During this webinar, Dr Ruth Sánchez, Gynaecologist & Obstetrician at UR Vistahermosa, Alicante, Spain, discussed all aspects of becoming a solo mum, including available options, such as sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, etc. and its main challenges.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of women choosing to become solo mothers. This can be attributed to the modernization of society’s mentality and advancements in assisted reproductive techniques. Typically, these women are between the ages of 35 and 40, well-educated, financially stable, and without partners. They fall within the age range for achieving pregnancy. The Spanish Fertility Society estimates that approximately 1,500 women without partners opt for assisted reproductive techniques each year. However, many women still have doubts and uncertainties about becoming a single parent, as well as concerns about how they will adapt to a society without a father figure.
Having the support of close friends and family who understand their situation is crucial for solo mothers. They provide emotional support and help reconcile work-life balance. Other fears that may arise when considering solo motherhood include personal and economic concerns. In such cases, a strong social support network is vital. Connecting with other mothers who have been through or are going through similar situations can be incredibly helpful. Hearing about their experiences can eliminate barriers and serve as positive examples for others.
When undergoing fertility treatment as a solo mother, it is essential to gather as much information as possible and have all your questions answered. This ensures greater security and confidence throughout the process. Finding a trusted and reliable fertility centre is important. At UR Vistahermosa Center, we understand these needs and the difficult decision-making process that leads women to us. From the beginning, we provide unwavering support and understanding.
Solo motherhood – options
At UR Vistahermosa, there is a sperm bank that allows you to make the best choice of donors through a meticulous selection process. Various reproductive techniques are offered and are tailored to each woman’s circumstances, including emotional and financial considerations. The techniques available for women without a male partner include artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, both utilizing donor sperm. Additionally, sperm donation or embryo adoption options are available.
Sperm donor selection
One concern often expressed is how a suitable sperm donor is selected. At UR Vistahermosa, they follow stringent selection criteria that surpass legal requirements. Psychological, genetic, and medical evaluations are conducted to confirm the suitability of donor samples. The reproductive unit benefits from having an in-house genetic lab, which enables it to perform genetic studies on donors to identify potential diseases that could be passed on to offspring. Additionally, an artificial intelligence system called Fenomatch is available, which assists in selecting the most compatible donor based on physical and facial characteristics.
Before deciding on the specific technique to use, a series of medical tests to assess the ovarian reserve, uterus and ovaries morphology, and tubal patency are conducted. These tests involve ultrasound and vaginal ultrasound examinations. Based on these results, as well as the patient’s age and medical and family history, the most appropriate technique for each individual is selected.
For treatments involving donor sperm, we recommend genetic testing for recessive diseases in the patient to ensure the best possible match and minimize the risk of genetic disorders in future offspring. This test is conducted through a blood test to determine if the patient is a carrier of any genetic illnesses. If any mutations are detected, we can select a donor accordingly without the same mutation to avoid the risk of transmitting the disease to any offspring.
Assisted Reproductive Techniques (ART) – options
There is intrauterine insemination(IUI) with donor sperm. It involves introducing a concentrated sample of the donor’s sperm into the woman’s uterus, allowing for natural pregnancy inside the fallopian tubes. Among the artificial techniques, this is the most natural option. It doesn’t require anaesthesia or analgesia and is usually performed after a light pharmacological ovarian stimulation.
The next step is in vitro fertilization (IVF) with donor sperm. IVF involves stimulating the ovary to retrieve as many eggs as possible and fertilizing them with the donor’s sperm in the laboratory (in vitro). This allows us to obtain multiple embryos, which are later transferred to the maternal uterus, typically at the blastocyst stage on the fifth day of development. The decision on the number of embryos to transfer (one or two) should be made in agreement between the patient and the doctor, taking into consideration the patient’s age, medical history, and personal situation.
IVF also enables to performance of a genetic diagnosis test called Preimplantation Genetic Test for Aneuploidies (PGT-A), which checks the chromosomal makeup of each embryo and allows to selection of the most suitable one for transfer. This technique is indicated in certain cases, particularly for women of advanced maternal age or those who are carriers of chromosomal alterations. If multiple embryos are available on the 5th day of development, the best quality embryos will be transferred first, with the remaining embryos frozen for future attempts in case the initial transfer doesn’t result in pregnancy or for a second child later on.
Another step is IVF with a double donation, which involves using both donated eggs and donated sperm. This treatment is performed when it is not possible to use the patient’s own eggs, either due to age-related decline in ovarian reserve or when the patient is a carrier of a transmissible disease where the use of their own eggs is not recommended. This technique has the highest success rate as it utilizes donors who are under 35 years old, and undergo thorough screening.
Lastly, there is embryo adoption. This option is available for women who require donated eggs and sperm. Typically, these embryos come from a previous cycle of double donation when surplus embryos have been anonymously donated. The advantage of this technique is that it is less costly than double donation treatment. However, the main disadvantage is that all the embryos are frozen, making the physical matching more challenging as we do not have the option to select the embryos individually. Nonetheless, it is a good option to consider with high success rates.
In conclusion, we must acknowledge that solo motherhood is becoming increasingly prevalent in our society, and fertility centres should provide support and offer responsible results with maximum security.