Friday 7 April 2023

Birthgap Documentary

Recently I listened to an interview with Stephen W Shaw about his documentary “Birthgap.” From the interview notes: “Stephen is a British national who has studied and lived on three continents. He studied as a computer engineer and data scientist before starting his first film project, “Birthgap” at age 49. He is president and co-founder of the data analytics company Autometrics Analytics LLC.”

The interview was very interesting. I made the mistake of listening to it in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep, and I stayed awake for the whole thing instead of falling asleep in the middle like I usually do. So that made for a sleepy day the following day but with some provoking ideas to consider.

“Birthgap” is about the huge increase in unplanned childlessness around the world, why that might be happening and that consequences of it. 
Part 1 is available on YouTube . Update (April 8th) I watched Part 1 and I recommend it: well explained and enjoyable to watch. However, the interview (linked in next paragraph) perhaps gives a better sense of the overall structure and findings of the project, since parts 2 and 3 are not available.

This is the interview with Mr Shaw. He shares in detail about his research and some of his conclusions. Prof. Jordan Peterson, the interviewer, chimes in with his talent for sound bites and memorable bits of advice. Many people love Dr Peterson’s advice; many people find it infuriating and this interview isn’t an exception: there are a more than a few comments that could rankle sensitivities. I personally enjoy JBP's style, probably in part because I come from a straight talking family with a lot of discussion and debate. I don't find it offensive or insulting; I find it stimulating. (But consider that a trigger warning if needed.)

I continue to be interested in voluntary/involuntary childlessness because 1) in my peer group* and extended family, childlessness is more common than families with children, and 2) As a parent I think about how to approach such topics with my daughters. My own story / fate / wyrd is pretty much decided and I'm happy with it: I have little or nothing to gain by dwelling on "what ifs." But I have invested in the future and that requires some effort to understand it and plan for it. I balance this with reminders to myself that life is way more complex than any model, and that its not my role to control people or "change the world.” However, there is a role for curiosity and questioning, especially when accompanied by humility.

* I refer to long term friends from university or before, not friends I’ve made through my kids, who obviously also have kids. Of my friend group from age 25 or earlier (a group of about 10), only three women had children. One was an unplanned pregnancy; the others had children in their 30s / 40s. I also know a lot of people who had/have fertility challenges. All my current close mom friends accessed some kind of assistance. These are not people I met through support groups or anything like that, just through the normal channels. There likely is some selection bias at work though in that I am more likely to become close to people who share a defining experience. 


  1. That sounds like an interesting interview. Of my childhood friends, quite a few ended up needing to go down the medical route, whether that was IVF or other assisted fertility methods. It seems more and more common these days. I am trying to be more open about my infertility journey when talking to others in case it helps anyone. And I talk to my daughter about how some people are not able to have children or choose a different path.

    1. Yes it does seem quite common for people to need assistance. I know when people share with me that they struggled to get pregnant I feel a sense of understanding and solidarity. However the matter is even more sensitive if they didn't end up having children. I know people who had said they wanted children in the past but then didn't have them. Often they have a story they tell, and I accept it because that is what they want to share although I suspect there is more to it. Everybody has to figure out their own way but even though part of me is happy I'm wasn't alone in struggling with infertility, I am sad to think of all the disappointment out there. And in my immediate family, I wonder about how my children will cope with not just aging parents but also potentially many aging childless relatives.