Becoming a solo mum: choices and challenges

Lucia Grounds
Member of Donor Conception Network, Donor Conception Network
Becoming a solo mum: choices and challenges #IVFWEBINARS
From this video you will find out:
  • How to decide on solo motherhood?
  • What factors influence the choice between donor eggs and one’s own eggs, and anonymous versus non-anonymous donors?
  • How to mentally prepare for fertility treatment as a solo mom?
  • What are the implications of these decisions?
  • How to approach honesty with a future child about their conception?
  • Which countries allow ID-release donors?
  • Should you choose an IVF clinic in the UK or consider options abroad?


How to start your journey to solo motherhood?

Lucia Grounds is sharing her story of becoming a single mum via IVF treatment and answering viewers’ questions.

Being a solo mum by choice seems one of the most courageous things a woman can do. If you’re considering becoming a single mother through donor conception, you probably have a wealth of questions to ask. In this webinar, Lucia Grounds is addressing some of the most common choices and challenges that you would face. Lucia, a single mum herself, is the Membership Coordinator of Donor Conception Network – a support network for families who have had children with the help of donor eggs, sperm or embryos.

Although the medical side of fertility treatment is of the highest importance, there are also many (often unexpected!) implications for future parents and children conceived through donor conception. And they should be given equal thought when preparing for IVF with donor eggs and/or sperm. This is exactly what Lucia Grounds focuses on in her presentation during this webinar. Listen to what she says to consider the possible options and make the best choices for you.

A complicated route to motherhood

Lucia starts by telling the story of her journey to becoming a mum. It was not before she was in her 40s that she decided to have a baby. She hadn’t met a man she wanted to start a family with but she didn’t give up on her dream of becoming a mum. After her 42-year-old friend got pregnant with donor eggs, she realised that it might be difficult to conceive at her age. She started to research and faced a real challenge – related not only to find the available treatment options but also to deciding on being a single parent. Most importantly, she had to let go of some of the things she thought might happen to her in her life, like e.g. finding a proper man. But the desire to have a child was so strong in her case that Lucia decided on solo motherhood against all odds.

She started IUI treatment when she was 43. However, it didn’t work so she was told to go on IVF with her own eggs. She got pregnant in a clinic in London but sadly miscarried a few months into her pregnancy. Then she underwent two more cycles with own eggs (in the U.S. and in London again) but both of them ended in a miscarriage as well. Lucia admits that she really hoped to be fertile at that time – but unfortunately her age and age-related conditions turned out to be the obstacle impossible to overcome. The doctors advised her to try with donor eggs next time – and as she already used donor sperm, it meant conceiving through double donation.

At the time when Lucia was undergoing her treatment (2004-2005), the law in the UK didn’t change yet and there was no option to use ID-release donors – there were only anonymous donors available. What is more, the waiting time was from 2 to 5 years. And being 45, Lucia could not afford to wait so long for her dream of pregnancy to come true. So she went to Spain and did a double donation to a clinic in Valencia. Sadly, she miscarried all the three cycles she underwent there. Altogether, Lucia had a story of 6 unsuccessful cycles (with both own and donor eggs) and that was a hard emotional experience for her. It led her to consult many specialists who diagnosed her with some clotting autoimmune issues. They were treated successfully and finally, at the age of 46, Lucia underwent a double donation cycle with two embryos, she got pregnant and gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl. But although her own story was quite complicated, Lucia says that in the case of most single women choosing donor conception, the route to motherhood is much more straightforward. But no matter how your own story goes, you have to remember to make decisions that are best for you and your future family. Lucia encourages us to consider the options and ways to parenthood that suit us the most – as this is our own life and our own happiness.

How to get started

According to Lucia, the very first step in a woman’s journey to becoming a solo mum should be the thinking stage. It is important to ask yourself a question: “What does it mean to be a mum of my own?” That is where research, preparation and accessing all the resources available are really important. Lucia advises contacting Donor Conception Network and other support resources, such as e.g Facebook groups where you can find all the necessary information as well as contact specialists and people who have the same experience as yours. Counselling is equally important. Lucia says in the UK, one counselling session is mandatory for all patients who consider donor conception and helps to realise all possible implications of such type of fertility treatment. Counselling should also be considered in psychological terms – as a tool to help you deal with all the things you are giving up, such as e.g. a relationship that has broken up recently. Lucia admits there are things in everybody’s life that have to be put into perspective before we can move forward with solo parenthood.

