Loads of us out there will never look at our babies and not really know who exactly they look like ???
But that’s just part of life for Liv (@livsalone), who’s really open and honest about the fact that her 4-month-old son Herb was born using a sperm donor.
In an exclusive chat with MadeForMums, Liv, now 39, shares all about her journey to motherhood, her decision to use a sperm donor, and how it impacted her pregnancy, and life as a solo parent…
We’ve gotta say: Liv’s total transparency makes her one of our all-time heroes, and her story makes for a cracking read, purely because we’re so curious.
We also hope it will be really useful source material for any women out there thinking about doing the same, too ?
‘At 38, with no baby, I knew I had to go and sort it’
“I reckon it took, in all, 10 years [to decide on sperm donation], because I’ve been single literally for my entire adult life,” Liv begins.
“For years, we [my friends, family and I] were saying, ‘Oh wouldn’t it be funny if I have to use a turkey baster to get pregnant hahaha’ – but always in the back of my mind, I knew 100% I would do that.
“It’s a funny joke when you’re 25/26. A friend of mine always used to say, ‘Come on then, when is this deadline?’ and I said, ‘I think about 35’. And then 35 rolls around and I’m like, ‘No, I’m still just joking’.
“But then I got to 37/38, and suddenly it was just an obvious thing that I had to do.
“I’ve been an auntie since I was 13, so I’ve always been surrounded by children. When I left uni, in my yearbook, my stupid ‘Most Likely To…’ plaque said ‘Most Likely To Turn Into Pippa Ross From Home & Away’ – the woman who always had a hundred waifs and strays in her house, always surrounded by people, and babes….
“The fact that I’d got to the age of 38 and there was still no babe meant I had to go and sort it out.
“I couldn’t listen to one more person tell me they were pregnant and not have tried to get pregnant myself, no matter how.”
‘Six months later, I’ve got my legs in the air at a Harley Street clinic’
After confirming her decision, Liv found herself faced with even more decisions – she needed to choose a donor, and a fertility clinic that could perform the intrauterine insemination (IUI) she’d need to get pregnant with the donor’s sperm.
She chose a donor from Denmark, found the relevant sperm bank and took a weekend to whittle through many options down to just 2 candidates.
A process which involved sifting through troves of information about each of them (including baby pics, audio recordings, a handwritten letter, and all the biographical information you could need) – before finally landing on her donor.
And then, it was all about finding a fertility clinic to try for her much-wanted baby.
“Once I’m in, I’m fully dedicated. Once I’d made the decision, it was just a process of steps.
“Then 4, 5, maybe 6 months later, I ended up with my legs in the air for my first IUI treatment at a clinic on Harley Street.
“And then I was like ‘s***, what if this actually works?’ but I suspect that’s the same for a ‘normal’ couple who are trying to have a baby.
“Even though I’d been to a couple of clinics to talk to them about my treatment plan, it didn’t feel real. It was something I’d been talking about – not something actually happening to me, even though I really wanted it.”
Picking a fertility clinic (just like a sperm bank) might sound like a choice to labour over – but Liv admits she “went at it like a bull in a china shop” and should’ve looked into things more.
“I have friends who work in the fertility industry – and they had contacted a clinic on Harley Street that was just starting up. Because I knew them, I felt quite safe with that clinic, and I didn’t really look into any other clinics,” she says.
“As it happens, because it was a new branch of the clinic, they didn’t have any of the equipment ready by the time I wanted to start my treatment. But in my head, I was ready to have that first treatment – I just refused to wait an extra month.
“So, then, I literally just Googled ‘fertility clinics at Harley Street’ and the only reason I chose there is because I live in Oxford and it’s an hour away on the train…”
‘Fertility clinics made me think ‘f*** off, this is my everything’
“Looking back, I didn’t research it enough… I chose a clinic that probably wasn’t best for me, but if I did it again, I would look around and go to the fertility shows and things like that.
“The real problem is that fertility clinics are treated as businesses – which is what they are, they’re doing it for money, not because they’re desperate for me to get pregnant.
“But they forget that they’re dealing with really vulnerable people. Dealing with really desperate people, often.
“There’s a lot to be desired from a lot of the clinics and their… bedside manner, shall we say.”
The impression we got from Liv is that her experience (which, of course, will not be everyone’s experience) of several IUI treatments was actually a lot tougher than the donor-choosing.
