Why ARE so many midlife women having children alone?
Why ARE so many midlife women having children alone? In the past five years Britain’s seen a boom in solo motherhood, fuelled by the lucrative fertility industry – Here, four mums share their very different experiences
- Singletons who’ve started a family using fertility treatments share their stories
- Jennifer Coy, 44, had four attempts at IVF before she became pregnant
- Mother-of-two from Liverpool, had struggled to find the right partner
- Mel, 41, from Manchester, set up an online community with her experience
- Research reveals around 2,279 women tried to start a family on their own in 2017
Little Olivia Coy loves drawing pictures of her family. There’s Mummy, sister Isobel and her grandparents, all with their stick arms and triangular bodies. There isn’t a daddy in the picture.
Even though she understands what one is, Olivia knows some families, like hers, don’t have one. She knows that ‘a nice man had helped Mummy’ make her, and that’s good enough for her . . . for now. This is her family, and she’s happy with it.
Olivia is a sperm donor baby. Her mother Jennifer wasn’t prepared to let the absence of a partner stand in her way of becoming a mother and decided to go it alone.
Moral or ethical concerns aside, no one can deny such families are a growing trend. According to NHS figures, in 2007, there were only 351 treatment cycles in Britain for single women. The latest statistics show this has risen to 1,290 — accounting for about 3 per cent of all cycles. When the women who were inseminated with donor sperm but did not have full in vitro fertilisation (IVF) are added, 2,279 women tried to start a family on their own in 2017. And this isn’t the full picture, with plenty more procedures being carried out privately.
Four women who became mothers using fertility treatment shared their experiences, including mother-of-two Jennifer Coy, 44, (pictured with her two children) from Liverpool
Last month the singer Cheryl announced she would use a sperm donor to have her next child. The reality TV judge who has a son — Bear, who turns three next month — with former One Direction band member Liam Payne, said she feels she is running out of time to find a partner and plans to have ‘more than one’ child through fertility treatment.
She isn’t the only celebrity to consider going it alone either. In October, singer Natalie Imbruglia, 45, announced the birth of son Max. She had already posted on Instagram in July that she was expecting ‘with the help of IVF and a sperm donor’.
Yet not everyone thinks single women should be pursuing fertility treatment. Indeed, nine years ago documents were leaked revealing health chiefs for South London had created a policy to only fund fertility treatments for couples ‘living in a stable relationship’ because single women having children would ‘place a greater burden on society’.
The statement caused uproar — but it’s a conviction many NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) hold.
According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, all women under 40 should be offered three cycles of IVF treatment. But at a local level, it is individual CCGs who make the final decision about who is eligible for NHS-funded IVF in their local area.
Yet for those single women with enough cash, there is always hope. It has led to the creation of a fertility industry worth £320 million, offering to help single women become mothers — for the right price.
Increasing numbers are freezing their eggs while they pursue careers or look for Mr Right.
Treatment cycles with frozen eggs rose from 410 in 2012 to 1,462 in 2017. Now the Department of Health and Social Care is considering whether to allow them to store eggs for longer; currently, the cut-off point is ten years.
Femail spoke to four women to hear their rollercoaster stories of heartbreak and joy.
THE TWO-TIME FERTILITY TOURIST
Teacher Jennifer Coy, 44, never intended to have a family this way. She would love to be in a stable relationship, with her two children (now aged four years and 18 months, pictured below with her) making Father’s Day cards and calling someone Daddy. But life didn’t pan out that way.
Jennifer (pictured) made the decision to have a baby alone, after failing to meet a potential partner using websites and dating apps
And, like Cheryl, she had to make some difficult decisions: accept motherhood just wasn’t going to happen for her; ‘settle’ for any old chap who came along, out of desperation; or use her hard-earned savings to solve the dilemma and go it alone.
She chose the latter.
‘While I made a conscious effort to try to meet someone via websites and dating apps, it is a very competitive environment,’ says Jennifer. ‘Guys I met who I liked didn’t feel the same way about me and vice versa.
‘Perhaps on dates I came across as being over-keen, but it is an added pressure knowing you are looking for a father.
‘So, aged 36, I made an appointment with my doctor.
‘I didn’t have much time. If I wanted a baby I would have to do it alone — and now.’
It took Jennifer, who lives in Liverpool, another year to get NHS approval for IVF treatment. After two failed attempts, one funded privately, and with her 40th birthday looming, in 2014 Jennifer decided to look into fertility treatment in the Czech Republic, using sperm donated by someone she knows but who isn’t involved in her children’s upbringing.
Costing as little as £2,500, it is at least half the price of the average sum charged by private clinics in the UK, and has led to a steady stream of ‘fertility tourists’.
