World Childless Week

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

National Portrait Gallery Exhibition

If you are in London, you may be interested in an exhibition of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery – the Taylor Wessing photographic Portrait Prize 2016.

Two of the photos were taken by Katie Barlow, a documentary film-maker who is currently working on a fantastic documentary about not having children which features author and Director of Fertility Fest, Jessica Hepburn, who many of you will be familiar with and Gateway Women’s Jody Day. Katie has spent the last year documenting the refugee crisis, and you can see two of her photos in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition. You can read what Katie wrote about this here  – and the exhibition is definitely worth a visit!

Have you booked for Fertility Fest?

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It’s just a week away, but there are still some tickets left for Fertility Fest which opens in Birmingham next Saturday. If you don’t know about this unique event, linking art and science in a day of performances and discussions, you can find out more by visiting the Fertility Fest website.

The Festival takes place in London too, but opens in Birmingham next weekend with leading experts in the field including Allan Pacey, Sue Avery, Geeta Nargund, HFEA Chair Sally Cheshire, fertility counsellor Tracey Sainsbury, the NGDT’s Laura Witjens, Gillian Lockwood and Jacky Boivin. Artists featured include Jude Christian, Milli Bhatia, Ronke Adekoluejo, Satinder Chohan, Somalia Seaton, Katie Barlow, Tina Reid-Peršin, Jo Ind, Tabitha Moses,  Amy Rosenthal, Kazuko Hohki, Sarah Esdaile,  Jody Day, Louise Ann Wilson,  Aaron Deemer, Fergus Davidson and Amanda Gore.

The day will conclude with a performance of award-winning playwright Gareth Farr’s latest production, The Quiet House, which addresses IVF and fertility. Fertility Fest has been organised by Jessica Hepburn and Gaby Vautier. It promises to be a really fascinating event, so if you are anywhere near Birmingham – book your tickets now!

Fertility Fest – when art meets science

images-6It will be the first event of its kind in the UK taking place in London and Birmingham, and it’s called Fertility Fest. The event, devised by writer Jessica Hepburn and producer Gabby Vautier, will bring together some of the country’s leading writers, visual artists, theatre-makers, film-directors and composers alongside some of the country’s foremost fertility experts for a day of performance, discussion and debate. Topics under the artistic microscope include facing the diagnosis of infertility, IVF, donation, surrogacy, the male experience, egg freezing, involuntary childlessness and alternative routes to parenthood.The full day of events concludes with a performance of a new play from award-winning writer Gareth Farr called The Quiet House about one couple’s journey when they enter the world of IVF.

Fertility Fest is in London on Saturday June 11 at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park and in Birmingham on Saturday May 28 at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. The artists involved in the days include Aaron Deemer, Amanda Gore, Amy Rosenthal, Fergus Davidson, Fiona Duffelen, Gabby Vautier, Gareth Farr, Jessica Hepburn, Jo Ind, Jody Day, Julia Copus, Jude Christian, Kazuko Hohki, Katie Barlow, Louise Ann Wilson, Matthew Dunster, Paula Knight, Peter Guttridge, Stander Chohan, Ronke Adekoluejo, Sarah Esdaile, Somalia Seaton, Steve Ball, Tabitha Moses, Tina Reid-Persin and Yann Seznec. The experts in the field joining them for the day will include Professor Allan, Pacey, Professor Geeta Nargund, Laura Witjens, Professor Jacky Boivin, Janine Elson, Juliet Tizzard, Kate Brian, Natalie Silverman, Sally Cheshire, Dr Sofia Gameiro, Dr Sue Avery, Professor Susan Bewley, Professor Susan Golombok, Tracey Sainsbury and Victoria MacDonald.

Tickets cost £25 a day which include all workshops, talks and a performance of The Quiet House – for more details and booking, visit the website www.fertilityfest.com

Managing Mother’s Day

Carl_Strathmann_-_Bunch_of_Wild_Flowers_(13354976844)It’s one of the most difficult times of the year for anyone trying to conceive, and it’s here again. A day focused on celebrating motherhood is bound to be challenging for anyone who is longing for a family, but the time leading up to it can be the hardest part to deal with. It’s virtually impossible to escape Mother’s Day when every local shop has jumped on the commercial bandwagon and even the local supermarket seems to have decided to label anything you might possibly give to anyone else as a “Mother’s Day Gift”.

