childless not by choice

Sky News: Why falling birth rates aren't all down to 'career women'

Following on from the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics showing that the birth rate in England & Wales is at an all time low, I was invited on to Sky News to debunk the myth of the selfish career woman who forgot to have children.

At 11 babies born per 1000 people, this is the lowest birth rate since records started in 1938; driven largely by falling fertility rates, which are also lower than all previous years since records began.

Sky don't make rolling news available on catchup, but here's a fuzzy iPhone version of the interview:

 

And for the quick overview, these were the key points I made:

Childless not Childfree

1 in 5 women aged 45 don't have children, but whilst some are childfree by choice, the majority are childless not-by-choice: some due to infertility (like me), but many are childless-by-circumstance - for a multitude of reasons, such as (amongst many others) not meeting the right partner, meeting the right partner but they didn't want children, not being in a financial position to start a family or having caring responsibilities.

It’s not all about women

The most common reason for having IVF is male factor infertility (37% of IVF cycles are due to sperm issues) - and with sperm counts declining at a catastrophic rate, the notion that falling birth rates are all down to women isn't just reductive, but it's pretty misogynistic.

Falling birthrates - good or bad?

Whilst on the one hand lots of environmental organisations are encouraging people to have fewer children in order to save the planet, on the other hand over half the world's countries are below replacement fertility (the fertility rate needed to maintain a society’s population size is 2.1 children per woman) - meaning they're facing a demographic timebomb, where they're aren't enough younger people of working age to pay for an ageing population, which is why so many countries have government campaigns trying to encourage its citizens to have more babies.

The increasing global population is mainly due to people living longer - not only are birth rates declining in many countries, but as developing countries with high birth rates prosper economically and contraception is more widely available, their birth rates will generally trend downwards. So whilst estimates show the global population is on the increase, it's actually projected to nearly stop growing by the end of the century.

Next time someone makes the typical ‘people having IVF are selfish, the world is overpopulated already’ infertility bingo comment, maybe ask them who’s going to pay for their pension?

Reclaiming barren

We also discussed my mission to reclaim the word ‘barren’ , and why it represents resilience and strength of character, and belonging to a sisterhood of some of the bravest, funniest, most kick-ass women you could ever wish to know.

Fertility education

In a recorded interview which went out in the 7pm bulletin, I spoke about the importance of fertility education to help young people better understand how fertility declines with age, and how it’s crucial that boys understand this as much as girls - because it takes two people to make a baby!

I also highlighted that whilst couples may be emotionally ready to start a family, there are many, many practical barriers that may stand in their way - primarily financial, given high rents, the difficulty of getting on the property ladder, and the lack of affordable childcare. Most of this got cut and didn’t make it into the broadcast, but I think these are really important factors as to why it’s not all about selfish career women!

“You never know true love until you have a child”

[ Originally posted on Medium ]

“You never know true love until you have a child”

This quote is definitely a podium winner when it comes to ‘hurtful comments people say when you’re childless not by choice’

Let’s dissect this sentence, shall we?

1. ‘You never know true love until you have a child’

Which ‘you’ is that? You, the person saying this out loud, may have felt this about your own experience — that you were wandering in a world bereft of genuine love until YOU had a child. In which case, dear person making this comment, it would be more accurate to say, ‘I myself didn’t know true love until had a child’. A statement which is all sorts of problematic in so many other ways, but let’s get the pedantry out of the way first.

‘You’ doesn’t mean ‘me’. It means ‘the person or people that the speaker is addressing’, or may also be used ‘to refer to any person in general’

If you’re addressing me personally, then I have two words for you. One begins with ‘F’, and the other is ‘off’.

Firstly, that’s a massive assumption: you know absolutely nothing about my life. You know nothing about the love I share with my beloved husband & soulmate; the loving relationships I have with friends and family; the love I have for the things in my life that fulfil and enrich me; and the love I have for the amazing women I have never met — but who have been my lifeline throughout my experience of infertility, pregnancy loss, and involuntary childlessness.

And secondly, even if you did know my innermost thoughts (which you don’t), you cannot speak for anyone else but yourself. Your narrow-minded feelings are your own, you don’t and can’t speak for me and mine. And certainly not for ‘any person in general’ who doesn’t have a child.

2. You never know true love until you have a child’

Another semi-linguistic point. ‘Until’ is another insensitive and hurtful part of that sentence. ‘Until you have a child’ suggests that having a child is an inevitability, that it’s something ‘you just do’, that it’s a universal experience. Newsflash: it isn’t. Many, many people will never have a child. Many of those people are childless not by choice. We desperately wanted to have a child. We wanted it to be part of our own lived experience. But life didn’t turn out that way. There simply is no ‘until’ for us.

3. You never know true love until you have a child’

Why and how do you get to define true love? How can you compare different experiences of love? What does ’true love’ even mean? That every other kind of love is invalid compared to love for your child?