Apart from psychological concerns and emotional support, there is of course a more practical part of donor conception that has to be given a great deal of thought. Choosing what method to conceive (with a known donor or an anonymous donor) and the country to have the treatment in, together with researching all pros and cons of such a choice, is of crucial importance. Last but not least, it is recognising that you are not just having a baby – but a person who will have thoughts and feelings about their conception, too.

Lucia says that preparation is key in the case of donor conception. When you are in a good place after preparing, then you move forward with confidence – and that will have a beneficial effect on your ability to tell your story to your child in a confident and self-assured way. It is great if you can talk all the important issues through before getting pregnant – then you can embrace what happens in your life with a positive attitude. Lucia suggests ‘Preparation for Donor Conception Parenthood’ workshops run by Donor Conception Network (available online) as a helpful tool to prepare for all pros and cons of a chosen parenthood route. It can, among others, help with acknowledging your donor as a real but non-threatening person and the reality of DNA testing. The latter enables us these days to trace our anonymous donors more and more often.

Implications for donor-conceived children

Lucia admits it is very hard to think of a child when you just want to have a baby. However, she was clear from the start that she wanted to be open and honest about her way of conceiving. She felt that if she was making the decision to have a child in this way, she was bound to respect her child’s feelings and the fact that they had a genetic parent – and not just a donor. Becoming a solo mum is a very brave choice and a woman should be proud of herself and how she deals with that. Lucia reminds us that the DC family is a legitimate family choice and nothing to be ashamed of.

But whatever a woman’s attitude towards her solo motherhood, there are differences that are not easy to ignore. Kids conceived through sperm donation won’t have a dad – unless you choose a known donor. According to Lucia, it is not something to worry about or hide from, either. It is a real issue and the child will bring that about eventually. In order to be prepared for that moment, she practised telling her children their stories since they were born. From the moment they were able to understand what she was saying, she used the words such as ‘donor’ and read books about donor conception (also by Donor Conception Network) to them. She did all of that in order to acknowledge the fact that they had a genetic relative that is an important part of their life.

Being honest about the way your children were conceived involves informing other people around you. However, Lucia advises being cautious in this matter. You have to remember that a woman is very vulnerable at the beginning of her solo motherhood journey – so this is perfectly fine to think about who you are going to tell carefully. For example, Donor Conception Network produces booklets on how to convey the message to your family and friends and asks them to support you in telling your story. Lucia reminds us that there is no obligation for a woman to tell others about her donor conception experience. She can choose the people she wants to share her news with. It depends on her personality and how comfortable she is with getting other people into her private stuff. However, it is important to think about creating one’s own support network, too. Grandparents, uncles, aunties and friends can be a fantastic bedrock for the child’s relationships with adults – and that’s a thing to bear in mind as well.

Choices to make

There are a lot of options to consider when planning one’s solo motherhood. Probably the most difficult choice to make is to decide about the type of donor: should it be a known donor, an ID-release donor (when the child is 18) or an anonymous one? Lucia admits that using a known donor – a friend or via online resources – very often proves to be the best way of building a family. It means that a child knows their genetic parent from the very beginning. However, this choice is not free of disadvantages, either. A woman has to consider carefully who that man is and how he will fit into her and her child’s life. It is also good to consult family lawyers for legal advice as well as try to take into account your child’s possible expectations in relation to their second parent. So just like in the case of any relationship, it is necessary to negotiate and plan ahead.

Since 2005, in the UK it’s been possible to choose ID-release donors. It means that when children are 18 years old, they will be able to learn their donors’ identities and look for them. Of course, there is no guarantee that their donor will be available or alive at this time – however, you are setting out with the hope that you will be able to make a connection with the donor at some point in your life. And that often counts for the kids the most.

When choosing IVF treatment abroad, you have to remember that most countries have so-called ‘anonymous forever’ donors. However, Lucia pays our attention to an important fact – namely, not all clinics are equal. They often differ from one another when it comes to the amount of donors’ information revealed to patients. Some of them – despite having anonymous donors – may give future parents details, such as the donor’s eye and hair colour or height. And, surprisingly, these are the details that count to kids very much. Lucia admits that her children are affected very seriously by the fact that they only know the age and the blood group of their donors. She believes that having more information would make a big difference to them – even if they couldn’t meet their donor in person. They would simply feel much better if they knew what their genetic parent’s physical characteristics or interests were.

