Mum of sperm donor baby says not having a man makes her a better mum

Why being a single mother makes me a BETTER parent: Woman who opted to have two children with a sperm donor after getting divorced aged 30 reveals the benefits of NOT having a partner

  • Genevieve Roberts penned Going Solo: My Choice to Become a Single Mother
  • Divorced author, of south east London, has a one-year-old daughter, Astrid
  • Currently eight months pregnant, after five rounds of insemination and IVF
  • Admits there are times she wishes for an extra hand to help with daughter Astrid

A single mother has revealed the benefits of raising children alone. 

Author Genevieve Roberts, of south-east London, found herself single after divorcing her husband at the age of 30. In her late thirties, she underwent fertility tests and discovered she needed  to act fast if she wanted a baby.

Her clinic recommended going down the sperm donor route, using IUI – intrauterine insemination, where the sperm is placed inside a woman’s uterus – and she fell pregnant with her daughter Astrid, now one.

Now eight months pregnant with her second child, also conceived via a sperm donor and IVF, Genevieve has penned a memoir about her experiences, called Going Solo: My Choice to Become a Single Mother. 

Here she tells FEMAIL why she believes being the solo carer and provider for her daughter – and her unborn child – makes her a better parent. 

Author Genevieve Roberts, of south-east London, found herself single after divorcing her husband at the age of 30. She spent thousands conceiving daughter Astrid, pictured in hospital, via IVF. Genevieve has revealed the benefits of raising children alone 

Genevieve’s clinic recommended going down the sperm donor route, using IUI (intrauterine insemination where the sperm is placed inside a woman’s uterus), and she fell pregnant with her daughter Astrid, pictured. She is now eight months pregnant with a son

A combination of love and hormones help me float through the first, sleep-deprived weeks of motherhood.

The first time I meet my daughter, I’m lying on an operating table. My plans for a water birth have – like so many birth plans – gone awry. All the decisions I’d made about which aromatherapy oils to bring and which soundtracks to play during labour were completely redundant. 

After failed attempts to get my contractions going, a caesarean was the only solution. But all this is quickly forgotten as my daughter is finally laid upon me, and I immediately feel a huge burst of love.

I can’t believe how lucky I feel to have been given this girl to look after and love, and that she’s my family. I name her Astrid Freya. Her name is my choice. But then there’s no one else I have to discuss it with – no husband, or partner.

For Genevieve Roberts, pictured after giving birth to her daughter Astrid via caesarean, a sperm donor was the only option to have children of her own

As with every decision I’ve made since becoming pregnant via a sperm donor, and every decision I will go on to make about my daughter’s care, it’s one I make alone. For I have chosen to go solo, like an increasing number of new mothers.

Becoming a parent on my own was never my fairytale wish. But I’ve never wished that I’d done it differently either. Every solo mum has thought hugely about becoming a parent – it’s part of the territory with fertility treatment.

And there are increasing numbers of us ‘thinking about it’. Last year, for example, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) reported that the number of single women choosing to have IVF was up 35 per cent since 2014. 

Even Cheryl, single and a mother to two-year-old Bear with her former partner, boyband star Liam Payne, claimed this week she would consider having another baby via a donor.

While becoming a parent to Astrid, pictured, on her own was never her fairytale wish, Genevieve says she’s never wished that she’d done it differently either

Given the costs involved – it is only if a single woman has been through 12 rounds of IUI (intrauterine insemination), which would cost around £20,000, that she qualifies for infertility treatment paid for by the NHS – it is not something entered into lightly. 

But as I’ve discovered, there’s a simplicity to being a solo parent. I now find myself in a situation where I don’t have to consider another point of view about how to bring her up.

With no partner to worry about neglecting, I’m able to focus solely on my daughter and not worry, as many of my friends do, about how parenthood is affecting my relationship. 

One tells me expressly that she wishes she’d had her baby alone. ‘It would have been so much easier,’ she says. ‘You don’t realise how differently you want to bring up children until you’re doing it. And you have to compromise.’

Another mother I speak to says she believes her marriage has been ruined by parenthood. Although she loves her daughter hugely, before she arrived she and her husband had a lot of fun. Now, she says, they’ve lost each other. 

I have no one to ‘lose’. Of course, for all those who find it hard navigating parenthood within a relationship, there are those friends who don’t believe they could do it alone, and are grateful for the love, support and reassurance that comes with a good relationship.

