By LUCY ORMONDE
Nicky Lavigne always thought she’d be married with kids by the time she reached 40. In reality however, on her 40th birthday she found herself divorced, single and childless and desperate to become a mother.
A woman’s fertility declines after the age of 32. By the age of 40, it’s fallen by half. Waiting for the father of your future children to come into your life is no longer an option.
Nicky realised she had a choice to make. She could continue to wait for a relationship that may or may not lead to children. Or she could look into becoming a single mother through treatments like IVF and intrauterine insemination.
It took Nicky five years of fertility treatments and donor sperm to get nowhere. Until this year.
Now she’s 45 and 19 weeks pregnant. With twins.
Nicky is one of a growing number of women who are being labelled as ‘socially infertile’ by the IVF industry. They’re women in their late 30s and early 40s who are using donor sperm and fertility treatment to become mothers. Some, of course, are also medically infertile; their eggs are no longer viable, as was the case with Nicky.
According to recent reports, the number of single women using sperm donors to get pregnant has increased by as much as 10 per cent in the past three years.
Although lesbian couples account for some of the increase, doctors say the real growth is among older single heterosexual women.
The demand has been particularly pronounced in Victoria, where until 2010 it was illegal for single women to do IVF if they weren’t medically infertile. Monash IVF has performed IVF cycles for 463 single women with an average age of 38 since the law changed, while 169 same-sex female couples have undergone the process.
”We’re seeing more and more of these ladies. Women who can’t find Mr Right but still want a child realise this is an option for them,” the deputy president of the Fertility Society of Australia, Michael Chapman, said. ”It’s become almost normal to be a single mum. So when these women get to 38, 39, they go to donor sperm and do assisted reproduction.’
MM: At what point did you realise this was the path you were going to go down?
NL: By 40 I had always thought I would be married with a couple of kids but in the real world, I was actually divorced, single and childless. Everyone I had ever come into contact with knew how much I wanted children, so a girlfriend suggested I look into using a sperm donor. I shot this down fast because it wasn’t part of my “dream life”. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised my “fertility window” was closing and I needed to do something fast, so I started looking into what using a sperm donor involved.
MM: What were the options that were available to you? What have you tried – and how did you end up where you are?
NL: I was living in the US at the time, so my options were greater than in Australia. They have no restrictions on how many families one sperm donor can have, whether they have to be known or can remain anonymous AND the guy is paid really well…in all cryobanks in the US.
Choosing a sperm donor was like internet dating. Hundreds of profiles to consider. So. Many. Choices. Height, body shape, hair color, eye color, skin color, religion. Whether he wanted to remain unknown or not (if not, when the child turns 18, he/she can contact the biological father).
I chose a fertility doctor and a donor and figured I’d be pregnant within a year. But how wrong was I…
I had 7 IUI (Intrauterine insemination) cycles. This pretty much involves sperm and a catheter and simulates intercourse… if for you intercourse involves the guy getting off, then rolling over and going to sleep! All were unsuccessful and was told the next step would be IVF.
I was already thinking of moving back to Sydney and decided I’d wait to start with a new doctor there.
Here, my sperm donor options were narrowed down to FIVE. They were from a bank in the States. There is no donor program in Australia. the guys do it altruistically AND they have to be known, so there are almost none. Ever since the law came in to end anonymity for sperm donors (their details are automatically given to the child when he or she reached 18), men just stopped donating. It’s different in the US because anonymity still applies. I chose one from the US and had enough vials shipped so that I (hopefully) wouldn’t have to go through the process again. It’s not cheap.
IVF is grueling…it sends you on an emotional roller coaster. You have to be strong to endure even one cycle. I did seven and never even got one pregnancy. My fertility doctor has an affiliate in Athens (Greece) where he sends patients when they need an egg donor. There is no equivalent service like that in Australia – it’s illegal to buy or sell eggs here. If you need them, you have to find a donor who will do it for free. And since it’s a highly invasive procedure -soo different from donating sperm!- it’s almost impossible for a woman to source donor eggs. So most women who have no eggs have to go overseas. My doctor had been telling me about this and, like when I first heard about sperm donors, my first reaction was NO. I wanted my baby to come from MY egg.
