Increasing numbers of women and men are using advances in reproductive technology to set the terms of parenthood - when, and how they want it.
At 26, Stephanie Holt decided to create a family on her own.
“My twin sister and I were in and out of foster care,” she tells Insight. “I needed to have a family to fill the hole that I missed out growing up in.”
Stephanie’s decision to become a solo parent by choice came after seeing her twin sister overcome an illness with epilepsy in 2011. “She almost died, so spending that time with her in the hospital just made it more apparent to me that I needed to start a family.”
She faced many questions from doctors and friends when she first broke the news of her plan.
"A lot of my friends think I’m crazy because I’m so young, but I guess they’ve accepted it … They know this is something that I really want and they know that it’s not for them,” says Stephanie.
After receiving the go-ahead from a doctor, the whole process accessing IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) took her a year. “I had multiple counselling sessions so that they knew what I was [getting] into, and once I was finally cleared by counsellor, then I did my first IUI [Intrauterine insemination],”she says.
Stephanie has since given birth to a healthy baby boy.
Anecdotally, Stephanie is part of a growing number of women who are deciding not to wait for ‘Mr Right’ to come along, but rather take on the journey of parenthood alone. “We are seeing a steady growth in the number of single women who access IVF,” Associate Professor Peter Illingworth, IVF Australia's Medical Director, tells Insight.
These women and some men are taking advantage of 21st Century technology to create the specific type of family they want, choosing sperm donors and having complete autonomy over child-raising decisions.
Assoc. Professor Illingworth says today we are seeing more women who are in career positions that may not accommodate starting a family early in life. “I think the other factor [is that] there is much wider acceptance and respect for different types of families now,” he says. “The stigma is vanishing.”
There is much wider acceptance and respect for different types of families now. The stigma is vanishing.
Amanda Hendren is another woman who decided to have a child by herself.
“I ended up in my late 30s single and very headstrong,” says Amanda, now in her 40s. “I decided I wanted to be a mum.”
However, the first few years of motherhood were not what Amanda had anticipated.
“All of a sudden I couldn’t run anymore and I was stuck at home without a job and I think I had to admit that motherhood didn’t give me any value and that was really hard.”
Only after two years of motherhood did Amanda start to feel the joy of parenthood.
When asked about how she feels about her decision now, Amanda’s answer is simple: “I can’t imagine life without him.”
This new technology has also allowed LGBTQI-identifying people more freedom to pursue parenthood. Anthony Stralow had his now five year-old daughter and a set of 14 month-old twins via surrogacy.
“Being a gay man, if you want children you have to think about it in a different way than heterosexual people might, or a woman might,” he tells Insight.
For his first daughter, Anthony had to fly the egg donor from the Ukraine to India. However, when he wanted to have another child, India’s government had changed its laws on commercial surrogacy, forcing him to fly the same egg donor to Nepal instead to have the procedure. Having a set of twins was not part of his plan, but he is very pleased with the outcome.
“Considering I thought I would never have kids at all so suddenly I’ve three,” he says. “I’ve got to be happy with that.”
These solo parents are also facing a number of moral dilemmas with their decision, like how to negotiate contact with sperm or egg donors, or ‘diblings’ (donor siblings); the financial realities of attempting IVF; raising a kid as a single parent; and what to do with leftover embryos.
“I think that I will be going back to really think very hard about what I would do with things like … extra embryos and big decisions like that.” says, Carrie who is beginning her journey to solo parenthood. “But I will keep pursuing getting pregnant, absolutely.”