Playing 'mummies and daddies' no longer necessarily means emulating a married, heterosexual couple who live together under one roof. Now, the number of potential parenting scenarios are as plentiful as the varieties of Heinz products. And as with dating, many look for their co-parenting matches online. With sites like PollenTree, Modamily, CoParents and Co-ParentMatch there's no end of bespoke services to match potential parents.
But does it really need to be so specialist? Hasn't Britain had enough of experts? Surely there's no need for bespoke sites just to match wombs with sperm? Instead, why not head over to Jack-of-all-trades classifieds site, Craigslist, where you can pick up a second hand pram while you peruse your options for reproducing?
"I'm sure you will get pregnant on my first ejaculation inside your vagina" boasts one would-be sperm donor who claims, "My sperm is very fertile as I'm father of 3 children." "Any tourists in London wanting to get impregnated by a British male?" asks a man who perhaps personally wishes to redress the damage done by Brexit. "Willing to meet you several times whilst you are in town until we reach our goal," he adds helpfully. "I'm happy to come and frequently have sex till you get pregnant," echoes another.
It's almost as if the guys are just up for a shag. And it is predominantly guys who place baby-making ads — but not entirely. Heterosexual women are placing ads to get pregnant, and the method of insemination they have in mind isn't necessarily artificial. One woman, age 43, says she has a toddler she'd like to provide siblings for. In the ad, headlined, "seeking a co-parent" she says she's not simply looking for a sperm donor. Her interest is in co-parenting, but, "If a romantic relationship develops, I would welcome it."
Another woman places an ad saying she's given up on Mr Right, and wants to meet a man for, "safe, bareback babymaking." She clarifies that, "We should exchange sexual health certificates and I'm happy to pay for a sperm count." In case there's any doubt about how she wants to get pregnant, she explains: "I don't use turkey basters when cooking & am not using one at conception."
I haven't got the time to meet somebody and wait around until he decides if kids are an option.
Speaking on the telephone, Becky-who-doesn’t-use-basters explains why she advertised online. Giving her age as mid-30s, she says, "I haven't got the time to meet somebody and wait around until he decides if kids are an option." Some of Becky's friends suggested a one night stand, "When I mentioned paying for a sperm bank, one friend said I should get down to Yates's where men are looking to give it away for free! I was horrified! God forbid if I were to catch HIV, and I’ve then got to explain to my parents, 'I'm pregnant, and I've got some life shortening disease.' I wasn’t going to take that risk."
OK, so why Craigslist? "I joined a co-parenting site, met one guy, and I didn't even want to shake his hand. He was 5ft 4, with bad skin, and he thought that he was God's gift. It terrified me, because one option was buying frozen swimmers from a bank, and I thought, "what if it comes from someone like this?" I didn't feel comfortable paying £1,000 plus per cycle for frozen stuff, when the source could be somebody I didn't even want to shake hands with!"
After posting her own ad on Craigslist, Becky received over 50 responses. She says, "there were the predictable photos of men's nether regions. Then the men who think they'll prove their virility by telling me about all the women that they've "helped" and all the children they've got. But if they've got children all over the place, my child could meet their sibling and inadvertently commit incest!"
Then there were responses from men who didn't fit Becky's specification of over 5ft 9 and under 40. She explains, "I'd rather not have short children and I'm not looking for someone hugely older than me — I don't want them dying before my child is grown!"So she’d want them to be part of the child's life? "It's an option — it's not an option if they're dead. I have a close relationship with both my parents, and I know my extended family. I want my child to have that option. If I were to selfishly decide not to do that, I'd feel like I wasn't putting their needs first. I'd compromise on other things, to make sure they had that." Becky adds that she wrote off responses from married men for this same reason, "I’m not sneaking around!"
Given Becky's stringent criteria, has anyone passed muster? "One. He told me his age — 30s — height, and that he was interested in being my donor. It was that basic. We met up within three hours of me placing the advert and he's wonderful!" Woah! What? "We had a few drinks, a conversation, it was very normal. It was almost like a perfect date — except it wasn't a date!" They discussed shared values (tick!) and financial support, "I can do this by myself, so anything he brings is a bonus." What were his motives? "He wants to have children while he's young, but his relationships have been disasters, so he could see the benefits of going down another route."
If they've got children all over the place, my child could meet their sibling and inadvertently commit incest!
So are they going ahead with it? "He’s thinking about it. It's a huge step and he doesn't have the options I do." Becky explains, "if I decide I can't go through with it, it's my body and I have the choices any woman has, in a society like ours. I would be shocked if I were to make that decision — it would defeat the purpose of me going through all this — but I have that option. He doesn't. But if he decides to run off, he has that option and I don't!"
