‘Now I’ve Begun IVF, I’m Less Scared Of Solo Motherhood’

The number of women having IVF without a partner has quadrupled in the past decade. One woman explains why she’s one of them – and the highs and lows of going it alone...

Solo IVF

by Grazia |
Updated on

It was shortly after I’d come round from being sedated for my first egg collection that I spotted it: a wedding magazine lying on the table next to my bed. The cover image was a beaming bride in traditional white; the main cover line promised a ‘just-engaged survival guide’.

My reaction was a disbelieving laugh, which could easily have teetered over into tears. Because I wasn’t engaged, let alone married and, frankly, this wasn’t the most sensitive moment to remind me of those facts. I was propped up woozily in the bed because, aged 38, I was having IVF in the hope of conceiving a baby by myself.

Statistics released earlier this month showed that a record number of women are doing the same. The number of IVF cycles used to treat women without a partner has almost quadrupled in a decade, from 351 in 2007 to 1,290 in 2017 (with more opting for insemination with donor sperm).

These figures don’t surprise me: I’m one of three women I know going through the same process. We’re all educated and successful, and we don’t see why we should watch our fertility windows slam shut without fulfilling our dreams of parenthood, just because the men we’ve met haven’t been mature or committed enough to do it with us.

And as more women like us tread the same path, there’s less stigma – going solo is an increasingly normalised choice.

I’ve always known I wanted to be a mother, to love and nurture a child. I’m very close to my own mum and hoped I’d get the chance to pass on everything she’s taught me, from the joy of escaping into books to the importance of being reliable. But when I was single at 30, a quiet voice in the back of my mind started telling me I might not be able to create a family the way I’d envisaged, with a man I loved.

After the end of my next serious relationship at 34, the voice grew louder. I tried to ignore it, to heed the advice of friends who told me I was still young and should throw myself into dating, but I never met anyone special.

Deciding to try to become a solo mother is a process. It takes time to come to terms with what you don’t have and work out if what you do have – love, money, support, strength of character – is enough. I’m still not totally sure; contemplating the unconditional support I get from my dad, and how my child wouldn’t have that, can still reduce me to tears. But after a lot of soul-searching, I believe what I have to give outweighs what I don’t.

Last year, after moving into a bigger flat, I made a decision. I chose a fertility clinic and explained that I’d like to undergo IVF to make embryos using donor sperm, then freeze them to use at a later date, if I still haven’t met anyone. It’s very rare for single women to have IVF paid for by the NHS, so I knew I’d be taking a very costly gamble – around £6,000 per cycle at my clinic.

Thankfully, when I told my friends and parents, they were immensely supportive. My mum even helped me choose a sperm donor from the website of a bank in Denmark. It’s testament to her devotion that she helped me go through the lists of strangers’ hair and eye colours without ever making me feel she thought it was a strange or undesirable thing to be doing on a Sunday afternoon. Knowing she’s never wavered in her faith that I can do this means everything.

Because solo IVF can be lonely. The past few months have been a roller coaster of hormone-heightened emotions. I didn’t mind the nightly injections to induce my ovaries to produce multiple eggs. I haven’t been bothered by the sight of men sitting in the clinic, fiddling with their phones while their partners are being scanned. I didn’t even let the unfortunately placed bridal magazine throw me, although it was a sign that clinics still aren’t showing enough consideration to single patients. I tried to block it all out and focus on my goal. But there’s no denying that the agonizing process of waiting to see how many eggs I’ve produced, then if they’ve fertilised and made viable embryos, has made IVF one of the most stressful experiences of my life. Having someone to share that burden with would have been welcome.

One of the cruellest realities is that most women going it alone are, like me, doing so when our fertility is diminished, because we’ve been waiting in the hope of meeting somebody. Over two cycles, I’ve managed to bank two embryos, which I’m painfully aware isn’t many given that, statistically, each transfer is more likely to fail than succeed. I plan to use them to try to get pregnant in the next few months, as I know I might need further cycles later.

And now I’ve begun the process, I’m less scared of solo motherhood. I’ve spoken to other women who’ve done it and feel happy and fulfilled by their choice – and I’m ready to join them

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