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Book Review: Going it Alone – A guide for solo mums in the UK

22 February 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1084

The number of single women pursuing motherhood has seen a rapid rise in recent years. Data from the UK's Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) shows that the number of IVF treatments undertaken by single women with no partner jumped from just 351 cycles in 2007 to 1290 in 2017.

As changes in the trends of those seeking assisted reproduction become more apparent, it's perhaps even more important that relevant information and support is available to those pursuing parenthood using such approaches.

As a response to this, 'Going it Alone: A Guide for Solo Mums in the UK', written by Emily Engel and published in June 2019, offers a comprehensive overview of the logistical, financial, and personal considerations involved in using donor conception to pursue solo motherhood.

As a mother to a donor-conceived child and member of the Donor Conception Network (DCN) steering group for 15 years, Engel approaches the topic of being a 'solo mum' with a wealth of knowledge and experience. In fact, the label of a 'solo' parent, as opposed to a 'single' parent, comes from conversations she has had with women in the DCN.

As she writes in the glossary at the front of the book, 'solo' was the favoured term among women who had chosen to become mothers via gamete donation because of the positive association of pursuing something as a 'solo' endeavour. As someone who was very new to this topic, presenting this idea at the beginning of the book was a useful starting point for me, and this largely positive attitude to solo parenthood was evident throughout the book, without shying away from the hurdles and difficulties of pregnancy through gamete donation.

'Going it Alone' covers a broad range of material, with the start of the book introducing the history of assisted reproduction and a brief discussion of the demographics of women choosing to pursue solo motherhood. Following on, the majority of the book discusses the entire process of becoming a parent via donor conception, from choosing a clinic, to preparing for a newborn, to discussing donor pregnancy with peers and with a donor conceived child. For anyone who might be contemplating pursuing solo motherhood, but unsure how to navigate the process, the information provided in these chapters of the book would be a great resource.

It's worth noting that these chapters are mostly factual, and perhaps a bit overwhelming to read at once. For example, the chapters focused on the legalities of donor conception - be that finding a donor abroad, tracing a donor later on, or finding donor siblings - would possibly be more useful to refer back to at an appropriate time, and I felt that the book would work well as a long-term handbook rather than a quick read. Furthermore, the comprehensive references would likely also prove useful for further information.

The majority of 'Going it Alone' is unsurprisingly very much tailored to prospective or current solo mums. Although I found the introductory chapters provided an interesting background to the topic of solo motherhood and donor conception, the majority of the book would probably only be of interest to its intended audience. It's also mostly a factual book; although there are brief personal reflections on different topics, I felt including more personal stories might have made the content more relatable.

Further to this was the clear message that a reliable support network is key to successful solo parenting. While I understand the sentiment behind this, and it sounds like the DCN offers valuable online and community support, I hope this wouldn't be alienating to women who don't have close family or friends nearby. Although the appendices at the end of the book include stories from solo mothers in very different situations, perhaps including reflections from more women who have navigated solo motherhood successfully would affirm the idea that there is no 'right' way to pursue parenthood.

As more women consider donor conception and becoming a mother on their own terms, 'Going it Alone' is a great resource for navigating and finding further information around what can be an overwhelming process. I do think that along with the hard facts, hearing stories from other women about how they approached donor conception, coped with a newborn, or even managed finances, might provide perspective and encourage women to have confidence in their decisions. This is of course dependent on women feeling comfortable sharing their stories, and perhaps this will be more commonplace in the future.

Nonetheless, 'Going it Alone' is an excellent starting point for understanding the solo motherhood journey, and it's clearly a well-researched book with useful advice for prospective solo mothers.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Going it Alone: A Guide for Solo Mums in the UK
Blackwells |  4 June 2019
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