Artificial Wombs and Choosing an Alternative to Gestation


by Elizabeth Chloe Romanis

Artificial womb technology has hit the headlines several times over the last few years, with researchers in the United States, Australia and the Netherlands all getting closer to a model ready for testing on humans. The technology is being designed as an alternative to neonatal intensive care, because despite advances in treatments available for preterm neonates, mortality rates remain high and severe long-term complications are common amongst those that survive.

There has been considerable excitement surrounding the recent advances in artificial womb technology. It is thought that the technology could end prematurity as the leading cause of death amongst neonates and provide women with more control over the burdens they experience in reproduction. We often speculate about the benefits new technologies bring without necessarily examining whether these potential benefits will be legally accessible. What’s more, examining the legalities of future reproductive technologies exposes quite how draconian the law surrounding gestation is. This is the focus of my current research: would any potentially liberating choices enabled by artificial wombs actually be available to pregnant people under the current legal framework of England and Wales?


A choice about the duration of gestation

One day artificial wombs might develop to the point of being able to completely gestate a human entity from conception to term. However, the technology as it is currently being designed only demonstrates a possibility of providing an alternative to later-term gestation by taking over the process of gestation when human entities are delivered premature. This could be a major benefit for those pregnant people who want to become parents but cannot, or do not want to, carry a pregnancy to term. This might include people for whom pregnancy is dangerous because of an underlying health condition or specific complications. In these instances, preterm delivery is already not uncommon, and with the introduction of the artificial womb it could become more common as the risks associated with preterm delivery are diminished; allowing pregnant people to prioritise their health and wellbeing without sacrificing parenthood. The technology could thus reduce the burdens on pregnant people by enabling them to opt out of pregnancy earlier, before complications worsen, and at lower thresholds of risk.


The legalities of opting for gestation ex utero (and out of pregnancy)

In England and Wales, it is a criminal offence to ‘procure unlawful miscarriage’ – meaning to bring an end to an established pregnancy in the absence of a legally recognised defence. Does ‘miscarriage’ encompass any ending to a pregnancy, or only those instances in which the pregnancy termination results in foetal death? There are plausible reasons to believe that the law could be interpreted either way.

This raises the question: if any ending of a pregnancy is prima facie criminal, would a doctor have a defence if they performed foetal extraction in order to place a foetus in an artificial womb? Abortion legislation provides a doctor ending a pregnancy with a defence only in a prescribed set of circumstances:

  • Before 24 weeks gestation and the risk of termination is less than the risk of continued pregnancy
  • Where pregnancy poses a risk to the pregnant person’s life
  • Where pregnancy poses grave, permanent damage to the pregnant person’s physical or mental health
  • Where there is a substantial risk that the foetus is handicapped


These defences are incredibly limited when thinking about gestation ex utero. The availability of artificial wombs could enable a shift in thinking about the magnitude of risks in pregnancy, but legislation about pregnancy termination has a rigid structure based on risk to life or serious risk to health, and thus might not necessarily allow for the opting for ex utero gestation unless serious risk is evident. Those pregnant people experiencing some of the most severe complications in pregnancy would still benefit from the artificial womb, but the law might prevent those who want to make the choice to gestate ex utero to alleviate the burden of pregnancy on an underlying illness or to avoid specific aspects of later-term pregnancy they believe are adverse to their welfare, from doing so.


Decriminalising gestation

How criminal miscarriage is defined matters both conceptually and practically. The way the law is framed means that, if artificial wombs become available, there could be a case for pregnant people having a legal obligation to remain pregnant despite a viable technological alternative to pregnancy.

This has a powerful signaling effect about the female body and its role in reproduction. The way the law is constructed enforces heteronormative values about the female body because it forces female persons wanting to justify their ‘deviation’ from the course of pregnancy, even in those instances in which their life is threatened or where the purpose of ending a pregnancy is to continue gestation ex utero. The law’s construction also subjects pregnancy to excessive medical control because, pregnant people are only allowed to end their pregnancy where this is permitted by their doctor and justified in medical terms.

