The Single Woman’s Journey to Motherhood
By Lorraine Flood
What exactly does ‘fertility’ mean? A quick internet search brings up a dictionary.com definition that it is a noun and refers to (i) the state or quality of being fertile; (ii) Biology – the ability to produce offspring; power of reproduction.
Or perhaps it is more pertinent to wonder what ‘infertility’ means? But when I looked this up in the online dictionary, I really didn’t like the words I read, so I won’t mention them. The reason being is that this word invokes much more than definitions or synonyms. It often spells heartbreak, heartache, frustration, anxiety, fear, emotion, hope, determination, and many more feelings that can be very deeply rooted and felt for those going through this journey.
Through my journey over the past year, I have felt like a bit of an imposter perhaps and at times have feared that judgement. Allow me to explain why. I often used the terms ‘fertility journey’, or ‘fertility treatment’ to describe my path to getting pregnant. However, I didn’t have fertility issues or difficulties. I am what my doctor called a ‘Reproductive Choice Client’, rather than a patient. I am a single woman of a certain age who has found herself still single – and so may not have been dealing with the heartache of fertility issues, but was most definitely dealing with the heartache of hoping and wishing for a family of my own, the tidal wave of emotions that brings, and that my internal clock was tick, tick, ticking along as I approached 40.
So even though it is Fertility Awareness Week, with an emphasis on the word fertility, I do feel that I should still have a voice. And I want to be a voice to help other women like me, who are out there wanting their own family too and feel the time slipping away from them. Life today is complex and what looked like the traditional family unit of the past is changing. There are many combinations of families these days and many of them must seek fertility treatment in order to achieve a family of their own. For me, as a single woman, that involved the use of donor sperm.
I feel it is quite an important subject to talk more openly about – using a sperm donor – because well, it is a huge deal! And I’m not just talking about the process of choosing a donor, which was intense and I will go into later. But, there is a lot to consider from an emotional, moral, ethical, spiritual perspective. Obviously I knew getting into this, that I would have to use donor sperm. I was very OK with this from the beginning. It is very important to avail of the counselling session offered by the clinic when you are in a donor situation because just by using that one hour to air your thoughts, speak openly in a safe place about how you might feel or the fact that you might not even be sure how you feel about it – it is an hour most definitely well spent!
Some things I didn’t consider before going into that counselling session would have been – the change in law so that donors now are non-anonymous; the reasons why we don’t have sperm donors available in Ireland; the fact that the donor you chose could have other ‘successful pregnancies’ and therefore the possibility that your child may have siblings out there, in Ireland or abroad; how you should approach telling family, friends, colleagues or whether you wish to tell them at all; should your child be the first to receive that news; how to tell your child and at what age that process should begin; what supports are out there for people who have availed of sperm donation. So, you see, there is so much to consider, much more than just looking at profiles and choosing a suitable donor. One counselling session really opened my eyes, when
I thought I was walking into it with my eyes wide open already! As it happens there are some supports out there, for example, the Donor Conception Network. I have since bought some books both for adults and one is a little story book aimed at telling your child from an early age, to help normalise it for them as much as possible. It is recommended that you should tell your child and not keep it from them. So, I feel like I have taken ownership, responsibility and accountability for my choices and it is now my job to tell my baby when the time comes.
Choosing a donor for myself was not the easiest of tasks, it is quite an intense process. At the SIMS clinic, you have the option of going with a clinic in America or Cryos in Denmark. I chose the clinic in Denmark. I suppose the reason why was to keep it European and as close to Irish as I could. I spent weeks going through different profiles and found it very difficult to know where to start narrowing it down. So, I thought about my family – I’m an only girl with three brothers, one older and two younger, all who have children of their own. I thought about what we all looked like – red or fair enough hair, and we all have blue eyes. I would love nothing more than to preserve the ‘ginger gene’ and have a child with red hair and blue eyes, as it is becoming more and more rare, but even this was difficult to find a donor to match that, so I settled on the one real physical feature of blue eyes. Once I ticked that box and a few others, it started to narrow things down. The profiles are really very detailed – you can see pictures of the donors as babies or young children, and a full medical and family history. But what I found most interesting and very important to me was the part of their profile where you get to see what they write about themselves, their hobbies, interests, hopes and dreams for their own life and why they wish to be donors; hand written letters explaining why; and most importantly they are put through assessments to ascertain their Emotional IQ – this is important to see how grounded a person is, how empathetic, kind, considerate and compassionate they are but also how they actually see themselves. It really does give great insight.
Finally I started to really narrow down the search and as I love to write and would be quite the analytical person – I am a spreadsheets girl – I did myself up a spreadsheet of my shortlisted donors, detailing their qualities, background, histories etc, and saved down their pictures and finally, after weeks and weeks of wading through the sea of donors, I ended up with my 5 donors that I would submit in order of preference to the clinic. It really is an intense process, and aside from the physical impact of going through an IVF journey, (the injections, hormones, scans, failed cycles, egg collection, embryo transfers) – the process of choosing the donor whose sperm will be used to help you conceive your most precious child, for me, was just as important and emotional as the physical side of the journey.
In the end, the embryologist and doctors choose the best matched donor from your list of top 5, so I ended up with 3 vials of sperm from my second choice donor in the end. This was absolutely fine with me, as he was in my top 5 for a reason and turns out probably the better choice – as the photos of him as a child really resemble my young nephew in a way, so I know my child, boy or girl, will be like us and will be loved by my entire family no matter what.
I am now 34 weeks, so counting down my last 6 weeks of pregnancy and I am so looking forward to meeting my little baby that I have wished for and worked hard for so long. Not long to wait now. I documented my journey as a single mother-to-be on Instagram and my handle is @manifesting_my_baby should you wish to follow my journey; I hope there is some information in there that will help other women like me and I wish everyone going through fertility treatment, not just single women, but everybody, all the luck and love in the world. Best wishes x