Being a great mum has nothing to do with your relationship status. In fact, it has nothing to do with anybody else. For the women who choose it and thrive in the role, motherhood is simply a state of being.
So can you do it on your own? With the help of a sperm donor and modern medicine, yes you can, and there are thousands of single women doing exactly this. They call themselves “Solo Mothers by Choice” as they deliberately take the pregnancy journey without a partner.
The process of falling pregnant can be a little more challenging on your own. But, as 32-year-old solo mum Lauren found out when she gave birth to her daughter in 2019, the joy at the other end makes it all worth it.
Why do it alone?
Every woman has her own reason for choosing this path. For some it’s a desire to raise their child without having to compromise their own parenting style and values. For others it’s about bringing their baby into a stable family and loving home where there is no risk of relationship breakdown.
“I wasn’t prepared to settle for just anybody to be my husband simply to get the family that I wanted,” reveals Lauren. “I felt like I could be a better parent and offer a better home as a single mum than I could by settling with someone who I wasn’t 100 per cent committed to.”
SMC Australia, the national advocacy and support group for solo mums, now boasts more than 2000 members, with more joining every year. Interestingly, they’re seeing an increasing number of women in their 20s and 30s considering it as an option. Taking this path doesn’t have to be a last resort or Plan B, as demonstrated by 31-year-old Shantal, a proud solo mum of two little girls.
She was just 26 years old and driving to work when she heard a radio advertisement from a fertility group aimed at single women wanting to have kids. “I thought to myself, ‘I don’t need to wait until I’m in a relationship. I want kids and I can do it’, so I did, two years later.”
As it turned out, Shantal’s timing was fortunate. She found out during initial medical tests that she had low ovarian reserve — an issue that would’ve impacted her chances of falling pregnant if she had waited another 10 years.
This raises another important issue: while dating apps will happily let you swipe forevermore, the biological window is not so generous. Studies show that fertility in most women starts to decline in their 30s, with a more noticeable impact from age 35. Which is why for some solo mums, it’s the timing that’s important.
So, how does it work? First you need to choose a sperm donor. Every clinic does it differently, but you’ll usually get access to a database of anonymous donor profiles that covers everything, from physical attributes and medical history to personality traits and academic qualifications.
If you’re planning ahead, it’s worth factoring in the possible wait time on sperm. Some women sit on the waiting list for months before they can even access the donor database. Once that’s settled, there are two common methods for actually falling pregnant:
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is the simpler and less-invasive option. Donor sperm is inserted directly into the uterus. It’s generally less expensive than IVF and you can often even head straight back to work after the procedure is done.
In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is more involved. First you need to take fertility medications to increase your egg production, and then the eggs are taken out and injected with donor sperm in a laboratory. The resulting embryo is transferred back to your uterus a few days later.
Getting pregnant via either route is by no means easy and isn’t guaranteed to work. Every woman’s experience is different. Shantal was very lucky the first time around as her eldest daughter came about after just one attempt of IUI. Her second pregnancy took over 12 months and multiple rounds of IUI and IVF. Lauren also spent almost 12 months trying to conceive. Both women spent many thousands of dollars in the process.
Despite the challenges and the cost, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mum with any regrets about going through it when they get those two knowing lines on the pregnancy test.
“I decided to test that morning and it was positive. I burst into tears and I cried and I cried. It was an amazing moment,” shares Lauren on discovering she was finally pregnant.
The support network
You can’t do everything on your own. Even the women who choose to parent without a partner know you need loved ones around to share the good times and the bad — whether that’s crying down the phone because your hormones are running havoc or screaming with glee at a positive pregnancy test.
“I like to use the phrase ‘I’m not parenting alone, I’m just parenting not in a romantic relationship’ — I’ve never felt like I’ve been alone because my support network is fantastic,” says Lauren. She encourages all women to establish that network early.
Of course, that support network doesn’t have to include only family and friends. Some solo mums find the extra support from a doula to be useful, especially when preparing for childbirth.
Danae Cappelletto is a specialised birth doula, who understands the solo mother experience better than most, having supported single women through childbirth and because she has friends who have taken this path too. “You can do it, you absolutely can. I’ve seen women do it. They’ve thrived,” she says.
When it comes to supporting single mothers versus couples, Danae admits the process doesn’t change much from her perspective. “Having a partner is beautiful and wonderful for the women who want that. But for women who don’t, it’s cool man, you just work with the woman and help her birth powerfully so she can go into motherhood powerfully. It makes no difference to my approach.”
The reality of solo parenting
A quick scroll through Instagram (#solomumbychoice) and you’ll see countless solo mums rocking mum buns, snuggling up for selfies, rejoicing in their offspring’s milestones and, well, living typical life as a parent. Because outside of how they bring their children into the world, they’re no different to any other family.
Of course, there are the hard days, as there are for every parent (partnered or not). Granted, certain things will always be more challenging when you’re the sole carer. But it doesn’t stop you from being a great mum. Nor does it stop you from achieving amazing things in life. Shantal plans on going back to university to study midwifery when her kids are in school. And Lauren is looking forward to one day taking her daughter travelling.
So if you feel strongly drawn to motherhood and think you’re ready, don’t let the absence of “Mr or Mrs Right” stop you. Any solo mum will tell you it’s not an easy path to take, but it is worth it.
Things to consider
- How will I manage the extra costs on my own?
- Can I cope emotionally with the rollercoaster of trying to fall pregnant?
- Is there someone to support me through pregnancy and labour?
- Who will take care of my baby if I’m unwell?
Lauren Furey is a freelance writer who spends her days hauling two small children around on a bike. She enjoys tea, recycling and talking to strangers.