Family Health

Going it alone: Meet the mums using donors to complete their families

Selina Morrin from Waterford was 30 and mother to an adored three-year-old boy when she decided to expand her family.

An only child herself, she knew that she wanted her son to grow up with siblings. “It’s not that I feel that I missed out on anything,” she says, “I just think my family is quite small anyway. I always knew that if I had children, I didn’t want them to have a small family.”

But there was an obstacle to overcome — she and her son’s father were not together, and she was single at the time.

Fast forward four years and she is now a mother of four boys. Her twins, Nathan and Ollie, were born last year, and her youngest, Noah, now 1, were all conceived via sperm donor insemination.

She is a proud single mother by choice — one of a growing number of women in Ireland who pursue fertility treatment and motherhood without a partner.

Selina’s life today is filled with the noise and chaos that is inevitable in a household where there are four boys under the age of eight. It’s hectic, but this life represents the fulfilment of a long-cherished dream. “For me, being a mom was more important than having the fairytale wedding or the dress,” she says.

Perhaps surprisingly, the idea to look into donor insemination came via her mother. “My mum brought home a paper from work that announced that the Waterstone Fertility clinic were opening a branch in Waterford,” she remembers.

“From the time I decided that I was going to the first consultation to find out about it, I’ve been overwhelmed by the support of my family. They have been behind me the whole time,” she says.

She made an appointment for her first consultation feeling unsure whether, as a single woman seeking treatment, her request “would even be entertained or if you had to have a partner. I couldn’t believe how welcoming and understanding they were. It opened my eyes… that it was a possibility for women if they wanted to do it. That the option was there”.

After that, the process was relatively straightforward. She underwent counselling while embarking on the process, chose a donor and conceived her twins on the first cycle of treatment. She chose an ‘open donor’ who is non-anonymous. This means that once her children turn 18, they can apply to make contact with the donor if they wish.

“They may never decide that they want to contact the donor, but they may,” she says.

“Why take that right away from them without ever giving them a chance to do it?” she explains.

Until very recently in Ireland, partnership or, more specifically, marriage was seen as the essential unit around which a family could be built. The state of single motherhood was deeply stigmatised — even as recently as two decades ago, single mothers were generally treated with either derision or pity.

This explains, in part, why another single mother by choice, Maria O’Sullivan from Cork, whose two youngest children were donor conceived, has always resolved to be open about her choices.

“I didn’t want any shame around it because I think there has been so much shame around single mothers in Ireland for so long,” she says.

“I feel in a sense it’s kind of a healing thing that is going on in a way… I celebrated being pregnant very much from the start. I didn’t hide it and I didn’t feel embarrassed that there was no father involved. I feel that one parent can raise children very adequately, and all the research shows that children are well-adjusted when loved by one parent and supported by their village around them.”

By their village, she’s talking figuratively about the support network which, in her children’s case, includes “aunts and uncles, teachers, friends, siblings and cousins. It’s not just about the two people in the house. That’s a very old way of thinking. It’s about the village”.

The fact that both Selina and Maria say they have never encountered negative attitudes is testament to how much things have changed in Ireland. They both agree that the overwhelming response has been positive.

“If anything, people have had great admiration that I’ve had the strength to undertake such a massive decision and do it by myself,” says Selina. “People think that I’ve great courage to pursue something that I wanted to do so much by myself.”

For Maria, the tide of goodwill that carried her through began from the moment she first consulted her GP with the idea of embarking on fertility treatment alone. She was in her mid-30s and working as a kindergarten teacher at the time when she went through a period of reassessing her priorities.

A single mother to an eight-year-old daughter conceived during an earlier relationship, she was hit “like a bolt in my head” with the realisation that she wanted another baby. “And I thought, ok, well I’m not in a relationship at the moment, but I’m 35 and I really want to have another baby.” She’d grown up in a large family herself.

“There were always nieces and nephews and babies, and I was very comfortable with that,” she says. “I don’t know where the idea of using a donor came from, but I’ve been involved in the world of pregnancy and birth for a long time (she’s now a doula and lactation consultant), so it must have cropped up somewhere along the way. I knew of lesbian couples that had donor babies and had left Ireland to have their babies and then came back. Somewhere along the way, I must have heard about it and then I went on the internet, literally that night.”

It wasn’t something that she spent a long time agonising about. She approached the Cork Fertility Centre, who advised that she would need a referral letter from her doctor.

“I went to my GP, whom I’d been with since I was 18, and he was really helpful and really supportive.”

Once she’d got the ball rolling, everything progressed smoothly. She underwent a series of blood tests to assess her fertility. “And then I had to choose a donor. I was quite relaxed about it. It wasn’t like I had a huge number of criteria. She too “knew I wanted an open donor. I wanted my children to have the choice if they wanted to find out later on, when they were older”.

Maria had a round of IUI and two weeks later, “I did a test and I was pregnant”. Her son Zavier was born a year to the day exactly after her first appointment at the clinic. After turning 39, she went back to the clinic where she’d kept some sperm in cold storage. She went through a second round of IUI and conceived her daughter, Aurora. “I always said I wanted to be done by the time I turned 40, so it was lovely to be able to celebrate my 40th birthday with my baby in my arms and my other two kids around me,” she says.

She speaks to her children in “age appropriate” ways about how their family was built. “I’ve always been very open and honest and have told them from a very young age. It’s part of the fabric of our family now,” she says.

It’s hard work raising kids and both Selina and Maria stress the importance of the support of family and friends. Selina’s eldest boy is in school and though she works part time, none of the younger three are in childcare. When she’s working, she relies on help from her mother or her grandparents.

“At times, it’s tough,” she admits. “Getting four small children ready if you are going somewhere or anything like that. But it was my choice to expand my family, so you have to juggle it around day-to-day life. We’ve got a good routine. The key is having routine where everything is structured and you know where you are going. They can get sick and things change, but you have to adapt.

“Having children really made me grow up and structure things a lot better. Before I had children, I was just kind of winging it a lot in life.”

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