Ruth Yudkin is a UKCP-registered psychotherapist, with many years’ experience of therapy with individuals, couples and families. She has worked at several independent agencies, and now has a thriving private practice. She has a special interest in the needs of LGBT clients and the particular issues that arise for LGBT families. Ruth is also an experienced facilitator and trainer, and currently facilitates workshops for single women and lesbian couples on behalf of the Donor Conception Network. Ruth is the birth mother to two boys of 8 and 6, conceived through donor conception. She lives with her family in Bristol.
"I was in London recently, running a Preparing for Parenthood workshop for the Donor Conception Network. The workshops, which I have been running for several years now, are designed to give single women and lesbian couples the opportunity to explore the issues involved in creating a family through donor conception. Because the range of stories is so diverse, every workshop raises new questions and gives me another opportunity to develop my own thinking.
This time, I found myself comparing the lives of the single heterosexual women and the lesbian couples, and their respective journeys towards parenthood. There is much that these two groups share. Both worry about how to talk to their children about their origins, and fear prejudice at the school gate and bullying in the playground. Both speak of the guilt involved in “deliberately” denying their child a father: many women have had close relationships with their own fathers, and find it hard to make sense of the fact that their child will never experience that bond.
There are women from both groups who would have liked a known donor, or even a co-parent, but have been unable to find anybody appropriate and willing. Some have started the process with a known donor, but have stopped part way through because one or other party has changed their mind. For these women, coming to terms with using an anonymous donor – and denying their child the opportunity to know their biological father – can be very painful.
But however important these similarities, there is something quite fundamental that sets these two groups apart. In my experience, most single heterosexual women who choose to create a family by themselves do so because they have not found a man to create that family with. There are many different reasons for this: some have ended long-term relationships because their partners did not want children, and have decided to go it alone; some have never found the ‘right’ man; some have been left by partners during fertility treatment and have decided despite this to keep going. But in nearly all these cases, the journey towards becoming a parent involves a very particular grieving process: a letting go of the dream of the ‘perfect family’.
The letting go of this dream, the grief for the man who never materialised, is not part of the story for most lesbian couples. Conceiving a child with a male partner was never the goal; and however concerned they may be about denying their child a father, it is the absence of a father that is mourned, not the absence of a husband. In most cases, the lesbian couple’s decision to have children through donor conception is closer to that of a fertile heterosexual couple: a positive step in their life together, rather than a choice made in unchosen circumstances. Indeed, for lesbian couples, the realisation that it is possible to create a family with the person you love can be the fulfilment of a dream that once seemed impossible."
This article was originally published in issue 8 of We Are Family magazine. To buy your copy click here.