The ball, however, is rolling. Following their first date, Becky and her prospective co-parent went to the clinic together for STD checks, and both results came back all clear. Their third date was, "a perfectly normal third date. I wasn't ovulating, but it gave us a chance to see how things would work." Hang on, did they sleep together? "Yes." And will they be waiting now, until Becky's ovulating? "No…." Does Becky see him as a prospective partner? "I enjoy his company, but I have been there, done that, got the t-shirt — it's not a relationship. I don't know how things will turn out between the two of us, but the focus is definitely the best interests of our children. A relationship would be an amazing bonus, but it isn't the goal."
They have, however, agreed to be exclusive sexual partners. Becky is confident she's fertile, "I have been thoroughly, extensively checked, because they do that if you're female and considering artificial insemination." Has her potential co-parent had the equivalent checks? "For the time being, no. Statistically, that should all be OK. I'm willing to give it three months — if nothing happens, I'll get him checked."
If it all goes to plan, will Becky tell her friends and family about her Craigslist conception? "It's bizarre, but there are quite a few people who we both know. There are some of my friends who I would definitely tell!"
Becky didn't consider replying to any of the men's ads on Craigslist, "the way they advertise is boastful and it's very much about unprotected sex. They're good for nothing guys looking for a woman who's desperate for a baby, who's prepared to get her kit off and gratefully jump into bed with them."
We spoke to one guy whose ad Becky might put in this category. Under the heading, "Looking to impregnate a MILF", Terry, 37, writes: "Man wanting to find a hot married milf to let me creampie and impregnate her. Love the idea of fucking a married wife with the goal of getting her pregnant. I can travel to you & just want to dump all my cum in your pussy and leave, no strings attached. I'm ddf and you should be too."
Man wanting to find a hot married milf to let me creampie and impregnate her. Love the idea of fucking a married wife with the goal of getting her pregnant.
Speaking on Skype, Terry says, "obviously sex is enjoyable — bareback sex even more so! And if you add on the heightened risk of pregnancy when no contraception is used, it really takes it to the next level!" Terry confirms that the possibility of a woman becoming pregnant is a turn on for him. He says, "it's a bit of a fetish, rolling the dice and knowing what the possible outcome could be."
Terry received about 10 responses that fell into two main camps. "Some of the replies have been fetish based — they're looking for that risk, and if they get pregnant, that's just a side effect. Others really want a child and they're willing to go through with everything else that comes with that." Steve confirms that he's happy with either scenario, and keen for a child to be conceived. He says, "it's helping out someone who wants to go down the path of parenthood." Are single women welcome, or only married milfs? "Happy to go with both," confirms Terry.
Terry says he has no children yet, and discounts the idea that he may have children he doesn't know about. He explains he's only recently had the urge to get someone pregnant ("Coming to my late 30s - maybe it's paternal instincts!") and had his first unprotected encounter just a couple of weeks ago. It was with a woman who responded to his ad — a lesbian, in her mid-30s, who is in a relationship: "She's conceived before, through artificial insemination, and wanted a second child. Her partner knew she was getting sperm off the internet — but not the means by which we actually did it."
According to Terry, the woman had, "never been with a guy before — it was her first time." So why did she decide to do it this way? "From a cost perspective it's cheaper, obviously a bit quicker, and if she didn’t fall pregnant first time, she’d have access to the means by which to do it again," says Terry. Did she want to have sex with him? "Only because obviously the outcome." So, was it an enjoyable experience or all a bit awkward? "I had to go easy, but she was definitely willing. She enjoyed it, she expressed that. We were both pleased with how it went."
Terry and his reproductive-partner-to-be spoke on the phone two or three times, discussing moral values, education and family background. They agreed Terry would not be named on the birth certificate and nor would he be involved in the child's life, or contribute financially. Any concerns that she'll hit him up for money at a later date? "There's a slight concern in the back of my mind. People can say one thing then turn back and say something else!"
I waited for Mr Right — then I had to decide what deal with the devil I was prepared to do with Mr Wrong.
After exchanging photographs (the prospect of pregnancy-risk-sex was exciting in itself, "but if she happened to be gorgeous that would have been a bonus") they met for the first time for sex at the home of the woman's sister, "we had to be a bit on the sneaky side." They timed the encounter to coincide with the woman ovulating, and showed each other their sexual health checks. Terry has not, however, had his fertility checked. Is he assuming he's fertile? "I'm assuming, yeah."
The mother-to-be will tell Terry if she's pregnant — and if not, they've agreed to have another go. All being well, Terry is considering placing another ad: "It all went well as far as this point, so I definitely wouldn't mind doing it again!" Does it concern him that doing this numerous times could mean he'd have children running around who had no idea they were related to each other, potentially inbreeding? "I hadn’t thought of that. I guess in terms of the numbers I'm not at that level yet, but it's something I should consider!"
For Terry, who wants children with a partner in the future, meeting reproductive prospects online is, "the means to satisfy a fetish, a sexual heightening and a way of helping others to have children." For Becky, whose chance of conceiving diminishes by the day, it's little less of a hobby: "I waited for Mr Right — then I had to decide what deal with the devil I was prepared to do with Mr Wrong."
All names have been changed.
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here