Challenges to overcome

In order to become a conscious and self-assured donor conception parent, you should definitely deal with your own stuff first. What Lucia understands by ‘your stuff’ is everything that you bring into your child’s life: your previous experiences, disappointments and lessons learned. And although we are not going to be perfect parents (and we shouldn’t try to be such!), there are always some residual issues we ought to work through to obtain the necessary peace of mind.

This also refers to challenging questions our child may ask in the future. Lucia admits her kids started asking her where their daddy is when they were about 2 years old. That’s why it is worth considering how you are going to phrase the answers to your child. You have to remember that even if you have come to terms with not having a dad in your family, your child might not have. That’s why give them as much information as you have on their donor and try to support all your child’s feelings about how things are – including sadness, anger and disappointment. Of course, not all donor-conceived kids want to know more about their genetic parents. Sometimes they come up with this idea only during some particular periods in their life, e.g. when starting school or when having kids of their own. But whatever their attitude, it’s up to their mum to listen to them and acknowledge their emotions. If your child wants to search for their donor and get to know them in person, talk about ways to do it as well as the pros and cons of doing so. Let them feel that you are always on their side!

Conclusions to remember

When concluding her presentation, Lucia reminds us that decisions made before conception have longer than life-long consequences. That includes, first of all, deciding if donor conception is a route for us at all. And if yes, we should consider in detail which treatment option and which country would suit us best. It is true that no other group of potential parents is asked to think so far ahead and imagine how their school-age, teenage or young adult kids will feel as a result of their decisions. But the fact is that when you make the decisions that are good for you, they build confidence in your story to your child. And your feelings about your choices will trickle down to your kids who will pick up on your positive attitude and confidence.

Because DNA testing is becoming so common and popular these days, more and more donor-conceived people will find it easier to identify their donors – despite those being anonymous. And if that donor has donated before, it is very possible that one of his donor-conceived children may find and contact your child at some point in the future. That’s why Lucia strongly advises acknowledging the place in the recipient family of the man (or the woman) who donated their genetic material. Donor-conceived people deserve the respect of knowing about their beginnings and having access to that information. Families that cannot speak comfortably about donor conception can be damaging to be part of. In fact, Lucia would gladly meet her children’s donors and thank them in person for giving her the best possible gift – her beautiful family!

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- Questions and Answers

What in particular do your twins wish they knew more about in relation to their donor? I have chosen an anonymous sperm donor and this is the only thing I feel guilty about. I do, however, have an extended profile with baby pictures.

It’s a good question but also a difficult one. First of all, if it’s absolutely impossible for you to  choose anything other than an anonymous donor, an extended profile with baby pictures is brilliant compared to the situation of my children who only have the age of the donors and their blood groups. Maybe having that extended profile and the pictures will help your child to feel they know a lot about the donor. It can satisfy many children as that’s really all they want to know. It may be further down the line that you use the DNA commercial testing if your child wants to find their donor. Don’t feel guilty: if you can change it, then change it – but most people can’t and there’s a reason why you’ve chosen this route. Maybe this choice has come at a great cost to you. My strong advice is to get as much support and advice as you can and start from the beginning with openness and honesty. With your extended profile and the pictures, you have a better position than many other people. I don’t want you to feel guilty – it’s not a healthy feeling. When it comes to what my twins want to know: they’d like to know the donor’s height, eye colour, hair colour and nationality. They want to know what donors liked and didn’t like, whether they’re musical or not – that sort of things.

What experience can you share about having a first child with a known donor and wanting a second child by an ID-release donor (in a UK clinic)?

You are choosing to have your children through different donors so I the thing to bear in mind is how you handle it as a parent. Your children may have different feelings about having a known donor and having an ID-release donor – or they may not. I think the most important thing for you is to connect with people like DC Network and to speak to other parents who’ve also done similar family-building to you. You should find out from the beginning how you want to handle the questions from your children. You can’t predict how your children will react but this is how your family is built and you need to embrace that with honesty, openness and support for your children. But it’s not a bad thing – it’s something that you’ve chosen to do. By acknowledging that with your children throughout the rest of their lives and dealing with any questions, you will go a long way to helping them come to terms with those differences in their conception.

I am a single mom with a 17-month old by double donation. What were the words you used to explain about the donors? I’ve heard it’s important not to use the word ‘special’ or ‘chosen’ – any advice on that?