These laws have not been changed in 29 years, and are regressive, especially if applied in the context of artificial wombs. Artificial wombs bolster the case for decriminalisation of pregnancy termination; it is time we trust women and pregnant people to make decisions about their reproduction and gestation.



This blog is based on open access article: ‘Artificial Womb Technology and the Choice to Gestate Ex Utero: is Partial Ectogenesis the Business of the Criminal Law?’ recently published in the Medical Law Review.

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Popularity of apps like Natural Cycles highlights serious issues with contraceptives today

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Natural Cycles

Many women have made a dramatic change in their use of contraceptives of late. Specifically, use of “contraceptive apps” such as Natural Cycles, a smartphone app that predicts the days on which a woman is fertile and can be used for contraception (as well as planning pregnancy), is on the rise. By closely tracking a woman’s cycle and temperature, such apps designate unprotected sex safe or unsafe each day. When unsafe, the use of barrier methods of protection is advised.

Natural Cycles was developed by CERN scientist Elina Berglund and her husband, Raoul Scherwitzl, whose scientific background has lent the app a certain kudos. And as “the only app certified for contraception” in Europe and, as of August 10, the US, women who might otherwise be suspicious of the method, which is at the end of the day simply jazzed up natural family planning, have taken the plunge.

The fact that many women are spurning more “medical” kinds of contraception, such as the pill or IUD, in favour of such apps, along with discussion in some cases of their failures, are once again drawing public attention to the hazards of being a pre-menopausal, heterosexual, sexually active woman. The risks of contraceptives range from milder side effects to rare but potentially serious complications. These, of course, come alongside the ever present risk of unintended pregnancy through contraceptive failure.

Many women report side effects with the contraceptive pill, but often aren’t listened to.

Understated side effects

When choosing a method of contraception, women routinely have to balance the impacts of each method against its likely effectiveness. Most of the evidence suggests that it is common for women to choose the least bad option in terms of side effects, rather than something they are really comfortable with. Consequently, it’s not surprising that a technology that promises to overcome many of these difficulties would prove to be popular.

Being able to control fertility is essential for women’s equality, yet the means to do this are currently all imperfect. Side effects are a common experience and are a major cause of women stopping using particular birth control methods. In contraceptive consultations, the frequency and severity of side effects and other more serious health risks are often understated.

Research suggests that health professionals seek to avoid mentioning issues they believe would cause undue concerns. This reluctance to disclose may be linked to historic ideas that women are not fully capable of rational decision making. The assumption that women are not to be trusted with contraception is most clearly seen in the promotion of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC): the injection, implant, and hormonal and copper coils. The evidence shows that some women who encounter difficulties sometimes struggle to get health professionals to remove their LARC. Women are expected to put up with side effects rather than taking a bigger risk of unintended pregnancy.

A perfect woman

Culturally speaking, unintended pregnancies are usually frowned upon. This is particularly the case for younger women and those in marginalised circumstances. This denigration links to ideas about irresponsibility more generally. Popular stereotypes of “feckless” families who have babies for benefits are commonplace, but are rarely accurate. In the US for example, the idea of the “welfare queen” has been shown to be false.

In the UK, it is government policy to limit the number of children claimants can receive benefits for. As in-work poverty means increasing numbers of families are reliant on benefits, more and more women will have their fertility judged.

Stereotypes of who would be or not be a “good” mother can be seen in healthcare providers’ assumptions of who would particularly benefit from LARC. It is also important to remember that the stigma surrounding abortion builds on assumptions of irresponsible women failing to successfully control their fertility. This is despite the evidence that contraceptive failure is a significant reason for needing abortion.

Failed contraceptives are a major cause of unwanted pregnancy.
Vadim Zakharishchev/Shutterstock

The cultural notions that women fail, rather than the fault being with contraceptive technologies, has even become standardised within health information. Many contraceptive information pages have institutionalised notions of women’s irresponsibility by including statistics on effectiveness reporting “perfect” and “typical” use. Given that “perfect” use for some methods is actually beyond women’s control (for example, the impact of a stomach upset on the pill), just showing “typical” use would ensure women were informed properly but without being judgemental.

