While single parenthood is becoming more socially accepted over time, some forms of discrimination persist. Single women or trans and gender diverse people presumed female at birth wishing to undergo ART cannot access Medicare rebates without an indication of ‘medical infertility’, which makes fertility treatment more expensive for them. Restrictions can also apply to adoption. For example, single people in Victoria are ineligible for local adoption, and some countries participating in inter-country adoption programs do not allow single people to adopt. Finally, regulations associated with permanent and foster care vary by state and territory.
Solo parents by choice must also navigate health and social services as well as social attitudes that reflect the assumption that two-parented families are the norm. Those undergoing ART face decisions about whether to use a known or clinic-recruited donor, what role they wish the donor to play in their child’s life, and how to tell their child about how they were conceived.
Of the people we spoke to for this online resource, three identified as solo mothers by choice. Two women had had children through IUI and IVF, and one was preparing to start IVF. All three women described health-related factors or medical problems impacting on their fertility, including age, removal of the uterine (fallopian) tubes because of carrying the BRCA 1 genetic mutation, and removal of an ovary as a result of PCOS. Two women used a clinic-recruited donor and one a known donor. We also spoke to two women who underwent unsuccessful IVF with a partner, experienced their relationships ending, then had to decide if they wished to continue IVF.
In the two films below, women who were single or solo parents by choice share their reflections about their experiences.
Experiences of solo parenthood by choice (Part 1)
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Sarah is ‘very content’ with her decision to become a mother on her own. She reflects on some of the reasons for this.
So I’d always wanted to be a mum. Always knew I would be a mum somehow. In uni I remember talking to my friends, and saying, “If I don’t have kids by the time I’m 30, I’m just going to do it on my own.” So it kind of seemed a bit inevitable that that’s the way it happened anyway.
I’ve never had that desire, “I must be with someone, and I don’t feel complete unless I’m with someone”. I guess I’ve never really had that desire. I’ve had crushes, and little… Dates, and things like that; but I’ve never really had that desire to be with someone, and I would quite happily, if I never met anyone… Yeah, I’m quite content. I’m also wary now about bringing someone into the girls’ life, and how that would play out. You know, I don’t want to really confuse them.
So I haven’t closed the door on it, if someone came along and I had a really good connection with them. I’m happy to explore that, but yeah, I’m not actively seeking. I’m not sad that I’m by myself. I’m really content where I am in my life at the moment with the girls. I’m just happy with that.
My parents actually separated when I was quite young, and so they divorced when I was four. So I’ve always had a really loving, close relationship with my mum, and she became my primary caregiver. I always saw my dad on weekends and holidays. So I suppose I kind of got all of my influences from my mum. She obviously raised me as a single mum, so she just got on with things. So I had her as a role model, and she’s just always had the opinion of whatever makes me happy, whatever I’m happy to do, she supported me in everything that I’ve done. And my dad also is very supportive, and has never really questioned anything. And my sister. So my sister is actually my half-sister; so my dad had another relationship. So I already have kind of a unique family make-up, as well, so now this has just added to our family dynamic.
Ingrid was 46 when her relationship ended. She and her ex-partner had tried to have a second child via IVF, without success. Further treatment as a single parent was prohibitively expensive, particularly given Ingrid’s age.
I don’t have a current partner anymore and I just can’t see me returning to IVF, plus after you turn 45, Medicare doesn’t help you out anymore. Instead of paying about 5 or $6,000, I would be paying between 10, 11, $12,000 per cycle, and as a single mum, that’s going to be a bit of a challenge to do that [laughter], and for potentially that 1% chance that I fall pregnant at my age, or 1 to 3 % or whatever it is, I don’t think it’s financially viable. Friends have told me, “Just get a dog! Just give it up!” [laughter]
My fertility specialist did say to me that she can see me, well not all specialists will, but legally I could seek to undertake another IVF cycle until age 51. But you know by the time, being, look I’m 48 later this year and by the time I get through a cycle and then by the time I potentially fall pregnant, whether it works or not, and the expense associated, being a single parent now you know it’s a lot of money to spend for maybe, for the big maybe going through another IVF.
Unless I win the lottery. I mean if I win the lottery I’ll, I don’t have to rely on savings or anything else really. I’d probably go in and put my hat in the ring again if you like for another IVF cycle.
Kim found joining a group for solo mothers by choice made the idea of raising a child on her own seem possible.
Kim: I also started to research I suppose, do my own research. I think at one of the counselling sessions they told me about VARTA so I made contact with them and went along to one of their single mums’ groups at the end of the year. That was quite intense I think because there were a lot of people there, a lot of people at different stages of their journeys and it was quite an emotional session, my first session, because I was still deciding what I wanted to do and how I was going to do it and whether I was completely out of my mind to even think about doing it on my own [laughter]. But I got talking to a couple of the women there who’d gone through it obviously and had a child on their own so that was quite good to just hear people’s real life stories and just to see that it can be done and there is a chance even though you’re not partnered. That you can do it. It is possible to do it on your own.
Interviewer: Do you know of any other single women who have gone on to have a child through this process?
Kim: I don’t know anyone personally. I’ve just heard a few people’s stories through the VARTA meetings which have all been through Zoom calls during lockdown. They haven’t resumed face-to-face yet. So I’ve been going to all of those up till now and once a month they have a call and it’s usually a mixed bag of people who are thinking about it, in the middle of it, who have just had a baby or who’ve now got a toddler or even an older child and how they’ve navigated that journey. So, yes, that’s been really helpful to hear from people who’ve gone through the whole process and come out the other end with a nine-year-old or whatever.
