Holly Elgeti. Make-up by Nicky Weir with Hourglass. Hair: Alex Szabo, Carol Hayes, using T3
I have a new hero. She is Dorothy Byrne who was the former head of Channel 4 News and has recently taken up the position of president at Murray Edwards College University of Cambridge.
Murray Edwards is a single-sex college that serves women, despite her name suggesting she is a retired daytime TV host. And one of Byrne’s first actions in her new job was to introduce a series of seminars on fertility. She explained in a newspaper interview that she felt fertility had become ‘a forbidden subject’ and that ‘young women are being taught that they all have to do well in school, get a degree, be successful in their career and be beautiful. The thing that is getting lost along the way is that you forget to have a baby, which I nearly did.’
Byrne became a single mom through IVF at 45. She is now 69 and knows better than anyone how women must think about parenthood if she wants it. They should, especially if they want it to go along with a successful career and a fulfilled personal life.
I thought if I wasn’t ‘careful’ I’d end up with sextuplets
I was fortunate to have attended a great single-sex school. But in the 90s, when I was a teenager, the majority of our sex education was focused on ensuring we didn’t accidentally get pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted disease. In one ‘Life Skills’ class, I remember being taught how to put a condom on a plastic tube.
I entered my 20s with the firm belief that if I wasn’t careful, I would end up dashing my hopes of a successful career by unwittingly becoming impregnated with sextuplets any time I slept with a man. I took the contraceptive pill. For 14 years.
I didn’t know that my fertility wasn’t guaranteed. I assumed that I would meet the woman I wanted to have children with in my 30s and then I would be able to get off the pill. Yes, perhaps I had a dim sense that a woman’s fertility declined in her late 30s but it wasn’t something I was unduly concerned about. It felt unfeminist for me to get too concerned about whether I wanted children or not. I was busy making a career for me.
The truth is, it hasn’t been easy for me to have a baby. It’s not easy. To date, I’ve had two unsuccessful rounds of IVF, three miscarriages, one round of egg freezing, various surgical procedures and internal investigations, countless scans and blood tests with multiple fertility clinics and here I am, ten years after I started trying, still actively engaged in the difficult, exhausting, emotional journey to become a mother.
If I’d been taught about the limits of my fertility, maybe I would have approached things a little differently. Maybe the outcome would have been similar, but I would have made better informed decisions and been more empowered to make them.
I also strongly feel that there’s a deeper point here, about bringing to the fore subjects that have been marginalised and dismissed for centuries as ‘women’s issues’ and giving them the seriousness they deserve.
Not all women want to be mothers. Nor are we defined solely by our ability or inability to have children. But for us not to feel misplaced shame or stigma, it’s important we talk about the things that permanently shape women’s – and men’s – lives without fear of judgment.
I’m so grateful that these fertility seminars now exist and that women are being emboldened to make the choices that are right for them. Even more inspiring is the fact that Byrne was only 45 when her child was born.
I’m turning 43 in a few weeks. I have two more years of hope.
This week I’m…
Wearing this cinnamon ribbed-knit midi dress – the perfect colour for autumn. £350, self-portrait-studio.com.
Sleeping in burnt orange bedlinen by Piglet – a friend recommended linen sheets and they’re a revelation. £392, pigletinbed.com
Reading Misfits by Michaela Coel: a short, inspiring manifesto penned by the creator of I May Destroy You. £9.99, waterstones.com