Isabelle

I never had the desire to have kids, I wasn’t drawn to it. When I was very young, I never really considered the possibility - it’s not something I was concerned about when I was 17.

People would tell me “you will change your mind”, and I’d get angry whenever someone would say that, because it was clear that this wouldn’t be an automatic assumption if I was a guy.

This questioning, combined with the fact that a few girlfriends told me they developed the desire to have kids quite suddenly at around 40, left me with a small sense of anguish that at some point I’d want to have a kid, but that the circumstances would never be perfect. Now I’m 39, studying again, with no boyfriend, and so on - if I suddenly want to have children, I’m not in a position to do so.

When I was 36 or 37, that’s when I decided that I’m old enough, that things won’t change. I have quite a strong character, I’m very autonomous - I’m an only child - and I know for sure that I won’t change my mind. I think I’ve always been sure, I was just afraid of externalising it.

I had an abortion at 24. I’d known the guy for two months, and there were lots of reasons not to keep the baby. He was much older, and would have been in favour of keeping him or her, and having to take an important decision, at that moment, it became clear that I never wanted to keep this kid. This is when I realised that I’d never understand the question the same way as a man. For me, the question was “are you going to be able to look after this kid alone?”

A few years later, I had a boyfriend who was quite eager to have kids. He didn’t pressure me, but he was someone who saw children in his life. He was a school teacher, and had a great sense of humour, a great spirit. He would make fun and bullshit me about having kids. He’d say, “I’ll work 20%, be a stay-at-home father and you can still have a career.” It was confirmation for me of how much the imbalance of responsibility played a role in my decision. So I joked back with him - I’ll do this for you, hand the kid over to you, go to work and come back home when the dinner is ready!

I applied for a very important position when I was 33, and I was very conscious that my potential employee might think, this one is going to fuck us over. In Switzerland, it’s forbidden to ask in interviews whether a woman wants to have kids, and they didn’t, but I felt so pressured about that, I felt obliged to say, “by the way, I don’t want any kids!” As a woman, it affects you in your professional context, whether you want to have kids or not.

My feeling is that I’m in an easier position today than women who want to have kids. Or rather, it’s difficult if you have kids, and it’s difficult if you don’t. Women can’t reach perfection either way. Since Adam and Eve, we are the cause of original sin; it’s all been our fault since the beginning.

I feel very alive in myself when I say that I don’t want to have children. My sense of myself as a strong woman is a construct, but it’s probably just a reaction to what society’s offering me at this point in the 21st century.

As an only child, when I decided that I wouldn’t have kids, my parents knew they wouldn’t be grandparents - so there was a lot at stake for them. But even though they were very traditional and conservative, they surprised me by never remarking on my decision, or insisting I change my mind. They could see that having children just wasn’t something for me. I’ve been very privileged not to experience any pressure about who I should be.

Something I never really understood is the idea that you have kids to carry on your legacy. I don’t have any desire to leave a trail. I have a feeling that people need a stronger sense of belonging, and I don’t need that. I have friends who are more interested in the concept of family, and they’re more interested in having kids.

Children never looks like the solution for me, because whenever I think about my relationship with my mother, I’m not going to be her best friend, and so I couldn’t expect something like this from my kids. I hope that society will have progressed enough that old people will find other ways of living together, by the time I reach that age. In Berlin, they have a few projects like this, and I hope that those other ways of living will take off, because I think older people are very lonely.

I read this article in The Guardian about a study done two or three years ago, which made the case that the biggest potential contribution to your carbon footprint is having children. It was going beyond crossing a taboo, and since then, this story has been taken over - you see people posting on Facebook, “the best thing you can do for the planet is to not have a kid.”

But, even though I’m really averse to having kids for myself, I’m so thankful that some people are still having kids. Because if you don’t want to go extinct, there’s no one else who can save us. We benefit from the fact that others still want to do the hard work of having kids. We are all intertwined.