Lynette Fay: Talking openly about reproduction's uncomfortable truths would make it less of a minefield for women and men
The thought of discussing anything concerning the reproductive health of women is still off limits for many but talking about the uncomfortable truths might help provide a better understanding of it all
PAMELA is 44. She went out with friends for her birthday. She had too much to drink, met a younger man who told her that she was very attractive, she had a one-night stand. Ten weeks later, she discovered that despite having been told by doctors that she was infertile, she was pregnant with her second child.
Pamela works in a bakery in Derry and has a 15-year-old daughter, who she has raised on her own.
Pamela, played brilliantly by Bronagh Gallagher, is the lead character in the award-winning Irish-made film A Bump Along The Way, which opened yesterday in 38 cinemas across the island of Ireland.
This endearing film deals with female relationships while the lead character is going through a ‘geriatric’ pregnancy. When this term is used by the doctor in the film, the audience laugh – right on cue.
I have seen the film twice now and twice I have wondered, what is so funny about a woman being pregnant aged 44? Why must there be any negativity attached to this fact, especially if she experiences a healthy pregnancy? Women are told repeatedly that their biological clock starts to count down after the age of 30. The older women get, the more they lose hope of conceiving naturally.
Pamela had also been told by doctors that she had endometriosis – a condition which many women suffer from. It's described on nhs.co.uk as a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
It can affect women at any age and its symptoms are extremely painful, especially when menstruating; during your period. In some cases, it is linked to infertility.
This week the BBC discussed endometriosis across all its news platforms. This was a brilliant thing to do. It was great to hear women share their experience of the condition which, despite being excruciatingly painful and affecting one in 10 women in the UK, remains an enigma and very much a taboo subject. The thought of discussing anything concerning the reproductive health of women is still off limits for many.
I have lost count of the number of times I have gone to the doctor seeking help with period pain, knowing that my hormones are up the left, only to be offered the pill. The last time I asked for help, when I refused the pill, I was told to ‘google’ alternatives.
The BBC discussion on endometriosis is only scratching the surface of the issue of women and reproduction.
This week, Australian singer and actor Natalie Imbruglia gave birth to a baby boy. Natalie is 44, single and conceived using IVF and a sperm donor. She publicly announced her decision to go it alone and have a baby this way a couple of months ago.
Again, cue the world of social media either commending her on this decision or vilifying her for doing this. Imbruglia is divorced and didn’t have children while she was married. The world and its granny had an opinion on this decision too.
Just like her fellow, albeit fictional, fellow 44-year-old, Pamela, when Imbruglia announced that she was going to have a baby, something she has wanted to do for a very long time, so many people were willing to offer their opinion on her choices. I know many single women who would love to go it alone, get a donor and have a baby, but the thought of the whispers and the cruel judgment which could and most likely would ensue is enough to put them off.
I would say, though, that when the baby is born, the haters and their cruelty just pale into insignificance, and rightly so. Hats off to you, Natalie.
This week, the pain of losing a baby has also been discussed publicly. It’s baby loss awareness week. Reading the stories of women who have either tried to conceive and those who have lost babies is just heartbreaking. The honesty of some of the experiences is food for thought for all of us. The next time you want to tell someone you don’t really know that the clock is a ticking, that they’d want to get a move on, please think again.
The reproductive system is a minefield – physically and mentally – for women primarily, and also for men. Talking about the uncomfortable truths might help provide a better understanding of it all.