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Elizabeth Day on failure, fertility privilege and the way we still sideline women’s issues

After 12 years of trying and failing to conceive, the British podcaster and author has let go of her dream and found peace on the other side.

Elizabeth Day didn’t get the happy ending she wanted – but in a world fraught with ‘fertility privilege’ – she wants you to hear why it’s important to share her story.

Famous for her ‘How to Fail’ podcast which has been downloaded 45 million times and counting, Day went through 12 years of trying and failing to conceive, egg freezing and all the fertility treatments you can imagine, which resulted in three miscarriages, two marriages and an internal change so monumental, it turned her whole world upside down.

“I’ve been through a whole gamut and if I got out of that battle not having my baby, I never thought I’d be at peace,” Day tells Stellar editor-in-chief Sarrah Le Marquand on this week’s Stellar podcast, Something To Talk About.

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“I made the decision earlier this year to let go of that dream and I just want to tell anyone who is listening who might relate to the situation that I found – and find – myself in, I promise you there is peace on the other side.

“You can’t believe in it right now, and you can’t conceive of a world where that would be possible without some major life change.

“I thought I was going to have to up sticks and move to LA, like set up a ceramics business. I just thought, ‘In order to live with the grief that I imagine I will feel, I’ll need to change everything’.”

But the award-winning journalist, best-selling author and podcast host has taken those experiences and built her very career out of it. 

Along with her podcast, a Sunday Times best-selling memoir of the same name, seven other books including Friendaholic: Confessions of a Friendship Addict and a roll call of guests including Stanley Tucci and Gloria Steinem – celebrating things that haven’t gone right has worked out rather well for her.

Ahead of her first speaking trip to Australia next year, where she will host a live show at the Sydney Opera House and Hamer Hall in Melbourne, the British 44-year-old opened up about finding success in failure, and coining the phrase ‘fertility privilege’.

“I feel really honoured to be part of a generation of women who are opening up more and creating a safe space for other people to share their stories – I’m really passionate for continuing to talk about this because I am someone who didn’t have the ‘happy ending’,” she says.

And what she realised was the change she needed happened – just not in the way she thought it would.

“The change has been internal,” she says. The change has been so dramatic for me internally that is sufficient to feel that my life has shifted on its axis and actually all of that energy that I was focusing on this singular goal, I can use for other acts of creativity and also to free up so much of that love I had.

“I feel, on the other side of this, so much less angry. When I wrote that chapter in Friendaholic and when I coined the term ‘fertility privilege’, I think I was angry because I was still going through it.

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“And I’m glad I was angry. It was completely appropriate.

“We can change the world with our focused anger; another way of saying anger is passion. I was really passionate about it.

“I wanted to speak up for this silent cohort of extraordinary people who had been through so much but didn’t feel seen in the broader society.

“So the reason I coined the term fertility privilege was not an attempt to shame people for having their children – I can only imagine how hard it is to parent in this world.

“I absolutely don’t think that I should be banning anyone from posting pictures of their children on Instagram. It’s absolutely not that.

“It was more about any time that it feels like society elevates one state of being over another, there’s a whole set of people who just feel that they don’t have a voice, and I feel fertility and infertility is part of that.”

In 2016, Day’s journalistic pursuits saw her ‘live like Gwyneth Paltrow for a week’ for a story – where for seven days she went to sound bath appointments, got microdermabrasion laser peels and yes, had her vagina steamed.

“The thing that I learnt was that living life as Gwyneth is exhausting because I was constantly racing around from one appointment to the next,” she says.

“That taught me something so instructive, and it sounds so basic, but we all beat ourselves so much for not being ‘perfect’ and not being like these demigods that we see on the red carpet or on Instagram who seem to have everything sorted, whose houses look so wonderful, whose skin is glowing, who just seems to know all the answers.

“But actually, what goes into that appearance is all of this other stuff that is a time commitment and requires a lot of money.

“So don’t beat yourself up for not being Gwyneth Paltrow, is what I realised by the end of it.”

One thing’s for sure – Day can’t wait to spend time in Australia – where, incidentally, Paltrow will also speak later this month.

“I am counting the days until I get to see your beautiful country,” she says.

“I’ve been to Sydney once before and I had this slightly strange but wonderful opportunity in 2004 when I was 24, I won a journalism prize and it came with a travel bursary and I went around Africa with it and then I thought, well, I’ve never been to Australia and this might be the only chance I get and I tacked on a week’s trip to Sydney, where I flew from Tanzania to Sydney for a week … I had a wonderful time and I haven’t been back since.

“And I’ve never been to Melbourne and as someone who has grown up with Neighbours and also someone who loves that book, The Slap, which is all set in Melbourne, I’ve been desperate to go for a really long time, so I can’t wait.”

Something To Talk About is available now wherever you listen to podcasts, and Day will speak at the Opera House on February 26. Tickets are on sale now.

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