Mother’s Day can act as a horrible reinforcement of the sense of isolation and loneliness that you may feel as more and more of those around you seem to be pregnant or new parents. It can make you feel like an outsider whose life has become completely cut off form those around you.

 

If you know anyone else who is experiencing difficulties getting pregnant or who doesn’t have children, this can be the ideal time for meeting up with them. Getting together for a day out, a trip to the cinema or theatre or sharing a meal can be a good way of reminding yourself that you are not alone. This Thursday evening, March 3, there’s a get together for anyone experiencing fertility problems in Central London and if you’d like to come along and join us you’d be very welcome (for details, email katebrian@infertilitynetworkuk.com).  On Sunday March 6 itself, you may be interested to know that Gateway Women’s Jody Day will be giving a live talk on BBC Radio’s Mother’s Day Service – you can find details here 

 

However you decide to spend Sunday, remember that you are not alone. There are around 3.5 million people in the UK alone who are going through difficulties at any given time, and every one of them will be experiencing very similar feelings about Mother’s Day.

 

Great new book from Jody Day

51Abrnt3PzLI 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. 

Role models – thanks to Gateway Women

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.

Role Models

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…

When IVF doesn’t work

ivf_science-300x168It’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.

WoW 2015

I’m really excited to be chairing a session at this year’s Women of the World Festival at the Festival Hall on London’s Southbank.  WoW is an amazing event, and this coming weekend you will find a huge range of talks, workshops and performances covering everything from immigration to the use of sexist language.

The session I’m chairing is on Fertility Myths, and there’s a really interesting panel including Gateway Women founder Jody Day, fertility lawyer Harjit Sarang, psychotherapist Carmel Dennehy, Consultant Gynaecologist Dr Ephia Yasmin and fertility author Jessica Hepburn.

If last year is anything to go by, this will be a fascinating hour or so – hope to see you there!

The WoW debate

For those who weren’t able to be there, Saturday’s discussion on Fertility Myths at the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre for International Women’s Day proved to be a fascinating debate.  I was chairing a panel with obstetrician Dr Susan Bewley who is known for her concerns about women leaving it later to conceive, Zita West who runs a very popular and successful fertility clinic in Central London, Jody Day founder of Gateway Women which supports those who are childless by circumstance and Jessica Hepburn who wrote a powerful memoir about her experiences of fertility treatment.

Each of the speakers began by giving their own brief introduction, and we then launched into a discussion about fertility myths. The key theme which we returned to time and time again during the discussion was age, and how so many women are still under the misapprehension that IVF offers a solution to age-related infertility. Susan Bewley spelled out some key facts about women’s fertility which many of the audience weren’t aware of – the alarming increase in the miscarriage rate once women are in their forties, and the fact that we stop being fertile up to ten years before the menopause itself.  She explained that although the age at which women’s periods start has got younger as we are stronger and healthier, the average age at menopause has remained firmly stuck at 51.

There were some really interesting questions and comments from the audience, and a lively discussion about why women were leaving it later to have children and how to address this.  As a generation encouraged to delay motherhood, to work hard and have careers, many women who are now in their late 30s and early 40s are finding that following a male career pattern of establishing your position before thinking about starting a family doesn’t fit with a female reproductive pattern – but how we begin to change this is a real challenge.  Why do so many women find it hard to meet the right partner to have children with? Do we think too much about potential obstacles before we have children? Are men enjoying the chance to delay fatherhood at the expense of women’s fertility? Is teenage pregnancy really such a bad thing? Are we guilty of glorifying motherhood?

Thanks to the brilliant panel and the audience too.  In conclusion, it’s clear we can’t change the female biological clock, and perhaps we need to start thinking about how we change society and our own attitudes – your thoughts or suggestions are welcome!