It’s another quiet shift for Ewa Dadalska, head of a maternity ward in the Polish city of Wołomin.
The birth rate in Poland has decreased by 40% over the past 30 years, with an average of 1.4 children for women.
Ewa shows our reporter Julian Lopez the deserted delivery rooms.
“Just 5 years ago, it would have been unthinkable to have these empty rooms,” he says. “Right now, almost every day these empty beds are just waiting for potential mothers.”
A complex mix of factors
The story behind this phenomenon is complex. Factors such as economic uncertainty, lack of job security and changing social attitudes are causing more and more women to choose not to have children.
Others link the decline in the birth rate to Poland’s restrictive abortion laws. Since 2021, abortion has only been allowed in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.
Agnieszka Szpila is a writer and activist with two severely disabled children.
“Women are very afraid of being stuck in my situation,” she says. “The only person a (disabled) child can count on is the mother. Not society, nor the country, nor the system”.
“Until my kids are 18, they have school. But then they don’t have school. They will sit with me until the end of their lives. I can’t live my life the way I imagined.”
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Government funded programs
The Polish government is funding programs to increase the birth rate, such as the Family 500+ child benefits programme, but these have not been very effective.
Adding to this problem is the country’s strict immigration policy. While countries like Spain and Portugal also have low birth rates, migrants are closing the demographic gap.
For some, the decline in the birth rate is a positive sign, as it suggests that women have the freedom to reject expectations about motherhood. A low birth rate often goes hand in hand with a higher GDP and higher education levels.
That said, Poland is a rapidly aging nation and many fear the long-term effects.