“I called one clinic with a question, which for the life of me I can’t remember – I think it was about sperm storage,” she explains. “Why would you know the answer? You just wouldn’t if you weren’t in the industry – and the woman on the other end of the phone laughed at me.
“There’s a certain level of respect you need to have for paying clients – and you pay a LOT of money for this. It’s not like nipping to the shop and getting a can of Coke.”
Indeed, Liv’s not wrong. We already know how expensive treatments like IUI and IVF can be – and as she herself confessed in a previous blog post: “I mortgaged myself within an inch of my life.”
“The aftercare as well was not great. Mine was horrific. After the 2-week wait [to take a pregnancy test], they’d phone and say *puts on a very patronising, fake-happy voice*, ‘well, were you successful?’
“If you said no, you’d get this insincere: ‘Ooh, well that’s a shame. Shall we book you in for the next cycle?’
“And then you’re like, ‘F***off, this is my everything, and I’ve just spent a billion pounds’. Even if they pretended they cared, it would be better than that insincere, just-read-the-script, robotic telephone messages you get.
“They called me a month ago, actually, and said *does the fake-happy, patronising voice again*: ‘so was your pregnancy successful?’ And actually, what if it hadn’t been? There’s a high risk of miscarriage with this kind of pregnancy.”
Liv’s pregnancy – and the inevitable donor panic
Happily, Liv wasn’t in that boat – though she did sadly have 3 unsuccessful rounds of IUI before becoming pregnant with her baby boy ?
“In my head, the 4th IUI was my last go. I was going to take a year out of the fertility treatment, lose some weight, save some money, and then do IVF.
“And I genuinely didn’t think the 4th one was gonna work. I rocked up to the clinic that day not caring, whereas before I’d been going to sleep at 7pm the night before and having a massage and doing all the stuff so I was at ‘peak’ – but this one, I went in assuming it wouldn’t work.
“I was my brother’s house, with my grown-up nieces, and I suddenly thought, ‘Oh actually, it’s been 2 weeks since the clinic, I can take my test now.’ So, I took the test at his house. Didn’t tell them. Just walked up stairs, had a shower, had breakfast.
“Then I remembered, ‘Shit, the test is upstairs in the bathroom’ so I went down and was like, ‘Oh my god! That definitely says pregnant!’
“I had to get some others to check, and then there was a lot of screeching, and tears obviously – I cry at everything – and it was a really beautiful day.”
And no matter how you get pregnant, it’s really luck of the draw as to how that pregnancy will actually feel. As for Liv? Well, she got the short end of the stick, for sure…
“My pregnancy symptoms were f***ing hideous. I was sick, physically sick, until 37 weeks. Proper. It wasn’t ideal at all. I just wanted the pregnancy part over and done with because I was so sick, couldn’t concentrate at work. I was constantly letting people down, and I just needed it to be over with.
“But then I was terrified about the pregnancy being over and there suddenly being a baby, that I’d longed for and wished for and hoped for. And I was constantly thinking about the donor…”
‘It blows my mind that I don’t know who he looks like’
“I know you shouldn’t care what your kid looks like, and I don’t, but it’s more that you don’t know who he looks like. That blew my mind.
“I still struggle – well not struggle, but find it odd – when I look at Herb, that I don’t know if he’s got his donor’s nose, and that kind of thing.
“I don’t see myself in him at all, but my family do. He looks like my nephew did, when he was a babe. He’s definitely passable as mine.
“I’ve got a pic on my phone of the donor when he was about 18 months – 2 years old. I don’t look at it because it freaks me out. My sister has, though.
“Oddly, my sister thinks that the donor looks like I did when I was the donor’s age, in that picture. Which is really weird, and maybe narcissistic of me. I’ve picked someone who looks like me.
“I didn’t think that at all when I saw the picture. But my sister says, ‘Liv, he looks just like you did’.”
There must be constant thoughts about how Herb will feel about all this, years down the round, when he’s not a teething 4-month-old, currently crawling all over her…
“I’ll tell him as soon as he can understand [about the donor],” she says. “I have an adopted niece and nephew and my siblings have always been really open with them about the fact they’re adopted, and I’ll be the same with Herb, I’ll explain nature and that I needed a man to donate in order for him to come about.
“There’s loads of great books on it as well, actually, as its so much more prevalent than people would think.
