I have just finished an MA in Independent Film Making at the University of Bradford in the UK. The final assessment was to be a film about any subject in a style of my choosing. As my wife and I are childless, I chose to make a film about childlessness to raise the profile of this invisible, but significant minority.
In a television interview in 2005, Stephen Hawking, the famous, severely disabled astro-physicist, said that he felt that his greatest achievement was his children. Such is the innate primal need for procreation that it eclipsed everything else that he had done. It appears to be so fundamental to what we are and, supposedly so easy, that to not do so, is unimaginable. The childless are left adrift, struggling to find meaning and purpose in their lives, and successful parents cannot imagine their fate, particularly when every long-running sitcom seems to end with a pregnancy. The media is rife with such pronatalism. Hence the assumption of fecundity for all and the fearful incomprehension and inane platitudes when the childless reveal their ‘secret’.
The childless learn to dread a daily hailstorm of painful questions. Every new person they meet, above a certain age, immediately engages them in a conversation about children. Because parenting takes up so much of their time and energy, many people seem unable to relate to a person who does not have any children. There is often an assumption that people do not have children, because they do not like children. And, in the case of the subfertile, the next, sometimes silent, question is ‘what is wrong with you?’
An accusation often leveled at the childless, struggling through the IVF process, is that they are selfish to attempt this when there are so many children in care looking for a family. One reply to this could be, if there are so many children looking for a home why did you bother to have children of your own. The drive for most people is not to be a parent but to produce offspring of their own. How many parents would be happy to swap their kids with another’s?
So in my film I give the childless the opportunity to answer these questions. And the final film divided into these chapters:
Why didn’t you have any kids?
Why didn’t you just do IVF?
Why didn’t you just adopt?
You can have one of mine!
What do you do with all that spare time?
Childlessness stirs up complex emotions, just take a look at the vitriol displayed in the comments after any online newspaper article about any aspect. Part of the problem with the exposure so far is that it appears to be difficult to empathise with the people in a newspaper article, book, Facebook page or online forum. And, unfortunately, the anonymity of the online comments section enables a vicious response from the unenlightened. However a film showing a number of ordinary people describing their, similar, experiences will hopefully be more compelling.
The childless people that I have shown it to seem happy with the film so far. They felt that it captured a lot of their life experience. Unfortunately, I am currently unable to share the film as it is still under assessment. However I am planning to expand the project in the future, to capture more of the different voices in the childless community. With the current rising trend it is a timely piece that should help to promote a little awareness and sensitivity.