Single women can get pregnant through fertility treatments using donor sperm, either via artificial insemination (AI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF). Single mothers have some rights such as receiving assistance from the local authority. In the UK, they may be eligible for a reduction in the amount of Council Tax.
Which options are available?
Getting pregnant without a male partner is possible thanks to sperm donation. The main routes are: using sperm from an anonymous donor or a donor you already know, or seeking IVF abroad. Another option to become a single mother by choice is traditional adoption.
At-home artificial insemination with sperm from a bank is an option, too. Nowadays, pregnancy can be achieved through this method by looking for a donor online and having the semen sample shipped home. In sperm banks, the screening of potential donors includes genetic diseases as well as a quarantine period to be tested for STIs.
Donor insemination for single mothers
Reproductive success is likely to happen through this fertility treatment provided that the following minimum requirements are met:
- To have at least one functioning Fallopian tube
- Normal ovarian reserve levels
- To be aged 37 or less
In women older than 37 years of age, the chances of getting pregnant with AI are so low that most fertility clinics go for in vitro fertilization on the first attempt, which success rates are normally higher.
These are the steps involved in the artificial insemination process:
- Mild ovarian stimulation IVF to obtain 1 or 2 mature eggs
- Triggering ovulation with fertility drugs (it is expected to take place within 36 hours)
- Thawing donor sperm and preparing the insemination cannula
- Insemination, i.e. placing the semen sample inside the patient’s uterus
- Quantitative beta-hCG pregnancy test
Artificial insemination is the treatment of choice for many single mothers by choice, since it is a low cost technique which does not involve a high level of complexity.
In vitro fertilization with donor sperm
When a patient is unlikely to success with artificial insemination, she can get pregnant without a man through in vitro fertilization. The following are the most common cases in which this technique is indicated:
- Ovulation disorders
- Blocked Fallopian tubes
- Moderate-to-severe endometriosis
- Previous unsuccessful AI cycles
An IVF cycle starts with egg collection from the woman’s ovaries. The retrieved eggs are then fertilized with donor sperm in order to create new embryos, which will be then transferred to her uterus.
Fertilization can be carried out in two different ways: via standard IVF or ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). Nowadays, many clinics bet on ICSI as the first option due to its high success rates. Also, it allows us to make sure that each retrieved oocyte is penetrated by a sperm.
The IVF protocol is comprised of the following steps:
- Ovulation stimulation to get multiple eggs to develop in the same menstrual cycle
- Thawing the semen samples collected from a donor
- Follicle puncture for oocyte retrieval
- Fertilization in the laboratory, either through IVF or ICSI
- Embryo culture
- Embryo transfer to the woman’s uterus after selecting the embryos with the highest-quality
- Quantitative beta-hCG pregnancy test
IVF with donor eggs and donor sperm
Women who find themselves in any of the following situations may need to use donor eggs to become single mothers as well:
- Low egg reserve count: Egg quantity and/or quality is insufficient as to create embryos that are capable of developing and lead to a successful pregnancy. It is common in cases of advanced maternal age.
- There are no eggs left: It may occur naturally as a consequence of early menopause. Nonetheless, the most common cause is associated with the intake of certain medications or ovarian surgery.
- Preventing inherited disorders: If it is suspected that, by using the woman’s own eggs, there is a high risk for the embryos to carry a genetic disease, egg donation can be the most reasonable option to conceive a healthy baby.
The process of double-donor IVF is the same as the procedure followed to carry out a conventional IVF, except for the fact that ovulation induction and follicle puncture are unnecessary in this case, since it is the egg donor who undergoes this process.
The only thing recipients have to do is taking fertility drugs to trigger follicle growth, thereby making sure endometrial receptivity has been achieved by the time of the embryo transfer into the maternal womb.
FAQs from users
Do you recommend me to have a baby alone at 40?
After 35, the chances for a woman to conceive via artificial insemination are so low that the treatment of choice is usually in vitro fertilization.
So you can get an idea, while a woman in her 20s has a 20% of becoming pregnant during a unique menstrual cycle, by her mid-30s her chance would be about 15% per cycle. This rate continues to drop until menopause and, at age 40, it can be as low as 10%.
Can you have a baby without a man or sperm?
The only way for a woman to have a baby without sperm cells being used is through traditional adoption. Conversely, should she wish to experience the process of pregnancy, the only chance for her to become a single mother is by turning to assisted reproductive technologies, such as AI and IVF (both explained above).
Is it possible to become a single mother and be happy?
Women who decide to become single mothers through assisted reproductive technology can find psychological support in most fertility clinics around the world.
For some women, navigating this path is not easy, and depression, regret and loneliness are common negative feelings before, during and after the treatment. Seeking psychological support can help you see the silver linings of the process of becoming a single mother by choice.
Can I become a single mother of two?
In principle, the answer is yes, but depends on how you achieve it. There are two possible ways: performing a multiple embryo transfer (more than one embryo) or freezing your resulting embryos to conceive in the future after having your first child.
Multiple embryo transfers are not recommended because multiple pregnancies entails way more risks than singleton pregnancies: low birth weight, preterm labor/delivery, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, cesarean section, intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), etc.
If IVF does not work with my own eggs, is egg donation the only option left for me?
In case of repeated IVF failure with own eggs, women have two alternatives: double-donor IVF (sperm donation + egg donation) or embryo adoption.
Using both donor eggs and donor sperm is more expensive than IVF with just donor sperm, as the egg donor fees (treatment for oocyte retrieval, gamete cryopreservation and storage, etc.) should be added to the total cost. However, the main benefit is that both gametes will be of optimal quality and therefore the embryos will be more likely to implant.