A woman who vowed to have a baby by herself if she was still single at 38 has welcomed a baby boy, via a sperm donor.
Kate McElroy, a senior marketing manager from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, had always wanted to be a mum and decided if she hadn't met the right partner to have a child with by her 38th birthday she would go it alone.
Having contacted a fertility clinic to find out more about the process of having a baby via sperm donor, she underwent her first round of intrauterine insemination (IUI) - where sperm is injected directly into the womb - in February 2022 and conceived on her fourth round.
Her little boy, Joshua, was born on June 7, 2023, weighing 6lbs 4oz and McElroy is now "loving every minute of parenthood".
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“I’d always known I wanted a child of my own - so when I found myself without a suitable partner in my mid-thirties, I had a fertility check to ensure I hadn’t already left it too late," the new mum, now 39, explains.
"At that time a friend suggested going it alone, but back then it didn’t feel right.
“However, when my 37th birthday arrived, I promised myself that if I was still single in July 2021, when I turned 38, I would go for it.
“I come from a huge family - my dad, Gerard, 69, is one of 12, - so I’ve got lots of cousins and I’ve always loved babies.
“I have a very close relationship with my mum, Norma, 69 - who lives nearby - and my sister Clare, 37, who lives in Basingstoke.
"Both of them understood how much I wanted a baby and they’re incredibly supportive."
As McElroy was paying for the treatment, which cost £10K, on her own, from her savings, she decided to opt for IUI as a cheaper alternative to IVF - one cycle of IUI is typically a quarter of the price of one IVF cycle.
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She initially went for a body "MOT" - which included a scan to check her fallopian tubes were functioning normally - before contacting Bristol Centre for Reproductive Medicine (BCRM) and starting her journey to motherhood.
“The procedure for IUI feels a bit like having a smear test done," she explains. "It involves having the sperm injected into your uterus via the vagina through a straw.
"A whole vial is used for each treatment – emulating nature, if you like. By contrast, if I’d opted for IVF, one vial of sperm would have served for many cycles of treatment if necessary.
"IVF is actually a more reliable way of getting pregnant too, however the other elements of IVF treatment mean it works out dearer than IUI.
“All the indications were that IUI should allow me to conceive, so after discussing it all with my consultant I booked in for my first cycle."
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Increase in women becoming single parents
A report by fertility watchdog the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) revealed a surge in the number of women choosing to become solo mums - with 44% more seeking fertility treatment in 2021 than in 2019.
In 2021, single patients accounted for 42% of those undergoing Donor Insemination (DI), which made up the second largest group, behind female same-sex couples.
The number of patients in female same-sex relationships or single patients undergoing DI increased from 2,531 in 2019 to 3,069 in 2021.
The NHS' IVF postcode lottery explained
It's worth noting that the NHS does not offer IVF to women over the age of 42 because the chances of success are considered too low.
In some parts of the UK, like Hampshire, where funds are allocated elsewhere, this age cut off is as low as 35.
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McElroy had her first round of IUI in February 2022 but it didn't result in a pregnancy.
She then went for a second round at Easter and conceived but at a seven-week scan, there was no heartbeat.
"This isn’t uncommon but it’s not something that’s discussed much and emotionally it’s quite a hard thing for a woman to go through," McElroy says of the difficult moment.
“It was July when my periods started again so I had a third round of treatment but that didn’t work. Then, in September, round four resulted in Joshua. So, I had four rounds of IUI in total - two pregnancies, one baby."
Though McElroy said she felt anxious about the pregnancy after the first loss her pregnancy was actually pretty "straightforward".
"My wonderful sister, Clare, was my birth partner and our mum, Norma, was also with us in recovery," she says of the moment she gave birth. It was so lovely to have them both there to share the joy.
“Mum is a fantastic hands-on grandma, and I’m so glad I have her locally to support me. And Clare has two little boys aged four and two - ready-made playmates for Joshua when he’s a bit older.
“I’m taking a year off for maternity leave but will return to work after that. At the moment I’m just getting used to being a mum and I’m loving every minute of it.
"If I had my time over I would definitely do it all over again.”
Additional reporting SWNS.