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.