Life

A single mum tells all about choosing to have children without a partner

Single mum Genevieve Roberts tells Lisa Salmon why she chose a sperm donor to father her beloved daughter and her unborn baby.

Genevieve Roberts and her daughter Astrid
Lisa Salmon

CHILDLESS single women in their late-30s and early-40s face the prospect of never becoming a mother – unless they embrace the challenge of solo parenting.

That's exactly what journalist Genevieve Roberts did at the age of 37, when she found her fertility levels were dwindling. Without a partner, but desperate for children, she took the brave step of trying to get pregnant through a sperm donor.

Three years later and still single, she has an adored two-year-old daughter, Astrid, is expecting another baby, and has written the book Going Solo (Piatkus, £13.99, available now) to share her experience of going it alone. Here, she discusses her unusual parenting journey.

Why did you choose to become a single parent?

I was 37, single and found out I had low fertility. In my 20s and early-30s I'd always imagined I'd have children with a boyfriend, as a deliberate consequence of a loving relationship. But when I learnt my fertility was dwindling, I found the thought of not at least trying to become a parent heartbreaking. So, with no time to lose, I decided to do my best to become a parent – and then hopefully meet a partner later down the line.

Was it hard to choose the donor?

I spent a lot of time looking through a sperm bank website. My main criteria was health – there were details not just of the donor's health but that of his relatives. I didn't find one family that was entirely cancer-free, but looked for those where most people lived long lives. It's not the way I'd choose a partner but I felt it was a good approach. The donors filled in character descriptions, so I picked someone who was active, loved being outdoors and sounded like he had a huge passion for life.

How did you get pregnant, and how quickly?

With my daughter, I was very lucky to find myself pregnant after the second round of intrauterine insemination (IUI) – despite my low fertility levels. The process of insemination is straightforward: When I was ready to ovulate, I had a trigger injection making sure I'd ovulated, and 24 hours later the sperm was inseminated.

IVF is a lot more medicalised with hormone injections to stimulate extra eggs to grow. I'm now pregnant with my son, who's due in May. He was conceived using IVF because I tried several rounds of IUI but it didn't work.

How much support have you had from friends and family?

I've been so lucky with the help and love I've received from friends and family – this has ranged from practical support to enormous generosity. The emotional support I receive is invaluable: Friends and family listen to any concerns or decisions about Astrid; they share my excitement when she learns to do something new.

This is the biggest decision I've ever made and I'm very lucky people have been so supportive. People understand families come in all shapes and sizes, but as long as children receive love and security then they have the basis to thrive.

Does the baby you're expecting now have the same father?

The baby I'm expecting now has the same donor. I was encouraged to refer to him as a donor rather than a father when I talk about him to my children, because otherwise they could believe he'll swoop in during adulthood as a dad figure.

They'll be able to contact him at 18 if they wish to, but that's so they can understand their history, rather than establish a father-child relationship belatedly.

What have been the most difficult things about having children on your own?

It would be wonderful if someone loved Astrid as much as I do. There are times when I'd love the emotional support – during the tough times when Astrid is unwell, then I'd love someone to tell me I'm doing okay and give me their opinion on when we should call medical help. Of course, not everyone with a partner can count on this support at the moments they want it.

Any regrets?

I have no regrets, and for every tough moment there are many more where I feel so lucky to have the chance to watch and help Astrid discover the world. I know the first years of being a parent can be hard, whether with a partner or not, but I'd happily experience this a million times to have such an amusing, wonderful daughter.

Would you advise other childless women to try getting pregnant like you did?

For some women having children feels desperately important, others are fulfilled without children. What I'd like women who do want children to know is that in their 30s they need not feel the pressure to swiftly find someone – anyone – to have children with because time's running out.

I think if women feel they have the option of having a child alone then they need not settle down in a panic with a partner who they perhaps wouldn't consider if they weren't aware of dwindling fertility. For me, having children is the very best thing I've done in my life, but I think everyone has to make the right choice for them.

Why did you write the book?

One on level, Going Solo is a love letter to my daughter. I hope if she reads it when she's grown up, she'll feel the love for her on every page. Secondly, I want people to know they always have a choice. It's good for everyone to know more about different types of family which don't follow the conventional form but are brimming with love.

Most importantly, I wanted to share my experience of life not following the path I most expected. It's turned out so much better than I could possibly imagine, and I want everyone to know that when things don't go to plan, it can make room for the best things in the world to happen: In my case, my wonderful daughter, and – all being well – her new brother.

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