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Single minded: I want your baby (but not you)

She really, really wanted a baby and now she's got one. Sarah Harris on the trend for single women to choose parenthood

Sunday 21 May 2006 00:00 BST

She was the ferocious Spice Girl with breasts like a pair of nuclear warheads and an attitude to match, so when Geri Halliwell told newspapers that she really, really wanted a baby, she wasn't messing around.

Her daughter, born earlier last week, was the product of a six-week "liaison" last summer with the bearded, British-born Hollywood screenwriter, Sacha Gervasi, who many cuttingly labelled as nothing more than a highly eligible sperm donor.

"Geri's situation is saying to all of us, 'I have the freedom to do whatever I want and if I want to have a baby this way then I will.' You could argue that that is an extension of her Girl Power into Woman Power," says This Morning's, celebrity psychologist Anjula Mutanda, who also believes that less famous women are taking the same course of action, "because they can".

It seems that Geri wasn't prepared to wait dolefully on the shelf for Mr Right to kindly come, woo her, wed her and then perhaps impregnate her. There she was, single, with a clamouring biological clock, a large personal fortune and fellow ex-Spice Lady Beckham popping out children as though they were going out of fashion, and she knew she had to sort this problem out for herself.

This bolshy mouthpiece of 1990s Girl Power is emblematic of a growing number of single women in their thirties and forties who are determined to reproduce, with or without the participation of the father; either through fertility treatment, adoption or via a more "traditional" route.

About 82,000 single thirtysomething women a year have a baby without a partner on the scene, almost double the number of a decade ago. And many of them wouldn't have it any other way.

"The typical single women who come to us," says specialist fertility nurse Helen Kendrew, "are the women who have had a career and have had everything sorted and now realise that they want to have a baby.

"In their twenties women tend to put careers first and imagine that husbands and families are going to fall into line at some point. They've got their whole life laid out before them, but when they get to their thirties and forties and it hasn't quite worked out like that, it can be a hell of a shock."

The women described by Kendrew are not the sinister band of Sadfabs - ("Single And Desperate For A Baby"), lambasted by the media: the fortysomething harridan with an empty womb, a mad glint in her eye and a narcissistic desire to add a baby to her "to-do list".

On the contrary: overwhelmingly it seems that the women going it alone are a set of successful, financially independent individuals who, with a biological sell-by-date looming and in the absence of a long-term partner, have simply decided to try to conceive anyway.

In a recent YouGov Omnibus survey, two-thirds of the women surveyed agreed that it was OK for a financially secure single woman to deliberately set out to have a child by herself; however 66 per cent of women also think that a father figure is necessary for a child's wellbeing.

Research suggests that although single women accept that they may have to go the single parent route, it is not because of a dogged determination to exclude men, but rather because they haven't found the right one in time.

"Women didn't choose this," insists Dorothy Byrne, Channel 4's head of news and current affairs and the commissioner of the documentary, Baby Race: "I believe that women would prefer to have had the relationship with a man, but that didn't work and this is why they're pursuing other options.

"In the past, what most women would have done in this situation would have got into a relationship with entirely the wrong bloke in order to have a baby because there wasn't anything you could do, whereas now there is something you can do. Instead of women being regretful, they're deciding to do it on their own."

Byrne's argument suggests that in a society where women have become accustomed to the best of everything, the freedom to choose in their careers and relationships, they now expect the freedom to be able to take charge of their biology. "These women have got the basic kit for getting pregnant," she says. "The only thing missing is the sperm. So the issue is, how do they go about getting that?"

With primary care trusts such as Camden in London considering the introduction of free fertility treatment for single women, it means there are now far more options open to those who want a baby, but who haven't found the right man for the job.

There are even new "Plan Ahead" fertility kits on sale which mean that for £180, women can predict how much time they have left to conceive.

The YouGov poll shows, however, that although for many the imperative to have a child takes priority over the desire to find a partner, a large proportion of women would ultimately like to find someone to share their children with. Two-thirds of the single women surveyed said they just hadn't found the right man, with nearly half believing they would be unhappy if they stayed single all their lives.

