One of Lisa Riley’s storylines on Emmerdale this year saw her character Mandy Dingle battle fertility issues – a subject the 44-year-old actor knows only too well, as it mirrors her own real-life struggles to start a family.
But it looks like acting it out may have helped Lisa accept her own situation, while enabling her to support others. Lisa, who is engaged to long-term partner Al, confessed, ‘I’ve had trouble conceiving and I’ve taken ownership that it’s never going to happen for me and Al and that’s fine – but if I can help other girls that are struggling, then long may that be the case.’
The couple, who have been together for six years, hoped to start their own family with the help of IVF treatment, which Lisa underwent in 2018. But she was told it was unlikely she’d fall pregnant because she has ‘low quality eggs’. At the time, Lisa said, ‘Finding out was a blow. We have decided now that we aren’t going to go down that route, and now that we have made that decision, I could not be happier… It is just not meant to be.’ While she decided against having further IVF, Lisa decided to stop putting pressure on herself, explaining, ‘Since being back at Emmerdale, I have heard so many positive stories about people who tried IVF and it didn’t work, but fell pregnant naturally… I will let nature take its course and, if I did fall pregnant, I would be thrilled. But I am not going to dwell on it, no one is going to give me bad news again.’
Not having a baby has enabled Lisa to spend more time with her nearest and dearest, including her dad Terry and younger brother Liam, who has three children. Lisa said, ‘I can’t say I’ve been lonely.’ And thanks to spending a lot of time with her niece and two nephews, Lisa doesn’t feel like she’s missing out by not having her own children. She added, ‘I’m wonderful and I’m very happy that I have, in my own personal life, a family.’
Even though the tradition of getting married and having children has become less important to some, there still appears to be a stigma around talking about fertility struggles – and Lisa has revealed her frustrations over the presumption that adoption is the answer.
Lisa admitted she and Al ‘constantly’ have people asking if they are going to adopt. When asked how she deals with it without getting angry or sad, she replied, ‘It’s really hard, you go “No, we’re OK.”’ Lisa had previously thought about adoption in 2016. At the time, she said, ‘I’m more likely to adopt from one of the countries I’ve visited – Ethiopia or South Africa – than the Western world.’ But fast forward four years and she wants to encourage people to stop asking questions to those without children. She added, ‘I feel people need to have more awareness – you don’t need those layers to the cake. If someone says “we don’t have children”, put a full stop there and go, “Oh OK, fine.”’
Having learnt to embrace her child-free life, Lisa admitted she felt ‘proud’ that Emmerdale bosses had decided to tackle infertility, as she believes it isn’t discussed enough in soap operas. And after the first episode aired, she had an overwhelming response on social media from other sufferers. She explained, ‘What I’ve learnt hugely off the back of this storyline is the volume of girls [who struggle] through medical reasons growing up… Some girls were 20 to 21 when they knew they would never be able to biologically have a child and I think that’s really difficult.’