"People will always have opinions." 6 things I wish I'd known before starting IVF as a solo woman.

In 2021, one in every 25 children born in Australia were conceived via assisted reproductive technologies. That’s one child in every classroom on average. Within this statistic, solo women undertaking IVF to conceive a child using an anonymous donor is also increasingly prevalent in Australia.

I am one of these extremely fortunate women. Yet despite the increasing number of women making this choice, I still feel like an outlier. Indeed, it is a privilege for us to have an option which confers agency and control over the decision to create a family. Paradoxically though, it is the agonising absence of control throughout the IVF process itself which renders it a deeply isolating and often heartbreaking experience.

The process of bringing my son into the world was the most viciously excruciating yet mind-blowingly wondrous experience of my life. However for years - until the moment he took his first breath - the complex tangle of IVF processes, procedures and pain dictated my every move and mood. It sculpted every waking moment. A marathon with no end. I say ‘no end’ because for me there was no end until I ‘succeeded’. Crazily, the cycles of hope and destruction were perversely addictive. And the gamble of ‘one more try’ had me hooked. Even when hope flew away and faith in my body and myself was completely decimated.

While you're here, Meshel Laurie shares what it's like to go through IVF alone. Story continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

It’s only now that I look back with the benefit of hindsight and reflect on just how demoralising and destructive the IVF process can be. Although my story is a positive one (in the end); as the old cliché goes, if I had known then what I know now, the process of getting here would have been far less isolating and heart wrenching.

Own it.

People will always have comments and opinions, fuelled by interest, intrusiveness or ignorance. Unfortunately, there seems to be a perverse sense of entitlement many have to comment not only on women’s bodies, but also their reproductive choices. Artfully moulded by heteronormative and often misogyny-driven ‘norms’ and expectations. From comments such as ‘children need a father’ to ‘why didn’t you just go out and have a one night stand’, I think I’ve heard them all. So now I own it. I’m in my 40s and sick of being an apologetic human doormat. I’m proud of what I’ve done and moreover, so proud of my beautiful boy. It’s important for your child to see you own it. Own it together.

I suggest creating an ‘elevator pitch’ for social situations in which idiots/well meaning folk ask rude/intrusive questions or make ludicrous comments. Your elevator pitch might be: “This is (insert child’s name). I had him on my own via IVF. I’m very lucky.”


One particularly foolish man made the mistake of rudely demanding ‘where’s the man???’ when he saw my son and I. He quickly wished he hadn’t. A Lionness Mama I’d never met hotly erupted and my response was along the lines of “What??? There is NO MAN!!”. I’m a very polite people pleaser, but no one is going to make us feel ‘less than’ or that we’re missing something or someone. So own it.

Choosing a donor: putting away perfectionism.

Unfortunately, IVF clinics often have very low numbers of sperm donors, due to both the significant increase in numbers of women choosing to conceive this way, but also changes to legislation which enable the identification of ‘anonymous’ sperm donors when the child is 18.

On paper, the process of choosing a donor sounds novel and perhaps even exciting. However, given the aforementioned low numbers, there are not only less donors to choose from, but demand exceeds supply. This situation makes a potentially interesting and exciting decision exceptionally stressful.

So put away perfectionism. Let go of envisaging the ‘perfect donor’. The brutal truth is they don’t exist. Sure, have some donor characteristics that are ‘dealbreakers’; this will vary for everyone. For example, it might be smoking, for others it will be certain attributes, genetic conditions or even occupations. It’s an interesting exercise in examining our deepest held values. And our prejudices.


Our donor is the polar opposite of me in terms of appearance and colouring. It wasn’t important to me how my child looked; after years of medical procedures, losing donors and fighting to secure ours, I was focused on the fact I was given the priceless gift of a donor and a chance to try. Ironically, I’m told all the time how similar my son and I look.

The lesson here is: you can’t control or predict how your child will look or be: trying to find a donor who fits your ‘ideal’ is unrealistic.

If you’re interested in choosing a donor from a different race or ethnicity to your own, it’s fundamental to consider how you will integrate the donor’s culture into your lives. Seek further information and counselling either from your IVF provider or the Reproductive Treatment Authority in your State or Territory (for example, in Victoria this is the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority or VARTA).

Also keep in mind that very few of us – if any - will have a totally ‘clean’ health or genetic profile. It is overwhelming to receive pages of medical records of the donor and their extended family, and very easy to be put off by the slightest blip in their genetic or medical history. However, if you reflect on your own family, it’s most likely that your family tree includes a number of medical conditions. So keep this in mind and be realistic.

As I went through this process, I would find a donor I had a gut feeling about, only to see them disappear from the database within hours. Therefore, rather than waiting for the ‘perfect’ donor, if there are no dealbreakers, follow your gut but also the clock. Time is of the essence! Whether it’s the way the donor wrote in their profile, particular attributes or an intuition, trust it. Be proactive and pragmatic. Unfortunately nothing about the way you’re conceiving your child is romantic. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.


However, if you’re fortunate enough to conceive a baby with your donor, every aspect of that donor morphs into perfection the minute your child is born. This I can promise you. As each year passes and I watch my son unfurl into a beautiful little boy, I never ever take the choice I made that day or the magic gift that donor gave for granted. Perfection is the patchwork of genes and characteristics that creates your own child. It’s as simple as that.

