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Becoming a single-mother using donor sperm

Becoming A Single-Mother Using Donor Sperm

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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.”

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Wearing tight pants and underwear

Studies show that men who wear looser underwear have higher sperm concentration and total sperm count compared to men who wear tighter underwear. So, lose the tight clothes and wear something loose to give your testicles some air.

CONCLUSION: learn more about how heat can affect sperm quality here.


Besides higher mortality rate and various diseases, stress is associated with low sperm quality. Stress is known to be associated with lower testosterone levels and oxidative stress with both playing an essential role in producing and maintaining healthy sperm cells.

CONCLUSION: If you feel stressed, we recommend you get some help so you can have a balanced mental health. For a stress management guide, download the ExSeed app for free and start your personalized action plan today.

Physical activity

Scientific studies show that men who are physically active have better semen parameters than men who are inactive. Fertility specialists also state that regular physical activity has beneficial impact on sperm fertility parameters and such a lifestyle can enhance the fertility status of men.

Prioritizing exercise can help improve your overall health and result in healthy, fast swimming sperm cells that have good chances of fertilizing an egg.

CONCLUSION: Try incorporating exercise in your weekly schedule to you ensure exercising at least twice weekly. We recommend a combination of cardio training and strength exercise. Read more about exercise and male fertility on our blog.


Fast Food
Processed foods damage the health of sperm-producing cells and cause oxidative stress, which lead to poorer sperm quality. Heavy consumption of junk food (every week) can increase the likelihood of infertility since men who consume vast amounts of unhealthy food are at risk of having poor sperm quality. Besides harming your fertility, junk food enlarges your waistline, harms your cardiovascular system, kidneys, and more.

Eating more fruit and vegetables can increase your sperm concentration and motility. It’s important that you consume a healthy diet filled with antioxidants and that you eat vegetables every day. Foods such as apricots and red bell peppers are high in vitamin A, which improves male fertility by nurturing healthier sperm. Men who are deficient in this vitamin tend to have slow and sluggish sperm.

Sugary snacks/beverages: several times a week Excessive consumption of high sugar items can lead to oxidative stress, which negatively impacts testosterone levels and sperm motility. Sugary snacks and beverages are also highly associated with obesity and low fertility.
CONCLUSION: To boost sperm quality, stay away from fast food, processed food, and sugary snacks or beverages. You need to implement a healthy prudent diet filled with necessary superfoods needed for good sperm production. Check out our guide to Male Fertility Superfoods. For personalized guidance and support on how you can start improving your sperm health, check out the Bootcamp.


Direct heat can inhibit optimal sperm production and cause Sperm DNA damage. Sperm cells like environments that are a couple of degrees lower than body temperature. Avoid overheating from warm blankets, seat warmers, heat from your laptop, hot showers, and saunas.

Cigarette smoking

The exposure to tobacco smoke has significant negative effects on semen quality. The damage of cigarettes and nicotine of course depends on how many cigarettes you smoke per day and for how long, but even low usage (up to 10 cigarettes / day) can inhibit healthy sperm production.  

CONCLUSION: Stay as far away from cigarette smoking as possible if you care about your general health and your fertility. Read more here.

Cell phone

When you have your cell phone in your front pocket, your testicles are exposed to electromagnetic radiation, which studies have shown to damage the sperm cells. Put your phone in the back pocket of your pants or in your jacket pocket.


There is a clear association between obesity and reduced sperm quality. At least part of the reason for this is that obese men may have abnormal reproductive hormonal profiles, which can impair sperm production and lead to infertility. 

A BMI higher than 30 can lead to several processes in the body (overheating, increase in oxidative stress in the testes, sperm DNA damage, erectile dysfunction) that can have a negative impact on male fertility. This can result in problems when trying to conceive.  

CONCLUSION: BMI is one of the risk factors that influence semen quality and, for example, sperm motility.  


A beer or glass of wine now and then do not really harm sperm quality. But excess alcohol drinking (more than 20 units per week) can reduce the production of normally formed sperm needed for a successful pregnancy.

CONCLUSION: If you want to stay safe, stay under 14 units of alcohol per week. For more information on how alcohol can affect male fertility, take a look at our blog: “Alcohol and Sperm Quality”.


Studies show that women younger than 35 and men younger than 40 have a better chance of getting pregnant. Men can produce sperm cells almost through their entire life, but the sperm cell DNA is more fragile and prone to damage after the age of 40.

As men age, their testes tend to get smaller and softer resulting in a decline in sperm quality and production. These changes are partly because of an age-related decrease in testosterone level, which plays a very important role in sperm

production. Higher male age (>40 years) is not only associated with a decline in sperm production but also with increased sperm DNA fragmentation and worsened morphology (shape) and motility (movement). These negative effects make the sperm cells less qualified for egg fertilization.

CONCLUSION: with an age under 40, you shouldn’t have to worry much about age as a factor in itself. However, studies have shown a slow decline after the age of 30-35 years

and if you are above 40 years of age, your sperm quality can be affected due to increased sperm DNA damage resulting in a decrease of sperm motility and concentration. Remember that you cannot evaluate the quality of a sperm sample by just looking at it – this requires a sperm analysis.