Window nearly shut…
So I started looking into this and decided if I could at least carry the baby, it would still be my pregnancy.
So…off I went to Athens five months ago and now I’m 18 weeks pregnant!!!
MM: Was the decision to become a single parent a difficult one?
NL: Yes, very and while I can’t speak for every woman, I think a lot will agree when I say we all have that “dream life” embedded in our subconscious… Mr Right wanting to spend the rest of his life with you, kids and a family pet. When my marriage ended in my mid 30s, I figured I still had time for another relationship and babies. I did – I spent three years with a guy who was a couple of years younger than me and kept telling me he wasn’t ready for kids. I should have listened.
That ended and after a couple more short-lived flings and a rocky on-again-off-again love affair, I found myself single and 40.
I do know that being a single Mum isn’t going to be as easy as it would if I had a partner, but it’s better for the kids than being brought up by two parents who, for example, aren’t happy together, or one is abusive, or just leaves and never returns.
MM: What led you to this point?
I’m here because I knew I didn’t want to go through my life without having kids. I was determined to be a Mum. I can have a relationship with a man in five years, but my fertility window will have closed by then and I would still have many many years to live… childless. That, to me, was not an option I could come to terms with.
MM: You’re using a sperm and an egg donor. What’s the process like to choose donors for each?
NL: Both egg and sperm donors in Australia are like finding a needle in a haystack. Many other countries have funded programs for both. Egg donors are paid a lot of money because it’s a very involved process and sperm donors are paid well also (for doing something not so terrible). But not here. Here they have to be altruistic AND KNOWN, UNDER 35 years old and have finished her family which is a big call for anyone.
Women advertise in magazines like Sydney’s Child or online for egg donors. I’m not sure what the success rate is, but I don’t think it’s high.
My egg and sperm donors came from the clinic in Athens. (But are anonymous. Using anonymous donors makes the process easier in my opinion.)
MM: The IVF industry has labelled women who, like yourself, are in their 30s or 40s and making the steps to be single parents as ‘socially infertile.’ What do you think of that term?
NL: I think it’s demeaning to those women who are genuinely infertile whether they have a male partner or not. The person who coined this phrase obviously has never had a a problem with fertility, either personally or someone close to them. The word infertility to a woman who IS truly infertile, means it doesn’t matter whether she has a male partner or not… she CANNOT GET PREGNANT.
Now, I have NO problem with women using donor sperm to get pregnant. Hell, I was one of the 40 year olds who realized my fertility window was closing and made the decision my dream of having a loving partner who wanted me to be his Baby Mumma was not happening.
MM: When your kids grow up and they ask you where they came from, what will you tell them?
NL: I’m going to tell my kids how much they were wanted and what lengths I went to to have them. I have a father, two brothers and many male friends in my life, so there will be no shortage of testosterone or people to answer “boy” questions.
MM: If your children ever ask where their dad is, how would you respond?
I’ll tell them the truth…I don’t know who he was, but he did a good thing and look at the results
MM: What have the reactions been like when you tell people what you’re doing?
NL: Most people are very supportive. They know what I’ve been through to get to this place and realize it hasn’t been easy.
There are also people who love to criticize, but they’re only ever online and I’m sure would never have the guts to say something to my face. They say things like I’m too old to become a first time Mum, that if I can’t have a baby the natural way that it’s obvious the universe didn’t want me to have children, or that I’m going to emotionally damage my kids because they’ll never know their biological father and EVERY child needs to know that.
To those people…I say mind your own business.
You can read more about Nicky’s journey on her blog here. Nicky recently appeared on Channel 10′s The Project to talk about her story and the idea of ‘social infertility.’ You can watch that story here.
What lengths would you go to to become a parent? If you knew your time to become a mother was running out, what would you do? Would you try IVF?