Single Mom By Choice
Top things to consider when starting a family as a single mom.
Photograph: ©Aldo Murillo/istockphoto.com
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Families come in all different shapes and sizes. Thankfully, people don’t need to fit into an outdated ideal in order to have the special relationship of a parent and child. More and more, I am consulting and working with single women who want to start their families. They are doing it on their terms, without settling.
A woman who chooses to be a single mom will make decisions unique to her circumstances. As a reproductive endocrinologist, I view my role as helping my patients become moms – not simply to get pregnant. That is why I recommend they do research and talk to professionals and single moms about the experience. To help meet my patients’ needs for more information, my fertility practice is launching singlemomstobe.com, a resource for single women who want to know about becoming moms.
Here are some of the most common topics that my single patients consider as part of their journey to becoming a mom.
How do I choose a sperm donor?
For most single women, choosing a sperm donor is the most complex topic they will consider when starting a family. Most women choose to work with a reputable sperm bank that is registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA requires sperm donors be tested for certain communicable and infectious diseases, including Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), types 1 and 2; Hepatitis B Virus (HBV); Hepatitis C Virus (HCV); Treponema pallidum (i.e. syphilis); Chlamydia trachomatis; Neisseria gonorrhea. Sperm donors’s medical history is also submitted for review.
There are three types of sperm donors:
Identity Release Donor, which is sometimes also called an Open Door Donor, gives the child the option to contact the donor, typically once the child reaches 18 years of age. Children of donor conception often feel a need to know more about their sperm donor. Also, there are medical benefits to being able to contact a donor in the future. This is the most common choice among my patients.
Known Donor is when a friend wants to give his sperm to help a single woman become a mom. Family lawyers recommend having a contract between friends to outline the sperm donor’s involvement, rights and financial obligations to the family and future child.
Anonymous Donor can be found through a sperm bank. As the name implies, an intended mom does not know the Anonymous Donor, including his name or other personal details. Recipients can choose a sperm donor based on basic characteristics such as race, academic achievements, looks and other factors. However, there are a growing number of websites and resources for donor-conceived children to help find their sperm donor; even “anonymous” donors may be discoverable. Patients should get additional sperm if they want to have another child with the same donor, making the children siblings rather than half siblings. Thinking about the next child may seem impossible when a patient is in the midst of treatment for the first child, but this foresight can be very important if you want a genetically linked second child.
What can I do now while I’m considering becoming a mom?
Every patient can improve her chances of a successful, healthy pregnancy by improving her overall health. Two areas to focus on are stress management and nutrition.
1. Make nutritional changes 90 days before conception as it can impact the health of mom and baby. Improving your overall health will improve your fertility and chances for having a healthy pregnancy. The checklist below can serve as a guide.
- Test for risk factors: hemoglobin A1c, vitamin D, blood pressure, cholesterol
- Take prenatal vitamins (800 mcg of folic acid)
- Drink water (not soda and minimize caffeine)
- Eat a balanced diet that exemplifies the USDA’s balanced plate full of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean protein, heart healthy fats
Boost important vitamins and minerals:
- calcium (dairy, leafy greens)
- folic acid (citric fruit, fortified breads, lentils)
- iron (spinach, beans)
- omega-3 (low-mercury fish such as salmon)
- Limit alcohol
- Quit smoking
- Lower caffeine intake to less than 150 mg per day, which is equivalent to two 8-oz. cups of coffee
- Try to get to a healthy weight and BMI
2. Find a technique that works for you to manage stress, such as yoga, low impact exercise, or meditation. There are dozens of clinical studies noting the impact of stress on fertility with varying conclusions. Even though there is not a conclusive link between stress and infertility, there is no downside to managing stress – it can only positively affect your pregnancy and family life.
I’m not ready to become a mom right now. What can I do to plan ahead?
See your OB/GYN and test your fertility regularly through physical exams and a simple blood test such as anti-mullerian hormone. By monitoring your fertility, you are taking control of your reproductive options.
You may also want to consider egg freezing. In 2012, our professional society, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), reclassified egg freezing. The ASRM determined that freezing and thawing of eggs (oocytes) is now a proven method for preserving a woman's ability to have children. ASRM removed the technique's "experimental" label which had been in place since 2008. Oocyte freezing is now considered fertility preservation. With this change, egg freezing is becoming more common and successful.
This decision by the ASRM Practice Committee is based on a report titled “Mature Oocyte Cyryopreservation,” which examined nearly 1,000 published papers. The change is largely due to recent advances in cryopreservation that have made freezing human eggs more reliable and successful. A rapid freezing technique called vitrification maintains the delicate architecture of the human egg and eliminates ice crystallization. Egg freezing gives women more control over their fertility and their family planning.
There is more knowledge and resources for single women than ever. When a woman is ready to have a family, she can do it.
Dr. Spencer Richlin, MD is on the writing committee for the upcoming 2015 Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility PROLOG sponsored by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He is the Surgical Director and Partner in reproductive endocrinology at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut (RMACT) as well as Division Director of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI) in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Norwalk Hospital.
Fertility Centers of Excellence: RMACT is one of just 11 leading In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) centers nationwide chosen by In Vitro Sciences to participate in its Centers of Excellence program. RMACT’s board-certified fertility specialists are extensively trained in reproductive medicine and are eager to help you start or expand your family.
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