What are the options for a woman who wants to be a mom but who is in a romantic relationship with someone who doesn’t want a child?
She can wait around and hope her partner changes his or her mind. That might work if she is 25 to 30 years old. If she is 35 or over, and she doesn’t think her partner will change their mind very soon, she can embrace a full life with her partner without children, or she can start to consider other options. One of the options she might consider is becoming a mother on her own through donor insemination.
The decision to let go of a real and present relationship with a partner in order to become a fully single mom can be a very difficult one to make. So the question for some women becomes: Can I become a mom on my own and still be in a relationship with my partner? And if she is in a romantic relationship with a man: Should I ask him if he would be willing to be the donor if I take all the responsibility as a parent?
There are practical, emotional and legal issues to consider (which are equally important). I spoke to Holly Yager, a Registered Clinical Counsellor in Vancouver, BC who works with women and couples on this and other fertility related decision-making, to get her perspective on the practical and emotional issues, to go along with my thoughts on the legal issues.
Practically speaking, it is a good idea for a woman to go to a fertility clinic and have her ability to conceive tested right away, rather than waiting until her decision-making is done, especially if she is over 35. This seems counter-intuitive, but the process can take some time. It also makes the process more real, which can be clarifying.
Thinking about using an anonymous donor
The law in BC is evolving. Right now, a child is the child of his or her natural (ie, biological) or adoptive parent(s). If a woman uses an anonymous sperm donor to conceive a child, she can put herself alone as parent on the birth certificate or list her partner as a co-parent, but a birth certificate is not a legally binding document of parentage. When the new BC Family Law Act comes into effect (possibly in 2013), a child conceived through assisted reproduction (including donor insemination) will be the child of the birth mother and the child of a person who was married to or in a “marriage-like relationship” with the child’s birth mother when the child was conceived unless there is proof that before the child was conceived that person did not consent to be the child’s parent or withdrew the consent to be the child’s parent.
If the partner has an ongoing role in the child’s life, especially if the child lives with mom and her partner, there may be future battles down the road about custody, access and child support. Legal agreements, and parentage declarations if appropriate, can help clarify expectations and intentions to decrease the chance of disputes, but legal agreements are not binding in court where the child’s best interests are always the primary consideration.
On the practical and emotional side, some important issues to think about are:
- What are mom’s hopes and wishes about her partner? How will she feel if her partner doesn’t live up to them?
- What role will the partner play in the child’s life?
- What expectations does mom have about help and support from the partner through pregnancy and the challenging early times of parenthood? Is the partner up for that?
- What will be the impact on the child of mom having a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to be the child’s parent?
- What if the relationship breaks up, and the partner or mom goes on to have other relationships and possibly children?
- What if the partner’s feelings change down the road, either toward more or less involvement?
- What about the possibility that a court could order access to the partner down the road, regardless of mom’s feelings about this?
- What will mom and her partner tell the child about this situation?
Being the single mom of a donor child can be a very rewarding path to parenthood (I should know), but it is challenging. The more you can do to minimize stress and uncertainty, the more manageable and happy it will be. And it’s important to remember that a mom who starts alone may well meet a partner in the future who truly wants to be a family with her and her child.
Asking the partner to be a donor
If her partner is a man, why not? Mom knows him, her family knows him, and it seems natural to ask. This idea can be a step along the road from wanting a traditional partnership and family to embracing the possibility of true single motherhood.
I’ll come right out and say my bias is that this is a bad idea – while it might avoid heartbreak in the short run, it has the potential for big problems in the long run. Often, a partner who doesn’t want children will refuse this request; this is painful, but actually a big favour if they are not to really be parents together.
Under BC’s current law, the partner would be the child’s other legal (ie, biological) parent. You could try to jump through some legal hoops to avoid this, but if you are in a relationship with the biological other half, and that person has a role in the child’s life (which is pretty impossible to avoid if you are in a relationship), you look a lot like any other couple who have a child together, only mom does not have the support of a partner who is really in it with her. The potential for misunderstanding and legal disputes down the road is higher than with an anonymous donor.
In addition to the other practical and emotional issues, issues to consider here are:
- Is mom really hoping he will come around so that over time they will be a full family? What if he disappoints?
- What will mom and her partner tell the child about his role in the family?
- How will the child feel about their biological other half not wanting to be their parent?
- If they live together, how will this look on a daily basis?
- What if he leaves the relationship but wants to be involved in the child’s life down the road? Especially if the breakup was hurtful.
- What if the relationship breaks up, and mom wants to have new relationships and possibly have that person be a parent to the child?
- What if the partner’s extended family want to have a role in the child’s life, even if the relationship ends?
- What if something happened to mom and the partner or her family wanted to be the child’s guardian?
Known donors who are not the mom’s partner can be a good option for individuals and couples – coming soon, a post about how to do it right.