The Rise of 'Virgin' Moms as More Single Women Pursue IVF

There's been a dramatic increase in single women seeking motherhood through IVF.

September 29, 2015, 6:09 PM
PHOTO: A medical director at a UK clinic said more single women including women who have never had a relationship are pursuing IVF.
A medical director at a UK clinic said more single women including women who have never had a relationship are pursuing IVF.
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— -- A U.K. clinic is drawing attention to the rise of single women using in-vitro fertilization, with some pursuing motherhood even before they've had a romantic relationship.

Dr. Maha Ragunath, medical director for the Care Fertility Clinic, told ABC News she's seeing more and more single women pursue IVF treatment without a partner since they are no longer willing to put being a parent on hold. She said in three cases, she's worked with women who have said they never had any kind of intimate relationship.

"They understand that female fertility is finite and it doesn't go on forever and ever," Ragunath said of women pursuing IVF without a partner. "It's doing themselves a favor."

Single women now make up 6 percent of Ragunath's clientele, double the percentage from two years ago, she said, noting that everyone pursuing IVF is vetted by the staff before the clinic agrees to go through with the procedure.

"The women that are treated had never been in a relationship ever and that was a personal choice," Ragunath said of the women who said they had not had a relationship prior to coming for IVF treatment. "One was a career woman and was too busy and I don't think they've given themselves the opportunity to explore their sexuality. They were well balanced and mentally prepared" for parenthood.

All three were preparing for motherhood with the support and help of their parents, Ragunath said.

When asked whether the phenomenon of "virgin" mothers was also being seen in the United States, the National Infertility Association, also known as RESOLVE, said in a statement to ABC News that "this is not a trend that we have seen or could speak to."

Since IVF became a viable alternative for those who are having trouble conceiving naturally, the procedure has periodically drawn attention for allowing people who previously would not have been able to reproduce to have biological children. In a 2013 report from the Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the committee found that assisted reproduction requests should be treated equally and should not be affected by a person's marital or partner status.

"Data do not support restricting access to assisted reproductive technologies on the basis of a prospective parent's marital/partner status or sexual orientation," the report stated. "Programs should treat all requests for assisted reproduction equally without regard to marital/partner status or sexual orientation."

The committee supported assisting prospective single and homosexual parents with fertility treatments.

"On the basis of the available evidence, we do not believe that one can reasonably claim that single persons or gays and lesbians harm their children by reproducing outside of heterosexual marital relations," the report stated.

Dr. Piave Lake, of the Mental Health Professionals Group at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said it's important to point out that when a woman chooses not to have an intimate relationship, there can be cultural or religious factors in their decision.

"Ultimately, women have the right to reproduce in the way that they want," Lake said. "If they have the means to pursue that who are we to say no? I do think we need to understand what their cultural and religious context is and what their reasons are for wanting a child."

Lake said every patient she works with is required to go to a mental health counselor when using a donor egg or sperm to talk through potential issues of IVF. A therapist can potentially discuss why a woman seeking to have IVF has decided not to have an intimate relationship, Lake said.

Lake noted that a therapist could look for familial pressure or other outside pressure for the IVF client to have a child, and that a therapist could ask questions such as "Why haven't you had a sexual relationship? How does this fit in your life and why now?"

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