Although women are largely held responsible for failure, that does not necessarily mean they are seen as responsible enough to make decisions over which birth control method to use. Although in other parts of the world, emergency hormonal contraception is available in supermarkets or even vending machines, in the UK and Australia, women wanting access need to have a consultation, even if this just takes place in a pharmacy. This is not necessarily to access them medically, but so they can be “advised” to avoid future “mistakes”.

Gendered inequality

In an age where relationships are supposed to be equal partnerships, contraception raises equality issues. To date, the “male pill” still has not materialised, leaving men with few options. Condoms are often not seen as “proper” contraception for ongoing relationships. The protection they provide against sexually transmitted infections means that they are associated with casual partners.

Condoms tend not to be used by those in ongoing relationships.

Meanwhile the idea of vasectomy (which should obviously only be undertaken if a decision of no future children is made) is popular with women for equality reasons. It allows couples to take turns over contraceptive responsibility over time. But many men do not seem to be that keen.

It’s also important to remember that pregnancy carries some risks for women alone. Even if they are supportive partners, men do not face the same biological issues of either continuing or ending a pregnancy. While there are now challenges to the expectations that women should always be the primary carer of children, changes in attitude cannot overcome this biological reality of pregnancy.

So it’s unsurprising that such apps are popular. Avoiding the health difficulties that many women experience with other contraceptive methods is appealing. But women are still waiting for better contraceptive solutions. In the meantime, reducing the stigma and costs of unintended pregnancy and abortion would an extremely useful step in recalibrating the understanding of the difficult balance women make between embodied impacts and the effectiveness of the current options.The Conversation

Pam Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Aston University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Personal Reflections on Non/Mothers, Other-Mothers, Mothering and Being Mothered

We live in a world where the identity of woman and mother are still often seen as interchangeable. As a result, there are many ways that women who do not (currently) mother in traditionally defined and valued forms can feel excluded. Furthermore, many of those without a mother similarly experience their difference to others as painful.

Mother’s Day, and accompanying Hallmark inspired celebrations, can be difficult for those who are motherless and/or nonmothers and yet these identities are more fluid than is often acknowledged. Mothering Sunday then might be a better term for such celebration given as it allows for the inclusion of our memories of being mothered and our past, present and future experiences of mothering children and other adults – in both our personal and work lives – in many and varied ways. This includes, but is not restricted to, women whose children have died, are estranged from them or who live far away; women who mother children to whom they are not biologically related; women who mother children (and adults) through their paid or voluntary work life; and the mothering of friends.

My personal identities as non/other mother (M/Other) and as daughter (now ‘orphaned’), alongside my professional identities as teacher, researcher, supervisor and mentor, have been significant to, and within, my auto/biographical work as a feminist sociologist (see for example Letherby 2017, Brennan and Letherby 2017). I have attempted a critical auto/biographical approach to explore aspects of my professional and personal identity with reference to (non/other) maternal status and experience. I have undertaken research and written (alone and with others) in the areas of perinatal loss, ‘infertility’ and ‘involuntary childlessness’ (written in quotation marks to highlight problems of definition) teenage pregnancy and young parenthood; experiences of pregnancy and early motherhood for women living with long-term health conditions; identity issues for women with polycystic ovary syndrome; older motherhood; stay-at-home mothers; the ‘voluntary’-‘involuntary’ childlessness continuum; and non/motherhood within institutions (including universities and prisons). I have also recently begun to reflect and write on the experience of being mothered.

