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.
One of the depressing things about trying unsuccessfully to conceive is that there are often some rather outdated cliched ideas about what women who don’t have children are like – career-obsessed, selfish, hard – whilst mothers tend to be seen as good, kind, selfless, caring…
Of course, it’s nonsense; having children doesn’t define your personality or who you are, but the stereotypes can be hard to break and all the more difficult to deal with when you are feeling sensitive about childlessness.
Jody Day, who runs the Gateway Women support network for women who are childless by circumstance, has come up with a fantastic pinboard of role models of women who don’t have children (she calls them NoMos) which deftly illustrates quite how untrue the cliches are. Jody says that NoMos are often invisible in popular culture and her pinboard aims to show that women without children have more sisters than they realised…
The Cardiff Fertility Studies Group and Infertility Network UK are developing an online app to support people who have had fertility treatment but did not conceive. The aim of the app is to offer help and support after unsuccessful treatment, and so the views of those who have personal experience of this are essential to make sure it will meet people’s needs.
With this in mind, there will be a group-based workshop to discuss what is proposed and to gather comments and views from people who have experience of unsuccessful treatment. It will be held on a Saturday afternoon at the School of Psychology at Cardiff University and will last about two and a half hours. Travelling costs will be refunded.
If you want to know more about the workshop or think that you may be interested in participating, you can contact the main researcher on the project Sofia Gameiro by emailing GameiroS@cardiff.ac.uk.
Do listen to the interview here on BBC Radio 4 with the excellent Robin Hadley about living without children from a male perspective. We hear so much about what this is like for women, but Robin speaks very eloquently and honestly here about how it feels for him.
A word of warning that the section of the programme immediately before Robin is a mother talking about how much she didn’t enjoy having children – the section with Robin starts at about 7.20 into the programme.
You may be interested in this great blog post from Lesley Pyne about her experiences joining a BBC discussion panel for the 100 Women project to talk about living without children – and wince at the comment she got from one of the other women on the panel. For those of you who aren;t familiar with Lesley, she has become a voice for women who are involuntarily childless and offers support services to those who are coming to terms with living without children. You will find a lot of interesting and inspiring posts on her website!
You may be interested in a weekend workshop to be held in London on the weekend of 7th and 8th of November for people who are childless. Anyone who has experience of fertility problems or unwanted childlessness is welcome. The workshop is run by fertility counsellor Gill Tunstall, and aims to help people to explore their emotions and to open up the possibility of moving on in their life. Women, men and couples are welcome.
You can read more about the workshop on Gill’s website here
Today I went to meet a PhD researcher from the University of London who is keen to talk to women about their experiences of living with involuntary childlessness. Her work is focused on women in midlife who are involuntarily childless, and she is looking for women who meet the following criteria-
- Are you a woman, aged between 45 and 55, who wanted to have your own biological child and are no longer trying to have a child?
- Are you in a long-term heterosexual relationship with no adopted, step-children or children of a partner from a previous marriage/relationship?
There are some other criteria for the research which researcher Megumi Fieldsend will discuss if you might be willing to share your experiences confidentially. She is conducting face-to-face studies with the women who are willing to take part, and this will involve between an hour and an hour and a half which will be spent talking about your thoughts, feelings and experiences. All information will be kept confidential and anonymous.
The research aims to provide information to help other people who have been through similar experiences in midlife. It will also add to the psychological understanding about what life means for people living with involuntary childlessness.
If you are interested in taking part, you can email Megumi, who is studying at Birkbeck, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
I’ve just been watching this really interesting documentary by Al-Jazeera journalist Amanda Burrell who is trying to decide whether to freeze her eggs as she approaches her forty-third birthday. It’s a fascinating look at egg freezing through the eyes of a childless woman who is wondering whether she really wants to be a mother, and whether she should consider freezing her eggs.
We are often told that women know all too well about the biological clock and that we don’t need to keep reminding them – and yet the huge gaps in Amanda Burrell’s knowledge show that the message is still not really getting across. Of course, she was aware that female fertility declined with age – but she had little idea of the reality of what happens in your late thirties and early forties. She is delighted when a doctor tells her that her ovarian reserve is better than might be expected for her age, but appears to quickly gloss over what he also explains to her – that this doesn’t guarantee the quality of her eggs.
Freezing is discussed as an “insurance”, but even with a good ovarian reserve, freezing your eggs at 43 is going to be a pretty huge gamble. Amanda gradually becomes more aware of this, but what isn’t ever fully explored is the fact that even with good quality frozen eggs you are still at the start of a journey as anyone with experience of fertility treatment will know. Eggs have to fertilise, embryos have to implant – neither of which can be guaranteed – and when you are using eggs produced at the age of 43, your chances of having a miscarriage even if you did get pregnant are high.
This is a fascinating look at the reality of being a single childless women approaching the end of your fertile years. It’s also an incredibly brave documentary as Amanda explores her thoughts and feelings about motherhood, childlessness and egg freezing. Do watch it – http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/aljazeeracorrespondent/2014/12/motherhood-ice-201412492641993386.html