Kudos to Cheryl for telling it as it is during a recent magazine interview.
The 35-year-old singer, who split from Liam Payne in July of last year, was searingly honest about life as a single mum, and just as outspoken when she was asked if she’d like to have more children.
“You don’t necessarily need to be in a relationship,” she told the interviewer, before bringing up her friend who has given birth to two children using donors.
“Not everything has to be conventional,” she added. “You can spend ages looking for the right man, waiting for the perfect time to get pregnant, then the right man might turn out to be the wrong man. There are definitely other routes I would consider.”
Cheryl’s frank admission isn’t just a refreshing change from the celeb boilerplate of “never say never”. It reflects a wider trend, as more and more women consider going it alone through sperm donation.
Irish fertility clinics have noted a rise in the numbers of women seeking fertility treatment without a partner. Meanwhile, figures released by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) show that the number of single women using fertility clinics in Britain has tripled in the last decade.
There was a time when sperm donation was stigmatised – the persistent turkey baster myth didn’t help matters – but we’re now hearing from a growing cohort of women who see artificial insemination as a viable fertility option.
Monica Cruz, sister of Penelope, used an anonymous sperm donor to get pregnant when she was 35. Holly Willoughby says she would have used a sperm donor to start a family had she not met her husband. Comedian Molly Hawkey is using her SpermCast podcast to find a sperm donor. And let’s not forget the “accidentally on purpose” brigade. Save your indignation: it happens.
The official term for these women is ‘Single Mother by Choice’, but that doesn’t convey the totality of the experience.
It’s a choice, yes, but it’s a choice borne out of circumstance. Sperm donation is a contingency plan for the vast majority of women. They don’t set out to become single mothers, rather they get to an age where they feel like they have no other choice left.
Statistics tell us that more women are choosing to go it alone, but what this actually means is that more women are struggling to find the right partner at the right time.
This is largely because they don’t give it as much time. Modern women don’t pursue partners like their mothers and grandmothers did. Sure, they might want to find a good husband or wife but it’s no longer the be-all and end-all.
Meanwhile, more and more women are seriously considering a child-free lifestyle. Womanhood is no longer defined by motherhood and this paradigm shift has paved the way for more non-traditional family units to emerge.
The fight for gender equality has also contributed to the trend. Women are working to topple the patriarchy, and this in turn empowers them to take charge of their fertility.
Egg freezing has become a popular fertility choice in recent years but we’re slowly beginning to realise that it doesn’t offer any guarantees. It still relies on finding the right partner and it has the very same pitfalls as the self-storage industry: women pay exorbitant fees to store their eggs, and very few come back to retrieve them.
Sperm donation, on the other hand, cuts out the middle-man. And while there are all sorts of social, emotional and ethical ramifications, it plays neatly into the instant gratification culture in which we live.
When dates are a swipe away and same-day delivery is a click away, the idea of waiting around for the right partner can feel a little jarring. On the plus side, the transactional nature of Tinder makes the prospect of searching through a bank of potential sperm donors that little bit less clinical.
Scientists have speculated that women will one day be able to conceive without sperm, and while this sounds like a brave – and slightly terrifying – new world, the truth is that we’re already half-way there.
Women want to be freed from the tyranny of the biological clock and, much like Cheryl, they’re realising that you don’t necessarily need a man to have a baby.
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