Louellyn White, 48, says she always knew she wanted to have children, but figured she had plenty of time to first focus on career and travelling.
“I woke up one day, found myself 43 years old, single again and childless and I thought, ‘oh dear, how did I get here?'” she told Global News.
“I had always thought I would have kids. I had Peter Pan Syndrome. I thought I’d always have time and obviously, that’s not true.”
White, who teaches First Peoples’ studies at Concordia University, but is from New York state, said she panicked once she realized she had “forgotten” to have children.
It was only after speaking to a friend who had a child via a sperm donor that she started looking into the process.
Journey to pregnancy
White said she was turned away from two fertility clinics in Montreal for “being too old” before finally finding one that would help her.
“I knew I had no time to spend a year thinking it over. I knew I had to do it and I just went for it,” she said.
In addition to physical tests, women in Canada are required by law to see a reproductive specialist if they are considering using third-party reproduction means (sperm, eggs, surrogate).
“To make sure she is aware enough of the consequences of single parenthood and the consequences of using sperm donation,” explained Dr. William Buckett, director of the MUHC fertility clinic.
“In particular to Quebec, when they see the psychologist, they will make an assessment on how fit the woman is to bring a child up in the world.”
White’s journey isn’t unique — Claris Harbon, 43, said she was ready to be a mother, but never found herself in the right situation to do so.
“Life just happens, the years go by and you don’t really think,” said Harbon.
“What have I done? Why did I wait? Why didn’t I think of it? All my friends have kids going to university.”
She said she played with the idea to conceive with a sperm donor for a while but hadn’t made any concrete decisions until she went to the Royal Victoria Hospital to be treated for kidney stones.
“The nurse asked if I was pregnant for the ultrasound and I said, ‘I wish,'” she told Global News.
A few minutes later, the nurse brought her a pamphlet.
Choosing a donor
Donors are asked to submit pictures, write essays and provide a detailed medical history with their sample.
Both White and Harbon chose donors with open IDs so that once their children turn 18, they will be able to contact the sperm bank to get the latest contact information on their biological fathers.
“The fertility doctor told me from the beginning that, because of my age, I only had a five per cent chance,” said White, adding that she’ll never forget her first ultrasound.
“There was a heartbeat. I was just crying and I was shaking and I couldn’t believe that it worked and it worked the first time.”
Meanwhile, Harbon was told her chances of conceiving were almost naught.
“We had some tries before and the doctor said, ‘this is the last one, do you want to do it? I was stressed with my PhD and I said, ‘you know what? Let’s do it,'” Harbon told Global News.
The native of Israel, who spent months on bed rest after successfully conceiving, said she wishes there was a better network of women to be there for each other.
“I found myself begging for this big grocery chain to send me food at home,” she said, explaining that she could not stand for longer than 10 minutes at a time.
“Apparently you have to be over 60 or in a wheelchair. I had to litigate and threaten them with a lawsuit.”
Life as a single mother
Since giving birth, White explains it has been difficult explaining to her now four-and-a-half-year-old son that he doesn’t have a father figure.
“I never, ever regret making that decision — ever. He’s me and he’s part of me. I don’t look at him and think of the donor at all,” said White.
“I just tell him ‘Mumma wanted you so badly, but I didn’t find the right man to help make you and I found someone who wanted to help, so I went to the doctor who helped me.”
Both mothers say what they found to be lacking was a support system specific for mothers who choose to have children alone.
“People try to basically save you and you have to remind people you don’t have to be saved. I’m a strong woman,” said Harbon, whose son is now 23-months-old.
Despite their unique struggles, the two mothers say they wouldn’t change a single thing.
“It’s really hard and it’s rewarding if you want to be a parent. If you’re a woman or a man, if it’s something that you’re striving for,” said Harbon.
“It’s most rewarding when he calls your name. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever experienced.”