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Alternative ways to have a child

After a cancer diagnosis or treatment, it can take time to feel settled in day-to-day life again. Having a child is a big step for anyone, but may feel especially significant now. Remember to take it at your own pace and get answers to any worries or questions. 

When you are ready, there is lots of support and guidance available for you. If you decide you want a child, there are different options you may wish to consider, which we talk about on this page.

We also have information on:

Fertility and coronavirus

If you are currently having fertility treatment or pursuing alternative ways to have a child, the coronavirus pandemic may have caused further difficulty at an already stressful time. The options we talk through on this page may be affected in the following ways.

Fertility treatment and coronavirus

Fertility clinics have been advised to stop treatments, once patients have completed any cycle they have started. We understand this will be incredibly tough and want you to know that we are here to support you through this period. Fertility clinics can apply to reopen from 11 May 2020, so you can contact your clinic and ask whether they will reopen. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) have the latest updates.

Visit the HFEA website >

Adoption and coronavirus

If you are in the process of adopting, it is best to speak with your adoption agency. Decisions on whether to pause or proceed with adoptions are currently being made on a case-by-case basis, so your agency will be able to advise what is happening with your case and what, if anything, you need to do. 

If you have adopted and are worried about what the coronavirus pandemic means for your family, Adoption UK have lots of helpful guidance on their website.

Read more at Adoption UK >

Surrogacy and coronavirus

If you currently planning or have progressed with surrogacy, it is best to contact your healthcare or midwifery team. They will be able to give advice specific to your situation. You may know that pregnant women are considered extremely vulnerable to coronavirus, which will understandably be worrying, but you can support surrogates to practice shielding. Surrogacy UK have more information on their website that you might find helpful. 

Read more at Surrogacy UK >

Trying to get pregnant

If you had certain treatments for early stage cervical cancer, like a trachelectomy that doesn’t remove the womb, you may be able to get pregnant.

If sex is painful

After treatment, sex might feel more uncomfortable or painful, which may make you not want to have sex. It is important to speak to your healthcare team about painful sex. There may be different reasons for it, both psychological and physical, that they can support you with.

Your vagina is dryer

If treatment removed your cervix, there is no cervical mucus to lubricate your vagina naturally. It may help to use some lubricant or, if you already are, more lubricant, to make things feel better. There are lots of options available at pharmacies, so you can find one that works for you.

You feel anxious about sex

Having cervical cancer or treatment may make you feel differently about yourself and your body, which can translate into not wanting to have sex. If you push through these feelings before you feel ready, sex may not feel good. Try not to rush yourself and remember the most important thing is that you feel comfortable. If you need some extra support, your GP or a sex therapist may be able to help.

If you can't have sex

If you feel unable to have sex, there are still options. You may be able to try intrauterine insemination (IUI), where sperm is put directly into your womb. This is sometimes called artificial insemination. The waiting list for IUI can be long and the criteria you have to meet to be eligible can vary. It is best to check with your GP or local Clinical Commissioning Group to find out what the rules are where you live.

Read more about IUI on the NHS website >

IVF

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is when a doctor takes an egg from ovaries, which is then fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilised egg (embryo) is put back in your womb to grow and develop.

IVF can be done using your eggs and your partner's sperm, or eggs and sperm from donors.

If you have been having regular unprotected sex for 2 years without getting pregnant, you may be able to have IVF. The best person to speak with is your GP, who will be able to refer you to specialists. 

Read more about IVF on the NHS website >

If you can’t get pregnant

If you can’t get pregnant, there are alternative ways to have a child, which we talk about below. Give yourself time to come to terms with your feelings about not getting pregnant, and to think about what is right for you.

Read more about processing your feelings >

Adoption

Adoption is legally becoming a parent to a child. If you adopt, the process will involve matching you to a child who fits as part of your family.

Who can adopt?

All types of people from all backgrounds can adopt, as long as you are over 21 years old and have not been convicted of or cautioned for specified criminal offences against children or adults.

Usually, you can adopt a child if you are:

  • single, married or unmarried
  • from any ethnic or religious background
  • any sexual orientation
  • any gender identity
  • a homeowner or living in rented accommodation
  • employed or on benefits.

You can also adopt if you have a child, don’t have a child, or have already adopted.

You can usually adopt if you have or have had cancer – all you need is the physical and mental energy to care for children. If you have advanced cervical cancer or are worried about your health impacting whether you can adopt, speak with your doctor or one of the organisations we list below.

If you decide to adopt, the adoption agency may ask for your full medical background from your GP to help understand the impact of the illness and future prognosis. Their Medical Adviser may also want to contact your hospital consultant for further details before making a recommendation. 

Types of adoption

There are a few different types of adoption. If you decide to adopt, make sure you understand the process you will go through. 

  • Domestic adoption. This means adopting a child from the country where you live. 
  • Early permanence. This is the term used when a child is placed with an approved adopter to speed up their journey through care and lessen any disruption of moving multiple times. It allows children to experience a loving and settled home as quickly as possible.
  • Inter-country or international adoption. This means adopting a child from another country, rather than from where you live. If you decide to adopt this way, it is important to look at the adoption laws and process in the country you want to adopt from. 
  • Fostering for adoption or concurrent care. If you are an approved adopter, you can take care of children who may or may not return to their birth parents. If they don’t, you can apply to adopt the children.

