Childless: A Story of Freedom and Longing by Sian Prior
The question of whether or not to have children was never one that held any ambivalence for Sian Prior: she always wanted to have children of her own. She had many concerns about the future of the planet and its impending environmental catastrophe and what that might mean for generations to come – informed by a personal history of research and activism – but hope was there, and with it, an acute and irrepressible desire to become a mother and leave a genetic legacy for the future. But in spite of Prior’s thoughtful approach to the issue of reproduction, she found, through a series of painful events, that her life’s trajectory would not include giving birth to a baby of her own. In this carefully crafted and emotionally rich memoir, Prior moves the reader back and forth across the years of attempt and failure, reflecting on the many events that coalesced to lead her to a state of childlessness in her fifties.
When I think about this book, I am overwhelmed by the courage that it must have taken to write it, and then set it free into the world. It’s such an intimate story that exposes its writer in so many ways, and covers myriad topics that are rarely discussed openly, and are on the verge of taboo. Prior does not shy away from describing the cruel physical experience of miscarriage and the grief associated with the loss of potential that a miscarriage represents. She reveals the ongoing mental and physical pain of unfulfilled maternal desire, often tied with feelings of guilt. She details the relationships that were made and broken during her attempts to become a mother, and is open about the complicated ways in which other people’s children have featured in her life. Childless is a welcome interruption to the ideology of motherhood (frequently presumed to be the natural state of the female subject), and an incredibly candid account of the way that the female body can torture and foil the person who inhabits it. Alongside this story of ‘failure’ is also a hard-fought path of self-discovery and self-acceptance, of becoming comfortable with the possibilities afforded by a life without children, as Prior learns to let go of an imagined future that cannot become her present. There is a sadness here, of course, but also many moments of joy and humour, and a story of living with purpose and intention.
I hope so many people read this book – people with and without children, by choice or by fate – to understand an experience that is infrequently given space to exist in public, but which is by no means unique.