From IVF to surrogacy, there are so many different routes to parenthood – and they don’t always have to involve a romantic relationship. Today we share the story of Katharina Horn, the German woman who took motherhood into her own hands and had a child through donor sperm – and is now supporting other women doing the same.
Katharina’s Journey To Motherhood
Katharina was in her mid-thirties when she decided to fulfil her dream of having children. She was single at the time, and really had no idea about the concept of becoming a single mother by choice – “there was no word for this family model in German-speaking countries” she explains. However, she knew that she didn’t want to put her dream of motherhood on hold simply because she didn’t have a partner. “One day a friend came back from her fertility clinic and suggested that I went there because they were now treating single women,” Katharina says. “I scheduled an appointment and the conception actually happened very quickly. I got pregnant after the second try. Today my child is 3 years old.”
Whilst getting pregnant happened pretty swiftly for Katharina, the actual process for her – and other single mothers by choice – was not an overnight success. This route to motherhood is full of many considerations – before, during and after pregnancy – and there is often a lack of support to help women navigate this journey. “I had a lot of questions before I got pregnant and again after, but I struggled to find people that had answers for me” Katharina explains. “I visited several counselling centres, who sent me away saying they had no knowledge of this kind of situation and even my fertility doctor couldn’t help me connect with any other solo mothers – Sometimes I thought: ‘If everyone is sending me away and no one knows about it, is this something I should be doing?’ But fortunately, I was able to reflect on my path with friends who supported me and helped me see the positives”
The Power of Counselling
When Katharina experienced this lack of professional support, it inspired her to create her business, where she offers counselling to solo-mothers-to-be and women considering solo-parenting. “Psycho-social counselling is very important for everyone involved in sperm donation – and not just because it is a requirement for many fertility clinics,” says Katharina. ”This type of counselling is not about assessing whether you would be a good parent – it’s more about reflecting on your own perspective and preparing yourself for the obstacles ahead”.
Katharina finds that the women who come to her often need help examining their previous assumptions about motherhood so that they can be fully on board with their decision to go it alone. There are many emotional barriers to work through, and addressing these with professional help can empower them to move forward with their decision more confidently. “Accepting an external sperm donation is honestly a very, very complex topic and there are so many issues to consider: educating the child, dealing with the environment, half-siblings, the role of the donor, and most importantly; looking at the child’s perspective in addition to the desire to have children,” she says. “ In the end, it is a bad idea to go down this path if deep down you aren’t totally on board with this way of starting a family, so that is something I try to help with.”
The taboo surrounding single parenting and the use of donor sperm is another reason why counselling can be really helpful during this process. “Deciding to go down the path of being a single mom comes with a lot of prejudice and stigma – there are still a lot of people who have a very traditional heteronormative family model in their heads,” explains Katharina. “If someone decides to choose a path aside from this, then counselling can also help to prepare for these obstacles and opinions – if your own mindset is strong that will help you face anything”.
Finding the right donor
Aside from the emotional tests facing women wanting to go down the solo-parenting route, there are also many unique practical considerations. From organising finances and daycare without the help of a partner, to deciding how to explain the situation to their child as they grow up – there are various things to think about. However, right at the start of the journey, one of the biggest decisions is how you actually want me to make your baby. There are a couple of different options when it comes to donor sperm, and in a world where we are rarely taught about assisted fertility until we need to use it, this can be an overwhelming time for a solo-mum to be – and is another area that Katharina advises on.
“First of all, the role of the donor must be clarified: is it a sperm donor or a co-father? Or something in between?” Katharina explains. “It’s very important that you establish agreements and rules before having a baby with someone you aren’t in a relationship with – regardless of how that happens”. For some the idea of using a private donor is preferred – it offers the potential of both the mother – and the child – to know and have a relationship with their biological father at some point. “Many choose to use a private sperm donation because they like the idea that a person can be approached and contacted. This is definitely an advantage over choosing a sperm bank.” Likewise, co-parenting, where you decide to conceive and raise a baby with someone you have a close relationship with, gives the same opportunity for a unique but loving family unit. However, Katharina warns of the risks of going down the private route. “Even though there are definite positive outcomes, I have heard some negative stories regarding private sperm donors – from women being pressured into having sex to finding out they have fathered hundreds of children without telling the mother first!”
Protecting your rights
A lack of legal security is another reason Katharina encourages women to think through private sperm donations very carefully. “From speaking to many solo-mothers, I have heard often that the needs can change after the birth – as in the father may suddenly demand to acknowledge paternity. This can lead to very critical situations after a private sperm donation.” For Katharina, the benefits of using donor sperm from a clinic outweigh the negatives. “When you get sperm from a clinic, you know that it is safe, that it has been tested for STIs and that the quality will also have been checked out,” she says. “You also will know if the number of children that can be fathered with that sperm is limited”.
The issue of anonymity is still something that sometimes puts women off using donor sperm, but the rules around this are changing all the time. “I feel like the Sperm Donor Register Act, which was implemented in 2018, plays an important role in making women feel more positive about using donor sperm” Katharina explains. “The act means that the donor’s contact details are stored centrally and the child conceived through sperm donation has access to the donor’s contact details at the age of 16. In addition, the legal paternity of a donor is excluded if the donation is done via a fertility clinic and sperm bank. This not only makes single-mother-to-be feel more comfortable, but it also means more and more doctors are now offering to treat single mothers-to-be and donors are more willing to donate sperm”.
Happy Moms = Happy Children
Whilst the journey of single motherhood is not always easy, it’s important to remember that it can bring so much joy and happiness – and that just because you are single, does not mean you are alone. For Katharine, having a supportive family and finding a network of other solo mothers has been incredibly powerful – and helped her become the wonderful mother she is today.
“Fortunately, my family helped me through all my doubts and worries.” she says” I worried about being judged by others or experiencing negative reactions, but my friends kept saying to me: “It’s great that you are doing this, we support you. You are so brave.” and I feel so grateful for that.” “Then I met other solo mothers for the first time, it felt amazing. I had the opportunity to ask all my questions and form a strong network,” she explains. “I know that many solo mothers feel very alone, especially at the beginning, which is why community meetings form part of my offering as a counsellor”
Ultimately, for any mother, their priority is always going to be the wellbeing of their children – even before they are born, or even conceived! Katharina believes – and knows from personal experience – that children born to single mothers using donor sperm can be incredibly happy and healthy and another great example of that is the work of Emma Grønbæk aka Donor Child. “The knowledge that children of solo mothers develop healthily, has helped to contribute to a more positive image of solo motherhood, which is great!” says Katharina. “Today we know that openness and early education, as well as the child’s right to find out about their origin, are very important. With that, the child grows up in a safe and authentic environment in which they are loved.”