A new mother leans in to kiss her son's cheek. The newborn is laying on the bed in a onesie and is awake.
Becoming a ‘Single Mother by Choice’ is a rising trend. Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) data shows that the number of single people going through donor insemination cycles increased 109% between 2011-2021 compared to the previous decade.
The UK’s fertility regulator also reported the number of women going through IVF with donor sperm increased by a huge 178% in the same period.
Throughout the years, embryologist and fertility coach Sandy Christiansen has supported hundreds of people through their fertility struggles, with this rising trend of single mums, she spoke to HuffPost UK about the options for women who don’t have a partner.
We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on all you need to know if you’re single and want a baby, as well as the legal considerations and cost.
The options + costs
As a single woman trying to get pregnant your main fertility treatment options are IVF, IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) and ICI (Intracervical Insemination) using donor sperm.
Single women may be eligible for NHS-funded fertility treatment if they meet certain criteria. However, the rules vary depending on where you live, and some areas don’t offer NHS-funded fertility treatment to single women. It’s possible you will have to pay to seek treatment privately, but be sure to check what the policy for assisted conception in your area says.
IUI takes place at a fertility clinic and can be carried out with donor sperm. It involves injecting prepared sperm directly into the woman’s uterus through a catheter. At a private clinic, IUI can cost between £700 to £1,600 per cycle in addition to the cost of donor sperm.
IVF takes place at a clinic and can be performed with donor sperm. The eggs are removed from the ovaries and fertilised with a sperm sample in a lab. The fertilised egg, an embryo, is transferred to the uterus in order to develop and grow into a baby. IVF costs upwards of £5,000, and there can be additional costs for medication and embryo storage.
Intracervical Insemination (ICI) is the simplest and most affordable fertility treatment option. It can be carried out at home with donor sperm using a kit created by Béa Fertility and costs less than £250 per cycle. ICI involves placing a small cap of semen close to the cervix using a specially-designed applicator, where it remains in place for up to one hour. It’s less invasive than IUI and IVF as it doesn’t require hormone stimulation (which can take a physical and emotional toll).
Surrogacy is an option if there are issues with the uterus, such as structural abnormalities or recurrent implantation failure. In surrogacy, another woman carries and gives birth to the baby for you. Again, surrogacy can take place with donor sperm. It is illegal to pay a surrogate for their services in the UK however it’s common to cover things like legal fees, medical expenses, and to reimburse costs that the surrogacy incurs during the pregnancy.
The final option for single women who wish to become parents is adoption. If adopting from within the UK, though an agency can’t charge you a fee for adopting, you can reasonably assume to pay between £10,000 and £15,000 on legal fees and police checks. However, this can vary and it’s best to check with a lawyer.
Key legal considerations
If you use a sperm donor through a HFEA-licensed UK fertility clinic there are very few risks and the consent forms signed ahead of any treatment will ensure that all parties are protected. The sperm donor will have no legal rights or responsibilities to any children born with their sperm, and they are limited to donate to up to 10 families.
If you have a private arrangement with an individual you are contacting directly, this individual is a Known Donor. Known donors are a great option for families who need donor sperm and who cannot access a clinic.
Considerations when using a Known Donor
If you are single and conceive using a known donor, then your sperm donor will be considered the child’s legal father. It would be advisable to seek legal support when proceeding with a known donation to help support you through this process.
It’s important to draw up a Sperm Donor Agreement to help manage the legal issues associated with sperm donation. While a donor agreement is not legally binding, the process of putting an agreement in place can be helpful in managing everyone’s expectations and may be of evidential benefit to a court dealing with any future disputes. It’s also important to seek independent legal advice before drawing up a donor agreement. This will be a good opportunity to discuss legal parenthood, who’s recorded on the birth certificate, who will have financial responsibility for your child and, if there is a problem, how the family court will deal with it.
To ensure your safety and the safety of your future child, it’s important that your donor is screened for infectious diseases (such as STIs). It is also important that your donor is screened for cystic fibrosis and other possible genetic conditions that could be passed on to future children. You should consider having the sperm tested to confirm that the sample will be a suitable quality for insemination.
How to financially plan for single parenthood
Map out your costs: Create a detailed budget that outlines your monthly income and expenses, and then add in estimated costs for things like childcare, children’s items, food, holidays and travel, as well as any government benefits you might be entitled to. This will give you a clearer understanding of how much your outgoings might change when you become a parent.
Start an emergency fund: An emergency fund will help you cover unexpected expenses like car repairs or job loss. Experts suggest it’s a good idea to have three to six months’ worth of living expenses in your emergency fund. When you are responsible for a child, it’s even more important to have some buffer money available in case of emergencies.
Childcare: Consider your childcare options where you live. Do you live close to friends and family that can support WITH childcare? Do you qualify for government support to help with childcare costs? And what are the nursery and childminder options in your area? Knowing your options ahead of time can help you to prepare financially, and you can start to figure out how you might fit childcare around your job and schedule.
Maternity leave: Check your work’s maternity leave policy and what you’re entitled to. You don’t want your policy to come as a shock and to have to take unexpected unpaid leave.
How to prepare emotionally for the journey
Build a support network: Friends, family and other single parents are crucial for both emotional and practical support when trying to conceive and on the single motherhood journey. Lean on those closest to you and accept help when it’s offered. You may be a single parent, but that does not mean you need to raise your child completely alone.
Assess your current situation: Reflect on where you are in your life right now. What is your living situation? How are things going at work, and how are you feeling emotionally? How will starting a family impact you and your future baby? Speaking to a therapist or a fertility coach can help support you as you enter this process.
Prepare for self-doubt: All parents will doubt themselves as their kids grow up. But as a single parent by choice, struggles and self-doubt can be amplified because you’re raising your child on your own. It can be easy to blame yourself if something isn’t going right. It’s important to prepare for these moments, knowing that all parents feel this way at some point. Have people on standby who you can call on to support you so you don’t feel like you’re going through it alone.