Adoption UK 

A national charity providing support, community and advocacy for anyone parenting or supporting children who cannot live with their birth parents. Offer information and signposting on a range of adoption-related issues. 
www.adoptionuk.org

First 4 Adoption

An information service for people interested in adopting a child in England, offering clear and impartial information about adopting.
Information line: 0300 222 0022
www.first4adoption.org.uk

Scotland’s Adoption Register

Facilitates family finding across Scotland, as well as offering information and support around the adoption process.
www.scotlandsadoptionregister.org.uk

National Adoption Service for Wales

Offers information and support about adopting a child in Wales.
www.adoptcymru.com

Regional Adoption and Fostering Service (Northern Ireland)

Offers information and support about adoption and fostering in Northern Ireland.
www.adoptionandfostering.hscni.net

Surrogacy

Surrogacy is when a woman is pregnant with and gives birth to a baby for you. 

Types of surrogacy

There are different types of surrogacy:

  • Full surrogacy (also known as host or gestational surrogacy). This is when your eggs or embryos, or a donor’s eggs are used, so there is no genetic connection between the child and surrogate. Full surrogacy is only an option if you had your eggs or embryos frozen before treatment, or your ovaries still work. Unfortunately, this means it would not be possible if you are going through or have gone through menopause.
  • Partial surrogacy (also known as straight or traditional surrogacy). This is when the surrogate’s eggs are fertilised with the sperm of the intended father. If you choose partial surrogacy, it is recommended you have treatment at a licensed UK fertility clinic. 

Some people choose to have their eggs or ovarian tissue removed and frozen before treatment, so they can be used for a surrogate pregnancy.

Finding a surrogate

Choosing a surrogate is a big decision and can take time. Some people prefer to ask a family member or friend to be a surrogate – someone they already have a good, trusting relationship with. 

If you would rather someone you don’t know, there are expert organisations who can help: 

Your rights as a parent

In UK law, the woman who gives birth is treated as the mother and has the right to keep the child, even if they are not genetically related . It is very rare for surrogates to want to keep the child – from the start of the process, it is clear the child is yours. 

After the child is born, you can become the legal parent using a Parental Order. This is where all parental rights are transferred from the surrogate to you. Once this happens, you are the legal parent.

Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy (COTS)

A membership organisation offering information and support to surrogates and would be parents, helping them to understand the implications of surrogacy and to deal with any problems that may arise during it.
Phone: 0333 772 1549
www.surrogacy.org.uk

The Human Fertility & Embryology Authority

The UK’s independent regulator of fertility treatment and research using human embryos. Provides information about different options for having children, including surrogacy.
Phone: 020 7291 8200 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)
www.hfea.gov.uk

Surrogacy UK

Provides information, community and support to anyone undertaking a surrogacy journey.
www.surrogacyuk.org

Fostering

Foster care is when you look after a child during a period of time when they cannot live with their birth parents.

Types of foster care

There are different types of foster care:

  • Some foster carers look after children during an emergency situation, until longer-term arrangements can be made. 
  • Some foster carers look after children on a short-term basis, until the child can return home or move on to a permanent home. 
  • Many foster carers care for children for a long time, often for the whole of their childhood.

Read more about what foster carers do >

Becoming a foster carer

In the UK, you have to be trained, assessed and approved to become a foster carer. After this, you receive ongoing support and training from a fostering service. The exact support you get depends on the fostering service you decide to register with.

Read more about the process of becoming a foster carer >

Fostering Network UK

Provides advice and information to prospective and approved foster carers, and those who support them, on a range of issues that affect the foster carer role. Also offers support over the phone.
www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk

Action for Children

Finds stable, loving homes for children who need them. Offers fostering services across the UK, including high levels of training and support.
www.actionforchildren.org.uk/fostering-adoption

Life without children

You may feel that none of these options are right for you. This is perfectly valid and a path that only you can know is right. If you do feel this way and want some support, we have some information about where and how to get it.

Read more about life without children > 

How we can help

Fertility changes can be difficult enough to handle yourself, so it can feel even harder when you open up to other people. If you choose to tell others, remember there is lots of support available to you. 

Our services are open if you want to talk through anything or simply have someone listen to your concerns on 0808 802 8000

Check our Helpline opening hours >

If you want a safe, private space to talk with others who have been through something similar, visit our online Forum where we have a space dedicated to fertility. You can ask questions, share your feelings and form a supportive network that is available all day, every day. 

Join our Forum >

We also host Let’s Meet, an information and support day for people affected by cervical cancer, in September every year. As well as meeting others in person, you can attend a session on parenting through alternative means that may be helpful. If you can’t make Let’s Meet, we run regional Mini Meets  throughout the year.

Find out more about Let’s Meet >

Thank you to Fertility Network UK who helped us review this information. Thank you also to the other experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it. 

References

  • Royal College of Nursing (2020). Fertility Care and Emotional Wellbeing.
  • Royal College of Nursing (2017). Fertility Preservation.
  • National Institute for Healthcare and Excellence (2014). Fertility problems quality standard.
  • Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2013). Fertility Sparing Treatments in Gynaecological Cancers.

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Read more about how we research and write our information >

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Date last updated: 
06 May 2020
Date due for review: 
06 May 2023

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