1. How many women undergo treatment as a single woman and why?
The number of women undergoing fertility treatment on their own has been steadily rising for several years. Data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) reveals that between 2000 and 2012 the number of single women receiving fertility treatment increased by a third from 623 to 963 women. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these numbers have since increased further and now number in the thousands.
The reasons for this increase are varied. As fertility technology has improved over the last few years, awareness of fertility treatment as a single woman has also increased. Many women are consequently feeling more empowered to undergo treatment without a partner. The reasons for doing so may stem from not having found a partner they wish to have children with, or preferring to have children while they are younger and more likely to conceive.
2. Which treatments are available?
Single women can either undergo egg freezing, intra-uterine insemination (IUI) or in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). While egg freezing is the best option for women who wish to preserve their fertility rather than having children immediately, IUI and IVF are ideal for women who wish to try conceiving immediately.
3. What is the difference between IVF and IUI?
IUI is a non-invasive procedure where the cycle is monitored and sperm injected into the uterus at the time of ovulation. It is much cheaper than IVF and does not involve any surgical procedures. However, it is less likely to be successful, with a 16% success rate for women under the age of 35 compared to a 32% success rate for IVF (according to HFEA data from 2008/2010).
In IVF, eggs are removed from the ovaries during a theatre procedure and fertilised outside the body before being replaced in the womb to implant.
4. Should I choose IVF or IUI?
This depends on your individual preferences. IUI is cheaper and less invasive than IVF but is also less likely to be successful. Everybody undergoing fertility treatment has to weigh up these considerations. Some women decide to attempt IUI first before moving on to IVF if the IUI is unsuccessful. Older women however may be advised to opt for IVF immediately due to its greater chance of success.
5. Where do I get donor sperm?
Donor sperm can come from either a known or anonymous sperm donor. Known sperm donors can include friends and acquaintances, who will attend the clinic to provide a sample on the day of the insemination/egg collection. Sperm from an anonymous donor can be obtained from your chosen fertility clinic if they have a sperm bank. Alternatively, sperm can be bought from large sperm banks either in this country or from overseas. One vial of sperm usually costs around £700, although you may also have to pay to have the sperm shipped to your clinic if you buy from an external sperm bank.
6. What will I know about the sperm donor?
If you purchase sperm in the UK you will generally be provided with details about the donor’s appearance, including hair and eye colour, height and ethnicity. You may also be informed about their education, profession or hobbies. In this country sperm donors remain anonymous until any child born from treatment turns 18, at which point they have a right to information about the donor. If you buy sperm from overseas agencies you may be provided with more information including photographs of the donor.
7. What is the cost of treatment?
Treatment costs vary depending on the clinic that you choose and whether or not you decide to have any add-ons to treatment. On average, a cycle of IUI costs between £500 and £1,000. One cycle of IVF or egg freezing generally costs around £4,000-£5,000 per cycle. If you wish to purchase donor sperm, this will cost you an additional £500-£1,000 per ampoule.
8. How can I reduce the cost of treatment?
A common way to reduce the cost of treatment is to participate in an egg sharing programme. This is suitable for younger women (clinic guidelines normally stipulate women must be under the age of 35) with good egg reserves. Under this scheme, women undergoing treatment donate half of their eggs to an egg recipient who pays the cost of their treatment.
Another way to reduce the cost of treatment is to opt for a treatment with reduced amounts of medication, as medication and lab costs account for much of the cost of treatment. Some women opt to undergo IUI for this reason. For women having IVF treatment, lower drug treatment such as natural IVF may be a good option for more affordable IVF, with Natural IVF typically costing around £3,000 per cycle.
9. How can I make treatment less stressful?
Before beginning treatment, make sure that you feel fully prepared both emotionally and financially. Being prepared is the best way of reducing any potential stress; knowing what treatment entails and having a calendar of events set out before starting can help to make you feel in control of your cycle. This also applies to finances and it is a good idea to have a full breakdown of costs and make sure you have sufficient funds before commencement of treatment.
It is a good idea to have a strong support network in place while undergoing any fertility treatment. It can be difficult to undergo treatment as a single woman, and most women, single or otherwise, find it important to have a strong support network in place to accompany them to appointments or just be a listening ear. Many women find that friends and family fulfil this role, but there are also a lot of organised support networks and Facebook groups devoted to women hoping to conceive.
Some online support networks are as follows:
10. Are there any legal issues?
For single women using donor sperm, parenthood is automatic. You will be the only named parent of any child conceived unless you specify otherwise. If you have used a UK sperm donor, this person will remain anonymous until children turn 18, at which point they will be able to access information about the donor if they wish. For donor sperm used from abroad rules vary depending on the country.