Your Options When You’re Single and Considering Having a Child on Your Own
According to a Pew Research Center analysis, roughly one-third of all American children under age 18 live with an unmarried parent. Most of those single parent homes are headed by a mom. As women, we have lots of options for how to become a parent, even without a partner. While there are some disadvantages to having children on your own, there are advantages as well. For instance, when weighing the options, you can make decisions based on what you feel is right for you, without negotiating with a partner. Whatever choice is right for you, here are some options to consider when thinking about having a child on your own as a single mom by choice.
By Michelle Stansbury, Eat, Drink, Be San Diego
Not sure what you want for your family life quite yet? Freezing your eggs is one way to help “stop the clock” in some ways, giving you more time to consider being a single mom. While freezing your eggs doesn’t completely preserve fertility, it is one of the biggest steps you can take to ensure your future pregnancy. The younger you are when you freeze your eggs, the better quality they will be. One important decision to consider is whether you want to freeze your eggs fertilized (also known as mature oocyte cryopreservation) or unfertilized (embryo cryopreservation). Freezing fertilized embryos limits your options in the future if you decide you want to use someone else’s sperm when ready to get pregnant.
The process of egg freezing includes 8-12 days of hormone injections so that you produce multiple eggs. The retrieved eggs are flash frozen and will be thawed when you’re ready to use them. With egg freezing, your only method of getting pregnant using the frozen eggs is in vitro fertilization (IVF) – more on that below!
While some women start thinking about adoption only after they fail to get pregnant themselves, it is valuable to consider the option early on in your process of deciding how to become a single mom. The first main decision is whether you want to foster a child or go straight into adoption. Then, there are additional considerations like what age baby or child you’d like to adopt, whether or not you’d like to adopt siblings, and if you want to adopt domestically or internationally. Whatever options you decide are right for you in your journey to become a single mom, there are lots of legal issues to read up on before adopting.
Unknown Sperm Donation
What I loosely refer to unknown sperm donors (distinct from known sperm donors), actually encompasses Anonymous, Open, and ID Disclosure donors. The three categories just describe if the sperm donor is open to having any future contact with the offspring, if the offspring requests it. With the increase of DNA testing and genetic match websites, and thinking into a future where these types of testing and information sharing will become more prolific, many believe that the most important distinction between sperm donors is whether it is unknown or known (more info on that below), instead of between those three categories.
Unknown sperm donors can be found through sperm banks like California Cryobank, which is one of the largest sperm banks in the United States. Most of the selection these days is done online, by visiting a website that looks a little like a dating website. You often see the donor’s childhood photos, sometimes their adult photos. A description that might sound like a classified ad (an accomplished engineer with a passion for cooking, 6’2 and broad shoulders…) accompanies each donor. You can screen by factors like educational background, ethnicity, height, blood type, eye color, and carriers for recessive diseases. If you also do a genetic screening for diseases in which you are a recessive carrier, that is a great place to start narrowing down donors.
Sound overwhelming? Remember that whatever genes the donor passes on, you will be responsible for your child’s environment as a single mom, so the genes will not fully determine who your child ends up becoming. Since this is your decision, you are fully able to use factors like the donor’s favorite movie or hobbies to make your selection. Personally, I prioritized family health, a donor that doesn’t look too different from me, and intelligence in my decision.
The advantage of going through a sperm bank is that you can feel assured about genetic health as well as your legal rights; there is no question through a sperm bank that the donor has given up all legal rights to any child produced from his sperm.
Known Sperm Donor
A known sperm donor, also known as a directed donation, is when you get sperm from a friend or acquaintance to use to try to get pregnant. Logistically, using a known donor can be more complicated than going through a sperm bank. The laws around known sperm donation vary from state to state, but understanding the legal implications of the donation is essential before embarking on this process. Hiring a lawyer and/or signing a contract with your donor are two ways to help make sure your rights and their rights are both protected. Psychiatrists also warn that the emotional complication of using a known sperm donor could create difficulties in your relationship, so talking to a therapist is another good resource when considering using a known donor. While you can do an at-home insemination with a known donor, doctors recommend going to a clinic where known donors can go through the same medical screening that an unknown donor would.
If you are new to learning about fertility treatments, you might not have heard about intrauterine insemination (IUI). It’s a much simpler procedure than IVF (more on that below), involving tracking your ovulation and then a doctor inserting sperm directly inside your uterus, helping the sperm get closer to your egg. For an IUI, semen is “washed,” concentrating the sperm and
removing impurities. IUIs are often done in conjunction with a fertility medicine like Clomid or Letrozole, which might help you to ovulate more than one egg each cycle. Sometimes an ovulation stimulating medication is also prescribed. The procedure itself only takes a few minutes at your doctor’s office and since it is less expensive and less invasive than IVF, IUI can be a good choice for single moms-to-be who don’t have any history of infertility.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) includes retrieving eggs from a woman’s ovaries and fertilizing them with sperm, which (hopefully!) creates embryos. One or more embryos are then transferred back to the woman’s uterus. You can also undergo IVF with donor eggs, if you’ve chosen to use an egg donor for your pregnancy. The egg retrieval process is similar to the egg freezing process, with fertility drugs that increase the number of eggs your ovaries release and a surgical procedure to retrieve the eggs. Then, the eggs are inseminated with sperm in a petri dish. Some women elect to have the embryos tested for genetic abnormalities. Around 3-5 days after fertilization, the embryos are implanted into the uterus.
IVF is expensive and invasive, taking a financial and physical toll. IVF has one of the highest success rates, with a live birth rate for women under age 35 of 41-43 percent and for women over the age of 40 of 13-18 percent (according to the American Pregnancy Association).