Advocate for yourself or involve someone who will.

Because no one else will! Advocate for yourself in all dimensions of IVF treatment: specialists, nurses, pharmacists and all other professionals involved in your care. I can honestly say I would not have my beautiful boy if I didn’t advocate – and advocate HARD for what I needed - along the entire journey.

From seemingly tiny things like asking ‘silly’ or confronting questions, choosing firm kindness in the face of rude receptionists, asserting yourself with specialists if something doesn’t feel right, to persisting (and persisting and persisting!!) with calling or emailing in the process of choosing a donor.


IVF tested my patience more than anything I’ve ever endured. Waiting for an appointment/procedure/test/result is IVF in a nutshell. It can be deeply excruciating. However, also remember that all these health professionals are managing countless other people like you; it’s an enormous juggling act for them and they do a wonderful job. So advocate kindly and patiently!! It feels like your entire world. Yet the reality is there are countless others like you.

Familiarise yourself with State/Territory laws before you make any big decisions.

Currently every State and Territory has different IVF laws and regulations around donor conception. Due to limited donor numbers in some States, women sometimes choose to go interstate to access a larger donor database. I was one of these women.

In my first few cycles of IVF, I chose a US donor only available for treatment in a clinic in QLD. This had multifaceted complications, however in these early stages, I was so naively focused on finding the ‘perfect’ donor that I went head first into it. However, once I was deep in treatment, I found out that I was unable to transfer embryos created in QLD back to Victoria. I was only made aware of this information after the embryos had been created. This caused enormous strain and heartbreak. Ideally, someone should have informed me at the outset, but again it’s my responsibility to inform myself (refer to ‘Advocate for Yourself’).

So before you start treatment or make decisions around donors, ensure you seek all relevant information to avoid the heartbreaking choices I had to make. Alongside the sheer pain of these choices, I felt stupid and naïve. Unfortunately, I wasn’t alone and have since met several other women who had the same awful experience.


Telling your unique ‘family story’.

Research in the area of donor conception overwhelmingly supports telling donor conceived children ‘their story’ as early in life as possible. The truth is, all families are different. After all my dilly-dallying around trying to find books to say the words for me, I’ve found simply teaching my son about different families has been the most powerful tool. I struggled for so long even hearing myself speak the word ‘donor’ to a 4-year-old. It felt immensely awkward, foreign and contrived.

However, that was my grief talking. I got onto Snapfish (online photo ordering service) and made a photo book with the (simplified) story about how much Mummy wanted him but needed help from a doctor and a special man called a donor. There are also several (slight cringe-worthy but good enough) books you can order online. State and Territory Assisted Reproductive Treatment authorities also have excellent resources to assist with ideas and examples around how to tell your little one their unique story.

After several awkward, stuttering attempts to start this process, I realised very quickly that the only one who had an issue with the word ‘donor’ was me. It’s now just a word in our world. I can (almost) say it without cringing inside. So I promise you it gets easier. It went from being a word dripping with grief and clumsy convos to merely a descriptor within our big and beautiful family story.


Connections and 'diblings'; new era and definition of family awaits (when you're ready).

It’s a confronting fact that there will be other little people out there in the world conceived by the same donor if you used an IVF clinic. In the donor conceived world, these little people are known as ‘diblings’ (donor siblings).

After I had a hysterectomy last year and processed the grief I would have no more children, it subconsciously opened up heart space and after much thought, I added my son’s name to the voluntary donor register. This register enables VARTA to ‘match’ diblings conceived by the same donor when both parties consent.

After the long paperwork shenanigans, in the mandatory counselling session I asked the counsellor anecdotally how often these connections were negative experiences. I was surprised to learn that in almost all cases, connecting diblings and their parents with matched families is a hugely positive experience. When you think about it, the shared lived experience and process we’ve endured to reach this point is a unique one. This brings with it an unspoken bond and understanding.

Listen: The Quicky speaks to a woman who went through years of IVF and a medical specialist to find out what prospective parents should know before they embark on this journey. Story continues after podcast.

To cut a very long, sweaty and emotional story short; meeting my son’s diblings and their brilliant Mum has been the most profound and joyfully mystical experience. Their presence in our world has erased huge chunks of grief that still lingered after IVF; years of heartbreak, crippling physical and emotional suffering and sense of aloneness as a solo Mum.


All this dissolved looking into the soulful and deeply familiar eyes of those two beautiful 4-year-olds for the first time. Initially we did awkward ‘get to know you’ emails, much like I imagine online dating might be. Then we exchanged photos of our little ones. For many days I couldn’t look at those images without whole body flashes of emotion and hot tears. Life felt so raw and vivid.

We’ve now met up several times and are in touch most days. The pure, unexpected joy of watching those three little blond heads run around together has transported me into a new dimension of life. Perhaps this is what having a village feels like. You see, they say it takes a village to raise a child, but what if you don’t have one? That has always bothered me and made me feel less than. And not enough.

This new but instantly deep connection has erased the grey grief that haunted me as a solo Mum in a world in which others had their villages but I didn’t. Finding them created my village. I’m not an outlier anymore. Our village is a new frontier; it’s different. And it’s beautiful.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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