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Family

Why these single Kiwi women used sperm donors to have kids

Sometimes meeting the right person doesn’t sync up with the ticking of your biological clock, but that was no obstacle for these five mums and the women in their unique coffee group.

Coffee groups are nothing revolutionary but this one, which meets once a month in Auckland, is a little bit different.
They are all single mothers by choice, that is, women who have taken their reproductive situation into their own hands, found a donor and had babies on their own.
We sat down and chatted with them – amid nappy changes, kids’ cartoons and stubbed toes – and learned a lot.
Megan McCarthy, 42
Mum of Liam, three
Occupation: Accountant
I used Fertility Associates for a donor and was given three profiles to choose from. My donor then asked to meet (reasonably unusual I think) so we have met a few times since Liam was born.
Anneka Broad, 41
Mum of Zavier, 21 months
Occupation: Marketing
I went through Fertility Associates to find a donor.
Melanie Metson, 42
Mum of Cooper, three; Grace, one
Occupation: Private kindergarten owner/manager
I have a known donor. A friend’s husband (distant; not in close circle) was happy to donate to me when they found out I would be on an 18-month waiting list otherwise.
Lara Horton, 39
Mum of Tobin, three
Occupation: Credit manager
I found my donor through Fertility Associates in Auckland; he remains unknown.
Alicia Burningham, 40
Mum of Eilidh, nine months
Occupation: Project manager
I sent an email out to a group of my good friends and through that someone replied saying they would do it.
NEXT: So how did this coffee group come about?
Melanie: It was organised by a lady, who is not as involved these days, who I think – like us all – was probably looking for a place to belong. She used to organise catch-ups once a month at a café called Frolic in One Tree Hill, [Auckland] but once it grew in size I offered up the kindy I own, Pohutukawa Kindergarten in Ellerslie, so the kids could play in a bigger space.
Megan: Yes, it started much smaller, didn’t it? But now there are about 25 of us and at least 10 who come once a month. It just keeps growing, too, as people find out by word of mouth.
Lara: Yes it’s around 10, but often a different 10 every time. There’s a core of five or six.
And do you find it a really good source of support?
Alicia: It’s amazing. Right from the first time, the women were just all so like-minded, friendly and helpful. We have common struggles like having to go back to work earlier as we are the only wage earners; and how to work daycare and money and everything else. I was worried it might be a man-bashing group, but there’s not even a hint of that.
Lara: That’s right. We don’t hate men. In fact we all wanted the husband and kids, in that order, but it just didn’t turn out that way. I was a bit like Alicia, very apprehensive as to what I would find. Would they all be weird desperate and dateless types? It was such a relief to find out how ‘normal’ everyone was and how much we instantly had in common. It was pretty funny for Mel and I, as we had known each other previously through a mutual friend but didn’t know we both had donor babies.
Melanie: I was really nervous the first time I went, too, but couldn’t believe it when I walked in and saw Lara. New Zealand is so small! I really value our group as I think we all feel like we have to protect the struggle and hard-work side of the equation around others as they say we chose to be single mums. Here we can just openly say when it’s been a rough day or we aren’t coping. No need to put on a brave face. It’s also great as we pass on clothes and toys after our kids have grown out of them, which helps enormously for some mums.
Alicia: Yeah, thanks again for those clothes for Eilidh, Mel.
Megan: It’s good to get together and talk about some of our unique problems, like how and what we are going to tell our kids when they grow up. I’ve recently had Liam asking why other kids have mums and dads, and I’ve just explained to him he just has a mum. He asked if we could go to a ‘Daddy Shop’ one day and it’s great to have the girls around to discuss that kind of thing with. We’ve had some good laughs over the way people in our families have dealt with it all. For example my nieces and nephews live on a farm so they totally understand assisted reproduction. They very proudly tell their friends how their auntie has a baby by AI [assisted insemination] – you know, just like the cows!
So were all of your families receptive to your decision to go it alone?
Megan: My parents were great. Sadly Mum has since passed away. I did lose one close friend over it, which still makes me sad, but I didn’t let his thoughts sway what I knew I needed to do.
Lara: My mum initially thought it was a bit odd but soon got over that and she and Tobin are super close; it’s lovely. Dad had the start of dementia so told people I was having “one of those artificial ones”.
Alicia: It was actually my 90-year-old grandma who convinced me to do it! I had shelved the idea for a while, despite thinking about it a lot when I was younger, but one day I was talking to her and she asked me how I felt when yet another relative had a baby with their husband. I admitted I felt pretty sad and she said “Have you ever thought about a donor?” I realised if she could get her head around the concept of a non-traditional family at her age, I needed to just get on with it.
Anneka: My dad was opposed to it for a long time but one day when he expressed that and found me crying about it, he did an about-turn and said, “If this really is that important to you, you need to do it”. It’s a bit emotional thinking back to that time. Mum always said, “You will never regret having a child, but you could regret not doing it”.
Melanie: I was a bit nervous about telling my dad and his partner; I knew Mum would be great, but was surprised at how amazing they all were from the get-go.
Do you all have anonymous sperm donors?