I think this is about you practising the words – and not really about your child who doesn’t yet comprehend. It’s you who are building the blocks of openness and honesty. What were the words I said when I started talking to them? I talked about a man who gave a seed and a lady who gave an egg and the seed man and the seed lady joined their egg and seed in the sea together and they made an embryo that was put inside my tummy. “And that’s how you grew” – that’s what I started with. I never said was that my children were special – of course my children are special in any other context but in the context of donor conception, I never say “You were a gift” or “What I went through to get you” or “You’re chosen” because that can be a very large burden to place on a child or a young person. Because then they feel: “Mum went through all of this to have me and I need to be this person to live up to something”. And it’s not fair to do that . Of course I think they are special – but sometimes it’s enough to say: “I love you, I really wanted to have a baby, you were so very wanted and I did this because I really wanted to have a baby. Aren’t I lucky?” etc. I think using terms like ‘special’ and ‘chosen’ can be complex for kids because a lot of kids want to be normal. They don’t want to be special and chosen – they just want to be normal kids fitting in with people. So I used the words ‘seed man’ and ‘egg lady’ and then, when my children could read, they realised that I’d replaced the word ‘sperm’ with ‘seed’ and they said: “Mummy, it says ‘sperm’ in this book. Why do you use ‘seed’? Let’s call them the sperm man and the egg lady!” Now they call them ‘my donors’, sometimes ‘my donor mum’ and ‘my donor dad’, my genetic family, etc. But now they are nearly 14 so their vocabulary is big.

You mentioned before about acknowledging the donors as real people. How do you suggest doing that – particularly when the donor is anonymous?

I guess this all comes a bit later in the development when your children may ask questions. But if your donor is anonymous, one of the things I hung on to was the fact that my kids were conceived in Spain. And I love Spain, I have family that lived in Spain and I really embrace that. I didn’t know anything, I didn’t even know whether their donors were Spanish – so I just focused on the fact that they were conceived in an IVF clinic in Valencia. We’ve been there and there were these people who came and gave their seeds and their egg for mummy to make a irbaby. I never said they were kind people – because I don’t know if the donors are kind – but I said “Your donors did a really kind thing by giving this egg and this seed to make a baby”. And that’s how I built up their picture as real people. I don’t know these people but they are real people and sometimes, when the kids get older, they would ask: “What do you think they look like?” or “What do you think they like doing?” and I just say: “I don’t know what these people are doing because we don’t know them but I hope that they’re having a happy life”. I don’t say “I hope you might meet them one day” because you don’t know that and that’s problematic – you don’t want to fall into a trap, either. But really just build up anything around their conception, like what clinic you went to, what country it was and what you like in it. For example, we love Spain, we love Spanish music, my daughter’s learning Spanish. If it’s Czech Republic, you could look at their football teams, etc. Remember that you’re building up a picture of a real person who went to a real place and donated real genetic material to make a child – so it’s a real story.

Do you have any advice when it comes to the existence of donor siblings? How to handle this subject?

It’s quite tricky and it depends on you as a parent and your children and how they feel about having siblings. If you’re in the UK – and maybe also in the U.S. – you’ll be able to find out whether your donor or donors have created other children and other families, as well as the gender of those children, the year they were born, etc. So that information is available to your child and it’s up to you when you introduce that into the conversation. What I know from DC Network, many parents introduce that really quite early on – they introduce the idea that there may be other children born from the same donor. But I think that’s something you might judge as a parent, basing on the kind of comprehension your child has on a personal level. So it may be something that would be introduced a little bit later when they have grounding and understanding about donor conception. In case of my children, I don’t think we spoke about that in detail until they were about 6 or 7 but they weren’t much interested then. They are interested now and that started when they were about 11 or 12 years old. Now at 13, they’re much more interested. When you say about ‘handling the subject’ – again, it’s difficult because it’s how your child really reacts and how you handle it. A lot of people think it’s a good thing to introduce it early and other people are not sure. What I would say is: think carefully about how you feel about it and the language you might use and get some support from other parents. DC Network will put you in touch with other parents who have done that and I think it’s good to talk to others. Because I can only speak from my own experience.

Do you call the donors ‘donors’?

Yes, I call the donors ‘donors’. But since my daughter submitted her DNA for testing, she understands more and more the genetic relationship. But this has taken a very long time and she’s nearly 14. So when I started, I said ‘donor’. I didn’t say ‘sperm donor’, I said ‘seed donor’ and ‘egg donor’ and sometimes I used the word ‘man’ and ‘lady’. But generally I’ve said ‘donor’ and that’s been the language that we’ve used. It’s only now changing in their teens as they’re recognising that these people are their genetic parents and the genetic relationship between them. But it took a long time to even begin to be understood. So yes, I called the donors ‘donors’ but it’s up to you and eventually, it’d be up to your children what they decide to call their donors.