Alongside my academic writings I write fiction, memoir and political opinion pieces some of which refers or relates to my academic work in these areas. This is an extract from a piece I wrote for Mother’s Day (in the UK) in 2017:

‘Thirty-two years ago, when I had my miscarriage my central aim was to be a mother and I felt that I was only half a woman without a child.  Any doubts or ambivalences I had about becoming a mother I denied. I now feel very different. I no longer see myself as a lesser woman (or less than adult) for not mothering children. I am also able to accept the equivocal nature of my desires – that is, a part of me enjoys the freedom that I have had and have because of my biologically childless state. And if I had become a biological mother I know that I would have felt opposing emotions in relation to that experience also. Of course, I cannot know how my life would have turned out if I had carried my baby successfully to term. My return to education a couple of years after my loss would likely not have happened but given the opportunities I have not had I will be forever grateful for the fulfillment my studies and subsequent work in higher education have given me. It is not only the intellectual stimulation I am thankful for but also the relationships I have made with students and younger colleagues. Indeed, most of my working life, as nursery nurse and as academic, has provided me with opportunities to support and encourage younger people. Although, I am amongst the first to critique the view that women should automatically be expected to care at work as well as at home, personally I feel privileged to be able to do this.’

As my maternal desires, intentions and experiences have changed I am aware that I have shifted my position on what James H. Monach (1993) calls the ‘voluntarily’/ ‘involuntary’ childless continuum. I prefer this to Anne Woollett’s (1996) description of her own move from ‘infertile’ to ‘childless’ for I have always had children in my life (through my work and in my relationships with the children and grandchildren of close friends). Now in my late fifties my life is a fulfilling mixture of paid and voluntary work (both within and outside of the academy) some political activism and time spent with close and loving friends (of all ages).

I still grieve for the children I do not have and am regularly reminded of what is missing from my life, in terms of daily interaction with children and grandchildren of ‘my own’. However, I appreciate the value of my life as it is and the many positives and privileges associated with it.

Throughout my career I have, on occasion, had my academic choices challenged. My auto/biographical approach has been devalued or dismissed as not academic (enough) even self-indulgent (Letherby 2000) but I have always felt confident enough to counter this with academic argument (e.g. Letherby 2013). The ‘critique’ of my personal, as opposed to my academic, identity has at times been harder, at least emotionally, to counter. On the break-up of his previous relationship my second (late) husband John was given custody of his two teenage sons. For the first eight years of our time together both boys lived with us full-time and on occasion spent long periods of time at home well into their twenties. These relationships made me think again about my own biological childlessness and were both a challenge and a revelation to me. I never defined myself as the boys’ mother and they did not see me this way either but I do feel that my relationship towards them was, for many years, parental.Thus, there were times when it felt appropriate to say yes when asked if I had any children and in an ironic twist on my status there were times when I felt like an ‘involuntary’ parent. When writing about this in a journal article the editor of the feminist publication changed my reference to ‘a parental relationship with John’s two sons’ to ‘a kind of parental relationship’.

Throughout our 53 years together, and since her death six years ago, friends and acquaintances have commented on the rapport and warmth between my mother and I. Indeed, not least with reference to my status as non(biological) mother. As I have described elsewhere: ‘I feel sure that I would not have survived intact, reformed as whole without my mother’s support and unconditional love. For her it was all about me, always about me and it was not until after her death that I realised she never, ever, spoke of her own loss, no babies for me, no grandbabies for her’. Despite this, it has been suggested to me, several times, at academic conferences and seminars and in published pieces, that a woman can never really understand, or be completely close to her own mother until she becomes a mother herself.

Outside of academia there is also exclusion. One recent experience demonstrates how my academic and personal identities interconnect. In 2017 At ‘The World Transformed’ at the 2017 Labour Party Conference a group called Mums4Corbyn launched. To accompany this the New Socialist put out a call for a series of articles on the ‘politics of contemporary motherhood’. I submitted a pitch for consideration:

My concern is with the political significance of all women whether mothers, nonmothers or other-mothers (women whose mother status is considered lesser, even ‘unreal’). This is important because the ideologies and expectations of ideal motherhood affect all women, in our private and our public lives and the image of the ideal woman – which is arguably synonymous with the image of the ideal mother – also affects us all, whether mother, other-mother or nonmother. Feminism can be criticized for focusing on motherhood at the expense of a consideration of sisterhood. Yet any (political) understanding of motherhood and mothering needs to embrace the experience of nonmothers and other-mothers. It is only through such holistic reflection on our similarities and our differences that as sisters together we can challenge that which divides us and holds us back and celebrate our ‘collective and communal relations’ which will enable to us work together for ‘transformative change’.

