Review by Nicole Louie
Catching a glance at the self-explanatory title of Lorna Gibb’s book on the memoir shelf, I opened the front flap summary. From “the playgrounds of Glasgow to rural villages of Bangladesh; from religious rites to ancient superstitions, from the world’s richest people to its powerless and enslaved (…),” I proceeded to the table of contents, where the name of the chapters enhanced my interest: Those Who Long, Those Who Believe, Those Who Were Denied, Those Who Adapt, Those Who Are Childless Parents, Those Who Choose: Child-free.
I thought to myself: This is someone who truly wishes to portray the topic of not having children from as many angles as possible. Such an ambitious goal made me buy the book.
When I try to estimate the time and dedication it must have taken Lorna — who wished to but could not become a mother — to listen and seek to understand so many different narratives of non-parenthood, I’m in awe of her vision, resilience and compassion.
Her ability to puzzle it all together, combining personal memories with excerpts from other people’s stories, alternated by social commentary and mentions of academic studies, also stands out. As does the numerous relatable passages she crafted, such as:
“The childless often feel they will be forgotten, that the memory of who we are and who our family has been is an unbroken thread of procreation that will now end in nothingness. It’s not really true, of course; it’s not only our children who may carry memory of what we have done, or of who we are, and for those of us fortunate enough to have been born at a time and place where we can write books, hold political office, work in medicine or any of a hundred such callings, we leave a professional testament too.”
While interested in the whole spectrum of childlessness, as a childfree woman, I found myself reading the “Those Who Choose” chapter first. Lorna quickly makes the point that: “the childless by choice are a group as diverse as those who suffer from involuntary childlessness but are more constrained by geography, with women in some countries unable to identify with the concept at all.”
She also discusses childfree men and women who are heterosexual, part of the LGBT community, voluntary sterilization, GINKs (Green Inclination No Kids), and those who have pursued a religious path. I got so caught up in the kaleidoscope of possibilities of human nature and the decisions we make that I went to chapter one to learn more about those who long for children and kept traveling the chapter spectrum from there — learning about spinsterhood in Qatar, punishment for infertility in Saudi Arabia, racially or gender-motivated sterilization in Sudan, Kenya, Czech Republic, and Peru, stillbirth parents all over the globe and much more — until I reached Lorna’s final notes on presumption and residual sadness on not having children.
At times I wished that, as readers, we are given the opportunity to stay longer in the stories we are told. Some passages are too short or fragmented, making me feel as if I were on a train filled with people I’d like to talk with but couldn’t because they kept boarding and leaving too soon.
Still, and above all, I learned a ton from reading Childless Voices, and I hope that many more people will read it, as I believe her well of knowledge is bound to foster empathy, understanding, and acceptance of the multitude of ways and reasons many of us live without children all over the world. And in times like these — when bigotry is on the rise and body autonomy is in decline — when it comes to not having children, we need more stories of longing, loss, resistance and choice.
Thank you, Nicole!
Nicole Louie is a writer, translator, and content curator based in Ireland. She is dedicated to finding and sharing the stories of amazing women without children both online and in her upcoming non-fiction book on childlessness. She can be found on Twitter and on Instagram: @bynicolelouie.