“One of the reasons I chose his donor was because he was an open donor, which means Herb can contact him when he’s 18, and in the donor profile, he said he hopes that someone contacts him for a cup of coffee one day.
“That’s Herb’s decision. I made sure it was an open donor because I didn’t want Herb to want to find out who his donor was and I’d chosen one where he couldn’t.
“I’ve made enough decisions on Herb’s behalf to take that away from him.
“One day, we’ll go over to Denmark and find his donor. And I will hug that man, and weep, no doubt.
“It’s an amazing thing to do – it could megalomaniacal and all that stuff – but I like to think that he did it because he wanted to give someone a great gift.
“A great gift that is currently farting away on my lap,” she laughs.
‘The first month of single parenting was harder than I’d ever anticipated’
In Liv’s case, the reality of using donor sperm also meant something else: she’d be rocking the whole newborn-whirlwind and parenting adventure alone from the get-go.
(Of course, there are tons of single parents out there who are totally killing it. But going into having a child, knowing you don’t have the support of a partner, can’t be easy.)
“After Herb arrived, the first month was so much harder than I’d ever anticipated. Ever,” she confesses.
“People concentrate a lot on the labour, which is a bit mental, because there’s absolutely bugger all you can do about labour – unless you have a genuine fear of labour, like tokophobia. It will only last 3 days, before they whip it out.
“You have all these lessons, bl**dy NCT classes and all that, but no one tells you about the first month – where you just have no idea what you’re doing.
“I was really lucky, I had my sisters here, for the first month. They took it turns, and they were amazing, but they’re both parents.
“With a couple, I think sometimes you’re both just there, completely clueless, thinking, ‘what do we do?’ Whereas I was luckier in that I had these 2 women who have loads of kids, who already knew.
“Then I realised I needed a routine – I was in freefall – so I just found a book on Amazon. I needed to know what to do, because I had no idea how to structure a day.
“Fortunately, he’s a really happy baby, so far. I think because from day one I’ve given him to people. Anyone says, ‘Can I have a cuddle?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ll be back in to 2 hours’.
“I’m constantly dropping him places so I can do work or, you know, be on my own or sleep. I didn’t want him to just be with me constantly, or feel insecure when I wasn’t there.
“I do really regret not chilling out more in the first month, though. Steph Douglas of Don’t Buy Her Flowers has been talking about ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ and all throughout pregnancy, I was so invested in the idea, like, ‘absolutely, I’m gonna do that’.
“I really thought I was doing that when Herb was born, but I absolutely wasn’t. I was getting up and going out. I should’ve embraced that month – terrifying as it was – and just to do me, and him, and my sisters.”
‘I was ready to fight – but people have just been curious’
Liv’s not pulling up the drawbridge in life, though, far from it. She’s been delightfully candid – and also very public – about her journey on Instagram, and in her blog.
But in this awful age of mum-shaming and social media trolls, we can’t help but wonder if she’s had a bit of ‘hate’ for being so honest about how she had Herb?
Surprisingly (and thankfully) no – which she admits was a shock to her, too. “I assumed I’d get it and I got my fighty-pants ready, but I’ve not had one…
“I did have one on Instagram a year ago, but it was so ridiculous I didn’t even go into a discussion about it. It was just someone punching for a fight.”
And as for those around her, excluding her siblings and lovely, supportive friends? “One of my mum’s friends – my parents died when I was a teenager, but I stay in touch with some of their friends – just didn’t get it.
“She said, ‘Oh darling, why don’t you just try and find a husband? It’ll be much easier.’ You know when you’re just like, ‘no shit!’ Yep, got it! But she meant well, she just wanted me to be happy.
“Most people are just like, ‘that’s incredible’ and want to know how I did it. It’s normally intrigue rather than disgust. I’m so lucky. I’ve only ever had positive things.
“People are really curious, and some people are a bit like, ‘Jesus, you’re mental, why would you do that on your own?’ – because it’s f***ing hard work!”
Above all, she says she’s bad at lying – so being totally upfront with the world about half of little Herb’s heritage was the only way to be.
“As soon as I made the decision to do it, I had to be as open as possible, I’m not good at keeping things inside.
“Also, you can’t just rock up somewhere with a kid suddenly, and expect people not to ask questions and wonder where they’re from.
“I didn’t want it to be a big secret, like, ‘oh, did you see that Liv’s got a baby, and who’s the dad?!’
“It’s just easier to say: I bought sperm online. Deal with it.”