Being a solo mum is not an easy job, especially when your path to motherhood includes donor conception. In this webinar Nina Barnsley and Caroline Spencer from the Donor Conception Network share advice designed to help people make informed decisions and build confident families with a secure identity.
Donor Conception Network is a charity that was founded around 25 years ago. Its main role is to help donor conception families almost from the beginning of their fertility journey. As DCN has over 600 solo mums and single households among their supporters, they are very familiar with all the issues and hesitations solo motherhood entails.
According to Nina Barnsley, donor conception is nothing but a different route to parenthood. However, because it involves introducing genetic material from outside of the family, it requires some deeper thought and research beforehand. Every solo mum-to-be needs to start by asking herself a lot of questions. Nina highlights the importance of the thinking and planning stage as it will have a great impact later. Every family that is considering using a donor, must remember that a great deal of their future life will be influenced by the decisions that are made before the child is born. One must take time to reflect on the considerations of donor conception for their family life in the long view and make sure that the choices that are to be made are well thought through.
Both Nina Barnsley and Caroline Spencer agree that it is most reasonable to begin with asking yourself some basic questions. Surely, it is good to pause and consider where you are in life. Caroline suggests looking at one’s own relationship history and thinking what might be motivating us to consider having a baby on our own. It can be extremely helpful if you could ask yourself the following questions: Have you always wanted to have a baby? Or has this desire come to you later in life? Is it possible that your feelings are the result of social pressure? Or is because you feel that your fertility is declining because you are in your late 30s or early 40s?
Caroline recalls interesting statistics showing that in the UK a fifth of all women born in 1972 are going to remain childless as their fertile years’ end. Some of them are remaining childless by choice, others were encouraged to pursuit their professional career goals first and did not find space to fit a family life in. There is also a group of women who did not find a lasting relationship in their grown-up life or the long-term relationship they were in simply broke down. Many of these women really thought they would be raising kids within a full family at some point in their life, but their life turned out to be a bit different than their expectations. Now, these women may feel sad and depressed because of the unfulfilled dream of motherhood and some of them may be even undergoing the grieving process.
If this is your case, Caroline suggests putting aside your dashed hopes for a moment and think how to organise your successful adult life without children. Are children a strong pull for you or can you imagine devoting your life to other purposes, such as a successful professional career or hobbies you have always wanted to pursue? Then, only if it is really impossible for you to find a purpose in a childless life, it is the right time to decide on single motherhood and consider available options enabling you to create your own family.
Becoming a solo mum is not an easy process and even if you have decided to choose this path there are a lot of pressures you will face along the way: the pressure of money, the pressure of resources and the pressure of time that is left for you if your fertility levels are decreasing. According to Caroline, you should also think if you have enough support to puirsue the journey alone. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child and it is particularly true in the case of solo parents. In the Donor Conception Network there is a solo women’s branch where you can join and meet other women at the same stage of the journey. Building your own ‘village’ is crucial because by doing so you’re allowing yourself to accept help not only in this complicated decision-making process but also through challenging treatment, a challenging pregnancy and parenthood that may very often be very demanding.
After the emotional considerations, it is time to consider logistical decisions related directly to your donor conception treatment. Nina advises starting with the most obvious issues, like who is going to be a donor and where it is best to have your treatment.
It is good to have an idea of the possible types of donor you are seeking. A donor is somebody who is contributing genetic material like eggs or sperm but may not play an active role in raising a child. It could be a family member, a friend, or an acquaintance and this person might want to take an active part in raising a child but in such cases, Caroline suggests talking every aspect through with that person to know exactly how that solution is going to work for both of you. It is also important to get a written agreement in place and take some legal advice beforehand.
In Nina’s opinion, one of the most common solutions is meeting a donor through a clinic and then – depending on a country – an ID-release donor or anonymous donor is an option. It is again up to you to decide what’s right for you and your family. In the UK you may choose ID release donors whose identifying details will be released once the child is 18 and wishes to have such knowledge and even meet the donor in person. You can also consider clinics outside the UK and then it depends very much on the country and its regulations. In many European countries and in the USA, donors might be anonymous which means that the recipients and their offspring will never be given identifying information. At this point, Nina reminds us to pay attention to home DNA testing and its implications for donor conception families. Even if the donors are anonymous, it may happen that through taking DNA testing – which comes with the ability to investigate genetic relationships through online databases – people will discover they are not genetically connected to their parents. So, it is good to bear in mind the fact that whatever the clinic might say about anonymity or the possibility of future contact, it may turn out not to be completely true.
Caroline also advises to thoroughly research clinics before deciding on the place of your treatment. In the UK one can use the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) website that has a lot of useful information for people considering donor conception treatment options. According to Caroline, you should always look for a clinic that is an expert in donation (which in general is a bit different from the clinics offering the so-called standard IVF), look at their statistics and see how they relate to your specific fertility situation.
Both Nina and Caroline agree that one of the most important questions a single mum-to-be must ask herself concerns openness. You should think and plan beforehand issues like who needs to know about your choice, how much they need to know, how you are going to explain the whole story to the people around you and to your child in particular. It is important to reflect on how this all feels for you and think of your personal strategy while talking to your child in the future.
Caroline highlights that honesty in parent-child relations is crucial. Children will start asking important questions between the ages of 2 and 3 so it is a good idea to think about your answers early. Research supports telling kids their history early on as finding out the truth in teenage or adult years may bring feelings of betrayal and mistrust. According to Caroline, it would be perfect to tell your child the truth before they are 5. If you do not know how to start this conversation, you can begin by reading stories with toddlers and pre-schoolers. For this purpose, you can use Donor Conception Network books and booklets that will help you build upon your children’s curiosity and structure your own story.
It might be also a good idea to attend some of the Donor Conception Network workshops, like ‘Telling and Talking’ (for those who want to explore different ways to talk to their children about their origins) and ‘Preparation for Parenthood’ where you can think over all the aspects of solo motherhood as well as meet others at the same stage. In DCN there are a lot of women willing to share their experiences with you. By talking to them, you may work out the best solution for you and learn how to involve your kids in your personal story. Nina and Caroline also invite you to regularly visit the DCN website for information about upcoming events and personal stories from other solo mums that might be helpful and inspiring in your journey.- Questions and Answers