It’s the unspoken expectation that all women at some point will become mothers. It is drafted into our lives as an inevitability – one that gets heavier in the face of time and finds us through the same old questions.
“How many children would you like?” What if I don’t?
“So, when are you going to have kids then?” What if I can’t?
After being diagnosed with MRKH syndrome – a disorder that affects the reproductive system, leaving both the vagina and uterus underdeveloped or absent – Natasha Bishop felt firsthand that society’s fascination with fertility prospects comes from a place of pure presumption not education. “We’ve been given this picture perfect, picket fence idea – that we will finish school and get a job, get married, have a baby… but the world just isn’t like that anymore.”
In a bid to challenge the narrative, Bishop launched The Pants Project, a nonprofit organisation that aims to raise funds and awareness for infertility. Through the initiative, the 20-year-old hopes men and women will begin to realise that a woman is worth more than the state of her uterus and reproductive plans. “1 in 3 couples experience issues when conceiving. It’s time the world woke up and realised that women are not babymakers. Femininity is infinitely more capable and complex than that.”
Below, we talk to Bishop about her motivations for the project.
What is The Pants Project?
The Pants Project is a non-profit organisation that aims to raise funds and awareness for infertility, donating it’s proceeds to our current chosen charity Fertility Network UK – the UK’s leading patient infertility charity. Our funds are raised through the ‘power of pants’.
The ‘power of the pants’ was the result of a very personal experience, can you tell us about that?
Four years ago, when I was sixteen, I was sat in a white sterile room waiting for an ultrasound scan. Many doctor’s appointments, tears and statements like, "I bet there's nothing wrong with you, you're probably just a late bloomer", had led me to this point and I was finally about to find out why I had never had a period.
An hour later, a doctor looked at me, puzzled. Holding up two ultrasound images of the lower abdomen area, she showed me a normal one, and mine; a seemingly abnormal one. I clearly looked completely disillusioned because she pretty abruptly announced, "there's nothing there” whilst pointing at my scan. I was then referred back to my original consultant, armed with some evidence. That afternoon I had my follow up appointment. In the uncomfortably short space of about twenty-minutes, I was diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome and told some pretty life changing things.
What is Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome?
MRKH, or Marrakesh as my father likes to call it, affects 1 in 5000 women and means I was born without a womb. I’d never have a period, I’d never give birth and if I wanted to have sex, I would have to undergo invasive long term treatment. It was a lot to take in at just 16-years-old.
MRKH must of influenced your later teenage years in a big way?
It did. At 19-years-old I was ready to lose my virginity to my boyfriend, but this meant I had to go into hospital and undergo treatment that would enable me to have sex: an all-singing, all-dancing sparkly internal vagina was created for me!
The treatment was painful and traumatic and not very nice at all, but here’s where the pants come in. On my last day in hospital, I was having a rough day and my nurse said: “Get yourself a pair of pants that make you feel like you are the most spectacular woman alive – it is my secret weapon”. And that, is how The Pants Project was born. After the emotional turmoil I went through, I wanted to do everything I could to help other women dealing with infertility issues, but also womankind as a whole, to feel as empowered and capable as possible, no matter their genetic makeup, through the only medium I knew how: the power of pants.
Femininity and fertility are still connected. How can we change that?
Infertility is an incredibly complex and painful thing to go through, and despite it being so common, we never really talk about it as a society. We are all fed this life plan that tells us what is “supposed” to happen to us, but no one ever explains the alternatives, so no one knows how to deal with things or talk about things when it all goes tits up.
This conversation starts in schools, and it starts with our mothers. I think I am lucky enough to be of the first real generation of women who truly believe they are entitled to take whatever path they choose in life. We are privileged as a generation to have social media and the internet as our fingertips, and I think it’s our duty to use that tool, start conversations, open up new narratives and pave the way for our children. We need to have better sex and mental health education in schools, we need to be more open and bold, and we need to learn from mistakes, so that when it comes to our children, we can hit the ground running.
My sex and mental health education was almost nil whilst growing up, and I think if I’d been offered up a sense of reality as opposed to a picket fence ideal, being diagnosed with MRKH would have been much easier to deal with than it was – and that’s only one example.
You’ve been working with Amika George and supporting The Pink Protest. What do those period-focused campaigns mean to you?
I am obsessed with Amika, Grace, Scarlett, Alice and all the other wonderful young women behind the #FreePeriods campaign. They are so bold and inspiring and they have opened my eyes to the issue of period poverty. They believed in my project enough to bring me – a woman without a period – on board with their team.
It blows my mind that if I was in the same situation as these women facing period poverty every single day, I would be the lucky one because I don’t have a period. The fact that I was born without a womb, without a huge part of my female anatomy, would put me in a privileged position… that is how crazy our patriarchal society is!
What’s the next step for you?
I’m turning 21 this year, so I have made it my mission to make it a memorable one. I am in my second year of university in Oxford studying English Literature, so I guess my next steps are just about continuing to balance The Pants Project, internships and university work, whilst also remembering to breathe every now and then!
I have some exciting things planned this year for The Pants Project. We’re just about to launch our new website, and we will be releasing our very own #PowerPants underwear collection before the end of the year. I want to work with more charities, and I’m particularly interested in doing something for mental health. I am very honored to be doing a TEDx talk soon, as well as some amazing International Women’s Day events… so it’s looking like a busy but wonderful year ahead!