MORE than a year into the pandemic, everyone knows someone who is struggling.
One group whose grievance has not received much attention is single people coming to the end of their fertility window, who want to have a family.
Traditional dating has been rendered impossible for more than a year, and the chances of meeting a partner much reduced.
For some, this past year may not have been a question of life and death, but a question of life and whether they will have the opportunity to create it.
Same-sex female couples have always required sperm donation in order to become pregnant. When women become mothers without a romantic partner and through the use of sperm donation, it is called solo or single motherhood by choice.
Arguably, the most straightforward way to approach this is to go through a fertility clinic. This will assess fertility, assist in sourcing sperm and draw up a treatment plan.
We don’t have any sperm banks in Ireland. Most of our sperm comes from Denmark or the U.S and women who go down this route will sift through profiles of potential donors. These profiles show things like pictures of the donor when they were a baby, their height, eye colour and medical history. In this way, it is often compared to online dating, though it is invariably very different.
Mary Butler, from Douglas and based in Ballincollig, was 40 when she first looked into solo parenting and was successful on her first attempt. Her baby Iris will be one this month.
She says: “I have always been broody, for want of a better word. As I got into my mid to late 30s I hadn’t met anyone so I just assumed it wasn’t the path for me. I kind of pushed it away. But a friend of mine mentioned using a sperm donor and I spoke to my GP about it.”
Mary says while it may be called solo motherhood, she is not doing it alone.
“If you were on the side of a mountain with no-one around, of course it would be difficult. But that’s just because we as humans need other people. I don’t feel there is a huge gap in our lives.
“My mother has been incredible through this whole thing. She came to all my appointments, holding my hand. She was in with me for the IUI procedure. I joke that she is the only grandmother in the history of the world who was present for the moment of conception. She is 78 now. Both her and my father have been so supportive. Iris is the absolute light of their life.”
In an IUI procedure, sperm is injected directly into the uterus. Fertilisation occurs inside the woman’s body.
With IVF, on the other hand, eggs are retrieved from the woman and fertilised by sperm outside of the body. A fertilised egg which is the embryo is then inserted into the womb.
There are more drugs and hormones involved with IVF and it can be a tough, exhausting process. It is also more expensive than IUI but the success rates are higher.
Often, but not always, women start by attempting IUI before moving to IVF, if the former is not successful.
Ursula Lynch is a fertility nurse specialist and donor sperm co-ordinator in Waterstones Clinic in Cork.
She says: “When we talk about sperm, we talk about it in terms of a straw. One straw of sperm tends to do one treatment cycle. Most often, women will buy two or three straws at a time. The cost per straw of sperm can be anything from €800 to €1,200.
Last year, the law changed in Ireland. Anonymous sperm is no longer allowed to be used in an Irish fertility clinic. This means that sperm donors must provide details to the Irish National Donor-Conceived Person Register so that any child conceived by their sperm can access these details, once the child turns 18.
However, there remain a great many legal grey areas when it comes to assisted reproduction in Ireland. It is hoped the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill of 2017 will give much-needed clarity when it is enacted.
Most clinics will confirm there has been an increase in the number of single women presenting for solo motherhood by choice in recent years.
While the legislation surrounding human reproduction has been disappointingly slow to advance in Ireland, the same cannot be said for societal views.
Although there are still ethical considerations for some, the stigma surrounding solo motherhood by choice is receding.
Jane Mattes, the founder of the American organisation Single Mothers by Choice, says: “We have been inundated with calls and queries since the pandemic began. Women want to know how to go about doing this. We were surprised because we thought this would be the last thing people would want to do in a pandemic, but maybe they are realising what is important.”
On reflection, Mattes agrees: perhaps the increase in interest in solo motherhood is a reaction to a changed dating landscape. If that’s the case, the increase is likely to continue.