There’s an interesting article in the Daily Mail (yes, really…) about ‘reproductive harassment’ after actor Jennifer Aniston spoke out about being judged and repeatedly questioned about when and whether she is going to have a baby. As she is now 49, this seems a somewhat insensitive question, and yet the pressure on her to reproduce has been kept up by the media for many years. It’s bad enough feeling that pressure in your everyday life as a normal (non-celebrity) person, but imagine how it must feel to see your childlessness discussed by people who know nothing about your individual situation in the global media.
The article explains that this kind of questioning is most often aimed at the woman in a partnership or at single women, and yet people would rarely consider cross-examining a single man in his thirties about when he is going to get round to having a baby or suggesting that he ought not to leave it too late.
As Jennifer Aniston has pointed out, women without children are often judged and misunderstood. She has now hit back saying that maybe her purpose on this planet isn’t to procreate, and that maybe there are other things she is meant to do. Her words will resonate with many of those who have experienced involuntary childlessness, but who have gone on to have very happy and productive lives without children. Check out Lesley Pyne or Jody Day if you are looking for inspiration.
It’s often the worst possible time of the year for anyone trying to conceive – you just can’t seem to escape perfect smiling families wherever you turn whether it’s adverts on television or displays in shop windows. It can feel a very hard and lonely time to be childless when the very point of Christmas is to celebrate a birth.
There is no shortage of advice about how to get through this time of year. I usually write a blog post about it, but this year I thought maybe I’d give you a collection of other people’s thoughts on the subject to browse.
Here on netdoctor are the views of Harley Street fertility specialist Dr Geeta Venkat, here are some thoughts from Lesley Pyne who specialises in supporting women who are childless, some musings in the Daily Mail from Amanda Platell, thoughts from the Childless by Marriage blog, and a great factsheet on the subject from the US fertility support charity Resolve.
I hope that some of these are helpful – there are certainly lots of ideas and the key theme seems to be to put yourself first, not to attend events you know are going to be difficult just because you feel you should and to try to create a different Christmas for yourself doing the things that you like.
You may have come across Lesley Pyne, who offers support to women who are childless. Lesley writes a blog and publishes stories of women who have not been able to have children but who now lead a fulfilling life. She is hoping to publish a book based on the stories in 2017, and so is looking for more women who have inspiring stories to tell. Many of them use their real names, but you can choose to remain anonymous and Lesley is happy to link to blogs and websites.
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
Writing can be a therapeutic response to fertility problems, and fertility counsellor Deborah Sloan is facilitating a new creative writing workshop group in Brighton for men and women who are thinking about their future without much-wanted children.
Using a combination of peer support and creative exercises, each two hour workshop will help you to explore and express the things you may find difficult to share in other areas of your life. The aim of the workshops is to allow you to connect, to support and feel supported and potentially to discover new ways of thinking and being.
You do not need to have any previous experience in writing or creative techniques, and the emphasis is on the process rather than the ‘end product’. The workshops take place in Brighton on Saturday mornings and you can find more details on Deborah’s website.
Researcher Megumi Fieldsend who has carried out previous work looking at childlessness is working on a new project “Life without children – lived experience of a man who wanted to be a dad”. She would like to talk to childless men who are in heterosexual relationships with no adopted children, step-children or children of a partner from a previous marriage/relationship and she would like to carry out interviews as soon as possible. There are some other criteria which Megumi can discuss with anyone who might be interested, If you, or anyone you know, falls into this category and might be willing to talk to Megumi for her research project you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
National Fertility Awareness Week starts on Monday 31st October and runs through to Sunday 6th November 2016. It is your week and you can help Fertility Network UK to raise awareness during the week.
Fertility issues are all too often misrepresented and misunderstood. It’s common for media attention to be focused on stereotypes of fertility struggles: the 30 – or 40 – something career woman who’s left it too late; the against-the-odds IVF success story or the woman who’s apparently easily come to terms with childlessness – but this is far from the real picture.
During National Fertility Awareness Week, Fertility Network UK aims to highlight the unseen, intimate and day-to-day reality of fertility issues, to overturn commonly-held misconceptions about fertility and to shine a spotlight on untold fertility stories.
In the UK, 1 in 6 couples experience the pain fertility issues bring. Even if you don’t have direct experience, you probably know someone who does – a family member, friend or work colleague. We hope people will join in, raise funds and help change perceptions about fertility issues.’
The five focus areas for this year’s media campaign are:
- The myth of the middle-aged would-be-mum: fertility issues in your 20s and early 30s
- The truth about fertility treatment: we know that 75% of individual IVF cycles are unsuccessful and that most people who become parents after treatment go through more than one cycle. What is it like to face multiple rounds of treatment?
- The hidden half: men are just as likely as women to suffer from fertility issues
- Facing up to childlessness: coming to terms with childlessness is too often portrayed as a straightforward process when the reality is far from that
- Life after successful IVF: the taboo of secondary infertility and can life as the parent of an IVF miracle ever be normal?
You can find out more about how to get involved at the National Fertility Awareness Week website and on Twitter with the hashtags #NFAWUK #HiddenFaces #fertilityin5
When Lesley Pyne came to talk to the Infertility Network UK London group about coping strategies, she was a huge hit – so now she is going to be talking about this online on 26 April. Lesley has personal experience of IVF and involuntary childlessness and now works supporting others – you can find her website at www.lesleypyne.co.uk
The online group is run by Infertility Network UK and is completely free of charge – if you would like to attend, all you need to do is email your Skype username to email@example.com. The London group found her tips and suggestions really helpful so I would definitely recommend joining the online talk if you can
I think there may still be time to register for a forum being held tomorrow evening in London called the “Fertile Minds Forum London – Talking About Infertility”. It is open to anyone with an interest in fertility, either in your professional or your personal life, and it based around some new research on communication about infertility at Lancaster University which highlights the gap between the experience of infertility and how it is viewed by the public and clinics.
The team from Lancaster want you to contribute to the discussion to look at how their research can be used to improve communication and the experiences of people going through fertility problems. They will be looking at a number of key areas including
•Stereotypical representations of childlessness
•Problems with clinical communication
•Managing expectations and loss
You can book via EventBrite here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/fertile-minds-forum-london-talking-about-infertility-tickets-21485533810?aff=es2
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.