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David Milliband’s sperm count

It has been an open secret in political and musical circles that David Milliband and his wife Louise adopted two children because they were unable to conceive. Mrs Milliband plays, under her maiden name, in the second violins of the London Symphony Orchestra. In the chatty corners of orchestral life, everyone knew of her personal sorrow and everyone clammed up.

Musicians, media and public officials are pretty good at keeping secrets when lives are at stake. I can think of one major problem with a prime minister’s child that never saw print and another with the wife of a well-known conductor. The decencies in these cases are almost unfailingly observed, at least in the UK.

So why did Milliband choose yesterday to go public with the tears he shed during the IVF treatment he underwent with his wife in the course of trying to have children? What public interest was served by this revelation? Why were the public decencies not preserved?

The obvious reason is that Milliband is front-running for leader of the Labour Party and wants to separate himself from the rest of the pack with a single humanising detail. That’s what politicians do: they make capital out of ordinary lives, sometimes out of their own.

I don’t like him the more for this ‘revelation’. On the contrary, I think Milliband has given too much information for no good reason. It will do him no great good, and it can only harm the conventions of decency in public life. There are some things that just don’t need to be broadcast.

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  1. siobhan grealy says:

    Dear Norman,
    I applaud David Milliband and whilst I can see your point about choosing a humanising detail to mark himself out from the rest of the pack I would like to share a few thoughts with you on the nature of the information he has chosen to share in the hope that it may shed a different light on the relevence of his choice & it’s potential public interest.
    I like many have experienced a failed IVF attempt & whilst there is much information available to discuss continuing attempts and success stories there is nothing out there that truly articulates the experience of failing.
    No one tells you that when they call to tell you how many eggs have fertilised you will spend the next 3 days bonding with your family in the lab. To the couple going through IVF who don’t have a monthly chance of conceiving the embryos they transfer are their children. They will bond, talk to and plan for the family that has been implanted. No doctor or embryologist can prepare you for that – it is just a natural part of the process which is intrinsic to the success of IVF but when it fails, leaves you grief stricken. You have lost that child, that family and yet there is no body to bury, no ritual to follow to help you pass through the stages of grief. No one can tell you this when you start on that journey because positive thinking and hope are so important for coping with the rigours of IVF.
    Thousands of couples go through this and whilst there is a lot of information out there about the successes there is very little on the complex emotions surrounding the failure of IVF.
    The survival of David & Louise Millibands marriage under such stress speaks volumes about both of them. Dealing with grief on that level is life changing. As one who has been through only one tiny part of what they must have experienced it does speak to me about his character and the type of person he is. Many public figures talk about how the death/illness of close family have shaped their lives – why should he be any different.
    My owm boyfriend has two beautiful children from his marriage & talks about what a difference that has made for him in coping with the failure of IVF but many thousands of men are not so lucky & unfortunately many people fail to see that men desire to have children and families as much as women do
    I hope that David Millibands decision to speak out on the pain of failed IVF will help couples going through the same thing by bringing a hard to understand subject into the public domain on a human level as well as highlighting the difficulties faced by men going through IVF which can be easily overlooked.
    It would be very easy to look at a couple like Louise and David and assume they lead a privileged life but infertility is an issue which strikes across all social boundaries and neither money, education or privilege can change the outcome of IVF.
    Dear Siobhan
    I was very much aware of venturing into a painful area. I know several couples close to me who have gone through IVF with and without success, and the stress it can introduce to a relationship. As a father, I know (without having known it before) how immeasurable is the blessing of having children.
    The point I was making, though, is that these are intensely private matters and they should be kept in the private domain. Too much of our thoughts are dictated by tabloid prurience. I am never happier than when a secret is kept. You and I both know of matters that are held under lock and key within the world of music, personal issues that should never see light of Daily Mail.
    I regarded the Millibands’ issue as one of these secrets and I regret that DM has gone public. It’s an intensely private matter, and it should have stayed that way.

  2. There is nothing in the article to indicate the fertility problem was due to Mr Millliband’s sperm count. No matter what one may think of the subject, even when said subject is a politician, and therefore generally a fair target, using that as a headline is, as a journalist, irresponsible, and as a human being, worse.

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