Thank you to the women who came before me

Telling my story

I gave a speech at the opening of For Sale: baby shoes, never worn at Toi Poneke in Wellington. Rumors of it seem to have spread and several people have asked me about it so I thought I would share a transcript of it here.

Opening Speech – Thank you to the women who came before me

I thought I would share with you the journey that this show is responding to, which started when I was 29 – 30 and living in London. I received a call from a friend in Wellington who had found out three months earlier that her and her husband couldn’t have children. So in the elapsed time they had sold everything including what was to be their family home and were moving to the UK and could they come stay with me while they got settled.

So they arrived and there were some tears but generally my friend was positive that she would be OK once she worked out plan B. Her husband got a job in Edinburgh so they moved there and not long after she got a job too. Six months latter her husband was in London on business and we met for dinner and he told me the story of how my friend had run out into the street in her nightgown shouting that the street lights were aliens and they were coming to get us. She ended up in hospital heavily sedated and sadly hasn’t worked again.

Two years later I had returned to Wellington to finish my BFA at Massey and met fellow student Catherine Day who is childless. She gave a very powerful performance where she stripped naked drew her womb on her belly and then proceed to rub it off. Last time I spoke to Catherine she said the good news is that people have stopped asking her if she has children, but have started asking her if she has grandchildren.

Then I found myself at 34 single and knowing that I wanted to have children. Some well meaning friends suggested that I try internet dating, which is how I met Philip and he decided after a couple of weeks that he wasn’t going to let me out of his sight and ten years later I haven’t been able to shake him.

About 18 months into our relationship we started trying to have children. A year in there was a pregnancy that ended in miscarriage and not long after that we found ourselves in the office of a fertility specialist recommending that we have IVF. That’s when I knew I had boarded the crazy train. We did try IVF and a lot of other things repeatedly. There was another pregnancy which ended in miscarriage and then we turned 40 and decided to stop.

As I came out of the grief that resulted from this decision I started to look around for the plan B my friend had been looking for in London. In particular I was looking for women who had experienced this, had picked themselves up and move forward. One person I found was Hinemoana Baker, a poet, writer and musician who has written about her experience of being childless. What was particularly helpful to me was Hinemoana’s openness that she still has bad days about this. And that has been my experience, I still have a cry about this from time to time, and although these times become further and further apart you can bet when people start asking me if I have grandchildren I’m going to have a little cry about this again.

For the past couple of years I have been making work in response to this journey, some of which are in this room. And in the lead up to the show I have found other artists Elina Brotherus who has created a beautiful series of photographs called Annunciation about her experience of IVF treatments and Heidi Holmes who’s show (I’m pretty sure) There will be no Science Baby opens tonight at West Space in Melbourne.

To those of you who are still hopeful that there will be children in your future and those who are still trying, I’ll keep my fingers and toes crossed for you. To those of you who have found yourself childless like me, I want you to know you’re not alone, there are a surprisingly large number of us. And to those of you who were brave enough and wise enough to share your story I thank you for making my journey just a little bit easier.

To see more photos of the opening click here