Experiences of solo parenthood by choice (Part 2)
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Despite being a solo mother by choice, Sarah was able to access the Medicare rebate for IUI because she had PCOS and previously had one ovary removed.
Interviewer: Can you tell me, from what you recall, what the cost of IUI was?
Sarah: Yep. So, I did talk to my doctor about if I was eligible for the Medicare rebate so I could get as much back as possible. So my doctor at first said to me because I was doing this as a single mum by choice, I wouldn’t be eligible, because I was “socially” infertile, not “medically” infertile. I was like, “Oh, okay.” And I kind of went away, and I thought, “Well, I’ve got polycystic ovarian syndrome, I’ve only got one ovary; shouldn’t that meet the criteria for being medically infertile?” So I went back. I think I talked to one of the nurses about it, when I went in, and she was like, “Oh, yeah, you should meet the criteria.” And so I went back to my doctor, and then he was like, “Oh, yep. Yep, you will be able to meet the criteria.” So I did actually get classed as medically infertile, so I did get quite a lot back.
I believe it was about 1,000 dollars for one cycle, but then I had to obviously add my medications on top of that. I can’t remember exactly how much my medications were. I don’t think they were much, because I only had the CLOMID [clomiphene citrate], which I was just able to get a script for at the chemist; and the trigger injection. I think the trigger injection was probably the most expensive thing. I know the cycle was around 1,000 dollars, and I believe I got about 500 dollars back from Medicare.
Kim shares her experience of initially deciding to use a clinic-recruited donor, then changing her mind and choosing to use a known donor.
During the counselling session about using donor sperm I hadn’t really decided at that stage what I was going to do because I had a friend who’d offered to become a donor and so I was weighing up whether to use a known donor or a clinic donor. So having the counselling session that raised a couple of questions that I had to think about and I suppose I also considered the legal side of things with using a known donor.
I decided at that stage that it was probably a cleaner option just to use a clinic donor so I started down that route. My first cycle was this year, got through all the counselling sessions and then got access to the database and the first time I got in there I think I was extremely disappointed about the calibre of donors I suppose. I think maybe my expectations were kind of high so that was a bit confronting.
I decided that I was just going to pick somebody anyway. I just picked I think the youngest guy to try and offset my age who didn’t have any sort of red flags in terms of too many medical issues. Then I went through my first cycle with ICSI and used his sperm to make embryos. I ended up with three embryos I think and then got those genetically tested and two of them were abnormal and one was normal.
So I kind of looked at that as my diagnostic round as a bit of a tester. Even though I wasn’t happy with the donor my specialist said, “We don’t actually know how good the quality of your eggs are unless we actually go through and fertilise them and try to make embryos and test them genetically.”
Then pretty much after that round I went back to my friend and said, “Actually I think I’d rather go with you,” and I also started researching – I started looking into more about the donor process from the donor conceived child’s point of view and how they deal with things like growing up and identity issues and things like that. Because that was really important to me to try and think about it from their point of view. So, yes, I watched quite a few videos on YouTube about donor kids growing up and at what stage they find out that they are donor conceived and whether they want to know about their donor or not and whether it’s been kept a secret from them or whether they’ve been told the whole time since they were really little.
So, yes, I guess looking at all that stuff also helped to make that decision to use a known donor because I think even if I’d used a clinic donor I would have tried to make contact with them early on and tried to have some sort of contact with them or have the child have some sort of contact with them so that they’ve at least got something when they’re old enough to know what it’s all about or start asking questions or whatever. So that was a worry as well I think that that person might not want that or might have their own family and it might be a secret or something.
I think it was just too unknown for me and it was too uncertain in terms of what my child might want in the future. So I’ve completely switched and decided to use my friend as a donor as he’s quite happy to be around and to play some part in the child’s life as more of an uncle figure or something like that. So that’s why at the moment I’ve put him through the clinic process so he’s done all his tests. At the moment he’s just doing his last donations before it gets puts into quarantine and then in the meantime I’ve been doing some rounds of egg freezing just so I’m not wasting that time.
After a long-term relationship ended when she was 35, Elena began to consider having children on her own. Most of her family and friends were very supportive.
I was in a long-term relationship through my twenties and thirties and we did begin the process of potentially starting IVF. Then our relationship ended when I was 35. So I hoped to find a new partner but it just wasn’t happening. I also didn’t want to rush into something with the purpose of having a child, it just seemed a bit too much pressure.
I had several friends that were raised without fathers and really broached the conversation without me starting it. Saying you know, “If you want to have children and you don’t find the right person you should really do it on your own.” They felt that they hadn’t missed out on anything and their mums were fabulous. So that helped I think in making the decision.
I told friends and family very close to me of what I was hoping to achieve. I didn’t tell a lot of people and most were very supportive. There was a couple that were like, “Oh why don’t you wait until you find someone?” Especially men who maybe aren’t aware of the fertility, biological clock. So when I said “I’m nearly 40, fertility goes,” – “Oh yes, I forget you’re a lot older than me and I forget this and I forget that,” then they were like, “Oh okay.”
So yes, I had one negative response from a friend, it was a friend that is the type of person that is quite judgemental of other alternative ways of families living, so it wasn’t entirely surprising. I come from a really conservative family, my grandparents are Orthodox and so I was quite nervous about telling her when I was pregnant, my grandma. But at the end of the day for her the most important thing is having lots of great grandkids [laughter] so she absolutely loves and adores [him] and everyone has really embraced it which has been [wonderful].
Single Mothers by Choice Tryers (SMC TTC) – TTC (trying to conceive) support group, Facebook