Childless, by Sian Prior

by Jennifer Bryce

I was attracted to Sian Prior’s memoir for two main reasons. My experience is a little different from hers (Does anyone have exactly the same experience?), but, like Sian, I have no living childen. In my case, I gave birth three times to premature boys. Secondly, I learned oboe from Sian’s mother, Margot, not long after the tragic time when Sian’s father drowned rescuing two young people in the surf. I had oboe lessons at their home and the children must have been young toddlers — there were often toys scattered on the living room floor and I used to think how desperately awful it must have been for the young mother and her three children — but I was too awkward and clumsy to say anything or even to acknowledge their situation.

Margot Prior
Sian Prior

Like so many of us, Sian assumed she would have children one day. Her descriptions of her relationships with other people’s children suggest she would have been a wonderful mother. She questioned her desire for motherhood in a world we are destroying through climate change — but her drive to have children eclipsed her perhaps more rational beliefs.

Remarkably, this is not a book of anger. And it is not a book of asking, why me? Sian investigated every possibiity. She weathered the heartbreak of miscarriages of babies conceived with her loving partner, and later, stoically, perhaps, she undertook IVF solo when her new partner had a large family of children already and didn’t want to produce any more.

Intertwined with Sian’s story of trying to have babies is her trying to know her father who drowned when she was only three months old, and wanting to produce a child who would carry some of his genes. She shares various traits: her father’s blond hair, his love of music… how wonderful to perpetuate these things through children.

Each time Sian loses a child is unique. Each time is a particular loss. I remember when I wrote about my experience a friend said ‘That’s probably helped you get over it.’ I expect everyone who has suffered a miscarriage or desperately wanted to conceive would agree, it is not something you ‘get over’. I still find it very difficult to answer the question ‘And do you have children?’

Sian has a special affinity with the sea. Surely it brings her closer to her father. Maybe now that there is no hope of becoming a mother, life has become bittersweet. At the end of the book, we leave her in the sea catching the waves: ‘I catch wave after wave, tasting my fifty years there in the sea. Clean, neutral, bittersweet.’