This week (11-17 September) is World Childless Week, which is aimed at raising awareness of those who are childless not by choice.
According to figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in January 2022, in the UK, 18% of women who reach the end of their childbearing years do not have children. However, even as family compositions and demographics have changed over the years, childlessness remains something of a taboo subject. Having children still very much seems to be a societal expectation, especially for those in a long-term relationship or who reach a certain age. After all, how many of us have been asked when we are planning to start a family or been reminded that ‘the clock is ticking’?
For those that choose to remain childfree, this can be infuriating. For those who long for a child, however, such insensitivity, no matter how well meaning, can be extremely distressing and triggering. There are myriad reasons why someone may be childless not by choice; they may have suffered from infertility, not met someone they wish to have a family with, been unable to carry a child to full term or experienced a still birth.
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Many who are childless will have spent a number of years attempting to become parents. Those who are doing so, however, may not feel comfortable sharing their experiences and the journey that they are on, particularly with their employer. This means that, at any one time, an organisation may have a number of employees going through fertility treatment who have chosen not to disclose this.
In order to support employees who are trying to have a child, some employers have introduced fertility support and pregnancy loss policies. These include a combination of practical and emotional support for staff on these journeys.
But how far should this support extend? For example, does it cover the long-term impact of childlessness on an individual’s emotional and mental wellbeing? Coming to terms with the realisation that they will remain childless not by choice will not be easy or short lived, as an individual processes that their life will not look as they desired it to. Events such as friends’ and colleagues’ pregnancy or adoption announcements may also prove triggering. Knowing that support is available, therefore, may be invaluable.
For those that are comfortable sharing their stories, events such as World Childless Week can provide a tangible way in for them to do so in order to raise awareness of, and educate both their employer and colleagues about, how it impacts those in this situation.