It also makes no sense from a basic logic POV: if the only true love is a parent’s love for their child, then by that definition all love is unrequited! A parent’s true love for their child isn’t truly reciprocated, because their child can only know true love until they have a child. And so on, and so on. Which is a pretty f***ed up way of looking at the world!

In my world, my love for my spouse, family, friends and community is enormous, real and true. I don’t know what my experience of loving a child would be like, but I would hope that it would be a joy that didn’t automatically negate every other experience of love in my life.

There is no higher or lesser form of love, every form of love is unique — regardless of whether you have a child or not.

Love is love.

This was originally published on the World Childless Week website, about Comments that Hurt, as part of #worldchildlessweek

Nature 1: 0 Science

image by  chuttersnap  on  Unsplash

image by chuttersnap on Unsplash

[ Originally posted on Medium ]

‘Well, Ms Lindemann, you are, without doubt, the weirdest case I have ever seen’

So said the eminent Professor and world-leading researcher in infertility and miscarriage. I was one of the thousands of women who came to his clinic from all over the country — even the world. He’d been a specialist in reproductive medicine for well over 20 years, but I was the strangest case he’d ever seen.

‘I’ve never seen what happens to your womb in humans before, only in mice.’

I’m not just infertile, I’m really really infertile.

1 in 6 couples experience infertility, but I’m the only woman in the world with a womb like a mouse, apparently.

My husband is apoplectic with rage when I’m introduced to another Dr as being ‘like a mouse’, as he (rightly) says that it’s dehumanising. I’m so used to feeling like a lab rat, I don’t even notice.

The eminent Professor says that statistically, most couples do get there eventually, with persistence (although at what physical, emotional and financial cost?)

And that from a clinical point of view, he rarely recommends that a couple stop trying for a baby because they’re a hopeless cause — that the decision to continue is one for them and them alone.

‘But, Ms Lindemann, you are a case entirely all on your own. There is absolutely no question that there is no point in you continuing treatment — your womb is simply unable to sustain a pregnancy’.

Our route to reaching the end of the road was ridiculously short and sharp. From starting trying to being told I’ll never have a baby, in just 2 years. We were doing IVF within 3 months of starting to try: anyone who says the baby-making phase is fun has clearly never gone through fertility treatment (which a friend of mine astutely describes as ‘a very expensive form of self-harm’).

Highlights of just one 12-month period include 4 IVF cycles, 3 cancelled cycles, 2 pregnancies, 2 losses and 3 surgeries (no partridge in a pear tree). Then begins the slow descent to the end, as it’s clear that whatever procedures, therapies or medications we try, things are getting worse, not better.

If anyone chips in with a well-intentioned — but desperately unhelpful — ‘have you tried…’ comment (yes, it’s great that your infertile friend was told she’ll never have children, then snorted some oregano and licked a tortoise and now they have miracle quadruplets, but that has no relevance to my situation), I bite my tongue, as I will win the ‘have you tried’ game.

Things I have tried to improve my womb include:

  • HRT (oral, vaginal & patches)

  • low doses of hormone injections

  • high doses of hormone injections

  • oral Viagra

  • vaginal Viagra pessaries at £1000 for 7 days (specially commissioned from a compounding pharmacy in Cardiff)

  • uterine washes with a drug used for bone marrow harvesting

  • blood pressure tablets

  • blood thinning tablets and injections

  • tablets used to treat breast cancer

  • many, many womb biopsies

  • surgeries

  • going on contraception (yes, a copper IUD was part of my fertility treatment)

In addition to thousands and thousands of pounds on:

  • fertility acupuncture

  • a bazillion supplements

  • red raspberry leaf tea

  • pomegranate juice

  • red meat & other ‘womb lining friendly food

  • Mayan abdominal massage & nightly castor oil packs

  • fertility reflexology

  • lots of fertility meditation & hypnotherapy.

Spoiler alert: none of this worked.

The narrative that if you try hard enough, keep going, don’t give up, stay strong and you’ll get there, that it’ll all be worth it when you have your baby in your arms, isn’t just unhelpful — it’s offensive.

(See also the ‘You can beat cancer if you fight hard enough’ narrative.)

As though if we weren’t successful, it’s because we didn’t try hard enough.

No. Just no.

I’m childless not by choice because of biology.

Nature 1, Science 0.

I might be the only woman in the world with a uterus that’s so dysfunctional it’s never been seen in humans before.

But I’m not alone in being infertile. The WHO defines infertility as a ‘disease of the reproductive system’. I am the 1 in 6.

I’m childless not by choice because I suffer from this disease. Not because I didn’t try hard enough.


This was originally published on the World Childless Week website, for the theme ‘Facts & Figure: Our Stories’, as part of #worldchildlessweek