“I can be a family”: becoming a solo mum at 32
Instagram influencer Lola Jimenez on why she decided to have a baby on her own… and why more and more women are choosing to do the same.
In January 2020, Lola Jimenez visited her GP to jumpstart her journey to motherhood. “I went to the doctor and said, ‘We’ve been trying to have a baby for two years and nothing has happened. Can you check everything is okay with my fertility?’”
So far, there’s nothing particularly unusual about Lola’s story. In fact, it’s pretty conventional, given the current NHS advice is to speak to your GP if you’ve not conceived after a year of trying (unless you’re over 36 or aware of existing fertility issues). But wait for it.
“The doctor asked, ‘But where’s your partner? How do you know it’s not a problem with his fertility?’ He’d got me,” she grins. Busted. “I started running around to all of my friends asking if I could borrow their husband’s sperm.”
The thing is that law student Lola has not been trying to conceive for at least one year. She’s also not over 36 and has no pre-existing fertility issues.
In reality, Lola is a single 32-year-old woman who has decided to have a baby on her own. And struggling to get her fertility checked on the NHS — as she sensibly decided to do as a first step — without proof of a partner is just the first hurdle in her journey to solo motherhood.
Recent research by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service found that in some areas of the UK, such as Cornwall and Barnsley, couples had to show a joint bank account to qualify for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment. Needless to say, if you’re missing not only the bank account but also the partner, accessing IVF can be a challenge. But it’s a challenge that Lola was unafraid to take on — and she’s not alone.
Although single patients only made up 3.2% of UK fertility treatments in 2018 — whereas heterosexual couples accounted for 90% — Lola is part of a growing group. According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority, the UK’s independent regulator of fertility treatment, the number of treatment cycles where women used their own eggs with a sperm donor went up by 50% between 2015 and 2018.
We all think we know the type too — a career woman who, having reached her forties, realises she can’t wait any longer to find the man of her dreams and settles on having a baby through a sperm donor and IVF instead. And to a certain extent this is true. IVF success rates are lower for single patients than they are for same-sex and heterosexual couples, which is usually put down to the age factor.
But a secondary group of single women is emerging. Women who — like Lola — are not only choosing to have children without a partner, but who are also prioritising children over their career in their early 30s or even late 20s.
“I think it’s a lot more common than people realise,” Lola, who shares her solo motherhood journey on her straightforwardly named @make_me_a_mummy Instagram, tells me. “Now I get comments like, ‘I actually have a friend that’s thinking about solo motherhood too. Would you have a chat?’ I am speaking to people much younger than me too.”
Women are choosing solo motherhood at younger ages for all kinds of reasons, Lola explains. “People who have experienced rape or sexual abuse and don’t want to have relationships with men,” for example. “But why does that mean they shouldn’t be mothers?”
For Lola, it came down to choosing between a baby and a partner. “I always joked that if I didn’t meet someone by 35, I would have a baby on my own,” Lola tells me. “But I actually met someone at 25. On and off, we were together for about seven years. I spent the entire relationship planning to have a family with him. When it ended, I thought, ‘I don’t have seven years to give to someone else! Sod that! I’ll do the baby thing now and the man thing later.’”
Lola broke up with her partner in November 2019. By December, she was looking at sperm banks and choosing a fertility clinic. When my face gives away my surprise at how quickly she settled on solo parenting, Lola clarifies. “I had always wanted to be a parent. That wasn’t a hard decision. It was just deciding whether to do it on my own or not.”
Despite her decision to embrace solo motherhood, it was important for Lola to get her friends and family as involved as possible. “I had a sperm party.” Excuse me? “I had all the women from my life over and we played IVF bingo and pin the sperm on the egg. I even had sperm and egg cookies. We went through all the sperm donor profiles. I wasn’t going to go with who they picked, but it was a fun way of getting them onboard.”
Unfortunately, as Lola knows all too well, the process of becoming a solo mum is rather more complicated than pinning a sperm on an egg. In UK sperm banks, the information you receive about your donor is limited to a physical description, their medical history and possibly a personal description. Crucially, you do not have access to any photos of your donor. So instead, like many women in her position, Lola decided to import her sperm from the United States, where she could access not only photos but also audio files of her potential donors.
“You get everything. I had a really chunky pack… I will show you!” After some rustling, Lola holds up a hefty wodge of paper, about an inch thick. That’s a lot of information all right.
For Lola, choosing a sperm donor was all about choosing someone who would fit in with her family. “I didn’t end up going for anyone who looked like me, although that was my plan. It is so hard to find a blond-haired, blue-eyed Mediterranean bloke who gives sperm! Someone who doesn’t have multiple problems or exceptionally large ears. You’re not going to pick that for your kid if you’re picking, are you?” I shake my head. I suppose not. “In the end,” Lola tells me, “I landed on someone who looked more or less like my dad and wider family. So hopefully they’ll look like they belong to my family. We will find out, won’t we!”