Echoing the infamous "I wanna" mantra, shouted from the roofs of double-decker buses by the thrusting, Technicolor, mini-skirt-clad Spice brigade, Dorothy Byrne says that what single women need to ask themselves is, what do I really want? She says: "I believe that if you ask the majority of women what would they like in life, they would say to be healthy, to have children and to meet the right man for me."

The Adopter: 'The British were obstructive, but the result is fantastic'

Pippa Curtis, 44, works in marketing. She lives in London with her adopted daughter Becky

"I would have preferred to have children with a partner but that wasn't an option at the time. When I decided to adopt it was a case of, am I going to have kids or not? I'd been in relationships but none of them had stood the distance. I was approaching 40, and if I was going to have children I was going to have to do something about it.

Before adopting Becky, my life was full and active; I'm intelligent, attractive, outgoing, and well-travelled. I meet a lot of men because I've worked in environmental campaigning and I also do a lot of rock climbing, but the right man wasn't there at the right time. The man can wait until his fifties or sixties and hope he'll meet a younger woman - I may meet a younger man, but he's not going to be able to have my babies for me.

The decision to adopt was the most logical for me, because there was a child already in existence, a baby who needed a loving home and I needed to be a parent. I was also very sympathetic to the fact that there are thousands of abandoned baby girls in China, and felt I could help at least one child.

The adoption process was hell. It took three and a half years because the British authorities were really obstructive, but the result is fantastic. Becky is very loved and we're both very happy and apart from the odd Sunday morning when I could do with a sleep in, there is nothing I want for. Obviously there is and has been the gap of a loving partner and that is still something I would like to change, but right now my priority is my child.

The self-inseminator: 'Three men donated sperm. I don't know who is the father'

Viki Matten, 50, from London, inseminated herself with the sperm of three male friends. Her son is now 15

"I always knew I wanted children. I was in a relationship for a long time but he said there was no way he wanted children and things were breaking down so I cut my losses. I was in my early thirties and had problems with my ovaries. My gynaecologist said that he might have to perform a hysterectomy. I was devastated - and then overjoyed when he managed to save my remaining ovary.

I desperately wanted a baby. I'm not the sort of person who would go looking for a man. But my mother said she'd pay for me to have artificial insemination at a clinic. Unfortunately, I didn't become pregnant. Then, unexpectedly, three friends said their partners would donate their sperm. It was a very generous offer from friends who cared about me. From the start, it was clear they would not play the role of father.

It was a difficult decision. In the end I thought, I have got 40 years to have a relationship but I'm running out of time to have a child. Over several days, I inseminated myself and became pregnant. We don't know which of the men is his father but I'm very open with my son about where he has come from. What I'm most proud of is, it was a conscious decision to have a baby and he was very, very wanted. It is the most wonderful thing that has happened to me.

Danielle Demetriou

The IVF success: 'My friend asked me to have a child with him, not an affair'

Ruth Yahel, 41, is a TV production executive from London. She recently had a baby after an old friend donated his sperm

"I was heading towards 40 and thinking that I wanted children and was I going to risk remaining childless because I wasn't in a relationship. At the same time as I was going for tests at a London fertility clinic, my best friend, who lives abroad, asked whether I would consider having a child with him.

I'd hoped that I would have been in a relationship with two kids at this age but I wasn't, so we just went for it. I had IVF because of a medical condition; also I didn't feel it was appropriate to do it any other way because we are not a couple and never have been.

My son, Luca, now seven months, will know how he was conceived and I feel quite comfortable that he will understand how much he was wanted by both parents. It has been hard but I am very lucky because I have a huge network of support. People have been very open-minded and I think its fantastic. I knew I could do things on my own and I didn't need a man to help me. I want to be in a relationship, but I don't need a man to help me bring up a child.

I think it's wrong to judge women as selfish and buying themselves designer babies. They are doing what they would be doing if they were in a partnership, except they have the guts to do it alone. I think it's every woman's right to have a child, because that is what we are built to do and no one should judge us for the way we do it. In the next five years everyone will know a woman who has done what I have done. I have done the right thing."

Melissa Farmer

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