At centers such as the one in Connecticut, women are told that donors do not perceive themselves as parents. "I would want to say strongly, 'always remember that a donor is not a parent,'" Dr. Jacob says. "Not in any sense of the word other than genetic material. They're very different creatures from birth parents." While a number of donors agree to be available to grown children (usually at 18) for questions, they don't expect to have a relationship with the children.
Sperm donations have existed for hundreds of years, but historically have been kept very secret in the United States because of the concern for the legal status of the child, explains Dr. Jacob. New laws were written in the 1960s that allowed for more openness.
Dr. Donald B. Maier, Division Director of Reproductive Endocrinology and Fertility at The Center for Advanced Reproductive Services, estimates that 5 percent of his patients are single women. "There are some more people than in the past," he says, "but it's not a booming type of situation," as television seems to relay.
Women who come in to see him begin with lower technological techniques such as placing sperm into a woman's uterus. His center provides a list of sperm banks from which women can choose a donor. Women with fertility issues would use higher techniques such as medications to stimulate fertility or IVF, where eggs are harvested and fertilized outside the womb, then put back into the uterus as embryos. The biggest risks with medications are multiple pregnancies and their related premature deliveries. The high cost of an IVF cycle can also be prohibitive.
The center in Connecticut sees single women in their late thirties and early forties. Many of the women who choose to become single and pregnant would have preferred pregnancy within the context of a relationship, Dr. Jacob says. "They're aware that being a single mom is complicated, and therefore many of them are waiting until the very last minute in terms of their own fertility, because it wasn't their first choice."
Brenda had put off having children, knowing she could conceive at older age and hoping she'd meet her ideal mate. "I'll meet somebody next year," she thought, "I'll go to that last dance, and I'll go to that last bar." She is open to the possibility of meeting someone who could father her children. "When I take them to school," she says, "You never know who you could meet—a single dad, a divorced dad."
*name changed to protect privacy