It’s one of those things people don’t even want to think about when they’re going through fertility treatment – what might happen if it didn’t work, ever? Could you really be happy if you didn’t end up with a baby? What would you do if all that time, effort, money and emotional investment led to nothing? Would your life ever feel fulfilled and enjoyable? Could the overwhelming sadness go away? I want to tell you about someone who is a brilliant example of the fact that life after IVF treatment can be both fulfilled and enjoyable. She’s called Lesley Pyne, and I first met her when I was a trustee for the charity which is now Fertility Network UK. Lesley was one of my fellow trustees, and had joined as she was involved with the section of the charity for people who were involuntarily childless known at the time as More to Life.
Today, I met Lesley for the first time for a while and it struck me that she looked about 10 years younger than she did when I last first knew her – which means she must look about 20 years younger than she really is! Her eyes were bright and shining, and her zest for life was almost palpable. Lesley, who always seemed to be making an effort not to stand out when we were fellow trustees, was dressed in bright colours with electric blue nails. She is happy, she is making the most of the good things in her life – and she has just written a book explaining how she went from feeling devastated by unsuccessful treatment to this confident, happy woman who gets the best out of her life – it’s due to be published in June and is called Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness.
It strikes me as we talk that Lesley has embraced something we could all learn from – living for the moment, focusing on the positives and making an effort to enjoy what we have. I haven’t read Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness yet – but she explained that it contains her story and those of a number of other women who have come out the other side of involuntary childlessness to find fulfilment. She says it is a journey, and it can be hard along the way, but that there is life beyond childlessness, there is more to life – and if you need help along that path, keep an eye out for Lesley’s book when it comes out in June.
A research team from Cardiff University are are looking for people who have either not been able to have as many children as they would have liked, or who have not been able to have children at all, to take part in a survey about adjusting to this. They hope that the findings can be used to help with support for those who have not been able to have the family they had envisaged.
This study has ethical approval from the Ethics Committee of the School of Psychology at Cardiff University. It takes 25 minutes to complete the survey, and if you want to enter your email address at the end you can be put into a draw to win one of four £50 vouchers. Here’s a link to the survey if you are interested https://cardiffunipsych.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_73WpnrBsh3laWVf
For anyone who is facing a future without children, there is a free webinar which may be of interest later this week. In support of National Fertility Awareness Week, Kelly Da Silva, who set up an online community called the Dovecot to support people who are living without children, will be running the webinar on Thursday 2nd November from 7pm – 8pm.
The topic will be ‘Dealing with Involuntary Childlessness’, and Kelly will be taking questions after an initial input in this topic where she will be discussing the key challenges of childlessness including, shame, disappointment & the impact of childlessness on our daily lives. You can find out more and details of how to join the free webinar on the Dovecot Instagram page here.
Thanks to Stephanie Phillips for starting the first World Childless Week which runs from 11-17 September and aims to raise awareness of the many millions of people around the world who are childless-not-by-choice.
When Stephanie realised that she was not going to be able to have children, she gradually started to link up with others in similar situations through an online group and gradually realised that the peer support she received was making a huge difference to how she felt about her life.
She realised that there was no focus for people who were childless in the Fertility Awareness Weeks in the UK and USA, and needed something that didn’t focus on happy endings after fertility problems but on life without children. That’s why she decided to start World Childless Week. Her aim may have been to help a few people know that they are not alone, but it has done far more than that already and has really helped to raise awareness over the last few days. You can find her website at http://www.worldchildlessweek.com
You may have already seen quite a bit about the week on social media, but I hope that Stephanie’s brilliant awareness-raising idea continues to be a huge success and starts to increase understanding and empathy for those who are childless-not-by-choice. Thank you Stephanie!
Other sources of support for those who are childless-not-by-choice include Jody Day’s Gateway Women and Kelly Da Silva’s the Dovecot
Some of you may remember that we have been supporting a researcher, Megumi Fieldsend, in her search for participants for her work on involuntary childlessness. Megumi is now putting out a final call for men who might be willing to help her study on “life without children – lived experience of a man who wanted to be a dad”. She is aiming to carry out her final interviews by the end of July so if you know someone who might be a potential participant, could you ask him if he would be interested in taking part in Megumi’s research project?