Melanie: Megan, Alicia and I all know the donors. Megan has met hers several times and Alicia and I have reasonably regular contact with ours. It’s really great as they are interested but not intrusive on how we should be raising the child.
Anneka: I have a profile and have written ‘the letter’ to Fertility Associates to start the process of meeting him – he’s responded, which is good. It’s funny, you want to, but you don’t at the same time. You build these guys up in your head – they’re gorgeous, smart, funny…
Lara: Yeah, we make them into supermen, but they are just regular blokes.
Megan: But they’re not really regular, are they? They’ve given you the best gift possible.
Melanie: Yeah, they are not ordinary to have done this.
*Lara: I suppose not. It’s quite the process. I thought they just went in the once or twice, but it’s like [10] times or something. They are amazing. I probably do need to find out to stop me wondering every time someone new comes into the group whether our kids are half-siblings!
Anneka: Yeah, Lara is kind of obsessed with that idea.
Lara: Auckland is small!
Melanie: Actually there are a surprising amount of women who have done it. Everyone knows someone: your hair-dresser, your colleague, the dentist.
Anneka: So true. I randomly met a woman at work the other day and through our conversation discovered we both had donor kids.
So what do you tell people?
Megan: I think we’re all pretty open and honest and just tell it how it is.
Alicia: I actually sent round an email at work when I got pregnant, just so everyone knew what was going on and didn’t start gossiping or speculating on the father, or whether it was a one-night stand.
Lara: It’s quite funny sometimes. I think we overcompensate and tell everyone, just so they understand. I randomly told a shopkeeper the other day – in the context of a conversation, of course – and afterwards thought ‘Why did I do that?’.
Melanie: I’m the same, I always want to be transparent and show everyone how proud I am of the decision I have made. So much so that I sometimes tell when it’s not necessary. Megan and I were on the train the other day and someone said to us “You got the kids? Dad’s still in bed after watching the rugby last night, huh?”. We ended up both nodding because past experience told us there was no actual need to open up that conversation with random people. Although, if Megan hadn’t stayed quiet, I might have gone into the whole thing.
Anneka: I am pretty upfront, too, but I feel the same; sometimes I tell when it’s not even really necessary. You feel like you have to, but you don’t really.
So have any of you met a man since having the kids?
Anneka: Just me so far I think. He’s great and he loves Zavier – he’s so good with him. He has three kids of his own and it’s going really well. It’s quite funny. He thinks what I’ve done is amazing and when we went out recently he told all his mates really excitedly because he’s so proud. It’s interesting that despite really liking him a lot and hoping it works out long-term, I still feel like a staunch independent single mum. I guess that comes with the territory in my situation.
And the rest of you?
Lara: No one here, and no others in the group, I don’t think, but I’m not sure. One of the great things about doing this is that pressure is off. When you are desperate to have kids it puts enormous pressure on any relationships you enter into. I’m sure most guys don’t want to be asked about kids on the second date – they’d run a mile!
Megan: Yeah, who wants to meet someone who’s effectively saying ‘Can we just get on with this?’ because her biological clock is ticking.
Anneka: It’s funny, you look for really different things in a partner after you’ve had a child too. It’s like this weight is off your shoulders.
Do you ever feel luckier than mums in other situations?
Megan: Some ladies in my antenatal group say I’m really lucky because I can do what I want, when I want. Eat whatever dinner at whatever time, watch what I want. They have husbands coming home from work expecting this or that might have been done, and that adds extra stress with a newborn.
Melanie: I think it’s great we get to choose the name without compromise, and make our own family traditions.
Lara: I guess we’re luckier than other single mums in some ways as our kids aren’t being dragged through difficult separations and all that really hard stuff some people have to endure. There’s no acrimony and negativity like I’ve seen with some couples – not all – when they split. Our kids only know having one parent from the start. It also means we’re not as lonely as there’s only ever been one of us, not two.
Melanie: Also there aren’t two homes, two sets of rules, two sets of clothes, etc, to deal with. They have one stable place. Of course there is a downside compared to other single mums too. There are no weekends off, no ‘your week’ and ‘my week’. No break.
Megan: Yeah, you get up when they get up and there’s no handing off. Some days, when it gets too much, it would be nice to just step outside and go for a walk.
Alicia: And, like any single mum, it’s tough when they are sick. Eilidh is only young so we’ve only just done our first bout of sickness. Trying to figure out how to change vomited-on sheets while still cuddling to comfort her was a bit tricky. Although most of the time I have some support. I’m actually living with another single mum friend at the moment, so that’s really nice. It makes it more affordable and I have some company.
Lastly, what would you say to any woman thinking about doing this?
Alicia: Just do it!
Melanie: For sure. It’s about taking your happiness into your own hands. And if you do it, do ask for help once you’ve had the baby. I think we’ve all learned a lot about not thinking you have to be fiercely independent all the time.
Megan: Yeah, Mel and I often meet up and give the kids pizza and have a glass of wine together. Support is essential. It’s true it takes a village to raise a child, and our kids may not have been brought into the world in the traditional way, but they are so incredibly loved. What more does any child need?
Words: Alexia Santamaria

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