It’s still not a cheap option, however. ‘Every attempt involved two flights and seven nights away,’ says Jennifer.
‘I saved hard and sacrificed everything, from holidays to a new car, to fund the £20,000 necessary.’
The 44-year-old teacher, became pregnant on her fourth attempt at IVF and went through the process again in the Czech Republic to have a second child, pictured: Jennifer with her daughters Olivia and Isobel
Jennifer was 40 and on her fourth attempt at IVF when she became pregnant with Olivia.
‘Thankfully my parents live around the corner, because the first few months were challenging. It was a big shock having to provide 24-hour care for this little person on my own.’
Wanting to provide a sibling for Olivia, Jennifer went through the whole process again a year later, back in the Czech Republic using an embryo frozen from her last cycle.
Isobel is now 18 months old, and Jennifer feels her longed-for family is complete.
‘I’ve never for one moment regretted having my girls.
‘When I first had Olivia, I was worried about what to say to people when they asked about her father. But now I’m a lot more open about it.
‘There are so many different ways to have a family today. When new neighbours recently moved in, I introduced myself as a solo mum. I like to tell people upfront.
‘I am thinking about dating again. While I’m not desperate to meet a man, why not? It’s nice to have that pressure to have children removed; I can just relax and enjoy myself.’
THE CAREER WOMAN EGG FREEZER
In 2011, entrepreneur and engineer Rajvant Nijjhar, then 39, wasn’t just setting up her first business, she also paid £4,000 to freeze 12 viable eggs as an ‘insurance policy.’
‘It was my mum who suggested it after a friend of mine had done the same thing at 38. She thought I should hedge my bets in case my relationship didn’t work out — and, unfortunately, it didn’t.’
Over the next few years, despite trying to meet as many potential partners as possible through social events and dating sites, everyone she went out with either already had children and didn’t want any more, or thought she was too old to have them.
Rajvant Nijjhar (pictured) was encouraged by her family to have fertility treatment, after struggling to meet a potential partner through social events and dating sites
‘When I was 45, it was my family who encouraged me and said: “It’s now or never.” ’
Rajvant spent another £4,000 on a second round of fertility treatment to produce more eggs at a private London clinic. Three viable eggs were retrieved, and she also had three unfrozen from her first attempt at 39.
After looking at co-parenting options, she felt the cleanest legal option would be the sperm donor route. ‘I chose my donor from a website that provided photographs and a full family history. This was important to me so that, in the future, I could provide a medical history to my child’s doctors.
‘I chose someone who I could have dated. He is educated in business and law, and practises yoga and meditation, like me.’
Rajvant spent £3,000 on the donor sperm including transportation costs and £2,000 for the transfer process, bringing the total cost of treatment to approximately £13,000.
From the six eggs, four embryos were created and one went on to become her daughter Anya (pictured left with her mum), now 18 months old. She was successful at her first attempt.
Rajvant knows she was lucky. Fertility clinics have been accused of selling ‘false hope’ to women, allowing them to freeze their eggs well into their late 30s, even though the success rate is slim. Yet, Rajvant who describes herself as ‘driven’, had no trouble.
‘There are still nine eggs left that I froze when I was 39,’ she says. ‘If I met someone, there is the possibility to use them to have a sibling for Anya.’
Rajvant who runs her own business, moved out of her Wimbledon home to live with her parents after becoming a mother, pictured: Rajvant with her daughter Anya
Mindful of running her own business and being a single mother, she moved out of her Wimbledon home and back in with her parents.
Rajvant is full of praise for her parents and their invaluable help with their granddaughter.
‘I was able to return to work six weeks after becoming a mum due to my family support,’ she says. ‘We had won an exciting innovation grant worth £140,000 and I was the project lead.’
During this time, she worked around the clock to raise a newborn and deliver on work projects.
Ask if she is worried about Anya’s future if anything should happen to herself, and Rajvant is sanguine. ‘I prefer to live in the present and have faith my future is taken care of. In any event, I currently own property that is my pension and will be handed on to Anya. If something happened to me, then my sister would take over. I’ll always manage. Anya is beautiful and thriving. I am blessed.’
THE SINGLE-MINDED SPERM BUYER
Like Jennifer and Rajvant, Claire Thorns, 40, from Durham, had no option but to use a sperm donor to realise her dream of becoming a mother.
Claire, who works as a demand planner for a global chemical company, says she’s been single most of her life, as she is so ‘picky’ with men. In more than 20 years of dating, her longest relationship lasted three months.
‘In my 20s the joke was that if I hadn’t met the right man by the time I was 30, I would go it alone.
‘But it was only at 34 I had an overwhelming desire to be a mother. I could do without a man, but not without a child. I was in stable employment, I’d bought my own house and was ready.