I really feel that the search for the perfect donor is definitely giving me a good excuse not to push ahead. I need to get over the fact that there may never be a perfect one. Any advice?

There is nothing perfect in life. Sometimes good enough is enough to go forward. I think talking to other mums who’ve already had their kids about how they chose their donors can be helpful. It’s sometimes useful to make a list on paper to look at. It’s easy for me to say because I already have children but I understand how hard it is to choose someone who is going to be the genetic parent to your child. But why aren’t you pushing ahead? I think that’s something you can ask a counsellor to explore with you. Maybe it’s because you’re not letting go off the idea of finding a person that you’re going to make a baby with? There might be other issues, too. Is it because donors are anonymous or does it have nothing to do with that? I think I’d look at that because the excuse not to push ahead may be about many more complex things. But it’s also very normal to get stuck on the donor choice and I think that’s where you need to speak to other women who have children. I didn’t have any choice in the donor, which was very sad in a way. But, on the other hand, I just got these kids who I had no expectations about at all. So there’s a point where you need to leap off and I think you need a bit of support as there may be other things holding you back. So just talk to DC Network and look at it on paper what it is exactly that you’re looking for. And remember that there’s no perfect thing ever and genes are very strange – so you just never know.

Did you ever consider adoption? I can imagine that process would have similar challenges.

I did very briefly consider adoption but at the time, it was quite hard for single women. I had a history of depression as well which wasn’t on paper at that time – we’re talking about the times 14 years ago. I think I didn’t seriously consider adoption because I tried so many times and got pregnant many times. And the feeling of being pregnant and losing that pregnancy spurred me on physically carrying a pregnancy. But I do think the adoption is a very good alternative. I think the process would have some similar challenges – but of course there’s much more potential for the sense of rejection in adoption because there were real parents who have given birth to a child and that child’s been given away or had to leave that family. So I don’t see exactly the same challenges in donor conception – but yes, there are similarities with the identity of your genetic parents or birth parents. They are similar but maybe less acute in that way.

Have you ever had negative responses from other people? I am now 17 weeks pregnant using a known donor. Months before I started the journey, I mentioned to my colleague at work that I was thinking about it and he had such a negative and angry response, stating that I was being selfish to exclude men from the process. I could handle it at the time but I worry I will get more responses like this once the baby arrives.

This is a really legitimate concern and I’m really sorry that you had to experience that. What can I say? Well, you’re not excluding men from the process. You’re using a man to create a baby, aren’t you? All the time that I’ve been with my kids and revealed that I’m a single parent with donors, I’ve never had any negative reactions. But this is where it comes to telling others – did you have to mention it to your colleague? I know some people are very open and honest but is that really worth having to educate people who have knee-jerk responses to things they don’t know anything about? I would just say: try to protect yourself. I really feel for you because this is really hard but maybe think about some responses to other people. In case of people you know very well, like family and friends, there are books or booklets that you can give them to read to understand the topic better. But in case of a work colleague, I would really consider if you need to tell that person. Is it any of his business that you’re pregnant using a donor or any other way? It’s none of his business and maybe there’s a sense of becoming more private and more protective while you’re pregnant. When you have your baby, then you can again decide who you tell – but not everyone needs to know. Of course, people at work will ask but I think you should try and protect yourself a bit. And in my experience, when the baby comes, those comments are much less frequent. I’m really sad that you’ve experienced that but it’s reality and sometimes you really have to develop thick skin.

Did you prepare some sort of a letter to your kids with your and their story in case something happened to you when they were young and you would not have been able to tell that story yourself? Sorry for saying this, I hope this is not an offensive question. I am really grateful to have heard your story.

I wish I had! That’s such a brilliant idea and I think this is what a lot of parents and parents to be should do! You can buy the DC Network books but a lot of people also make their own books and tell their own story: with their scan pictures, their bump pictures, etc. And I think this is such a good idea. I hadn’t thought of that myself – but I think if anything had happened to me, it would have been lovely for them to have the story of me and them and how they came to be, etc. So I’d really recommend to do it. It’s not an offensive question at all – it’s a brilliant question! I would definitely do that. It’s great not just to mark your journey in positive ways for your future child to see but also just to prepare that letter itself. I think it’s brilliant and I don’t know why I didn’t do it myself!

