Becoming a mother is a very special and beautiful thing, but for many women it’s also a path fraught with challenges and self-doubt.
For starters, finding a suitable partner isn’t always easy, regardless of your age, looks, social background or sexual orientation. As such, an increasing number of women who wish to become mothers are doing so without a male life partner.
An estimated 17% of children aged 0-14 live in single parent households worldwide, with women heading 88% of those households. While the exact numbers aren’t known, it stands to reason that many women choose to become mothers independently — or had no other choice at the moment of conception.
From IVF to adoption, here are their options.
Regardless of the method a woman may choose to become pregnant on her own, sperm is required — science hasn’t found a workaround to that yet.
In many cases, this can be done with the assistance of a donor the woman knows personally — for instance, her lesbian partner’s brother. In most jurisdictions, there are laws that guide this process and state whether or not the sperm donor can be a part of the child’s life.
Alternatively, she may choose her donation from a sperm bank. Sperm donors are pre-screened for diseases and disorders. Basic information about the donor such as skin color, height, eye color, and blood group are also catalogued.
However, the sperm donor is not considered as the legal father of the children produced from the sperm he donates, and generally remains entirely anonymous to both the woman and his future children.
IUI and IVF
IUI is the acronym for intrauterine insemination. This is one of the most popular options for women who choose to become pregnant without a partner. It involves a doctor or healthcare provider inserting sperm from a donor directly into the uterus, which will hopefully fertilize the egg. IUI is fairly inexpensive when compared to other options, but the rate of success tends to decrease in older women.
IVF — in vitro fertilization — brings IUI one step further: minimally invasive surgical techniques are performed to remove eggs from the woman’s ovaries. After egg retrieval, the doctor sends the eggs to a lab to be inseminated with the donor’s sperm. A few days later the doctor implants the fertilized eggs into the uterus.
This method is much more successful than IUI, especially for older women. It’s also much more expensive, and can cost upwards of $12,000.
Surrogacy is presented as an option for women who are unable to become pregnant or conceive a child: a surrogate is chosen to be impregnated through IUI or IVF.
The surrogate can be someone the woman knows personally, if she meets certain medical criteria. There are also agencies that can be called upon to find a reliable surrogate. The cost of the procedure is very high, ranging from $30,900 to $96,600, although critics of this industry point out that the true costs are incalculably higher when one takes into account the health risks involved for the surrogate mother.
Just as there is sperm donation, egg donation exists for women who can’t use their own eggs to become pregnant. A woman may choose to receive donated eggs to be fertilized and implanted into her own uterus via IVF, or she may use donated eggs implanted in a surrogate.
A cheaper alternative to implanting donated eggs into a surrogate is to use the surrogate’s own eggs, which is called traditional surrogacy. This presents the risk of leaving the surrogate biologically and emotionally attached to the child — the moral and legal implications are significant, and as such this option remains highly contested.
Adoption and Foster Care
There are an estimated 153 million orphan children worldwide. Both babies and older children need warm, loving homes, and adopting one is an enticing option for any woman who wants to become a mother. Similar to adoption is foster care, where children are temporarily placed in the homes of foster parents because their birth parents have either abused, neglected, or abandoned them.
There are often opportunities to permanently adopt a child from foster care, but it should be kept in mind that these children have often experienced trauma and may require specialized care from their foster parents because of it. As such, couples that fit a certain profile are generally favored in the adoption process.