kids

'How I talk to my young children about their sperm donor father.'

Ever since she was a little girl, Rachel pictured herself as a mother. One of four children herself and with a gaggle of cousins, she knew she wanted a tight-knit family of her own.

But as the Gold Coast woman reached her mid 30s, she realised it wasn’t going to happen in the way she expected.

“I’d come out of a 10-year relationship, where I really wanted kids and he was a bit half-hearted about it, which probably contributed to the breakup. Then I hit 35, I was single and I still really wanted kids, so I started looking at other options,” the 40-year-old told Mamamia.

“I did a lot of reading about it and did a lot of research about the statistics showing that relationships fail anyway. So I thought I’d do it on my own, and see how I went.”

Now 40, Rachel is solo parent to two “delightful, curious, quirky” young children – a son, aged three-and-a-half, and a nine-month-old daughter – conceived via artificial insemination.

Their father is an American donor, selected after Rachel had genetic compatibility issues with her Australian pick. Ultimately, she said, it turned out to be the favourable option.

“In Australia you get very limited information from the clinics; just height, weight, a bit of a description of ethnicity and their job, and that’s pretty much all you get, plus a little bit of a health history,” she said. “With an American donor I got heaps of information. I’ve actually got a letter he’d written to any children born from his sperm, I’ve got a photo of him as a child, a photo of him as an adult, lots of information about his brothers and sisters and parents – information about what they do, health histories.”

Ensuring her children know about their father is important to Rachel; she wants them to have a solid grasp on their identity, to be able to have questions answered, if and when they’re ready to ask them, and even to meet him if they wish.

For now though, she simply tells them their story. She hopes being open will help them feel proud of their unique family and equip them to combat prejudice they will likely encounter as they get older.

“My strategy is to be really upfront with them about where they come from and who they are,” she said. “I actually wrote a book for them, with photos, explaining how they came to be and took that to their childcare centre, so everyone knows their history. It’s a difficult thing for little ones to get their head around, so we’re starting at a very basic level, and as they get older I’ll modify the story.”

LISTEN: Do we need to have an honest conversation about age and fertility? (Post continues below.)

While there’s no comprehensive data available on the number of women choosing to become single mothers in Australia, fertility experts report that numbers have increased dramatically over the last decade and are continuing to climb.

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Dr Georgiana Tang, Medical Director at City Fertility Centre, said the increasing popularity of women taking the solo parenting route not only means broader acceptance of single parenthood, but more fertility options available to assist women in creating their family.

“There are many reasons why people choose to go it alone, whether it be because they haven’t met the right partner yet, or they have just always wanted to be a single parent, or for an array of other reasons,” she said.

“There are a comprehensive range of services to help single women achieve parenthood whether that be now or down the track.”

Dr Tang said the first decision women contemplating solo parenthood need to make is whether to begin treatment now, or to freeze their eggs.

“One of the most important factors that often influences your decision on what action to take will be your age,” she said. “Research shows that female fertility is at its optimum level until the age of 35. While women are born with their lifetime supply of eggs, these naturally begin to decline in quality and quantity from 25 years old and more rapidly decline from 35 years of age. The egg supply is almost non-existent by the time of menopause. Therefore, if you are hoping to use your own eggs, age plays an important role.”

Before making her decision, Rachel engaged in six months of research; from effectiveness of the various procedure options, to ethics surrounding sperm donation, health and genetics, finances, and the potential implications of being single mother by choice.

“I did a lot of reading and had to have counselling going into it as well. There’s a lot of stuff you don’t necessarily think about when you start on this, like what if your kids end up falling in love with someone who turns out to be their sibling?” she said. “That was just one of the issues I had to consider.”

Support through it all was essential; both professional and that from her family. Her mother and sister attended the majority of her appointments from consultation stage, through her failed intrauterine insemination (IUI) cycles and diagnosis of fertility issues, to the “emotional rollercoaster” that was the IVF process, and eventually childbirth. Even since, they’ve been integral in helping care for her children while she completed her PhD in social work.

Given Rachel never met – and still hasn’t – another woman going through the same experience, she believes it’s crucial to have this network, that being a single parent by choice doesn’t mean being alone.

“Parenthood is hard enough if you’re doing it with a partner,” she said. “I think if you were going to embark on this journey and you didn’t have any support, I’m not sure that you should do it really. It’s not something you can do easily on your own. I really think it takes a village to raise a child.”

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