Berenice Smith, MA graphic designer and stained glass artist

A designer and creative exploring social communication through design. Past projects include visual representations of synaesthesia and developing a typeface based on a rural vernacular.

Walk in our shoes

“What we, and others, often fail to realise is the depth and reach of our loss: that not only will we never have children but we will never have a family. We will never watch them grow up, never throw children’s birthday parties, never get a chance to heal the wounds of our own childhood by doing things differently with our  children. We’ll never be grandmothers and never give the gift of grandchildren to our parents. We’ll never be the mother of our partner’s children and hold that precious place in their heart. We’ll never stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our siblings and watch our children play together. We’ll never be part of the community of mothers, never be considered a ‘real’ woman. And when we die, there is no one to take our lifetime’s learnings onto the next generation.” [Jody Day, 2014]

This quote from Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women, was the start of the design project for the MA module Interpretation and Origination. A summary of the aims of the module was to use design to provide a solution, working with a person or group outside the course.  My interpretation module researched design as a solution to cultural and emotional divisions between parents and those who are childless through any circumstance. 

Susannah Moore’s article published in ‘The Guardian’ in January 2014 opens with the observation that

At the moment it’s looking as if a quarter of women born in the 1970s will be childless. Whether we call this childless or childfree depends on a whole set of narratives that are procreating rapidly but are really divisive attempts to isolate women instead of uniting us.
This is not just happening for women either. All kinds of people may be unhappy or ambivalent about their childlessness, but find few spaces in which to express this.
Certainly my generation tetchily struggled to have it all, and many of us failed in the end to manage the perfect work/children/relationship fantasy. Watching younger generations, I can see how that has manoeuvred them into retro lifestyles that are still baffling to me. Some want to get engaged, which I thought was the province only of daft 14-year-olds and public toilets. They want flash weddings and to procreate only with “the one”. Thus the bucketlist required for motherhood is as fixed as it ever was. If they are not partnered up, or forced to confront the reality of taking a few years out just when they are on the up, job-wise, they may begin to understand all that hoo-ha about maternity leave, equal pay, pensions and family-friendly policies.

Moore concludes her commentary with the following “Having kids gives meaning to lives, but this is not the only way to have a meaningful and wonderful life. As a mother I am more than happy to speak up for those who are childless by circumstance or choice. I trust they would do the same for me. As hard as people may work to split us into antagonistic groups, the fact remains that we really are in all this together. If it takes a village to a raise a child then it is worth saying that those who reproduce and those who don’t do not live in separate villages. We are, in fact, next-door neighbours.”  [Moore, The Guardian, Jan 2014]

Empathy is rare in daily life. Contextual research shows that celebrations such as Christmas are presented as a time for family and partnership. Famous people without children are challenged. 

Helen Mirren, Kylie Minogue and Jennifer Aniston are arguably as famous for not being mothers as they are for acting or music.

Social media presents challenges. Over generous pregnancy updates on platforms such as Facebook can force childless people to leave vital communication spaces and isolating themselves. The examples shown on page 2 form the proposal for the first presentation. This is the promotion of parenthood and the life to which we should aspire.

If 30,000 women are seeking IVF treatment annually, the sector is worth £500million but 70% of treatments fail, should there also be a voice that provides a space that shows an alternative view? A view that helps one in ten couples who struggle to conceive. A resource that could help one in five women who will remain childless through circumstance for life, put across their thoughts? Words which can be shared to explain why ‘just adopt’ is not a simple process, and can be open to all genders?

My proposal was to use design to provide a social solution.

You can find out more about the background to this here and the website here