Podcast series explores the treatment of women who don’t have children

Islington actor Victoria Emslie appears in a monologue about women who don't have children The End o

Islington actor Victoria Emslie appears in a monologue about women who don't have children The End of The Line - Credit: Archant

A dozen short dramatic monologues featuring women who share one thing in common, aims to change the conversation of judgement around those who are child-free

The End of The Line

The End of The Line - Credit: Archant

The taboo around women who don’t have children - and how they are treated by society - is explored in a dozen new podcasts.

Islington actress Victoria Emslie is among those appearing in The End of The Line audio-fictions.

Based on true stories, the 15 minute monologues feature very different characters who share one thing in common. For some the choice is conscious, for others it involves loss and trauma, but all feel judged by their child-free existence.

Mark Heywood was spurred on to create the series by the intrusive questions people ask him about why he and his wife don’t have children. He collaborated closely with all 12 actresses and incorporated their experiences into the stories.

Children of Men actress Clare-Hope Ashitey appears in a monologue about women who don't have childre

Children of Men actress Clare-Hope Ashitey appears in a monologue about women who don't have children The End of The Line - Credit: Archant

They include Svetlana, who is hassled during her weekly phone call to her Bulgarian mother to find a boyfriend; Skylar, who was once dumped on a first date because she didn’t want kids; Mary, who rants eloquently against giving up her seat to pregnant women 20 years younger; Louise, whose family history of serious mental health issues leaves her thinking it’s ‘f***ed up to have children,’ and waitress Bryony for whom ‘the answer to why you don’t have kids comes from a dark place.’

“I have been staggered by the generosity with which people have helped us explore their stories”, said Heywood. “Some of them are heart-breaking, some of are laugh out loud funny. But each is a real person who has been on the receiving end of incredibly sensitive questions.”

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Emslie, who appeared in The Frankenstein Chronicles and Downton Abbey, and founded Primetime, a global visibility programme for women working behind the camera, said: “It’s a topic very close to home so I jumped at the opportunity to add my voice to the conversation. Female-centric projects which challenge gender stereotypes and tropes are so important for normalising experiences felt by so many, in addition to the feeling of seeing yourself represented in these characters’ stories. Never underestimate the power of representation.”

Praising the diversity of women’s stories linked by a common thread she adds: “It will hopefully help us to challenge these societal norms and pressures we put on women of all ages. Let’s move the conversation away from being ‘controversial’ and normalise the fact that not all women will become mothers. What that would mean in one person’s life should not be projected onto another’s. Being able to give birth does not mean that choice and other factors should not be equally as valid. At a time where we are still fighting for equal opportunities and against many other inequalities, women should not be made to feel unequal to others in a side of their lives which is deeply personal.”

The Thick of It actress Polly Kemp fed her experience of choosing not to have children into the character of Mary. She said: “Childlessness is the result of lots of different situations and needs to be part of bigger, braver conversations where we see value in everyone’s personal decision.

“Culturally there is an issue where women who don’t have children are either to be pitied or ignored. It can often feel like only the views of parents’ matter, that they are perceived to be contributing to the greater good of humanity in a more profound way than those who have not popped out a couple of kids. Often me and my happily childless husband are in the company of other couples and the subject of children dominates the conversation. It can go on all evening without a second’s pause that we might find it quite tedious, not tragic, but incredibly boring.”

Kemp says expecting people to have children is “a lazy way of thinking” in times of pandemic, over population and climate change.

“Perhaps we should value those who’ve made the decision not to add a burden to the world’s diminishing resources and help young women and men see that as a viable choice.”

Haringey actress Clare-Hope Ashitey who has starred in Top Boy, Doctor Who and Children of Men, said her own thoughts and behaviours were not as “well considered as they could or should have been”.

“It’s a learned instinct to ask people if they have kids and if not, why not, and I’ve had to confront the ways in which that is insensitive, unacceptable and irrelevant. How we talk to and about women who don’t have children is just as important as how we talk to and about any other group of people.

It’s a remarkable blind spot in society. There is increasing awareness about social, moral and mental health issues (though we are far, FAR from where we need to be) but then there are areas like this where attitudes have barely changed.”

All episodes are now available on all podcast formats.

Further details at www.facebook.com/endofthelinestory/