Where does ‘being a mum’ lie on your priority list? Perhaps it rests somewhere between true love, a career and a dream home. But what if it came first? Above everything, even the perfect partner? For more and more single women, this is the case, and they’re taking matters into their own hands.
More women than ever are opting to undergo IVF alone, with the number rising by 20 per cent in just one year, and tripling in less than a decade.
And many of them aren’t turning to fertility treatment as a last resort, with their age counting against them, but simply because they’re ready to be mums – and happy to go it alone.
‘I’ve seen a rise in women under 35 requesting IVF alone,’ says Dr Amin Gorgy, fertility consultant at The Fertility & Gynaecology Academy. ‘There are varying reasons behind their decision but, for all, the bottom line is they want a baby and don’t feel they can wait.’
‘Society has changed so much since the previous generation, when it was seen that the only way to have a family was the traditional 2.4 unit,’ explains Elle Boag, senior lecturer in social psychology at Manchester University.
‘Now it’s more than acceptable for families to consist of gay parents and single mothers, giving women the confidence to go about motherhood on their own terms.’ This is boosted by the fact that more women than ever are financially independent, and have the resources to bring a baby into the world.
Of course, for others, as Dr Amin explains, life doesn’t go the way they want. ‘Some of the women I see have just come out of a relationship where the partner didn’t want children, some have recently broken up and feel it’d take too long to meet the right person before becoming a parent, others simply don’t want to miss out on becoming a mum.’
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The latter rings true for Lizzie Alcom, 29, from Brighton. After splitting from her boyfriend of seven years earlier this year, she decided to look into having a baby on her own. ‘We split because we’d drifted apart, it was nothing to do with having children. But afterwards, I reassessed my priorities and knew that being a mum was high on the list. Of course it would’ve been easier to have been settled in a happy marriage, but that wasn’t the situation I was in, and I was happy to do it alone,’ she says.
Equally as important, she had the funds to do it alone, as she’d been saving up to buy a flat with her ex. Single women aren’t yet able to get IVF on the NHS and one cycle can cost between £4,000 and £8,000. However statistics show that if you’re under 35, with no known health problems, the success rate of IVF is 32 per cent, compared to intrauterine insemination (IUI) at just 15 per cent.
After doing some research, Lizzie got in touch with a fertility consultant and she’s currently preparing herself for her first round.But not everyone was as relaxed as Lizzie. ‘My parents were shocked by my decision. It took them a while to undxerstand, which I get, because it’s not conventional. But even if they hadn’t come around, nothing would’ve changed my mind,’ she says.
Dr Amin says most women who visit him don’t have any doubts. ‘They are usually determined and have thought it through. They want to be mothers and this is a viable way to go about it.’
While celebs who’ve chosen to be single mums, such as Charlize Theron and Lucy Liu, are older and had prioritised their careers, there’s a level of empowerment for anyone who makes that decision. ‘Many women buy into a traditional family but it doesn’t work out. Women choosing IVF are empowered because they’ve made the choice to be alone, and that ‘s what suits them,’ Elle explains. But that doesn’t mean they have to do it all alone.
‘We recommend counselling for all patients going through assisted conception,’ Dr Amin says, to prepare them for the huge change in their lives.
A recent study revealed that single women who’ve conceived through IVF aren’t getting the extra support they need. ‘They have no one to share the experience with – the sleepless nights and the responsibility,’ says Elle.
But as more and more women choose to become solo mums, the vital thing, Elle believes, is the care they can give. ‘All that matters is that the child has a consistent, loving home,’ she says.
‘Having Alfie Was The Best Thing I’ve Ever Done’
Victoria Oakey, 30, a teacher from Southampton, had Alfie this summer through IVF
‘I knew I wanted to be a mum ever since I was little. I told my parents that if I didn’t find Mr Right before turning 30, I’d still have a baby. Being a mum was just so much more important to me than having a partner.’
At 28, I decided to just go for it. As soon as I made the decision, something just clicked. I had three rounds of IUI, a less invasive option that required taking drugs and having donated sperm deposited into my uterus. But it didn’t work, so I went for IVF in May 2014 at Wessex Fertility. After weeks of drugs and scans, I ended up with five embryos.
The procedure was gruelling, especially without the support of a partner. My family were concerned about the toll it was taking on me emotionally, physically and financially. But at the end of the year, I found out I was pregnant. My gorgeous boy, Alfie, was born on 10 May 2015, looking just like me.
There were some practical struggles at first, but my mum and best friend (and birthing partner), Emma, were both a brilliant help. And you learn how to cope – when I am feeding him, I always make sure I have a drink, the remote and my phone beside me, as there isn’t someone there to fetch things for you.
I’d say a big benefit is that I don’t have to compromise with anyone as to how I raise him. There are no arguments and he gets consistent parenting. I don’t worry about him growing up without a dad. What matters is that a child is loved, plus Alfie has three uncles and a grandad so he has lots of positive male role models. I’ll also always be open with him about how he came to be. I have four frozen embryos and would love to give Alfie a sibling in the future.
I’m proud of myself for making my dream come true and I’ve also learnt what I’m capable of. I’d encourage anyone who desperately wants children to have the courage to do it. Alfie’s my greatest achievement.’
With thanks to Wessex Fertility