Sadly, the editors felt that my piece did not ‘quite match’ their intended agenda. Which in turn, I would suggest, is a further denial of the relevance of the very many of us who have an identity and experiences defined by society as lesser (see here for more on this).

This rejection has prompted more reflection and writing. I’ll end here with an extract from a piece of prose poetry:

Being Other

. . . .

Yet, there remains a sense of difference, compounded at times by exclusion.

Still feeling other and sometimes being othered.

Being also, at least at some level, an expert in my own experience, and through much study and research the experience of similar others, does not always protect me from distress.

So what of the latest exclusion, that which forces me to relive my loss (yet again), and its’ social, emotional and material aftermath, more than thirty years on from the life-changing night when all this started?

This time a denial not only of our contribution and our value but also a rejection of my knowledge and expertise.

I appreciate then that my pride is hurt on top of all the rest.

I will recover, I always do.

But for the moment I’m left reflecting on the fragility of it all.

Contentment, self-worth, security in one’s achievements and meaningfulness, perhaps even some small legacy.

In a heartbeat all threatened.

Walking on ice.

Careful steps now …

Written by Professor Gayle Letherby, University of Plymouth


Brennan, M. and Letherby, G. (2017) ‘Auto/Biographical Approaches to Researching Death and Bereavement: connections, continuums, contrasts’ for Morality: Promoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying 22(2): 155-169

 Letherby, G. (2000) ‘Dangerous Liaisons: auto/biography in research and research writing’ in G. Lee-Treweek and S. Linkogle, S. (eds.) Danger, Gender and Data in Qualitative Inquiry London: Routledge

Letherby, G. (2013) ‘Theorised Subjectivity’ in G. Letherby J. Scott and M. Williams Objectivity and Subjectivity in Social Research London: Sage

 Letherby, G. (2017) ‘To Be or Not to Be (a mother): Telling Academic and Personal Stories of Mothers and Others’ in G. Rye, V. Browne, A. Giorgio, E. Jeremiah and A. L. Six (eds.) Motherhood in Literature and Culture: interdisciplinary perspectives from Europe London: Routledge

Monach, J. H. (1993) Childless No Choice: the experience of involuntary childlessness London: Routledge







The 8th Repealed: Future directions and lessons for UK politicians

The Irish referendum to repeal the 8th amendment was a momentous day for abortion politics. Two thirds of Irish voters rejected the idea that a developing foetus had an equal right to life as the pregnant women, thereby sending out a clear signal to their government that the country would no longer tolerate the ban on abortion and the discrimination against pregnant women more generally. Many people believe that the tragic and unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar added momentum to the campaign. Halappanavar was 31 years old when she died from sepsis developed during a miscarriage, her family reported that she was denied an abortion because there was still a foetal heartbeat. This tragic event, and the accounts of women forced to travel overseas to access an abortion, made it clear that rather than a foetus having an equal right to life, women’s lives were in fact a secondary consideration and this situation could no longer be tolerated.   

Women’s stories were a central part of the campaign. The varied accounts of why abortion was necessary for them at that time, and the lengths that they had to go to obtain one illustrated the importance of abortion to women. The diverse and everyday nature of these accounts, coupled with the overwhelmingly positive result in the referendum have contributed to the growing normalisation of abortion. This process of normalisation positions abortion not as a shameful procedure but as an essential aspect of healthcare which women should be able to access if and when they need it. As such, abortion needs to be safe, legal, local, and accessible within public healthcare systems.

