They always said, “You’ll grow into it, you’re just not ready. Wait ‘til you get older and meet the right man”. If I were a parent and my five-year-old said, “I never want to have children”, I’d probably say the same thing.
My sister is two years younger than me - she’s 42 - and she doesn’t have children either. We had the happiest childhood, and my parents are the most loving couple we could have had as an example. My mum’s from Liverpool, and she met my dad when she did a year abroad at a German university. They sent us to an international school in the Black Forest, before we moved to Hamburg when we were teenagers. They made us into very self-sufficient, independent women, who lead our lives the way we want, and sadly for them, that led to no grandchildren.
So I never played with dolls, and I’ve never felt maternal. There has never, ever been a time when I wanted children. I literally don’t understand the concept, the appeal; I don’t understand why somebody would put their life on hold, or risk their relationship for it.
I met my husband in a bar - my parents weren’t very impressed. Come to think of it, I met him in a gay bar, which turned out to be his bar. I was about to move to London, so on our second date I said, “Listen. I don’t intend to move in with you, I don’t want to have children, and I’m about to move abroad. Take it or leave it.” He couldn’t believe his luck - he’d also never wanted to have children.
For the last eight years, I’ve worked in global strategic marketing for contraception. It’s the only area that’s really different in all of pharma, because the target group aren’t patients, they’re not ill. These are young, healthy women who get to choose whether they use a certain birth control product, to have sex, but prevent a pregnancy. From the ‘60s to today, contraception has played a huge part in empowering women. It’s the first time women have had a choice - do they want to become pregnant or not - and it has a huge impact on how you lead your life.
When I worked for Bayer, they gave my husband and me the opportunity to relocate to Mexico. We wanted to spend a few years abroad, so we jumped at the chance. Before we went, we got some intercultural training - they told us all sorts of stuff like how Mexicans aren’t as punctual as the Germans... And they said I shouldn’t mention that I don’t want children. They recommended I say, “not yet”.
“Do you have children?” is the core question in Latin America. It’s not “how’s the weather?” or “how are you?” - you meet new colleagues, ask if they have children and talk about the family. It’s a nice thing, it’s not meant horribly. But you’d destroy that social opening if you just said “I don’t have kids, and I don’t want any either”; you’d strip the lubricant out of the conversation. That was the first time I thought that I needed to prepare an answer to that question, and I did need that answer.
My husband still had a business in Berlin, and he was back and forth a lot. He learned the hard way, that, if you have a certain quality standard, you have to do things yourself. That meant he had to be back in Germany every five, six weeks, sometimes at really short notice. Our relationship deteriorated, communication broke down between us; we were suddenly out of sync for the first time, misinterpreting conversations and texts...Things went downhill shockingly fast.
When it was clear that something was very wrong, I booked a flight back to Berlin. My husband and I took a walk and talked things through, and he suddenly said, “I’m not sure anymore if you’re the person I want to grow old with”. I nearly died. He was having something like a midlife crisis, and was questioning: is this the life I want to lead, is this where I want to go? And what am I going to leave behind? I think that’s a guy thing.
If I die, I die, and if I leave nothing behind, I honestly, honestly don’t care. It’s today, and now for me!
But he’d been reconsidering - maybe he wanted a child, and he knew I didn’t. He presented me with a business case, calculated in Excel, to prove that it could work financially, and it didn’t have to mean the end of my career. It got mixed up in my mind - the fear of losing him, and what I was willing to do to keep him. I started wondering: do I really not want children, or is it just a notion that’s always been there, which I’ve never questioned? I was approaching 40, and I thought that I should at least give it one last deep consideration - to explore if there’s some barrier inside me, which is stopping me considering this option - and get some outside help to do that.
We went to a relationship counsellor together, and I went to a psychologist alone, once a week for a few months. We did the usual stuff, exploring my childhood and finding no evidence of trauma. And I talked about the two possible lives I potentially see myself living: one in the big city, and another in a remote setting, in a house where the inside and outside flow together, with cats and dogs, and maybe a child or two. I was asked to do an exercise, where I sat in two different chairs, while describing each of these two scenarios. After 20 minutes, my psychologist said, “I don’t think you need to come back. You explained everything in perfect detail, and you have everything in your head - but there is no child in either of the pictures you’ve painted. There’s nothing more I can do for you.”
I’m really glad I did that. It was worth going down that route and making sure. Now I can say, I’ve done everything I possibly can, to look inside me and question myself and my long-held beliefs, and think about things as openly as possible. This is an active choice I have made for my life: no, I don’t have kids, and I don’t want any.
I want to enjoy life with my husband and the freedom and flexibility that comes with a childfree life.