Part 1 of 2
Women of the World (WOW) Festival is always place for stimulating and challenging debate on important issues of the day. It was a privilege to be involved this year with my own segment with She Grrrowls as part of Gem’s Jam on the Sunday, featuring poets Bridget Minamore and Selina Nwulu, with live music from Roxanne Tatae and DJ sets from Born N Bread, Jamz Supernova, and host Gemma Cairney.
I also sat in on three very different panel discussions. I focus on only two panels, as the third, Testimony, included confidential accounts of women’s experiences of rape – an important and powerful space for their stories to be shared. I will dedicate this part one to the first panel I attended:
This is a subject that has interested me more since nearing my thirties. It was particularly relevant as the following day I would be undergoing egg collection – to donate my eggs to those who would otherwise not be able to conceive children. This act is a very much feminist issue. Yet some people have taken moral issue with the fact it is compensated with £750 for the time taken to go through this process. Thankfully in the UK, there are regulations, meaning there is a flat-rate fee and there are limits on hormone injections. In some parts of the US, women can earn thousands of dollars and I’ve read horror stories of 36 eggs being collected (compared to my three). Despite the appreciation shown by the doctor at the clinic, I wanted reassurance that I’d taken the right decision and perhaps that was part of why I attended this panel.
Fertility is a difficult topic for a feminist, because it comes with acknowledging an undeniable biological inequality
It was also of interest to me purely because of what was highlighted by the panel – the gap in knowledge about fertility, and the lack of education on the matter. Fertility is a difficult topic for a feminist, because it comes with acknowledging an undeniable biological inequality; that male fertility simply declines with age, whilst female fertility stops. The panel featured Jessica Hepburn (founder of Fertility Fest), Joyce Harper, Geeta Nargund, Camilla Whitehill, and Somalia Seaton. They work to get better fertility education into schools (including information for LGBT+ students) and increase NHS funding for those who want to have children but struggle to do so.
At times I felt like I craved more facts than were given, but still learnt that we lose 90% of our eggs by the time we are 30, and that fertility rapidly declines from the age of 35. As part of my egg donation, I am able to freeze my eggs for two years for free, but this begs the question of when I could do that without it either being a waste of resources, or it being too late. Given how the rest of my twenties have played out, I’m don’t feel like I’m going to be in any position to have children in the next two years, even if I wanted to.
Part of this struggle was expressed by Camilla Whitehill, also a 28 year-old artist, who spoke about the reality that the economy and housing crisis are impacting our ability to start a family. This is not to mention the lack of responsibility that men take for the biological inequality. Their ability to have children later in life is often nothing more than a punchline in a joke between men, at the expense of women. And it hits us straight in the gut, because whilst I didn’t appreciate family members in my last relationship commenting on my biological clock, they did have a point.
we are getting into a situation where only the rich will be able to procreate, in a twisted kind of eugenics of circumstance
Men need to take responsibility for their actions. Sometimes ending a relationship because you’re not sure about it is the kinder thing to do, than to keep stringing someone along for years. This is why my relationship of six years ended last year, and the same has happened to friends in equally long relationships. These are the reasons why I disagreed with one panellist who referred to delaying children as a “lifestyle choice”. To claim that, is to deny the state of things in the UK for the current generation of women in their twenties and thirties.
I was also shocked to find out that IVF is only successful in 35-40% cases in women under the age of 35, and that this is considered “pretty good”, leaving me feeling despondent when it comes to fertility. The deeper issue here is the access to low-cost IVF, and the fact that we are getting into a situation where only the rich will be able to procreate, in a twisted kind of eugenics of circumstance.
There is so much more to say on this topic, and we haven’t even touched on miscarriages and difficult pregnancies. What is clear is that the government needs to take action on funding for IVF treatment, and allow women to check their fertility without forking out hundreds of pounds. But really what is needed, is a complete overhaul of the work culture, as advocated by feminists like bell hooks. We need a system where there are more job shares, better access to affordable childcare, and models similar to those in Sweden where there are subsidies offered to new parents.
Fertility is a feminist issue, and even if it is not your choice to have children, we must battle together to fight for all women who do to have the means to do so.
If this is an issue you’d like to hear more about, Fertility Fest is happening in London from 8-13 May 2018.
Featured image from Pixabay
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