How did you decide between IUI or IVF when you first started?

I think the biggest deciding factor was my age because I was nearly 44 when I did my first IUI. Because of my age, the medical advice at that time was IVF as that would be more effective. However, that was my clinician’s decision. All things being equal, I think IUI is sometimes underplayed as a good start to see how you react to medications, etc. So I think it’s really up to your clinician and you to talk about whether IUI or IVF is more effective. Probably IVF has better results but IUI is cheaper and it may be that people want to start with IUI – if their fertility indicates that it’s okay – and then move on to IVF. In my case, it was dictated by my clinician’s decision and my age that was the deciding factor.

Have you or your children experienced any negativity (intentional or otherwise) from others, for example at school, etc.? How have you navigated this as a family?

Yes, they have. Not badly, but at their primary school, the kids didn’t understand why they didn’t have a dad. Ironically, in London, there were almost no single parents then – which is so unusual now. So other kids innocently asked :“Where is your dad? Is your dad dead?” because they just couldn’t understand. And my kids would say: “No, I have a donor.” And the other kids would say: “What do you mean? A doughnut? Your daddy’s a doughnut?” And then my kids would come home to me and they would complain. You know, it wasn’t devastating to them but it was irritating because they were too young to really explain that. So what I did every year was to see the class-teacher with my book. I went to explain about the language that we use in relation to donor conception and all of those issues. In year 3, they had some kids who were just a bit annoying about it so the teacher did a circle-time about different families and they never got asked about anything again. Once the kids got to know everything, they were over it. So there’s been nothing negative from that moment on. And now they’re at a secondary school, they’ve told their teachers so the teachers can support them. But they now decide themselves who they tell. So they’re 13 years old now and neither of them have told any of their friends how they were conceived because it just hasn’t come up in a conversation and it’s not important. Loads of their friends have single parents and that’s how they deal with it. In my case, there has never been any negativity about it. But I’m lucky I live in London which is a melting pot of different families. If you live in a very rural area, there might be some negativity but generally it’s how you handle it. I think that you need to step in as a parent and handle it for your kids.

I am 4 weeks pregnant with double donor baby. I don’t personally know anyone who has used a donor as a solo mom by choice so what you say feels reassuring. I chose ID-release donors and after hearing you talk, I’m glad I did. However, I’ve been nervous about the kind of relationship my child may want with their donors. Would you encourage this? Or should I just leave it up to my child to decide?

Congratulations! I’d say you should definitely join someone at DC Network or some of the online groups for women with double donor pregnancies and babies. That will give you a bit of support because you do need it as a single mother – regardless of how you conceived your child. When it comes to the kind of the relationship the child might want with their donors, I think it is hard. You go through phases in your child’s life where it feels difficult to have a conversation and when it’s much easier. I haven’t been nervous about the relationship with the donors because I don’t feel that the donors are the parents. I’m my children’s parent and they know and have acknowledged that. My son at one point asked: “Are you my real mum?” and I said: “I think I’m your real mom”. He said: “But are you sure?” and I said: “Well, who do you think is your real mum? Do you think your egg lady is your real mum?”. And that’s when he said: “No, don’t be silly. You’re my real mum!” I found out he meant a genetic mum because he didn’t have the vocabulary to say that. So he’s very clear about that and so is my daughter. I am their mummy and there’s no other mummy. They understand that someone is genetically related to them but they don’t want to necessarily even meet their donors – they just want to know a bit more about them. I understand many people are quite worried about their children forming a relationship with a donor. It’s very often true in case of children who have not been told and found out by mistake or by someone telling them when they’re adults – they often want to go and seek out their donor. But I encourage telling kids the truth from the start because I want them to feel complete about their identity. I personally love my children’s donors because of what they did for me. So I don’t feel worried about that.

Do your children have the same level of curiosity about both of their donors or more about the sperm donor because of not having a dad?

The answer is yes. We don’t talk about the egg donor that much – we talk about the sperm donor because the sperm donor is the figure that’s not there. They have a mom – I’m their mom. They know it now and understand that I’m not genetically related to them – although they haven’t understand it for many years. That often is the case with single-parent families that the sperm donor is obviously more ‘not present’. The other thing is my children have different levels of curiosity. My son is not very curious at the moment, he’s not that bothered. He said he did want a dad when he was little. The other day he said: “ Mummy, I don’t want a dad anymore but I think you might like one because you’re a bit lonely.” So that’s what he thinks. My daughter, on the other hand, is very keen in the last six months to find out a bit more about her sperm donor. So you know, children are all very different.

