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.
If you’re fed up with people DOING things for January – whether it’s Dry January, joining a spin class or taking up tap dancing – you may like to read Lesley Pyne’s latest blog post. I’ve known Lesley for a long time and have witnessed her building up her support network to help other people who are experiencing involuntary childlessness – she offers lots of support and inspiration for anyone living without children, and has helped many people through their own difficult times. You can sign up for regular emails from Lesley which offer tips and advice. What’s more, she’s right about January and people doing things – it can be exhausting to be faced with other people’s bouncy enthusiasm when you’re just trying to get through things yourself.
I didn’t make any new year’s resolutions this year – I’ve come to the conclusion that if you try to give things up, you just feel more focused on them and have a sense of being deprived when you can’t have them. And when you don’t feel you HAVE to go to the gym or go running, it can make exercise seem much more attractive. I know it may be my strange logic, but it works for me…
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 email@example.com and she can give you more details and answer any questions.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The London group found her tips and suggestions really helpful so I would definitely recommend joining the online talk if you can
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…
It’s something no one wants to think about when they are starting out on a fertility journey, but the truth is that IVF doesn’t always work. We know that average success rates in the UK for an individual cycle are around 26%, which means a 74% chance of it not working. In reality, as recent research has shown, cumulative success rates are far better and over a course of treatment, the majority are likely to have a child – but even so, IVF is not going to work for everyone, something this article from Australia illustrates.
It may seem as if treatment not working would be the most unbearable outcome possible, but I have been really struck by pioneering childless women like Jody Day of Gateway Women and Lesley Pyne who show that this doesn’t have to mean the end of your hope for a happy future. Jody’s Gateway Women offers a chance to get together with other women in similar situations and she runs workshops and events, Lesley offers support through her blog, newsletter and one-to-one sessions, and there’s also help to be found from More to Life which offers support and regional contacts for anyone who is involuntarily childless. It may be useful to see a counsellor, and BICA – the British Infertility Counselling Association – can provide a list of specialist qualified counsellors across the UK, some of whom offer Skype or telephone counselling too.