involuntary childlessness

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!

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