There are set criteria for participation, and if you have any questions about the study or want to check about the criteria, please do get in touch with Megumi who will be happy to answer any questions. You can contact her by calling 0778 026 3685 or by emailing her at
If you have had unsuccessful fertility treatment and are in the process of moving on after this, you might be interested in a discussion group being organised by Louise Hesselvik who is training to be a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire.
Louise is researching how women who have had fertility treatment are able to move on when treatment has not been successful. If you have tried fertility treatment in the past but have decided to stop treatment, and if you do not have any biological children, Louise would be very interested to speak with about participating in this group.
She will be holding a small focus group to present my research so far, and to get your thoughts and perspective on this at Conway Hall, London on February 2nd at 6:45pm- 8:15pm. By participating in this study you will contribute to a better understanding of the factors which help women coping with unsuccessful fertility treatments and those who are involuntarily childless. Her aim is to use this research to help to guide health professional in how best to support women in this situation.
If you might be interested in participating, you can email Louise at firstname.lastname@example.org and she can give you more details and answer any questions.
I know people – especially women – sometimes find it hard to see themselves as “inspiring”, but if you have a story to tell about living without children and learning to come to terms with this, then why not get in touch with Lesley? She can send you a list of the questions she would like to ask, and will need submissions by the end of February. You can get in touch with her if you would like to know more at email@example.com
If you haven’t already read this article by Bibi Lynch in The Guardian, you should do. It’s a powerful piece about the reality of being childless in a world where motherhood is given a status you aren’t even aware of unless you aren’t or can’t be a mother. So much of what Bibi Lynch says will resonate with anyone who has experienced fertility problems as well as those who are living with childlessness.
She talks about the way people react when she says she doesn’t have children, about the assumption that only parents can care about children or are kind and loving people – and the idea of hardworking families as if anyone who does not have a family could not possibly be hardworking.
Read it, share it and give it to your family and friends to read – it may help them not to make assumptions or unhelpful comments, and to appreciate just a bit of how it might feel to be involuntarily childless. You may also want to read Bibi’s previous article about childlessness.
I never post about politics on this blog, but last night when I heard on the news the comments that Andrea Leadsom was alleged to have made about Theresa May’s childlessness I was horrified. When Leadsom claimed later that she hadn’t said these things and that it was gutter journalism at its worst, I wondered if maybe she had been misquoted. When I listened to the audio of the interview, sadly I found the way in which she talked about being a mother as if it gave her some sort of superiority even more upsetting than the written words. It was particularly unkind coming so soon after Theresa May had expressed her sadness at the fact that she had never had children.
So, perhaps this is not really about politics but about compassion and about how every one of the 3.5 million people in this country currently trying to conceive feels about being told they don’t have a stake in the future. I have heard from so many friends this morning who were never able to have children and who have got long past the age of trying, but who are deeply wounded by these words and who find it hard to comprehend that anyone could think expressing such a sentiment was acceptable.
For anyone who has been pained by this, please don’t forget that most of the response to Andrea Leadsom’s words has been shock and sadness. For every person who feels it is OK to say things like this, there are many dozens who think it’s appalling and who are feeling nothing but empathy and compassion for you today. I want to send love and hugs to you all xxx
I was fortunate to attend a book launch last week for Jody Day’s new book, Living the Life Unexpected. It’s an updated version of her first book, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is facing a future without children. Jody writes from her own personal experience and also includes the experiences of many others who are childless by circumstance. She has a lovely writing style and sets out a pathway towards what she describes as a meaningful and fulfilling future without children.
In just a few years, Jody has created a huge network of women who support one another. She runs workshops and retreats, and has given childless women a voice in the media. There is a stigma around childlessness and Jody addresses that head on – and shows that not having children doesn’t always have to be the worst option.
Gateway Women is for all women who are childless not by choice, however that came about – and if you you want to know more about Jody and the Gateway Women network, see her website here.