Childless Voices by Lorna Gibb: Stories of Longing, Loss, Resistance and Choice

Cover image Back in 2015 I reviewed Lorna Gibb’s first novel, A Ghost’s Story, a fascinating exploration of belief and longing to believe set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century spiritualism. I follow her on Twitter so knew she was writing something about childlessness and hoped I’d be offered it for review. It’s a state she and I share but I’m childless by choice whereas she had assumed she would have children.

Childless Voices is divided into sections each of which examines childlessness from a variety of perspectives – from infertility to bereavement, choice to enforced sterilisation – against cultural backgrounds which range from tolerant to downright cruel. Each section is followed by short personal reflections. Gibb’s hope is that her book will give a voice to some who are unable to speak freely themselves

As you might expect, it’s an intensely personal book at times but Gibb’s empathy is firmly anchored in careful research and the testimony of others, rounded off with a thorough bibliography. Her experience of living in Qatar and her interviews with women in rural India are particularly poignant, shocking at times. Infertility in the Western world is hard enough to bear for those who wish to have children but in many parts of the world where women are often seen of worth only for their ability to bear them, it commonly leads to ostracism, violence and suicide.  Other cultures have more creative ways of dealing with what they perceive as a problem –  mention of Albania’s sworn virgins reminded me of Elvira Dones’ fascinating novel.

It was a bitter yearning of a few years for me; time passed and there was no more longing, just a sense of absence

Gibb’s own experience of endometriosis, the worst her surgeon has ever seen, is harrowing. She writes eloquently of coping with questions about childlessness which so often results in a gush of sympathy, inappropriate from strangers. In her final section, she reflects on what her childlessness means to her and her coming to turns with it. There’s not a trace of self-pity in this powerful book, entirely excusable though it would. Gibb’s experience has been underpinned with the loving support of her husband who, of course, is childless, too. Her book is dedicated to him.

13 thoughts on “Childless Voices by Lorna Gibb: Stories of Longing, Loss, Resistance and Choice”

    1. Exactly. Gibb cites instances of suicide and violence against infertile women in such countries. It’s those women that she wanted to give voice to and she succeeds. Such an important book.

  1. Wow it does sound interesting, moving, and important. Also thank you for the link to your review of her novel which sounds fascinating and has things in common with the book I am working on, so thanks for that.

  2. I wonder if, even ten years ago, such attention would have been paid to the other cultural approaches to the question of childlessness; I’m glad she has included these other stories. I am childless by choice as well, but ended up with two step-daughters later in life, so I am rather caught between two states.

    1. That’s yet another perspective! Gibb certainly sheds light on a state that you or I are free to choose but that women in less tolerant cultures cannot, or are cruelly judged when they are apparently unable to bear children. Of course, it might well be their partners that are infertile.

    1. I think you’re probably right, Cathy. It’s a courageous as well as deeply impressive piece of work. I’m so glad all the trials and tribulations of IVF paid off for you. I know it doesn’t for many.

  3. People end up not having children for any number of reasons: medical issues, bereavement, a lack of finances, not having a partner at the right time, or the simple decision not to become a parent. The subtitle of Lorna Gibb’s Childless Voices acknowledges these various routes: “Stories of Longing, Loss, Resistance and Choice.”

    1. Indeed. Gibb covers all those circumstances and more. It’s a very carefully researched, considered piece of work piece of work, remarkable for its empathy and lack of self-pity. Most impressive.

  4. Pingback: Announcing the NOT the Wellcome Prize and Blog Tour | Bookish Beck

Leave a comment ...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.