Gemma Mahon, had daughter Beatrice by sperm donor, two years ago
As her two-year-old toddler clambers into her lap for a cuddle, Gemma Mahon carefully wiggles her pregnant tummy out of the way to make more room. The little girl has Mummy’s fair hair while admiring strangers often comment on how her big blue eyes are just like Daddy’s.
To the casual observer, they look like any other traditional young family, with another baby on the way. The only notable thing about them is how gorgeous and happy they look.
But there is more to this scene than meets the eye. This is a very modern Happy Ever After, one which illustrates perfectly that, today, no family set-up should be taken at face value.
For the little girl on Gemma’s lap is not her husband’s child. Nor is she the product of a previous relationship. Beatrice was conceived from sperm bought online — the donor a tall and dashing Danish veterinary surgeon, — after her mother had effectively given up hope of finding a decent man.
Then, incredibly, when her baby was just nine months old, 30-year-old Gemma met her Mr Right anyway. And while Ian, 46, admits to being ‘a little surprised’ about how Gemma had conceived her daughter (as first date, getting-to-know-you chit-chat it was certainly a first), it didn’t put him off.
Indeed, Gemma’s theory — which Ian supports — is that the success of their date was partly down to the fact that she was a solo (not single) mother.
Far from scaring men off, it meant she wasn’t driven by the ticking of a biological clock or in a panic to get a man to marry her — the sort of desperation men can sniff out in an instant.
The 30-year-old met husband Ian, 46 and married him after a year of dating
‘I honestly believe that the fact I’d had a baby on my own, and was quite happy to stay single for the rest of my life, made me seem less predatory,’ she says.
Six months later, the couple had bought a house together in West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire, and six months after that they were married. Now they are expecting their first baby together.
Today, Gemma believes that more women, disillusioned with the dating scene and fearful that motherhood could pass them by, should follow in her footsteps.
‘I’ve seen so many friends wait for years for Mr Right to turn up,’ she says. ‘They become desperate, which only puts men off.
‘And then, if they do meet Mr Right, they may find they’ve left it too late to have kids.
‘But in my experience, you can have both — maybe just not in the order you expected.’
The latest figures from the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority show a 226 per cent rise in solo mothers since 2006. Wider research shows that professional women the world over are freezing their eggs ‘due to a dearth of educated men to marry’, resulting in a boom in the sperm donation industry.
Yet according to the Office for National Statistics, women in their mid-40s are now almost twice as likely to be childless as their parents’ generation.
It was a scenario that Gemma, a recruitment consultant, was keen to avoid.
‘I’d had three significant relationships and had even got engaged to one man. But three months before the wedding, I called it off because I knew we weren’t totally right together.
‘Since then, I’d dated a number of men — but for various reasons the dates never came to much.
‘In fact, over the past two years I’d got so disillusioned with men that I’d given up on them. I’d decided I’d be perfectly happy on my own for the rest of my life.’
But she was not so sure about giving up her wish for a family.
‘Of course, not everyone wants children but I always knew I did,’ she says. ‘Likewise, I didn’t want to leave it so late that having children was no longer an option.’
Ironically, she says she wasn’t even particularly broody when she first came up with the idea of paying for a sperm donor.
‘It was a good decision and a practical one,’ she says. ‘I had reached a point in my life where I had bought my own home and had a good income. I was still in my 20s, healthy and — presumably — fertile. It seemed a naturally good time to have a baby.’
Gemma began researching solo parenting online. ‘I did have all sorts of concerns,’ she admits. ‘Mostly, I worried about denying my baby a father.
Gemma (pictured on her wedding day) said: ‘‘I had reached a point in my life where I had bought my own home and had a good income. I was still in my 20s, healthy and — presumably — fertile. It seemed a naturally good time to have a baby’
‘But then I knew I would be a wonderful mother and any baby would also be surrounded by loving relatives and friends.
‘Plus, I just didn’t feel I needed a man in my life. I felt stronger on my own — and having a baby by myself also meant I wouldn’t have to worry either about someone else’s interference in our lives.’
She ‘worried terribly’ though about telling her parents, Bill, 59, who was retired from the military, and Angie, 58, a teacher.
‘They’re both quite traditional, especially my father. So it was a huge relief when both of them supported my decision.
‘I also sat down with my younger brother and his wife and told them. While they were surprised, they understood.
‘Work was the same. It took quite some doing to pluck up the courage to tell colleagues, but at the same time I didn’t want to hide anything. I knew I’d need some time off for doctors’ appointments and I couldn’t just turn up pregnant.
‘In the end, I needn’t have worried because everyone was very supportive.’
Gemma dug deep into her savings for the £4,500 needed for the procedure.
‘Quite a few people joked that I could save money by having a one-night stand,’ she recalls. ‘It was said in jest but the idea was absolutely abhorrent to me. There is no way I could ever have contemplated sleeping with someone just to get pregnant, and maybe not even telling them.’
She purchased sperm from the European Sperm Bank, which exports sperm from Denmark to more than 60 countries.
