“We shouldn’t think that marriage is a must-have in order for parenthood to happen”

Written by Lauren Crosby Medlicott

Writer Lauren Crosby Medlicott meets the women who are rejecting the historical “fairy tale” – and pursuing motherhood on their own terms

Ceryn Rowntree has wanted to be a mother for as long as she can remember. “I just expected that it would happen,” she says. “When I got engaged at 18, I thought life was on a set trajectory, but that didn’t work out.”

A couple of relationships later, at the age of 39, Ceryn still hasn’t found the person to settle down and raise children with. “As time ticks on, I’m very conscious that my biological clock is ticking,” she says. “There are times I can think it’s okay – what will be, will be. Then there are other times when it is frankly, heartbreaking. I feel hopeless at times.”

Although a growing number of women are positively embracing being childfree by choice, there are still those, like Ceryn, who have an intense desire to become mothers. But what happens when there isn’t a partner on the scene to parent alongside?

“We’ve been sold the fairy tale of what happiness and success look like,” says Mel Johnson, a Solo Motherhood Coach at the The Stork and I. “It looks like meeting a partner and having children together. So many women come to me grieving the fairy tale they presumed they would have and feel powerless because they think time is against them.”

Over the years, friends of Ceryn’s have fallen pregnant, and her emotional response is often mixed. “I think it’s so wonderful, and I feel incredibly lucky to be the auntie and the godmother – I wouldn’t change it for the world,” she says. “But every time there is a pregnancy announcement, it’s another reminder that it isn’t me.”

What Ceryn finds most arduous of all is the narrative that assumes the only reason a woman doesn’t have children is because she doesn’t want them. “There is a brilliant movement out there for people who are childfree by choice,” she says. “But I’m not one of those people. It is exhausting having conversations with people when they assume I am childfree by choice.”

When Ceryn explains to curious people that she would like to have children, she often feels a sense of exuding pity. “There is a massive difference between empathy and pity,” she says. “What is much more beneficial is when close friends tell me I am going to be a great mum when it happens.” Before she reached 35, Ceryn thought she needed a partner to have children with “but as time has gone on, I’ve become more established, rooted in myself, and I think I would be absolutely fine being a mother on my own.”

Now more than ever, women are rejecting the historical “fairy tale” that they need to be in a serious long-term relationship before becoming a mother. The international sperm bank Cryos, for example, claims that around 50 per cent of their families are single mothers to be. And the latest figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority reveal that the number of treatment cycles where women use their own eggs with donor sperm went up by 50 per cent between 2015 and 2018. Which only goes to show that women are increasingly taking control in their bid to start a family – whatever their relationship status.

Johnson has seen a huge increase in women coming to her for advice over the last couple of years, asking if solo parenting is the journey for them. And when they do, they often mention the lack of a partner as a hurdle to overcome. “When you realise having a relationship isn’t going to stand in the way of being a mum, it can be empowering,” she says. “You can do it in a totally different way. There is empowerment that comes with knowing there are possibilities to be able to have children. You can take matters into your own hands.”

Which is exactly what Kate decided to do in her late-thirties. Faced with either “dropping her standards” or figuring out another way to have children at 37, she opted for the latter – based on her own experiences growing up. Having observed what it was like to be raised by parents whose relationship wasn’t healthy, Kate wasn’t willing to settle for a man who she didn’t want to build a life with. “I decided it wasn’t the relationship I needed to be looking for, but instead, how I was going to become a mother.”

The first thing Kate did was to meet with her GP to discuss being referred to fertility services. “The GP was a man, and he laughed at me,” she recalls. “He said this was not a medical issue, and that fertility treatment was for couples who had been trying to have children, not for single women that were being picky.” Leaving disheartened, Kate started doing her own research to find out how she could use a sperm donor to get pregnant. When she went for a preliminary consultation with a private fertility service, Kate was told there was a real shortage of black sperm donors in sperm donor clinics throughout the country – and when there were donors, their sperm were quickly claimed.

As a consequence, Kate started looking into the underworld of unregulated sperm donor websites, platforms similar to dating websites, hoping to find someone she would feel comfortable accepting sperm from. “It was darker than an official sperm bank,” she says. “It made me nervous because it was unregulated. It is a really seedy underworld of men who take advantage of women’s desperation.” Thankfully, fate intervened. A friend of a friend got in touch with her to say he had been a previous sperm donor at a sperm bank and would be willing to be one again. Kate agreed – and six months later, she was pregnant.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride,” Kate says – now 42. “It was really scary, but also extremely empowering. You want something in your life, but for the longest time you feel dependent on other people. Then you just take control and make it happen.” Now three years old, Kate’s son is being raised by a mother who is fully emotionally available to him. “We shouldn’t think that marriage has to happen in order for parenthood to happen.” 

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