More than two-thirds of single women who choose to have a baby by donor insemination (DI) do so because they feel that they are running out of time to have a baby, according to a world-first study by researchers at the Family and Child Psychology Research Centre at City University, London, UK. However, children born this way appear to be thriving, and their mothers are coping just as well as the mothers in two-parent DI families, Dr Clare Murray told the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Vienna on Monday 1 July.
She said that although there was controversy around the issue of whether or not single heterosexual women should have access to DI, the results of her study showed there was no difference in the quality of parenting between solo and married DI mothers, and no difference between the two groups of children with regard to sleeping and eating difficulties. The only significant difference was that DI mothers in two-parent families tended to have greater interaction with their babies than did the solo mothers. "However, inspection of the findings showed that married DI mothers showed particularly high levels of interaction, whereas solo DI mothers were also above average.
Therefore, this finding does not appear to have any effect on the children at this stage," she said.
In the world's first study interviewing solo DI mothers, Dr Murray and her team compared 22 solo DI mothers with 36 married DI mothers with a child aged less than one year. As well as investigating the well-being of mothers and children, the team also wanted to find out why solo DI mothers had opted to go it alone and whether they might be vulnerable to other pressures such as social stigma and lack of social support.
Dr Murray said: "While nearly a third of the women stated that they actively wanted to go it alone and have a child without the involvement of a man, half of all the single women felt that they had no choice but to have a child this way due to their lack of a partner. Despite being happy with their decision to go it alone, these women would have preferred to have a child within a relationship. More than two-thirds of the single women said their decision to have a baby by DI was prompted by a growing sense that time was running out to fulfil the life-long dream of having a child."
Other findings from the study included the fact that 13 of the solo mothers said they chose a clinic for DI as they felt it was the only method of conception open to them, with eight saying they were not prepared to deceive a man by having casual sex in the hope of getting pregnant, and eight saying that DI enabled them to avoid the health risks of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. More than two-thirds of the women were experiencing no financial difficulties, and they had good social support networks in place, with a third having daily contact with a member of their family (compared to 14% of the married DI mothers) and nearly three-quarters having contact with friends at least once a week.
There were no differences between the solo mothers and married mothers about how much information they wanted about the donor - they favoured limited non-identifying information. Dr Murray said: "This was the case even among those solo and married DI mothers who intended to tell their child about his or her donor origins. This finding is particularly interesting in light of the trend among several European countries, such as Sweden and The Netherlands, to move towards a position of donor identity release.
There were significant differences about how much information the mothers in the two groups were willing to share with friends, family and their children, with the solo DI mothers being consistently more open about the method of conception than the married DI women. "This may be explained by the wish to protect the father in two-parent DI families," said Dr Murray.
She concluded: "Overall, the findings suggest that solo DI mothers and their children are functioning well. However, it is important that these families are followed up into childhood and beyond. It is not clear, for example, how the children of solo DI mothers will react to the knowledge of their conception and whether or not the absence of a father will affect their psychological development as they grow up."