Claire Thorns, 40, from Durham, had an overwhelming desire to become a mother when she was aged 34 and paid £7,000 for IVF treatment
‘I hadn’t given up on Mr Right, but if I were to wait to meet him, and then wait for the relationship to develop to a stage where having a child would be possible, given my track record, I would have been too old.’
On visiting her GP, however, she found the NHS policy in her area was not to fund IVF treatment for single women. So she paid for the £7,000 treatment herself.
‘In September 2013 I went to a local clinic’s open day. Afterwards, I sat in the garden with my mum and showed her the leaflets. She was initially shocked, but quickly embraced it. By the following January I had started treatment for Mum’s first grandchild — and she was as excited as I was.
‘I was able to choose sperm on a British website, which cost £1,000. While the donor remains anonymous until my son is 18 — when he can contact him if he wishes to — I was able to select one based on his eye colour, height, hair colour and even his career.
‘The staff write a brief summary of the donor’s personality, and described my chosen donor as a very friendly, personable individual. That clinched it for me.
‘My IVF journey was textbook perfect and I became pregnant on my first attempt.
‘As my pregnancy progressed I realised I’d never really held a baby, let alone changed a nappy or been responsible for a child before. But after Jacob (above) was born in 2015, I was alone on the ward when instinct took over and I knew exactly what to do.
Claire said she plants to tell her son Jacob everything, when he asks about his father and why he doesn’t have siblings, pictured: Claire and five-year-old Jacob
‘We were in hospital for five days. When other women were visited by their partners, it didn’t upset me. I knew what I was doing when I chose to be a single mother.’
Jacob is now five and Claire is bracing herself for the questions she knows are bound to come, like why he doesn’t have a brother or sister. And where his Dad is.
‘I haven’t really got an answer prepared; perhaps I should. I plan to tell Jacob everything, but only when he asks, as then he will be ready to know.
‘I never once felt I wanted another parent to help me. When I look back I feel proud that I managed on my own.’
FOR ME IT WAS A LAST RESORT… NOW I COACH OTHER WOMEN HOW TO DO IT
By Frances Hardy
Finding herself still single at the age of 39, Mel Johnson decided to have a baby on her own using a sperm donor. Now she has taken what she learned from her experience and become Britain’s first solo mum coach.
While she was pregnant with Daisy, now two years old, Mel started a blog. She called it The Stork And I, hoping it would help other single women considering IVF who felt as alone as she did.
The response was overwhelming. Today, more than 650 women have joined 41-year-old Mel’s online community: she set up her coaching business in response to their clamour for reassurance and guidance.
The phenomenon is a modern one. Mel, who lives in Manchester, refers to herself as a ‘social infertility adviser’ — a relatively new term used to describe the increasing number of women who are infertile due to circumstance rather than medical issues.
Mel Johnson, 41, who lives in Manchester, has built an online community of more than 650 women since sharing her experience of having a child using a sperm donor, pictured: Mel and her daughter Daisy
Mel’s clients are mostly like her: successful, independent professionals in their 30s and 40s who have simply not found the right partner but want a child.
She has been consulted by women as far afield as the U.S., Australia, Canada and the Netherlands as well as hundreds in the UK.
A graduate in business studies who also has a qualification in life coaching, Mel works four days a week as global HR manager for a telecoms company, and fits in her coaching, for which she charges £65 an hour, during evenings and weekends.
‘As a coach I don’t advise, but I help clients think through their choices. If they ask me about my own experience, I’ll share it, of course. The main worries are will they be able to cope financially and physically?
‘The worst times are when you feel completely exhausted or ill. I’ve had to ask my mum for help, because you just can’t manage alone if you’re sick.’
Then there’s the price of conceiving itself. Typically an IVF cycle costs around £3,000 to £5,000, but add extras such as medication, genetic screening, scans and storage for frozen embryos, and the total can reach £12,000.
Mel cites the example of a client who felt ‘just overwhelmed’ by the choices available to her.
‘So we worked through them, one by one: her worries about how to communicate with her family, feelings of failure about not finding a partner, fear of loneliness and anxiety about how she’d manage alone.
‘When she took the next step and had fertility treatment, the rest just fell into place. She was ecstatic when she became pregnant.’
Like most of her clients, Mel’s route to solo parenthood was a last resort. ‘When I was 29, my fiancé broke off our relationship five months before the wedding. At the time I was shocked, bereft and threw myself into work.
‘I kept meeting men I had nothing in common with so I decided to go through the IVF route.’
Mel became pregnant with Daisy (right) on the second attempt.
‘It frustrates me when friends say: “You put your career before finding the right partner.” I didn’t. I don’t feel I’ve been too choosy either.
‘If I can’t find the right person, I’d rather it was just Daisy and me — and I think many other women feel the same way.’
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