It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to be a donor and know you have “genes walking around”, as Lola puts it. But for Lola, she doesn’t have to imagine. Alongside 1600 women who donate every year in the UK, Lola decided to take part in an egg sharing scheme, meaning she received a discounted treatment in exchange for some of her eggs.
That’s the practical side of egg donation at least. But what about the emotional side? Lola is, as ever, matter of fact. “The way I see donating eggs is that if your neighbour is making a cup of tea and needs to borrow a bit of sugar, it doesn’t make it your cup of tea, does it?” No, but I can’t imagine your neighbour’s cup of tea will come knocking on your door at 18. “If the kid ever does come knocking, I will probably have had the same conversation with my own kid about their sperm donor dad by that point.”
Lola had to wait for her donated eggs to be accepted by a recipient before her treatment could go ahead. “There is a lot of waiting. A lot of it is out of your control throughout the entire process and that is really hard to deal with.” But it was worth the wait. When Lola found out her egg donation had led to a positive pregnancy test, she was filled with “a sense of pride. Someone else’s family is how they want it to be now. Someone else doesn’t have to give up.”
After her egg donation, Lola finally had the embryo transfer she’d been waiting for. In the end, she was treated with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) rather than the in vitro fertilisation (IVF) she was expecting as the sperm count of her donor was lower than expected once defrosted. These are very similar procedures and both result in multiple embryos, the only difference being that in IVF multiple sperm are mixed with multiple eggs and left to fertilise whereas in ICSI a single sperm is injected into a single egg to fertilise.
So… did it work?
“The day before I took the test, I shared an Instagram story saying I had a bad feeling, and I just knew it hadn’t worked. The following morning, I got a positive test. I spent about three hours just screaming and crying. It was such a faint line. Then the next day, it got a little bit darker. The second week of January I was in clinic for the heartbeat scan. I thought, ‘there’s the heartbeat. I can let myself care now. I can let myself believe this now. It is real.’”
We’re meeting just a few days before Lola’s 12-week pregnancy scan, and she’s brimming with joy. But as her bump slowly emerges, she is having to answer more and more questions. “A lot of the time you say solo and people ask if dad is around at all. There is a clear difference between single and solo. It’s not dictated by me, but by society. If you’re solo, you’ve chosen to have a child on your own. If you’re single, someone made you single.”
It’s the difference between being the subject of a sentence and the object, but it’s a big one. The term “solo mother” suggests active choice and even power. But the danger with this increasingly popular term is that the “single mother” could become even more loaded with disempowerment and stigma. Lola, however, is careful to point out that this is not the intention. “They’re women bringing up children solo in the same way I am. I just don’t think women should be labelled by the behaviour of men around them. If a man gets a woman pregnant and leaves her, she is a single mum, and he is just a man. I don’t think it’s fair.”
For Lola, solo motherhood is about taking control of her own narrative. “My mum was not the mum I needed her to be. I went to live with my dad when I was five. My dad has this big, amazing, Spanish family. My nan was the matriarchs of all matriarchs. She was my role model. She was the woman who showed me how to be a woman and how to have respect for yourself. But I always longed for that mother-child relationship. And well, if you can’t have it with your own mother, you want to have it with your kids.
“I have always looked for that family,” Lola continues. By this point, we’re both tearing up over Zoom. “I have not found it. I looked for it in relationships. I looked for it in the family of partners. I have always been looking for that belonging. I never found it, so I decided to create it. I can be a family. I have waited long enough.”
Lola’s bravery is admirable, but also necessary, it would seem. Solo motherhood, ironically, takes some balls. “A lot of people didn’t understand before. They didn’t understand why I would put myself through IVF at my age. Ridiculously, a lot of comments were about how I was still pretty and young enough to find a man. There were also just a lot of silences.”
As her Instagram following grows, Lola is increasingly contacted by women who want to have children on their own but are too worried about what others might think to go ahead with their plans. “Fuck them,” Lola advises. “I have spoken to women who are more scared to tell their families they’re having IVF than they are to tell their families that they became pregnant from a one-night stand. These are educated women who are scared to say they made a choice about what to do with their own bodies.”
She has a point. We’re trying to educate our young women to be ambitious, to take control of their own bodies and to make their own way in the world. We tell them they can be anything they want — anything, it would seem, other than a woman who prioritises a baby over a career or a partner.
But for Lola, there’s nothing more fulfilling or empowering. When I ask her what she’s most looking forward to about motherhood, she smiles. “Just having my baby and knowing, ‘right, this is us now. We are a team. We’ve got this, here we go.’”