The challenges facing single women who want to have children – ‘I find Mothers Day particularly difficult’ – inews

OpinionComment'The older I get the more I realise its not inevitable and if I want children, Ive got to think about how it will happen'

Friday, 20th March 2020, 12:20 pm

For Charis Scott-Holm, Mothers Day has become increasingly fraught. The 32-year-old has always wanted a baby but as a single woman, she is beginning to worry it may never happen. The communications officer from Hull is not alone.

Scott-Holm, who was in a 12-year relationship before getting divorced at age 29 after three years of marriage, had never thought of having children as a choice. She just expected she would have them. Im one of five brothers and sisters so I always assumed I would have quite a few children too, she says, adding that she only began to worry when her marriage broke down.

Now Im even further along and Im 32 and single. It is difficult because Im really enjoying being single and having the time away from a relationship but I keep wondering whether I am reducing my chances of being a mum.

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The term social infertility has been coined by academics to describe those who are unable to have a baby for social reasons such as not having a partner to try to conceive with. Recent figures show the number of IVF attempts made by women on their own had almost quadrupled in the UK in a decade, rising from 351 in 2007 to 1,290 in 2017.More than half of these attempts were by women aged 40 and over. Meanwhile, fertility clinics sell fertility MOT packages and companies such as Apple and Facebook have offered egg freezing as a perk.

Scott-Holmhas begun researching options, but having a child with a partner in a loving relationship is still her first choice. I have thought about other options but fertility tests and freezing your eggs are very expensive and Im not in a financial position to do that, she says.

She admits she does feel emotional about it. I find Mothers Day particularly difficult and I do tend to avoid social media on the day. Thats not a reflection of the relationship with my own mum but it is the fact that Im not a mum yet. It brings it home to you that youve not got this thing that you wanted yet. Being single makes it that little bit harder.

Mel Johnson is a coach and campaigner who specialises in helping women like Scott-Holm decide what to do. She also campaigns for better rights for single women when it comes to fertility and trains staff in fertility clinics on how to better cater for single clients.

She says single women often find it harder to talk about their fertility than those in relationships and their concerns are often dismissed, whereas women in relationships who are trying for babies or having fertility issues are more likely to elicit sympathy from others. Its almost worse, or it feels worse, because they dont have a partner to start off with so it can be hard when they hear friends sympathising with other women going through fertility issues when they have issues of their own," she says. "They just get discounted from the conversation because theyre single.

People also often say oh youve got plenty of time but its not based on any medical fact. Its meant to be reassuring but its just annoying."

Johnson should know. She has been single long-term and when she reached her mid-thirties decided to take matters into her own hands and go down the sperm donor route. She is now mum to two-year-old Daisy.

A big part of the process women go through is grieving for the traditional route into motherhood they will no longer have. People who havent made the decision yet are scared to, but they are also worried that if they dont make the decision, they will miss out entirely. Once they made the decision, they have to grieve for doing it the traditional way with a partner, she says.

Becoming a mother in a non-traditional way is something that Jane Imrie, 33, from Newcastle has begun thinking about. Imrie, who works for a business news website, was in a long-term relationship until last summer and it was a shock to realise the future she had been planning for would no longer be happening.

We had talked about marriage and children and buying a house, she says. As far as I was concerned, I was set but then it ended. In hindsight, it was absolutely the right thing to do but obviously, that imagined future changed very much.

During the relationship, she had been feeling the external pressure of being in her early thirties and not having children, especially as she comes from a nuclear family and recently became an aunt.

Imrie says: I thought it was inevitably going to happen one day. The older I get the more I realise its not inevitable and if I want children, Ive got to think about how it will happen and how I can make it happen.

She has been on dates with men who already have children and says it has been an eye-opener for how common blended families now are. Maybe I will have a child and then meet the person Im meant to be with, she reflects.

While male fertility begins to decline around age 40 to 45, female fertility begins to decline in the mid-thirties and will continue to decrease every year, whether or not a woman is healthy and fit, because the number and quality of the eggs decrease with age, according to the British Fertility Society.

This decline in fertility is reflected in the NICE guidelines for IVF treatment on the NHS. The guidelines say women between 40 and 42 should only be offered one cycle of IVF, with some areas of the country only offering the treatment to those under 35.

This is a fact that Caroline Murphy, 42, is painfully aware of. She acknowledges that she has perhaps been in denial in thinking there was no rush. I am really worried I may have missed the boat. I have friends who have struggled [to get pregnant] and it has kind of taken away my hope because they have the partner and so I'm already behind in that arena.

Murphy, who is Irish but lives in London, felt these fears even more acutely when her nephew was born three years ago. I was taking care of him and I had an actual physical pain of longing, she recalls.

She has researched both freezing eggs and sperm donation but her friends have had other ideas about what she should do. As I approached 40, the number of people who suggested I just go out and have a one night stand at the right time of the month was amazing. But to trick them into it is not for me.

Professor Dr Geeta Nargund, medical director of Create Fertility and lead consultant for reproductive medicine at St Georges Hospital in London, says its common for women to worry about their fertility, but that there are steps they can take to help and resources on the NHS website.

She says: There is no need for women to panic about their fertility, but it is important to take control and plan ahead.

"When you feel you are ready, it can help to have a fertility test as early as possible, so you can discuss the treatment options best suited to you with a consultant.

Dr Nargund has seen a rise in the numbers of single women coming to her clinic. "Its a growing trend, and I believe that in time, many more women will be in this position.

She says single women dont have to lose out on being biological mothers but its important for women to find out about the options and success rates tailored to their own fertility health. Knowledge is power throughout the whole fertility process."

Nicola Slawson is a freelance journalist and founder of The Single Supplement, a newsletter for single women

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The challenges facing single women who want to have children - 'I find Mothers Day particularly difficult' - inews

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