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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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