How did you find the occasions like Father’s Day, etc.? Are your children playing sports and if so, are fathers of other children supporting them in that?

When it comes to Father’s Day, I prepared the teachers right from nursery to handle it. Actually, my kids did the so-called ‘uncle’s cards’ for my brothers who they’re very close to. So we just sent Father’s Day cards to my brother because he’s a father, too. And sometimes they did a Father’s Day card for me because they felt that I fulfilled both roles. So I had cards for Mother’s and Father’s Day, which was really sweet. When the kids started school, I was very involved in the network of parents and often my kids did things with other dads, too. Then they did other things with my brothers and so on. So you can always find ways to fill that role. I’m not sporty but my kids play sports at school so they found sports clubs to do it. So you know, there are many ways of doing that. Remember that not everyone has a dad – it is not only about donor conceived kids. It’s just a question of building your support group and who’s in your community – if there are any ‘safe’ dads around to help? It’s important particularly in case of sons. I have to say I actually supervised my son’s first shave the other day which was quite a moment. I obviously had to get advice from my brother on how to do it. But you know – you’ll always find a way if you want to.

I have a chronic health condition and I function quite well but life can be challenging because of this. I have had one failed embryo transfer and I’m considering another one. Have you any advice regarding child rearing?

I’m not a medical person but I suppose life is challenging because of your chronic health condition. If you have a specialist or a fertility clinic that you’re working with, I would go and talk to them about your health condition and how it affects you long term – also whether your chronic health condition potentially affects your pregnancy because some health conditions do affect implantation and miscarriages. I’d also look into the way you’re planning to have a child – and not just a baby. Remember that children grow up so it’s good to think what support networks you have that you can put in place for that – whether it’s outside agencies or your parents, etc. Even without a chronic condition, we all need support in child rearing. That’s what I would do. If you can, do counselling as well to look at the emotional side of having a chronic health condition and having children. I can’t say whether you should continue to have another embryo transfer or not – that’s your decision. But I would get that support from your medical people, from psychologists, from your support network. Just look at all of those and get as much support and information as you can. And lots of luck to you!

Did you find people were judgment judgmental as you were an older single mom? I am older and I worry about my age.

I think I was probably more judgmental myself about being 60 and having teenagers! But I feel amazingly young actually. I have to say that my children keep my mind young because I’m engaged with their day-to-day life which is very exciting – at leat most of the time. I won’t say people were judgmental about me. I suppose you have to think about society and choices that we all make – that it may be difficult for some people to handle it. But it doesn’t matter – you have to say to yourself: “This is my choice and I am doing things in my life the way I want to.” And you have to be a bit thick-skinned about it. I’ve had mainly surprised reactions and people were saying: “Wow, you’re very brave!” The downside is that many women said: “Wow, you had a baby at 46 – that’s brilliant! That means I can have one, too.” And then I had to be quite honest and say: “You know, I haven’t been successful with my own eggs.” And then that was not judgemental at all – they became really grateful that I told them. But of course there are judgmental people in the world and they may judge you for anything. On the other hand, I’m going to be quite honest and I have to say that child rearing in your late 40s and into 50s/60s is quite hard. I went through the menopause at the same time as having quite small kids and also my mum got really ill. So there are certain kinds of Sandwich Generation issues when you’re an older mum. It could be tougher – and this is where support networks come in. You also have to face the reality that you won’t be around for your kids into some of the milestones of their lives – when they get married or have grandchildren, etc. But again, you have to focus on what’s right for you because you’re the one who’s going to have this child. So think about it carefully but try not to be judgmental because it’s harmful. That’s why I would say: be realistic and talk to other older moms definitely.

My clinic advised me not to tell many people because it’s the future child’s info to share – and not mine. What do you think? Surely a mom needs support, too.

