Q&A with SMBC Solomama plus Eins

Today more than ever, diverse family constellations are becoming more and more common. One if the constellations is the SMBCs (solo mothers by choice), a growing group of women that have children on their own. In this blog post, please enjoy a Q&A with one of Germany’s most important SMBC voices, Hanna Schiller aka Solomama plus Eins.

Q: Would you like to introduce yourself?

I’m Hanna Schiller, born in 1981, and I live and work in Lüneburg (Germany, Lower Saxony) as a project manager in a digital company. Together with another solo mother by choice, Katrin Förster, I’m building up our portal www.solomamawege.de bit by bit, where we would like to reach single women who want to have children without a partner. We would like to better prepare them for this path.

A: When did you first start thinking about becoming a solo mother by choice?

When I was in my early 30s, I started thinking actively about children. Before, it was always clear to me that one day I would have a family with a husband and a child, which is why I didn’t focus so much on it.

But when I was in a relationship with a man I loved very much, this desire to have children became much more prevalent. A few more years went by in the relationship when he told me that children were not a wish for him, and from then on – I was 34 years old – things suddenly happened very quickly.

After a period of grief including therapy, for which I decided to get a clear head and to confirm that there was nothing wrong with my desire to have children, I got on the plane to Copenhagen at the age of 35 and went to a Danish clinic to get treated. By the way, that was a really nice experience, because I felt like I was with friends in the waiting room. There was a cozy atmosphere, I was cared for, called darling during the insemination and I flew home with a really good feeling. Sadly, it did not work. But in the end, that turned out to be a good thing because I had initially chosen a “No-ID release” donor.

On the second try, two months later at a clinic in Berlin, I decided on an “ID release” donor and my insemination was successful in the first try.

Q: What was the main reasons or motivation for you becoming a SMBC?

A: It was clear to me early on that I wanted children – actually two. But it never really worked out. Before I decided to become a mother all by myself via sperm donation, I looked into co-parenting, a family model in which two (or more) people get together to raise a child together, but without having a love relationship.

But the constellation didn’t suit me because I first had to meet this one person who would work with me as a non-partner, but a co-dad. The inner pressure was too great for me, because I had this ticking clock inside of me and I wasn’t sure for how long I could have a child at all.

By the way, I can absolutely recommend Jennifer’s blog to anyone who is interested in the co-parenting model, because she is THE expert in Germany for all questions and concerns about co-parenting.

My main motivation for going solo after all was that at some point I realised that the man I wanted to have a family with didn’t exist at the moment. And: I can also manage very well on my own and don’t have to rely on a partner. Just waiting and hoping that someday someone would be there to give me the “go” for a family, that struck me as very strange at some point.

When I let go of the idea of a partnership for having a family, I felt much freer than if I had waited more years for finding the right partner. I was able to make all decisions completely independently of someone else and could decide on my own when to start without dealing with pros and cons that a partner might have had.

For example, there was never the question of whether a child changes the relationship to the negative and whether “we” should wait until the “right” moment comes. Basically, there is no such thing.

Sure, some basic conditions should be right, but the constant waiting for someone to decide to walk the path with you makes you dissatisfied at some point, because you are basically only in stand-by mode and waiting for the other person to finally give you the signal: Now I’m ready to have a family with you.

Because I became active myself and believed that I could do it on my own, I had a lot of strength in me and – perhaps a little naively – threw all possible concerns overboard. That was one of the best things I could have done. Otherwise, I probably still wouldn’t be solo mother of a great little boy.

Q: How did you decide to investigate using a sperm donor?

A: At first, I looked around in private forums. I wanted to get an impression of what kind of people become donors and was immediately put off by the men hanging around there. Many of those simply wanted to have sex or they didn’t have a good view on women. I got away from a private donor relatively quickly.

With the help of Google, I found a Danish sperm bank, which at that time was the only one with free access to donor profiles. I created an account and just checked out what kind of donors there were.

Because there was so much information about the donors, I had a better feeling and slowly approached the donor that felt right for me. I had my first insemination at the beginning of 2016 in the clinic in Copenhagen.

Q: How did you choose your donor?

A: For my first insemination, I received several donors from the Danish clinic with photos and some basic information. I looked at the extensive information and then decided on one that seemed very personable. As far as I could tell because there was only one baby picture of him. I had the updated donor list sent to me by email several times – that’s how it still worked back then – and decided on a donor shortly before the insemination. I chose the donor all by myself because I honestly didn’t want anyone to have a say because I might have been influenced by that.

I then selected my second donor via a different sperm bank, which was easy to do online and with very extensive search criteria. The decision for my second donor was made within a few days because I was short of time. The sperm also had to be sent to Germany so that it was there on time for my treatment.

Q: What was important for you in your choice of donor? (Did you have any particular wishes of personality, appearance etc.?)

A: At first, I focused on an attractive appearance and looked at what type would suit me. But I quickly learned otherwise, because many of the donors who were shortlisted had several diseases in the family that we also have in our family. I didn’t want to give my future child the double load of certain diseases.

That is why I made sure in the next run that the donor was not too tall, (I am quite short), that there was no bald person in the family tree and that the diseases that are mentioned do not run in my family.

What was also important to me: The donor should have a slightly different personality than mine. I wanted someone who had a positive and optimistic outlook on life because I tend to be melancholier and know that this is not always easy. So, I hoped that my child would get parts from both sides.

The last point I looked at was his job or his degree. My main concern here was to find someone who was educated and with whom I had the feeling that I would also be able to have a good conversation.