Gemma pictured with Beatrice when she was a baby
Incredibly, ‘buyers’ are able to browse hundreds of profiles of would-be donors who, despite being anonymous, provide photos of themselves from babyhood to present day, a full medical history, details of their job and income, and even a handwritten letter about why they want to donate.
Gemma recalls: ‘My mum and I spent days sat at the computer, coffee in hand, browsing for the perfect daddy. Eventually we whittled it down to three donors.
‘One of them had a photo of when he was aged two, and when Mum said how much he looked like me as a baby, that clinched it. I knew then I’d found the one.
‘He was a vet. He said he had friends who’d been unable to have a child and that was why he wanted to help women who couldn’t have a baby normally.
‘Once I’d chosen him, buying the sperm wasn’t so different from buying groceries. All I had to do was click on his profile and then check out.’
The frozen sperm was sent to a fertility clinic in the UK.
Meanwhile, in preparation, Gemma, who’d been taking pre-pregnancy vitamins for three months to ensure she was in optimum health, injected herself with hormones to ensure she ovulated.
‘The morning of the procedure, I woke up excited. I didn’t feel any sadness that I was going through this process alone.
‘The insemination was remarkably simple — just placing the sperm as close to my cervix as possible. It was over in a matter of seconds and then all I had to do was wait.’
She was overjoyed when two weeks later a pregnancy test proved positive.
‘I felt so lucky it had happened first time. It was meant to be!’
Her pregnancy was straight-forward too.
‘It was a wonderful time,’ she says. ‘All I had to do was think about myself and the baby. My parents were amazing. helping me prepare. We were all incredibly excited. There wasn’t any moment I regretted doing this on my own. I felt strong and empowered.
‘When I told people I was having a baby by myself they were amazed. And, yes, some men were slightly put out when I told them — I think because I was stating that I didn’t need a man.’
Baby Beatrice was finally born after a trouble-free delivery on June 18, 2015, and weighed 8lb 1oz.
‘Mum was at my side and it was an amazing experience,’ says Gemma. ‘As soon as I saw Beatrice I fell in love with her. We all did.
‘Not once did I wish I had a man with me. It felt absolutely right to have her by myself because I was so utterly content to be a mother.’
So when Beatrice was nine months old and a friend said her husband wanted to introduce a colleague to Gemma, she thought nothing of it.
‘I did say: “You’d better warn him I’ve had a baby by a sperm donor,”’ she remembers, ‘but otherwise I simply saw it as a bit of fun. With Beatrice, my life felt utterly perfect. The last thing on my mind was meeting a man.’
However, as soon as she met Ian, they immediately hit it off.
‘The fact I was no longer searching for this Mr Right meant I was very relaxed about dating,’ she says. ‘And I truly believe the fact I was no longer worrying about meeting this perfect man actually led me to meet him.’
Ian, who has four children from previous relationships and is now adopting Beatrice, says: ‘I must admit I was quite surprised when Gemma told me about how she’d conceived Beatrice, but it never worried me.
‘Gemma is so open, funny — and brave. Having Beatrice was not a decision she made lightly, but it is typical of her strength and what attracted me to her.’
He adds: ‘Certainly, I know of men in their 30s who’ve dated women of the same age and there is that unspoken pressure that they will be wanting to have a baby soon. It frightens many men away.
‘But obviously, if a woman has already chosen to have a baby, that pressure is taken away.’
As for his relationship with Beatrice, he says: ‘She came with Gemma. She is part of Gemma, and I love her for that.
‘Maybe some men would have a problem accepting another man’s baby, but I love Beatrice as if she’s my own daughter. She’s started to say “Dadda” and I feel I am her dad.’
Another positive in this unorthodox set-up is that there is no ‘other dad’ to interfere in bringing up Beatrice, says Gemma.
‘There is no daddy down the road she has to see, no issues over who has her for Christmas or where she spends her birthdays.’
She says her daughter will grow up not only knowing about her background, ‘but being proud of how she was conceived’.
Already, she often tells Beatrice about her heritage as a bedtime story. ‘I usually start by saying, “Once upon a time there was someone who wanted to be a Mummy . . .”
‘I also plan in future to have a laminated book made for her with her personal story.
‘And when Beatrice is 18 she will be able to find out who her daddy donor is and meet him if she wishes.’
Gemma admits being pregnant now is a ‘completely different experience’.
‘I can’t compare the two. When I was pregnant with Beatrice, it was just about me and her. This time, everything is shared with Ian.
‘Honestly, I have loved both pregnancies. I actually feel lucky to have experienced one as a solo mum and one as a married mum.’
While friends and family all know about Beatrice’s conception, strangers are often taken aback.
‘People often say to Ian that Beatrice has his eyes,’ she says. ‘Sometimes we don’t say anything — but if, for example, we’re at a dinner party, it is always a conversation stopper. I must admit it does sometimes give me a wicked thrill to tell the story — but mostly I am so proud.’
Indeed, Gemma is so proud that she wants to promote single mums by choice, saying it could be the answer to other women finding their ‘Happy Ever After’.
‘Having a baby by yourself is a life-changing gift,’ she says. ‘I hope my story inspires others to do the same.’