And there are times when I wish for an extra hand so that I can fix Astrid’s car seat or haul in shopping along with my daughter. Some days are really hard, like when Astrid is unwell and won’t stop crying and I wish there was someone to help.

Number of women having IVF without a man soars by 35%

The number trying to start a family without a father has leapt by a third in two years.

The latest figures show 1,272 women registered to have fertility treatment without a partner in 2016 – up from 942 in 2014.

Experts say these are not necessarily career women, but often people who have simply failed to find Mr Right.

Growing numbers of women are choosing to freeze their eggs, with the most common reason being they want to put off having a child because they have no partner. 

The number who have registered for IVF on their own has risen 35 per cent in two years, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said.

Couples must have tried to have a baby by having unprotected sex for two years before they qualify for IVF on the NHS, under guidance set by watchdog NICE.

Those for whom this is not possible – such as a single woman – are required to have 12 cycles of artificial insemination before being eligible for NHS fertility treatment.

As they have to pay for the donor sperm, as well as each cycle of insemination, this can cost more than £10,000. 

There is no guarantee they will then qualify for free treatment on the NHS, as not all clinical commissioning groups follow NICE guidance. Those who still want to go ahead and have IVF privately can face an average cost of £11,378.

For all the romantic notions contained within motherhood, parenthood is the time I observe many friends’ lives become more traditional. They may be successful, ambitious career women with equal partnerships and shared responsibilities for keeping their homes running, but bring in a tiny, dependent baby and, for many, they unconsciously mimic their parents’ lives.

And I’ve seen how hard that can be. A lot of dads I know – all of whom are hands-on and devoted to their children – do not equally split domestic responsibilities with their partners. 

I am both carer and provider. But if I were in a relationship, I’m pretty sure I’d feel hugely resentful if I were expected to do all the childcare, or be responsible for keeping the flat clean. 

While I’ve no doubt that for some people in happy relationships, those first few weeks of parenthood are a wonderful experience, cementing them as a team, there’s something beautifully simple when it’s just the two of you.

For the first few months, I feel that Astrid and I are completely tied together. There is no sense of self; instead there’s a sense of us.

I don’t need to stay up late to find out how my partner’s day has been – if I’m exhausted, I just go to bed. I don’t feel any self-imposed pressure to look attractive, so that a partner will want sex with me in the future.

My days are joyful, magical. Perhaps knowing how close I’ve come to never experiencing parenthood helps me feel how precious it is. I know I can’t take it for granted. Astrid is the best thing I’ve ever done.

So how did I get to the point of pursuing motherhood alone in my late thirties? I’d expected to have children in a committed relationship. But although I got married in my late twenties, and had been open about how important having children was to me, from the moment of his proposal I was unsure it was the right thing. 

Weeks before the wedding I’d asked if we could postpone and he’d said ‘no’. Afterwards, we seemed unable to be supportive of one another. We fought so much that neighbours got in touch to check everything was okay. 

Before I turned 30, when we’d been married for a year, I told him I wanted a divorce.

Afterwards it didn’t cross my mind to start dating swiftly because of fertility: almost none of my friends had children. I knew I wanted them, but there didn’t seem to be any rush. By my late thirties, I have a successful career as a news editor, my own flat in South East London, a loving family and good friends, yet I still feel unfulfilled.

After getting divorced aged 30, Genevieve didn’t think about children until her late thirties, when she realised she was on borrowed time

It’s on holiday in Sri Lanka, aged 37, that I realise my sense of yearning is not just for a partner, but for a child. I come home and have my fertility levels checked, crying when the results don’t just suggest low fertility – they come in below that. Suddenly, there’s no choice to make. My best chance of having a baby is to act swiftly – and on my own.

As my clinic recommend trying IUI (intrauterine insemination where the sperm is placed inside a woman’s uterus) before moving onto IVF, within weeks I am picking a sperm donor on the website of the US sperm bank they recommended. 

It’s my first exposure to an industry that, estimates suggest, will be worth £5bn in 2025 – and it surprises me. The closest thing the sperm bank resembles is a dating website. Each donor offers a selection of photos of themselves, as a baby and an adult, as well as a little essay about their outlook on life.

There is also a huge amount of health information. I can’t find a completely cancer-free family, although I do look. But a sprinkling of health problems, combined with a lot of long life, seem like the most anyone can hope for.

