in their own family background, so that if they want to have consistency with that for their child, we can find a suitable donor. And if they want to have another child using the same sperm, we can facilitate this - it’s referred to as “sibling sperm”.

What about legal requirements?

The whole process is caveated by legal consent forms.  Under UK law, donors are anonymous (this varies around the world) but babies have the right to meet their genetic father when they are 18 years old, via information provided HFEA. The donor will be noted when a request has been made. Donor babies will also have the right to check whether they are genetically related to a partner from the age of 16, again using information provided via HFEA.

If someone is using sperm donated by a friend, I advise they draw up a contract with a solicitor, detailing exactly how much involvement, if any, the donor will have in the child’s upbringing and laying out the framework of a co-parenting agreement, if that’s what both parties want.

What extra provisions does your clinic put in place for single women?

We understand that prospective single mothers require additional support and guidance, and we strive to provide that every step of the way. It takes a lot of bravery; I have women who have thought about having a baby on their own for years before plucking up the courage to walk through the door. We provide all our clients with counselling sessions and these can be specially crafted to focus on issues relating to single parenthood and donor conception. Often, people have family and friends in place but they don’t necessarily want to tell them about something so private at first – so we are there to fill that gap in support.

For more information relating to private donor conception - including risks, success rates and consent - visit HFEA’s pages on IVFIUI and freezing and storing eggs.

IUI and IVF on the NHS

The availability of artificial insemination on the NHS varies throughout the UK. In some areas, the waiting list for treatment can be very long. The criteria that must be met to be eligible for treatment can also vary.  

According to the guidelines, women aged under 40 should be offered three cycles of IVF treatment on the NHS if you have been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected intercourse for two years OR you have not been able to get pregnant after 12 cycles of artificial insemination. Women aged between 40 and 42  can be offered one cycle of IVF on the NHS under this more demanding set of criteria.

Find out more information here for finding a sperm donor and applying for IUI or IVF via the NHS. The UK’s first NHS-funded sperm and embryo bank is open now.

Adoption as single mum: FAQs

Katrina Williams, team manager at Blackburn with Darwen Council agency Let's Adopt, talks through need-to-know information for those considering a child as a single parent within the UK. We've also included information on adopting a child from overseas. 

What are the first steps for someone interested in adopting a child within the UK?

The very first steps are much the same as considering having a child by any other means – consider your ability with regards to time, finance, support, emotional availability and home stability.

Then it is a matter of getting in touch with an adoption agencies to start discussions and help progress your thinking further.  Across the country there are local authority agencies (like Let’s Adopt) and voluntary agencies most of whom will accept applicants from a relatively wide area, so it is good to get a feel for who you will feel most comfortable taking this journey with.  First for Adoption is a good one stop place to find out who is available in your area.  Talking to anyone else you may know who has adopted is also a really good way of helping you think things through at this stage.

First4Adoption is good for initial advice and support, particularly if you’re not at the stage of wanting to approach an assessing agency yet, but most voluntary and local authority agencies around will also offer you sound advice.

You can approach your local authority to begin the process of adoption, but most local authorities, especially smaller ones, are also happy to work with people outside of their boundaries. This provides better opportunities for placing a child from the same local authority with an adopter who has been approved by that agency whilst keeping the child and placement safe geographically.  A few voluntary agencies work across the country but they will still have a more local office, which is the one you should apply to.

What kind of things do authorities look for in a potential adopter - is being single considered a drawback?

The simple answer is no – a single adopter would be considered in the same way as any other adopters based on their ability to meet the needs of a child. For some children who have had bad experiences with carers of one gender or another, a single parent can be just what they need. Obviously, the challenges of being a single parent remain and therefore we would particularly look at effective support networks, as this has been seen as key to placements working well when things get tough.

We look for people who are willing and able to grow, learn and develop through the process, who have the capacity to parent to a good or high standard, who have or can develop some insight into the kinds of backgrounds that children will come from and the effects that their early life experiences may have on them in the future. We also look for good support networks and stability.  Authorities are particularly interested in people who feel able to consider older children, children with disabilities or other complex needs, sibling groups and BME (black and minority ethnic) children as there are fewer adopters available for these children, meaning that children wait longer to find their family. A potential adopter must be realistic about what they can manage, but we often find that during the assessment and family finding process their concept of what they can manage stretches as their insight grows.

What process do you go through to be approved as an adopter?

First there are initial discussions and then the adopter and the agency agree that it is time to move on to assessment - this can be a very quick period or some people need longer to think things through. There is then a two-stage process. Stage one takes two months and is about statutory checks, training and learning. Stage two takes four months and is about meeting with a social worker who will ask lots of questions and then produce an assessment report.  The final stages of stage two are that the assessment is sent to a panel of people who make a recommendation and then the agency decision maker makes the final decision.

How is an adopter matched with a particular child?

Every adopter will have an allocated social worker who will try be looking for children who meet the adopter’s matching criteria. But there are now many opportunities for the adopters to also be involved in this by searching on secure websites, going to days where they can meet children’s social workers and going to days where they can meet with children waiting (Activity Days).  On a basic level the matching criteria will be about age, level of complexity, number of children, cultural and religious needs etc. However, we would also be looking to complement personalities and lifestyle (e.g. a very active child with a parent who is equally active) and take into consideration the past experiences of the child.  

How long does the adoption process take?

The assessment process is six months, from application to approval.  Matching can be very quick (especially if you are looking for an older child, more complex needs, sibling group, etc)  - but it can also take many months.  So it is important to be patient with this part of the process and to engage with it as much as possible.

How much does the process cost?

This varies slightly from one agency to another but on the whole you will be required to pay for a medical assessment with your doctor (if they charge) and any foreign police checks that are needed.  There is no charge for being assessed.  At the other end, most children’s agencies will cover transport costs/costs associated with meeting your child for introductions and many also offer a small grant for settling in (to cover essential items).  Finally most, although not all, agencies pay for the cost of lodging the application and any associated legal costs.  So in short, there really is very little financial cost – the 'cost' is the emotional and time investment in the process.

How do you know if you're ready to adopt? 

That’s a difficult one to answer. A lot of people do not yet feel 100% confident when they make their first approach to an agency, and that is why the early conversations are really helpful in allowing particularly single adopters to think things through further.  Before application, we would expect you to have closed off any other options, and if you have chosen to try IVF previously, there would need to be a break of at least six months after the last cycle.  Equally we would strongly advise a period of six months to a year after any traumatic event (e.g. separation, loss of someone very close). However, again each person’s circumstances are different and these are things that can be discussed in the early stages.

What measures are there out there that are specifically geared to helping single parents with adoption?

All adoptive families are eligible for post-adoption support and this is no different for single adopters. However, some agencies have set up groups specifically for single adopters so that they can get together and offer each other some peer support. It is also understand that coming to panel, for example, can be difficult and therefore some single adopters like to bring along a friend or family member – most agencies will be very accommodating of this. A single parent may even want someone else present for some of the initial assessment sessions  - however, most sessions would need to happen with the adopter alone. We try to offer sensitivity and support to all of our potential adopters from the onset regardless of their background or circumstances, and building a professionally supportive relationship with adopters is vital not only to the assessment process but to matching and on going support.

Adopting a child from overseas

If you want to adopt a child from overseas, you should contact either your local council or a voluntary adoption agency that deals with overseas adoption. The adoption process is similar to a UK adoption and will be done by a UK adoption agency which may charge a fee. There are several other steps, for example: the assessment will be sent to the overseas adoption authority, you’ll need to visit the child in their own country and your application will be sent to the child’s country. See more here

Photos: ThinkStock

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.