The Irish constitutional ban on abortion meant that the whole population needed to vote on the issue. This unique situation means that globally, politicians will be taking notice of the Irish referendum result, not least those in the UK. Abortion is still a crime across the UK, and the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) sets the penalty as life imprisonment for women and anyone who helps them get an abortion. The 1967 Abortion Act provided exceptions, so abortions that met certain conditions would not be unlawful, but this did not, and still does not apply to Northern Ireland. As a result, it is still virtually impossible to get an abortion in Northern Ireland and women are forced to either travel to the mainland or buy abortion pills online and risk prosecution. This legal position contributes to abortion stigma and acts as a chilling environment for health professionals who work in the shadow of prosecution, even if they are providing good clinical care. 

protest fun

There has been a long campaign to legislate so women in Northern Ireland can access abortion, and the Irish referendum result has intensified public attention on this matter. Abortion is considered to be a devolved issue, so an area of legislation for the Northern Ireland Assembly rather than Westminster. But at the time of writing, there has been no government in Stormont (home to the Northern Ireland Assembly) for 17 months, and there is little sign that the issues which led to its collapsed will be agreed soon. In addition, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have already said that they would veto legislation which gave access to abortion even if it received a majority vote in the Assembly. This is no idle threat, their ability to block legislation means that the Assembly’s majority vote for equal marriage has never been enacted. Furthermore, those in Westminster who are currently arguing that it is for the Assembly to decide, know full well that this is, by default, a call to continue to prevent abortion services developing in Northern Ireland.  

Alongside the problem of access in Northern Ireland is the continued insistence that abortion is a conscience issue, and that therefore any proposed legislation should come from the back benches in Westminster rather than from the government. On the one hand, this has meant abortion has not become the political football that it has in the United States between the Republicans and the Democrats. However, this only leaves behind a current legal framework with Victorian era punishment which continues to be a barrier to good clinical practice. The 1967 Abortion Act which was written for a time prior to the development of the abortion pill, is no longer fit for purpose and the current legal framework institutionalises a form of paternalistic medicine that is now almost universally rejected.

pro choice

Access to abortion (at least in some circumstances) has been recognised as a human right. The UK government is responsible for human rights, they are not a devolved issue. Consequently, to pass the buck on responsibility for legislation, either to a non-functioning Assembly or to the back-benches of Parliament is unacceptable. There is overwhelming public support for abortion in the UK, over 90% believe it is necessary in some cases, and nearly 70% that it should be women’s choice. It is about time that politicians recognised that abortion provision is a normal part of women’s healthcare   

Anti-abortion organisations have resources and connections which have often distorted how little public support they have in the UK. The UK government is responsible for human rights, and has repeatedly been censured for failing to provide abortion in Northern Ireland. Whilst it is the case that historically, abortion legislation has always come from the back-benches, part of the normalisation of abortion requires it to be treated as other aspects of healthcare, and in the light of the evidence from Ireland, abortion decriminalisation across the UK should not have to wait on the lottery of private members bills.

Dr Pam Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Aston

Featured image by Rebecca Strickson Illustration

Photos by Pam Lowe


The Story of An Accidental Infertile by Jessica Hepburn

This month we are launching our Centre blog which will be used to share work, advertise events and most importantly, to generate discussion and dialogue. For our inaugural post, we invited January’s guest speaker Jessica Hepburn, to tell our readers about her experience as a public figure in the world of fertility and what she thinks needs to change to improve things for patients and the public in the future. Jessica is one of the UK’s leading patient voices on infertility and founder of Fertility Fest the world’s first arts festival dedicated to fertility, infertility and the science of making babies.

*                                                     *                                                           *

Standing at the front of the classroom at the Centre for Reproduction Research in January, I thought how far I had come. Four years ago, almost to the day, my first book The Pursuit of Motherhood had been published and since then my life has changed completely. For years, I had been very secretive about my struggle to conceive. Publicly I was a successful ‘career woman’ (that terrible term that is never used to describe men). I ran a large theatre in London. But privately I was desperately trying to become a mother going through round after round of unsuccessful IVF.

I contemplated bringing my book out under a pseudonym. I knew it was a story that needed to be told, but I wasn’t sure whether I was strong enough to face the stigma and shame associated with infertility. I was going to call myself ‘Jessica Harper’ but then my editor did a Google search and discovered there was someone of that name who had just defrauded Lloyds Bank of millions of pounds. It wasn’t worth the mix up.