Mum Genevieve told how her clinic recommend trying IUI (intrauterine insemination where the sperm is placed inside a woman’s uterus) before moving onto IVF

Mine is a private clinic and it’s very expensive. A round of artificial insemination costs almost £2,000, including sperm. And I don’t know whether I’ll be trying IVF too, which is closer to £6,000 a round. But the chance it offers to become a parent feels like the best use of my savings. 

I’ve met solo mums who are canny with credit cards and others who’ve remortgaged homes on the chance of becoming a parent. But it’s very difficult to embark on fertility treatment as a single woman if you’re not financially stable.

Sadly, my father died soon after my divorce, but my mother, brother and sister-in-law are supportive of my attempts to have a baby. While my parents divorced when I was 14, I always appreciated their different strengths, and their shared pride in me. 

How does IVF work? 

The menstrual cycle is first suppressed with medication before other drugs are used to encourage the ovaries to produce more eggs than usual.

An ultrasound scan is carried out to check the development of the eggs, and medication is used to help them mature.

The eggs are then collected by a needle inserted into the ovaries, via the vagina, before the eggs are fertilised with sperm.

Finally the fertilised embryo is transferred into the womb to grow and develop.   

A single IVF cycle has an average success rate of 32.3 per cent for those under 35, dropping to five per cent for women aged 43 and 44 and only 1.9 per cent for those 45 and older.  

Despite IVF being most effective for the under 35s, 57 per cent of IVF cycles are undergone by women 35 or older.

I’ve chosen to make a baby who will have one grandparent. She will have no father. But I also know that my brother and two nephews will be great role models, and I’ll make sure that my male friends are very involved.

I am open and honest with my daughter about how she came into the world with the help of a kind man who gave me a special ingredient because he knew how much I would love her. 

I frequently tell her that she has a mummy, uncle, aunty, cousins and a grandmother who love her, but doesn’t have a dad. I want her to feel secure and that she can ask me any questions she likes about her origins, and if she wants she’ll be able to get in touch with her donor at 18.

As for when she goes to school, I’m frequently struck that most children are accepting of whatever they see in front of them, and aren’t affected by societal norms.

A week before her first birthday, Astrid stands unsupported for a couple of seconds. Tears spring to my eyes as I shower her with praise. I think how amazing it would be to have someone with whom to share these precious firsts. There will be many more to come: starting school, nativity plays and sports days; school concerts when she’s older.

I imagine these moments are beautiful to share with a partner. But I’ll never feel like I stand out attending alone when many parents are unable to make these events at all. I feel that this has to be an advantage of working for a flexible company, and being an older mum – I’m experienced enough at my job to take time off.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to give a cheer for some of my children’s pals whose parents are unable to get the time off work. Yes, I mean children, plural. As Astrid enters toddlerdom my thoughts turn to giving her a sibling.

It is a little harder for me to get pregnant a second time. After five rounds of artificial insemination with the same donor, I try IVF. Even with all the stimulation injections to get my ovaries working overtime, the doctors only retrieve three mature eggs. I’m lucky that two of these fertilise and three days later they are put back inside me.

After 10 days, a test confirms I’m pregnant. Astrid is excited to find out she’s having a baby brother, and every time she sees my expanding tummy she points to it and gives her brother ‘hugs.’ 

Genevieve admitted it was harder for her to get pregnant a second time around; she required five rounds of insemination as well as IVF

I’m now heavily pregnant and expecting my son to join our family in roughly a month. I’m trying to put plans in place so his arrival will not be too disruptive for Astrid, and at first I will have help from a doula, a woman who offers support through birth and postnatally.

I know that being outnumbered will be tricky at times, but I’m up for the challenge. As for relationships of my own, having briefly tried dating when Astrid was a little younger, I’ve realised I’m very content not to be in a relationship at the moment. I’m also not sure whether I would be able to give someone new any significant time in my life, so I’m not really available, for now. A relationship will come along in its own time.

Meanwhile, I know we’re surrounded by love, though not of the most conventional sort. But love can come from anywhere, and just because it doesn’t come in a standard box doesn’t make it any less uplifting or wonderful, or less likely to help see us through.

Genevieve Roberts’ book Going Solo: My Choice to Become a Single Mother Using a Donor, is published this week by Piatkus at £13.99. 

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