Q: If you had narrowed down your search to a few different donors, how did you end up choosing the one that you did?

A: After entering all my criteria, the number of eligible donors was reduced pretty quickly. That was really a relief, because I felt a bit overwhelmed by the several hundred donors whose profiles I should have clicked through.

In the end, there were maybe ten more that I took a closer look at and I had that “he’s-the-one-feeling” with only one of them.

Amazingly, he looked a lot like my sister as a baby in his baby picture, and that’s when I knew it had to be him. To be on the safe side, I read through his profile again in detail, and when that felt right for me as well, I decided on this donor.

Q: When did you have your son and how has he affected your life?

A: I had my son at the age of 36 and was already considered a late mom. For me, however, it was exactly the right time because I no longer had the feeling that I was missing out on anything. I already had achieved everything that was important to me.

It would certainly have been different if I had become a mom in my late twenties, maybe even in my early 30s. I’m also much more relaxed now and don’t feel driven by anything at all. My son has a very positive influence on me because he makes me reflect on myself again and again. He’s a very sensitive child who sometimes tells me what he doesn’t like about me, and I find that very valuable.

Most importantly, we have a lot of wonderful moments together that we both really enjoy.

Q: How is your life as a SMBC?

A: My life is rich, full of challenges, with too little sleep and often too little time. But it is a beautiful life that I also owe to my son and to all the people I have gotten to know since my decision to become a solo mother.

Q: What is important to you to share with future SMBCs? Do you have any advice?

A: I generally find it difficult to give advice because every situation is different for every woman. What I have noticed more and more recently, however, is that there are women who do not turn to a sperm bank, but choose a private donor.

This option has some consequences in Germany, because a private donor theoretically has the option of receiving shared custody and inheriting the child. From the men’s point of view, the solo mother can claim maintenance from him. There has been a few cases in which both parties initially agreed that they would not make any claims to one another, but since circumstances have changed the fight is now going to be intense.

This is problematic because most women chose this route of solo motherhood to avoid having problems with a man. So that you don’t have to worry about who will be “involved” with the child and how.

What I can totally understand is that you use a private donor so that the child has the opportunity to get to know him before they turn 18. Here women should choose wisely and get to know the donor over a longer period of time. Because even if there are usually no costs with a private donor – unlike with a sperm bank – you should keep the risks in mind and carefully weigh them by yourself.

Incidentally, many men do not seem to be aware of their responsibility, that they not only distribute their sperm to the woman, but that a living being emerges from it – as the messages men write to me show. They ask me to give their contact to women so that they can “impregnate” them. All alarm bells should ring.

Q: Do you talk to your son about being donor-conceived or do you plan to when he is older? 

A: My son knows that he doesn’t have a dad, but that he has a father who lives in Denmark. For me, a dad is someone who is really present and at the moment there is no one who fulfills this role.

That’s the current narrative. It’s not a topic for him yet, but it does happen that we talk about the subject. From daycare, he usually sees that a child has a mother and a father, but he also knows families in which there are two mothers. So the way he grows up is normal for him. He doesn’t look any different from others just because he’s a donor child. He has just as much nonsense in his head as other children his age and he is indistinguishable from other children in other ways.

That is why he has not been interested in this topic yet, which of course can and will change.

On the one hand, there are various children’s books that can help with clarification – in German-speaking countries, for example, to name that by Petra Thorn (Unsere Familie. Ein Buch für Solo-Mütter mit Wunschkindern nach Samenspenden) as well as my own (Mein allerschönstes Geschenk), which is, so to speak, the preliminary stage of the book by Petra Thorn, as it deals with the process of the future solo mother and how she became a mom without specifically naming the donor. Then there is also the possibility on your page to design a book for donor children. And I think that all of these opportunities will increase in the future and that all families with donor children who will come now will find it easier to take this path and educate their child than it was a few years ago.

On the other hand, it also helps to talk to other families with donor children and that those children can network with one another. Incidentally, this also applies to the half-siblings, of whom my son now has six. We solo mothers are in contact with one another and, if our children wish, we could deepen this contact. But this depends on our children.

Q: Tell us more about Solomamawege

A: We offer courses and group coaching to prepare women as best as possible for their path to solo motherhood. Also, we offer a lot of input that we provide for free. For instance, we have a quick start guide for single women wanting to start their journey to solo motherhood.

On my own blog, which I founded in 2018, there is also a step-by-step guide explaining how women best can get started when they want to become mothers alone.

Additionally, the topic of finances as a solo mother is a very important factor, because whether you can afford a child on your own and, above all, the fertility treatments, depends a lot on your financial situation. This is also a bit difficult in Germany, because just because you want a child alone does not mean that you can manage it financially. Fortunately, this is regulated differently in some other countries, such as in Denmark. Your family policy is much more liberal than ours.

This is why Katrin and I developed our finance course, specifically designed for women before and after fertility treatment. Here we give lots of valuable first-hand tips and try to prepare the women as best as possible for their path. Above all, it is important to us that you can develop an awareness of the costs you have to reckon with in order to get a realistic and not too romantic view of the stressful phase of fertility treatment and the time when you are (financially) completely sole responsible for a child and yourself.

Thank you, Hanna

A big and heartfelt thank you to Hanna for answering these questions so thoroughly and with such personal and valuable perspectives on the process of being a solo mother by choice. We hope its of use to you and you are welcome to leave a comment or send us an email if you would like guidance from us on your path to solo parenthood.

Learn more about donors here