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Aberdeen IVF solo mum says choosing a donor was ‘like online dating’

Fiona McIver from Aberdeen is one of the growing number of Scottish women who have decided to become a single mum by choice.

Fiona McIver with daughter grace, 16 months.
Fiona McIver with daughter grace, 16 months. Image: Fiona McIver

An Aberdeen woman who spent £15,000 to become a solo mum through IVF says choosing a donor is “a bit like online dating”.

The number of single women using IVF to have a child has risen 20% in Scotland since 2019.

In comparison, women having a baby through IVF with a partner increased only 2.5%.

This is according to new data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, a UK government body.

We spoke with Fiona McIver from Aberdeen, one of the growing number of women who have decided to become a single mum by choice, to find out what having her baby through IVF meant to her.

Spent £15,000 on ‘the one thing I wanted in life’

Grace was born in March 2022, after two rounds of artificial insemination and two rounds of IVF. Image: Fiona McIver

She always thought she would meet someone, get married and have children, but at 36, Fiona decided to try to conceive as a single woman.

Two rounds of self-funded artificial insemination (IUI) were unsuccessful. IUI is when fertilisation takes place internally. That is, the sperm is injected directly into the woman’s uterus.

Fiona then began IVF in 2020. Unlike IUI, with IVF, fertilisation takes place in a lab.

After a failed first attempt, her second treatment was a success. Her baby girl Grace was born on March 9, 2022. Fiona was 39.

By then, Fiona had spent £15,000 on ‘the one thing I wanted in life’.

‘Hope and female choice’ behind the rise in solo mums

Dr Catherine Hill, interim chief executive of Fertility Network UK, said ‘hope and female choice’ are at the heart of the rise in solo mums.

“Forty, 50 years ago unmarried women were made to give up their children if they were pregnant,” said Fiona.

“Now people are making the decision to do it on their own. So there’s been a huge shift.”

Fiona used the Aberdeen Fertility Centre, which is part of the maternity hospital at Foresterhill.

They use two different clinics – London Sperm Bank and the European Sperm Bank.

A letter from the donor read: ‘Dear unborn child…’

“You basically just register on it and search the profiles, a bit like online dating,” said Fiona.

“You can see photos of the donors when they were children, you get to know their nationality, their height, their weight, and sometimes their career. The European Sperm Bank also gives you the family history.

“I’ve got a letter, a ‘Dear unborn child’ letter from the sperm bank, from the donor, and it’s lovely. It brings me to tears every time I read it. That just sold it for me.

Fiona and Grace, now a toddler. Image: Fiona McIver

“The donor I chose was a family man, he was very much about family, and that’s very much how I am and that’s why I chose him.

“I also chose him because he had similar looks to me. He had brown hair and he was about the same height as me. Just so that my daughter would look similar to me.

“However, she does have blonde hair at the moment, which is quite interesting, but that’s actually come from our side of the family.

“So you just go online and you order it. You can track it [the sperm travelling from the sperm bank to the clinic in Aberdeen] – I watched it being shipped across the country, it’s very bizarre. But the whole journey is just fascinating.”

Why become a solo mum? ‘Why not?’

Single parents will attest to how difficult bringing up kids alone is. So just why did Fiona decide to conceive without a partner?

“Why not? I’m very independent.

“I’ve had boyfriends in the past, serious boyfriends that have lasted a number of years. I’ve had partners that didn’t want children.

“All through my life I’ve always wanted to be a mum, it’s been really important to me.

“And I guess that gets stronger and stronger the older you get, the more you think ‘this might not happen for me’.

“I was knocking on the door of 40 and I thought, if I don’t do this before then, it could be a problem.

“It’s the one thing I wanted to do in life, and I said to myself that if I hadn’t met somebody that I was willing to settle down and have children with, then I’m going to do it myself.”

‘I knew my life wasn’t going to be the same again’

A picture of the blastocyst (fertilised egg) just before transfer at five days. Image: Fiona McIver

She added: “I don’t think you take that decision without knowing what to expect.

“I knew my life wasn’t going to be the same again.

“I was very sociable, I went dancing, met friends for coffee and all those things. And I knew that was going to change.

“But you don’t spend the guts of £15,000 not knowing what you’re getting into.

“It was the best decision I have ever made.

“It’s constant, I’m not going to lie, there are times when I need a bit of a break. But that’s what my friends and family are there for, and they’ve said they’ll help out.

“I knew what I was getting into, and she’s my absolute world. I don’t remember what life was like without her, to be 100% honest.”

No dad, no problem

I asked Fiona what she would say to those who might accuse her of depriving Grace of a father.

Grace might not have a dad, but Fiona says she ‘doesn’t miss out on anything’. Image: Fiona McIver

“She’s not going to miss out on anything. What is it that children need? It’s love and it’s care, and she gets that.

“There are studies out there that show that there’s no evidence that that child is loved any less.

“There are plenty of male role models in her life who will be there to help.

“Had my child been a boy, I might have looked at things differently. There might have been conversations that a dad would have with a son or whatever.

“I think the main thing is to be honest with her. She will have difficult times, I get that.

“Father’s Day has just passed, and they were making Father’s Day cards at playgroup. So she just made a card for Grandpa.

“And actually, on Father’s Day maybe I’ll do something with her that day, rather than a dad.

“You never know what might happen in the future, she might end up with a step dad. But no, I don’t think she’ll miss out at all.”

Most have been supportive, but not all…

She went on: “Have I come up against resistance? Yes, of course I have.

“People who are religious, who think it’s wrong for an unmarried woman to have a baby.

“People who wonder how I’m going to cope, how am I going to get back to work, how am I going to do this, that and the other.

“Well, I am back at work, three days a week.

Most have been supportive of Fiona’s decision. Image: Fiona McIver

“I’ve got an amazing support network, friends and family, and I couldn’t have done it without having a conversation with my parents and also a few of my closest friends. Because I don’t have that partner to whom I can say ‘I need a bit of time off’. So I need friends and family to be there for me for that.

“I probably wouldn’t have done it had I not had the huge support network that I have.

“Grace has got that many fake aunties and uncles, it’s fabulous. They absolutely dote on her.”

She added: “Most people have been supportive, saying ‘good on you, it’s great what you’re doing’.

“Some of the older generation haven’t necessarily been so positive but on the whole everybody’s been great.

“And I’m very open about it. If somebody asks where Grace’s dad is, I just tell them I’m a solo mum and I did it myself. And most people go ‘oh, that’s really interesting, how did you do that?'”

‘I wouldn’t change it for the world’

Grace is still only 16 months, and while Fiona admits she doesn’t necessarily get much sleep as a solo mum, she says it does have its advantages.

“I make the decisions.

“You speak to people and read things where women say ‘oh, my husband didn’t agree with that’, etcetera.

“Well, what I say goes, I make the decisions and that’s it.

“And grandma doesn’t have to fight another grandma for time. And at home there’s no ‘I bathed the kids last night, so now it’s your turn’.

“So there are advantages.

“The down side is that, if I make mistakes, then they’re my mistakes.

“And yes, there’s nobody to fall back on if I need to come down and put a wash on or tidy up dinner.

“But in general, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”