I'm a huge fan of Kerry's work. We met through Gateway Women and she took on the epic task of organising the only conference for childless men and women in 2016... and she's doing it all over again this year. She kindly spared a few minutes of her precious time to talk to Walk In Our Shoes about the event which is being held in Birmingham on Saturday 14th October, 2017.
Hi Kerry! Where did the idea for the Conference come from?
I came to the realisation that I was never going to have children in late 2014. By spring of 2015, I had joined Gateway Women and attended a Reignite Workshop Weekend, this being the first time I was in the direct company of people who 'got it'. Our stories were as varied as we were in number. It was both heartbreaking and a relief.
But it was not enough... and change was not going to happen quickly enough. I found Gateway Women by chance. What about all those who aren't so lucky, who struggle in silence but in plain sight? How was society ever going to come to understand our situation if we don't get brave and explain it to them?
I should say that at this point my grief was still hidden from everyone I knew. So I wasn't the poster child for advocacy myself. I was too overwhelmed. However, I was also very angry at the pain I was in, with an almost self-protecting obligation to keep it under wraps. I was also outraged at the sheer scale of numbers affected across the globe. It was these two emotions that put the idea of having our own Conference in my mind.
I wanted us to literally SEE each other and KNOW we are not the only one. How many times have I read that in online forums? No risk of baby photos or that question being asked. A place where we could cry or laugh or whatever, in the company of others who would protect us. I also felt we deserved to be treated with dignity and to hold our heads up alongside every other 'group' in society. All manner of conventions are held to unify and acknowledge specialisms, from business A.G.M.'s to Comic-Con.
I'd organised training days at work previously so I naively simply up-scaled that experience. If I'd known the road I was on I may not have taken the first step but thankfully those I asked to speak agreedand were keen to understand more. We were off and running. Would anyone turn up?
What were the best bits from last year?
Top of the list has to be the instant atmosphere of energy and togetherness. It was palpable from the moment people started arriving. I didn't know when I set out if people would feel daunted by being 'in public' as it were but straight away conversations were being had with strangers, stories were being told, for some that was the first time.
Feedback: One woman who'd lived for many years in her south coast village, resigned in silence to her childlessness whilst her friends and neighbours raised their families. Here she felt freed from that, stating that she would be silent no more on her return home. She stood visibly taller as she spoke. This was exactly the impact I was hoping for and she would take that feeling of owning her story with her for the rest of her life, no longer in the shadow of it.
Speakers: This had not been done before so I selected topics and the speakers that I hoped would be interesting and cover a wide range of circumstances. It was great to witness so much engagement from the audience. They were getting more than just being with their Tribe.
The Art Exhibition with contributions from the community was beautiful, moving, tear-inducing and empowering as a means of expressing grief.
What can people expect this year?
The main aspect for this year has to be the inclusion of support for men. As far as I know this hasn't been done before and some may think it too soon. Others may feel that men simply won't be comfortable enough to come along, Those points may be true but neither is absolute as it is an unknown. I also feel that it is right let men know their pain is acknowledged to the same degree as women's. That they deserve a safe place of their own, information and an opportunity to support and be supported. There is no insistence that anyone has to speak up or tell their story. But they can be present [which helps others] and learn [which will help themselves] Whether they want or take that opportunity is up to them.
That said, men and women have a separate morning programme [I'm quite jealous of the men's agenda actually] and both have a dedicated facilitator to keep everything on track.
The afternoon will allow us to come together as one community to have some down time in a creative session run by a professional artist who has gone through her own journey through childlessness with her husband. Other talks cover topics such as sperm health, ageing and when to stop trying to concieve.
How has it helped you Kerry, if at all?
Well, last year putting on the event channeled quite a lot of energy [read anger] and short-term, unintentionally took my mind off my grief. [I have yet to fully do that work]
It gave me great joy to see dozens of women bursting with energy and enjoying a feeling of sheer relief at last. I saw the dynamism that gathering together promoted. As we weren't wasting time dodging questions or anticipating social obstacles we could simply relax. I also saw what it looked like to not be in the minority for a change and it was a fine sight.
I learned that if I choose wisely who I speak to about my situation then it can be beneficial to me. I also re-learnt to trust my instincts [people can be mean to the vulnerable] which will sustain me long after this years' conference is over.
Lastly, it has felt unreal helping others isolated and grieving such a particular circumstance. Seeing the impact of that help, that opportunity to shift this horrendous part of their lives has been very moving. I feel grateful and honoured to have made any contribution to improving our lives and just as importantly, the lives of those who will inevitably follow.
Thank you Kerry!
To get tickets for the conference and find out more, check out the conference website here.