Back off! A woman’s fertility is nobody’s business but her own

The reason for actress Jennifer Aniston’s ‘child-free’ life has been grist to the mill for many a journo for decades.

Such was the fascination with this woman’s parental status, many ‘gossip’ columnists speculated that the Friends’ actress was so ambitious and devoted to her career, her ‘refusal’ to have kids was the reason her marriage to Brad Pitt failed. This speculation wasn’t helped by the fact that less than a year after their split, Pitt settled himself into the role of doting dad with new partner Angelina Jolie and her three adopted children. The pair went on to have three biological kids together, giving them a brood of six, all before their relationship ended in 2017.

Despite the fact it was nobody’s business, Jennifer denied claims that she ‘refused’ to have children, going on record last week (in a cover shoot with Allure magazine) to shut down the rumours, claiming them to be “absolute lies”, revealing she “underwent in vitro fertilisation” in a bid to get pregnant.

What kind of a world do we live in that any woman (famous or not) feels forced to defend the inner workings of her uterus and reproductive system from a line of pervasive and relentless questions around why she doesn’t have kids? Who are these patronising prats who hold the belief that a woman is not just incomplete if she doesn’t produce a brood, but is also selfish, cold, or even confused to the point she needs reminding that her biological clock and reproductive years are rapidly ticking away?

What is it about those who speculate that a woman, if she claims she’s got it all – fulfilled by her success, intelligence and financial independence – has ‘missed the boat’ on ‘real fulfilment’, i.e. the kind which comes with making and raising babies? Cue dramatic head tilt to the side in sympathy: “aawwww, poor thing”!

Womanhood is not defined, nor is it completed by, having kids. And yet, there’s a cohort of nosey-parkers who believe it’s their right to postulate and induce a level of scaremongering so sinister, that some childless women go on to experience what I call ‘fertility panic’.

Having given birth to two daughters, at the age of thirty, I decided I’d done my bit, and wishing to concentrate on my career, requested a tubal ligation. The reaction I got from some doctors and some family members was so savage, you’d think I’d single-handedly decided to end humanity as we know it! Two male medical professionals actually insisted that to qualify, I’d need my then husband’s consent, and condescendingly tapping my hand as if to say ‘shush now, I’m a man and I know best’, one of them advised a chat with a counsellor to ensure me and my fallopian tubes knew what we were doing!

Long story short… I refused to get my then husband’s consent (even though he was happy to provide it). Why? My reproductive organs, my choice! End of!

Trusting myself to make that informed decision, because I, and I alone, had autonomy over my body, I did my research and found a lovely surgeon in one of Dublin’s maternity hospitals to listen to me. Agreeing with me that the policy of insisting on spousal consent for a sterilisation was not just a bad one, it was also a dangerous one, he performed the procedure, and six weeks later, I had my tubes tied.

But that was my choice, it’s not everyone’s, and it’s clear that like Jennifer Aniston, many women are heartbreakingly living with the pain that must surely come with unchosen childlessness.

These women have, I’d imagine, tried hard to navigate through their struggles with fertility, possibly even undergoing expensive and stressful IVF treatment while skating around the heartless comments about why they haven’t yet managed to conceive.

Therefore, if you’re wondering when your new neighbours are going to have kids, or are whispering that your work colleague, “hasn’t even started trying yet” because “ya know, her clock’s ticking…tik, tok, tik, tok”, my advice is this: as it’s got nothing to do with you, you should shut up and mind your own business!


RIP Vicky…a remarkable, courageous woman

There’s a palpable sadness running right across the entire country since last Monday, when, four years on from her devastating cancer diagnosis, news broke that CervicalCheck campaigner, legend, and powerful advocate for women’s health, Ms Vicky Phelan, devastatingly lost her battle for life. This amazing mother of two was only 48 years old.

Since her diagnosis, Vicky not only faced challenges beyond what she could ever have imagined, she actually met them head on, turning each one into opportunities to both help and inspire other women.

I never met Vicky, but from listening to her being interviewed, it’s clear that while she must have felt great fear, she never once allowed it to limit her. She had the courage of her convictions, and stood up for what she believed in… as in, she confronted the State, compelling it to review its CervicalCheck screening programme.

Through her courage and tenacity, this remarkable human, despite being gravely ill (and undergoing gruelling treatment), highlighted to the world how our national CervicalCheck programme was suffering from poor governance, a dearth of expertise, and an absolutely disgraceful disregard and disrespect for the women of Ireland – especially when it came to communicating with us.

My sincere condolences go out to Vicky’s children Darragh and Amelia, their Dad Jim, and to all who loved this wonderfully courageous lady. Vicky, you’ve done an enormous service to both your country and to Mná na hÉireann; may your beautiful warrior soul now rest in peace.


Gifts galore on sale at local TNR cat charity fundraiser

Did you know there’s in excess of 300,000 kittens born in Ireland every year? Shockingly, around 180,000 of these innocent little lives are snuffed out before they’re four months old. How? They starve to death, die of diseases like Feline Immunodeficiency (FIV), respiratory infections, ringworm, and heartworm, get run over by motorists, are poisoned by cruel humans, etc. It’s heartbreaking.

But where are all of these cats coming from? Humans! That’s where. The same humans who complain to me and other volunteers about how they “have a feral cat problem in our area”. Humans, who themselves fail to have their own ‘domestic’ pet cats spayed because, wait for it, “she’s too young to breed”!

For the record perplexed pet parents, your adorable kitty reaches sexual maturity at just four months. This means your purring puss can get pregnant with babies while she’s still only a baby herself!

And as our government hasn’t made it mandatory for owners to have their cats’ microchipped, when a Tom roams and sires a litter, and a Queen gets pregnant, nobody’s held accountable – leaving your local TNR programme, run by amazing volunteers, to step in and pick up your pieces.

They do this by humanely trapping, neutering/spaying these poor cats (now feral because they’ve been forced to fend for themselves), providing them with life-saving treatment, and returning them to their colonies where they feed and monitor them in a bid to sustain their precious little lives.

Yes folks, your local TNR programmes exist because contrary to popular belief, there is no feral cat problem in your area – rather, what you have is a human problem!

Now I’ve got that off my chest, can I please ask my lovely readers to support TNR South Roscommon’s annual Christmas sale?

This hugely important fundraiser is taking place on Sunday, November 27th, from 11 am to 3 pm, in the new-look community centre in Athleague. My good pal, organiser Orla Hanley says: “This event is always a massive success due to the support of the wonderful locals from Athleague”.

The charity will be selling an array of Christmas gift sets, which are, according to Orla, “all brand new”. There’ll be free refreshments of tea, coffee, biscuits and cakes on offer at the event, which has quite literally proven to be a lifeline for this charity when it comes to paying vets’ bills.