Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Childless - not by choice

With the prevalence of childlessness rising rapidly, most of us know at least one person who is childless - not by choice.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about a quarter of women in their reproductive years are never likely to have children; and by 2011, couples without children are projected to outnumber those with children. When you consider these alarming statistics, it comes as no surprise that Australia’s birth rates are also at all an all-time low but what is the reasoning?

Is it due to a decline of social pressures to settle down and have children, failure of fertility treatment, underlying medical reasons or simply not meeting the right partner? These untold stories are the focus of the new book, An Inconceivable Notion, edited by Justine Davies.

As a freelance writer, blogger and author, Justine was stunned by the responses she received after writing a blog exploring the affordability of fertility treatments. The topic incited a huge debate with the underlying sentiment that infertility is merely one component of childlessness. Inspired by the conversations that eventuated, Justine decided, “OK, that’s it! This is a book that needs to be written”.

“Similar to politics and religion, parenting is one of those issues that has the ability to polarise people into a ‘them and us’ attitude,” Justine says. “It’s something that I’ve become acutely aware of over the last few years since I have been writing blogs. Whenever I have written a blog on any sort of parenting topic it causes immediate dissension between parents and non-parents; and the common theme that resides throughout all 18 stories in the book is how alone they all felt.

We always hear about the success stories – the people who fall pregnant despite the odds – but we don’t often hear about the people who don’t become parents despite wanting to be. I hope that many people gain comfort and reassurance from this book.”

Extract from An Inconceivable Notion:
Emily is forty and has been with her current partner for eighteen months. Over that time she has suffered two miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy, which resulted in the removal of one ovary.
After my last miscarriage we began to see a fertility specialist. I have to say that she was pretty blunt. She was basically saying to me that, at my age, we don’t have time to waste. Oh, and that I need to lose weight!

She said to keep trying – keep having sex – but her bottom line was that it was really my age, I’m really too old. I got the impression with her that it was like: ‘Oh yes, here’s another forty-year-old who can’t have children and wonders why.’ I know age is a factor. That’s why I was so surprised that I did fall pregnant so quickly – three times!

When I was a kid myself, I always assumed that I’d be a mother one day. One of my life goals was to be a mother well and truly by now, preferably with two or three kids. I had names picked out, that sort of thing. I’m very maternal and nurturing and, basically, I just love children. Trying to get pregnant at age forty was never my dream.

So why didn’t I try to have kids earlier? Well, I was married quite young, at age twenty-five, and the assumption was always there that we would have children one day. Because we had married so young there was no real rush, no pressure to have children straightaway. And it was always a case of ‘Well, we’re not ready yet, we’re not ready yet’. 

Perhaps deep down I suspected that the marriage wouldn’t survive having children. Not that it survived anyway. We were married for nine years and as time progressed, my husband seemed more and more reluctant to have children. I don’t know whether that’s because he was feeling insecure in the marriage or because, by then, he genuinely didn’t want children. 

But to cut a long story short, towards the end of my marriage he was actually going around telling people (behind my back) that we weren’t going to have children. Without having ever discussed that with me! I confronted him about that and everything exploded. We had a big argument and that was essentially the end of the marriage. It wasn’t the only reason that the marriage ended, of course, but it was certainly a significant factor. And it’s probably the easiest reason to give people when they ask why the marriage failed. 

Maybe the fact that he didn’t want children with me was symptomatic of something else. He has gone on to marry again and while they haven’t had children as yet, apparently he is quite keen to have a family with her. I know them both still, and I was asking her one day: ‘So have you finally convinced him to have kids? And she said: ‘Oh, he’s more clucky than I am.’ And that’s always life’s irony, isn’t it? Because men can take thirty years or more to find themselves and settle before they need to start thinking about kids. Women, on the other hand, just don’t have that time.

An Inconceivable Notion is available now at all good bookstores and online at www.finch.com.au, paperback RRP $26.95.

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