The number of single women seeking fertility treatment has almost doubled in two years as career-minded professionals without partners opt to parent alone.
Demand at New Zealand's largest private fertility clinic is so high women are waiting 18 months for sperm donors. Fertility Associates' Dr Simon Kelly said numbers of single women wanting fertility treatment had swelled from 80 in 2012 to 156 last year. It was expected to be higher this year.
That compared with 56 heterosexual and 88 same-sex couples receiving treatment last year, similar levels to in 2012 and 2013.
Donor treatment costs start at $2,235 and increase depending on the drug treatment required. A full round of IVF can cost more than $11,000.
Kelly said the growing use of fertility treatment reflected women putting careers ahead of having a family.
"You find women now in the 38-40 age group who are not in a relationship or have come out of a relationship but who are fully aware of their biological clock and want to do something to start a family or do something to preserve their fertility," he said.
The clinic was facing an urgent sperm donor shortage. Another 150 were needed to clear the backlog.
Kelly said the sudden increase of single women had put more pressure on attracting good-quality donors.
That donors were not paid was a challenge. They were only reimbursed $30 for travel expenses for each visit. The clinic was turning to social media to find new donors and advertising on Facebook and YouTube.
The publicly funded Auckland District Health Board clinic Fertility Plus was also experiencing similar shortages. Scientific director Dr Margaret Merrilees said the clinic "desperately needed" men of all ethnicities to donate, particularly those willing to donate to single women and same-sex couples. There was also an urgent need for egg donors.
Kelly said it was time to overhaul the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act and start paying donors.
Kelly's comments come ahead of Fertility Week in New Zealand, which starts tomorrow.
One in four New Zealand women and one in five men experience fertility difficulties by their late 30s, so demand for assisted reproduction is increasing.
New Zealand has joined a global trial of the latest embryo monitoring technology to improve success rates of transfer from petri dish to womb.
Early Embryo Viability Assessment (EEVA) uses computer software to track embryo development in a video-monitored incubator. It then predicts the best embryo for transplanting using algorithms.
Fertility Associates' Dr Tex VerMilyea said in the two-year trial, embryologists would select which embryo to use and compare their choice with the computer.
If the embryo did not successfully implant they would refer to the computer choice to find the next best option.
The technology aimed to speed up the process of getting pregnant to reduce the need for repeat cycles.
Baby wish granted, eventually
Melissa* was a single professional woman, unlucky in love and heading towards 40.
But she still longed to become a mother.
"I pretty much had no luck on the dating scene. I'd done everything — table for six, blind dates, speed dates, internet dates — and it wasn't working," the Auckland woman said.
"Then a red flag suddenly went off that I wasn't getting any younger, I didn't have a partner and I really wanted to have kids."
Single, 37, and with her biological clock ticking loudly, the only option was to seek insemination via a sperm donor.
It took a further 18 months on a Fertility Associates waiting list before she could start the procedure, and after a year she was still not pregnant. Further tests revealed endometriosis.
"Then I was told that IVF might work or might not work so I thought, 'One last try, I'll do IVF'. I financed it myself and got pregnant."
She said the birth of her son, now 2, was the best 40th birthday present she could have hoped for.
"I'm on my own, my little boy is just a happy little chap — he doesn't know any different — he hasn't got a dad but he's got a great nanna and pop."
If her son wanted to get in touch with his biological father later in life she would explain the situation to him when he asked questions. "It's not something I would want to keep from him," she said.
*Name has been changed for privacy reasons.