Unfortunately, your clinic’s advice is very outdated on a personal level. Try to relate that to anything in your child’s life. For example, imagine if you were only to tell your child how to cross the road when you thought they were ready to do it. In other words, you would teach them to cross the road only at the age of 10 – when they’re safe to cross the road. Imagine you never explained what a road was and what the cars were and how dangerous it was. It would be a bit strange just to send your kid to a motorway and say: “Okay, that’s it, cross the road now.” You are your child’s parent and as parents, we are always responsible for our children’s information, for what we share with them, what we say about the world. And it includes something as important and as fundamental as the way they were conceived and the fact that they have genetic parents. When children are young, you have to take over the control and tell the story. Eventually, it will be your future child’s info to share but that is a long way in the future. Don’t forget it’s not until at least 8 years old that children have the remotest understanding about relationships. And probably they still don’t really understand donor conception anyway. That’s why you have to keep telling them again and again. My children decided to share their info from the age of 12 but they still need my help in that. They still come to me to talk about it, they still need protecting. In my opinion, as you are the parent, you have to be in charge of the information. Another thing is who you share it with. It’s also your decision because a child can’t make that decision at all. And you can’t leave it up to a child. For example, you have to explain the way they were conceived to a grandparent. The child should not have that responsibility.

Are there any other issues that have come up with a ‘double donor’ baby? Such as e.g. medical history?

Yes, there are – and it is difficult. My children are both disabled: my son is autistic and my daughter has a congenital thing called Poland syndrome. So I had lots of medical appointments when my kids were little and I was always up front and open. And it was difficult because with Poland syndrome, it might be genetic. People would say: “What about your children’s father?” But the thing is that in any medical situation, it mostly doesn’t matter because medical people will treat your child on their symptoms. So I was just honest and I said: “I don’t have that information.” And they would say: “Okay, that’s fine, no problem. We will treat your child as we would do with any other person.” I was always very open: I was open with my midwife, I was open with the hospital I gave birth at, I was open with everyone. There’s also a slightly higher risk of preeclampsia with egg donation pregnancies so it’s really important that you’re honest with your medical support people. It may have repercussions if you’re not – so I’d say: “Just be honest.”

I have just made my decision to go solo and use a sperm donor. I’m waiting for my first consultation – any advice on what questions to ask?

I think there’s a lot of information online – certainly in places like Fertility Friend where they have some good sections on what to ask during an IVF consultation. So it might be somewhere you want to go. I think it depends on where you’re going. If you’re in the UK, then you know that your sperm donor will be ID-release. You may want to look at the clinic or at the bank that your sperm is coming from – some sperm banks also donate to many other countries so there might be other half-siblings, too. If you’re going for your first consultation, you really want to know how the clinic is going to treat you. You want to make sure they explain everything to you and that your health history is up-to-date and that you get all necessary tests done. Just be open and honest and try to get as much support as you can. It’s a bit of a vague answer – and I’m sorry about that. However, I will surely suggest contacting Donor Conception Network. It’s a good place to start because you can get to speak to lots of other single women who’ve also been where you are. And that’s invaluable advice. So I would get in touch with DC Network definitely.

I’m finding so hard to decide between double donation treatment or adoption. Could you suggest anything?

I would contact Donor Conception Network to talk about the issues involved in both of those options. They have experts who have lots of knowledge about double donation and adoption. They have counsellors whom you can contact on the helpline and see if they can put you in touch with people who made similar choices. I think it’s a really personal choice. I think adoption may have more issues in the sense that there may not be enough babies to adopt and that those children may have possible extreme behavioral issues or difficult backgrounds. So you have to factor those things in. In case of double donation, you are starting from the very beginning of conception. You give birth, you breastfeed and you do all the things that may be important to you personally. But still, the choice is really personal. I suggest you just gather as much information from other parents on adoption and double donation as you can and see if that also counts for you. It obviously can be helpful. So that’s what I would say – I can’t give you a direct answer because there are too many things to discuss.
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Lucia Grounds

Lucia Grounds is a solo mum to boy/girl twins who are 13 years old. Lucia's children were conceived using donor embryos via a clinic in Spain. Lucia is an older mum and had her children at 46 after quite a long and challenging journey. She worked for the Donor Conception Network for 8 years and also for the Donor Conceived Register for 1 year and has experience of many of the issues around solo motherhood and donor conception.
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Caroline Kulczycka

Caroline Kulczycka is managing MyIVFAnswers.com and has been hosting IVFWEBINARS dedicated to patients struggling with infertility since 2020. She's highly motivated and believes that educating patients so that they can make informed decisions is essential in their IVF journey. In the past, she has been working as an International Patient Coordinator, where she was helping and directing patients on their right path. She also worked in the tourism industry, and dealt with international customers on a daily basis, including working abroad. In her free time, you’ll find her travelling, biking, learning new things, or spending time outdoors.
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