Not having children is a choice that some people make. When the person in question is a woman in politics, however, not giving birth is often treated as a statement, or a sign—even, sometimes, as a reason for distrust.
Now Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, has talked about one of the reasons she doesn’t have children, and in doing so she’s started a conversation that’s rarely had by women in public forums. In extracts from a forthcoming book, and a statement accompanying them, Sturgeon has talked about having a miscarriage at the age of 40.
“By allowing my own experience to be reported I hope, perhaps ironically, that I might contribute in a small way to a future climate in which these matters are respected as entirely personal—rather than pored over and speculated about as they are now,” she wrote.
Sturgeon, who is 46, has often faced media comment on her childlessness. So has Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, and Theresa May, the UK prime minister.
“There are many reasons why women don’t have children. Some of us simply don’t want to, some of us worry about the impact on our career—and there is still so much to do, through better childcare, more progressive working practices and more enlightened attitudes, to make sure we don’t feel we have to choose,” Sturgeon wrote.
“And sometimes, for whatever reason, having a baby just doesn’t happen—no matter how much we might want it to.”
The book’s co-author, Mandy Rhodes, describes Sturgeon in an article for UK’s The Sunday Times as an “intensely private person,” and one deeply committed to her work. Rhodes, who has known her for several years, writes that over time Sturgeon “has become less adamant” that the miscarriage remain a secret. “It is important, because it says something about the pressures on and the conjectures made about women in leadership positions,” Rhodes writes.
One in every six pregnancies ends in miscarriage, according to an estimate by the UK National Health Service. But despite the frequency of the experience, it’s rarely mentioned. Pregnancy is often kept private during the early stages—in part because miscarriage is more common then—and when women experience it they report feeling that they are not allowed to mourn for the loss.
Sturgeon is married, and was in the early stages of pregnancy when she had the miscarriage in 2011. Last year, an article referred to her childlessness and its relationship to her success, with a picture of her and other leaders standing by a crib that contained a ballot box.
Similarly, a photo gallery sidebar to the Sunday Times article, has been heavily criticized for featuring six “childless” female politicians, and omitting any men.