So I ‘came out’. I became a public infertile. And it’s been ok, not only because being honest about my own experience has made things better for me and those around me –  because secrecy and shame can be toxic – but also because it’s enabled me to campaign to make a better world for fertility and infertility. And this May my second book will be published: 21 Miles: Swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood. It’s the story of one woman (me!) who ate 21 meals with 21 women and then swam 21 miles to answer the question: does motherhood make you happy? You can watch the trailer here:

My work in the sector has taken a number of forms in addition to writing including being a trustee of the national charity Fertility Network UK, a patient adviser to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and hosting the Q&A stage of the Fertility Show in London and Manchester. It sometimes bemuses me that the black-sheep of the fertility industry (me again!) is welcomed in these arenas which are dedicated to supporting people to achieve their dreams of a family. But I do think there is more and more recognition that IVF, whilst being a modern miracle, isn’t a magic bullet. It doesn’t work every time for everyone and it’s important that there is better understanding of that as well as the psychological impact of going through treatment. But at the same time the science does offer remarkable routes to parenthood, both for people who are fully fertile (single women, the LGBTQ+ community) and for couples struggling with infertility and sub fertility. And the opportunities that the science might offer for the way the human race is made are developing all the time. We need to talk more as a society about all aspects of human fertility and reproductive science – what it can and cannot do and how people can best make the families they want, with (or without!) children.

In 2016, I brought my two worlds of the arts and fertility together and founded Fertility Fest – the world’s first arts festival dedicated to fertility, infertility, modern families and the science of making babies.  It will be back in May for its second edition at the Bush Theatre in London (8 – 13th May Six days, forty events and 150 artists and fertility experts in a unique programme of events, entertainment, discussion, debate, support and solidarity. I’m delighted that Professor Nicky Hudson from De Montfort University has agreed to be one of our fertility experts in our session ‘The Gift’ which will look at the light and dark sides of egg, sperm and embryo donation.

The festival has three big aims:

  • To use the power of the arts to improve the understanding of the emotional journey of the fertility patient in order to ensure better patient care and outcomes;
  • To improve the level of public discourse about all aspects of reproductive science;
  • To improve fertility education.

I believe that the next generation deserves a more rounded and robust understanding of their fertility. They shouldn’t just be taught how ‘not to get pregnant’ and our project, Modern Families, which launches at the end of February aims to influence the current consultation that is being undertaken into the PSHE curriculum following the introduction of compulsory Relationship and Sex Education in schools – you can read more about it on our website here:

The festival programme will be exploring things like ‘The Doctor In The Bedroom’ (what it really feels like to conceive through reproductive science); ‘The Invisible Man’ (on the still little discussed issue of the male experience of infertility). We’ll also be looking at the aftermath of unsuccessful treatment in sessions such as  ‘When ART doesn’t work’ as well as parenting after IVF in ‘No Longer Extraordinary’ – because does the experience of struggling to conceive ever leave you? We’ll also be tackling some big societal questions like ‘What Comes First The Career Or The Egg?’, ‘Race, Religion and Reproduction’ and ‘The Future of Fertility.’

And new for this year, we have a series of sessions called ‘Fertility Fight Club’ in which artists and fertility experts will take to the stage to argue for something they want to change about the world of fertility. These sessions will be live-streamed so if you can’t join us in person, you can watch and participate from the comfort of your armchair wherever you are in the world.

But I hope you can join us in person. Tickets are on sale now. The festival is for everyone and anyone and you won’t find another event in the fertility calendar like it. It’s for patients at all stages of their fertility journey. It’s for fertility professionals (scientists, clinicians, and academics). And it’s for people who are just plain curious about the subject and want to learn more. Crucially it’s for people with and without children because we all have a fertility story. I may be an accidental infertile. It’s certainly not something I ever planned for or wanted. But now I’m here let’s talk about it because this is how the human race is being made (and sometimes not being made) today.