Signe Fjord, like many other women around the world, waited for that fairy tale story women are often trained to look for. One day, mysteriously, we will all fall in love with a man we meet — on Tinder, in a bar, at school or travelling- and when things are stable enough the idea of kids will come to us naturally as a constitutive part of life. And that happened. Signe was married to an Australian man and planned to have four children together.
“I got divorced when I was 32 and I was desperate to find a partner. I realised that was not going to happen and, after months of owning the decision, I called my doctor to start my insemination treatment,” remembers Signe Fjord; now a blogger, writer and solo mother coach with a three year old child. When the divorce got under way, Signe went back to Denmark. There she met a single mother who had everything under control: career, house and a lovely baby. She was the model of motherhood Signe was looking for. That inspiration was enough to start writing her own fairy tale.
What can then happen outside the fairy tale world? In Denmark 1 out of 100 babies are born to single women that choose to use donor semen, according to new findings from the University of Copenhagen. Single mother, solo mom, single mother by choice, solo mother by donor. All of these words refer to the same thing: women becoming mothers without a man.
Just a couple of weeks ago a group of researchers collated national statistics about Danish single mothers. This study sheds light on motivations for single heterosexual women in Denmark to go alone through an insemination treatment to become mothers on their own. This is the first time that Denmark has raw data about their reasoning and demographics. Previously the data for cohabiting women (living with a partner) and single women was kept together.
“Almost 90 per cent of the women in the national survey wished to have a partner in the future and approximately half of them desired a future partner to take parental responsibility for the child,” says PhD Lone Schmidt, one of the researchers in the team who focuses on reproductive health and family formations without a partner. The study is highly representative of what is happening across the country, since it has been carried out in all of the nine public fertility clinics Denmark has.
Keeping the dream alive: Plan B for motherhood
What is more interesting, more than half of the women interviewed (a total of 311) have been with a partner whom they wished to have had children with. In 38.4 per cent of these relationships, the man already had children and 39.8 per cent of men did not desire more children. While the trend shows that a big part of the woman’s decision hangs on the availability of men, demographics do not show patterns in Danish single mothers. Since the system offers equal access and opportunities, social class, location or the number of previous long-term relationships does not define this group of women. They have only one common denominator, and that is a strong wish to be mothers despite unsuccessful family plans with a man with whom they were involved.
This plan B for motherhood points us in another direction, showing that the rise of single mothers in Denmark is much more than an age issue (even though age is also a motivation), but rather men not being ready for parenthood. This data shows that the equation for building a family under these conditions is other: first the child, second the man. “There are no reasons to worry about this new family type in Denmark,” says Lone Schmidt pointing out that Statistics Denmark already use 37 different categories to measure families in the country. “Single mothers have done a lot to provide networks for the child to be connected with adult men and not grow isolated,” adds Lone in terms of thinking about the impacts of the child’s development.
Child’s perspective: What about their rights?
In 2007, it became legal for doctors in Denmark to aid single and lesbian women in becoming mothers. For eight years now, women have been able to receive insemination and IVF treatment for free. There is only one restriction to access to artificial insemination: women should not be older than 45.
The system offers two types of donors: anonymous and non-anonymous donors. The first group refers to donors whose identity will always remain secret for the child, parents or any authority. The second refers to donors who have accepted by contract that the child born is able to contact them when they turn 18 and be granted the right to their identity. Furthermore, Danish law mandates that one sperm donor can only be used in 12 insemination treatments.
“The child has the right to know its origins,” states Lars Dencik, Professor of Social Psychology and researcher at the Centre for Childhood, Youth and Family Life at Roskilde University. He highlights that time has been too short for follow-up studies to show if unknown fathers affect the development of the children. Lars Dencik is a Swedish researcher that like many others in Sweden are against anonymous donors. “There is a need for a strong public control because there have been cases of abuse by donors, meaning that children belong to the same age cohort and the probabilities for them to meet are not unlikely,” warns Dencik.
Denmark’s closest neighbour, Sweden, was the first country in the world to introduce the right to identity for donor offspring. Since 1984, the Insemination Act gives children the right to genetic origins based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights. Within 30 years of this child-focus law ruling, the number of women in treatment has dramatically reduced, along with the men’s willingness to donate sperm. Therefore, the law is a strong regulatory system that controls all areas of assisted human reproduction in the country. The impacts are also tangible. Swedes are increasingly travelling to neighbouring jurisdictions, such as Denmark, to avoid the strict regulations. According to the Statens Serum Institut, the number of Swedish women travelling to Denmark for fertility treatment has increased from 105 in 2006 to 3,107 in 2013. Under this scenario, it seems that the Danish regulations give more flexibility and freedom to single mothers to choose, also putting the ethical dilemma in their own hands.
In any case, Lars Dencik is clear in recommending mothers prioritise honest disclosure in the early stages of the child’s life: “Children will look for their roots at some point in their lives and therefore [mothers] should never lie to them about their roots.”
The second half of this piece will be published soon – save the page and we’ll link you there as soon as it’s live.
Words: Pamela Leiva Jacquelin
Image: Lars Plougmann