Buying time: The rise of the new Solo Mom

Shelley John and Kazuki (photo: Sonja Poller)

Forget the tired ‘single mother’ stereotype. Solo Mum — those choosing to birth and raise a baby alone — are taking their fertility and future into their own hands, with no signs of slowing down.

Instead of wondering when would to hit ‘pause’ on their careers, or waiting for the right partner to show up, women are increasingly seeking reproductive autonomy.

Women like Shelley John, 44, who wanted to be a mother no matter what her current romantic situation.

After two rounds of costly and ineffective artificial insemination, she decided to forego the “traditional way” of getting pregnant and try the donor egg and sperm route.

“Women are choosing to have children later in life,” says Dr. Caitlin Dunne of the Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine (PCRM), where John had her treatments.

According to the most recent statistics available in British Columbia, the percentage of live births to women age 35 and older rose from 11% in 1990 to 23% in 2011, while births in the 20 to 34 age category fell from 83% to 74% over the same period.

“This is probably the result of women in our society choosing to pursue their goals before starting a family, along with ready access to contraception,” she says. “When you think about it, women have a very tight timeline in which to get their education, start a career, travel, and then meet the right partner, all between age 20 and 35. Research tells us that, by far, the most common reason women delay having children is the lack of a suitable partner.”

Dr. Dunne says she tries to urge patients to be open to many different ways of building a family: IVF, egg freezing, sperm and egg donation — to name a few.

Kazuki (photo: Sonja Poller)

“As Shelley knows, there is a lot more to being a mother than a DNA test. I have had a lot of patients who use donor eggs, and every single one of them tells me they most certainly feel it is their child,” Dunne says. “How the baby grows and is nurtured after birth is obviously hugely impactful on who that child grows up to be.”

John first visited PCRM when she was 36, and says there was no pressure from the fertility clinic to get started, just a lot of information to guide her in the right direction.

“I thought ‘by the time I’m 40, maybe I’ll really think about it and I’ll have the research I need to make a decision,’” she says. “But, I learned a lot during that first visit, and I think a lot of women aren’t aware how much fertility really drops during that time.”

Vitrification is a new freezing technology that has revolutionized the practice of egg freezing, which is another option for women looking to hedge their bets on motherhood later in life.

“In the past, we used a technique called slow-freezing and many of the eggs were damaged or they died during the freezing process,” says Dunne. “With vitrification, egg survival is 80–95% so it is a much more reliable way to bank eggs.”

Anecdotally, she says women these days are realizing that they can ‘have it all’.

“Women in generations before us worked incredibly hard to advance the plight of women in the workplace. Unfortunately, however, sometimes trying to prove that women could perform as well as men (or better!) came at a personal cost and women were forced to put off having children to achieve their professional goals. In my fertility practice, I am seeing more and more professional women who recognize the opportunity to bank eggs for the future which takes some pressure off while they search for a partner or grow their careers.”

The appeal of egg freezing and IVF is obvious: When it comes to something as important as the decision to have children, why not take the clock into your own hands instead of racing against it?

Shelley and Kazuki (photo: Sonja Poller)

Sitting at the kitchen table of John’s home in Maple Ridge, her bouncy baby boy Kazuki giggles in the background. She looks over her shoulder and smiles.

“If I could give my past self advice, it would have been to do egg freezing when I first visited PCRM at 36,” she says. “But it is expensive. It’s the storage of the eggs that is costly, not just the procedure. In the end, this is the path my life was meant to take. I have no regrets.”

For more information, visit PCRM

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Specialist in fertility and egg freezing at the Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine based near Vancouver

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Caitlin Dunne

Caitlin Dunne

Specialist in fertility and egg freezing at the Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine based near Vancouver

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