A few of them stuck by it, but by our early 20s, a lot of my girlfriends were pretty sure that they wanted to have children. I didn’t feel any biological clock, that’s for sure. When I was first in love, I had some thoughts - this pre-programmed image of a happy family - but they were very fleeting moments.
I’ve had three abortions, so I’ve had the chance to be a mother, but I chose not to. I had my first at 18, after a condom failure or something. At that time I didn’t feel ashamed at all, just: “get this out of my body”. When I got pregnant a second time, probably more due to carelessness, then I felt really stupid and embarrassed and ashamed. It felt like I shouldn’t have let it happen again.
I was living in New York, and it didn’t help that, outside the abortion clinic, there were pro-life people standing around with signs and pictures of foetuses. Obviously, they are morons, taking things to extremes: it’s wrong to kill unborn foetuses, but it’s OK to kill doctors.
The last time I had an unwanted pregnancy was here in Germany. This was just a few years ago, when I was nearly 40. I had an accident, took the morning-after pill, and still got pregnant; I was like “fuck!” Here, you have to talk to a councillor, and take some time to think. I thought, “this is still some fucking bullshit”. I had taken a job in Norway, and I ended up telling my boss I had to go to Sweden for a medical emergency. I went to Stockholm, where it’s no questions asked, and it’s free: take a pill and that’s it.
It comes down to religion. The States are way more religious than Germany, and Germany is way more religious than Sweden. It’s the most secular country in the world, and the place with the most generous abortion laws, where you can have really late-term abortions that aren’t allowed anywhere else. There’s never been a debate; it’s a non-issue.
Sweden also happens to be a super-conformist society. When I moved back there for a couple of years, everyone my age was in the process of breeding - losing their shit trying to find somebody to have kids with, or going to Denmark to have artificial insemination. You were a complete failure if you weren’t able to procreate somehow.
Sweden is one of the countries in the world that’s made the most progress, when it comes to gender roles, and female representation in politics: we have a gender-neutral pronoun, now. The feminist movement has been really strong, and we didn’t have a very high birth rate in the 70s and 80s. I don’t know if this is a weird backlash, or some sort of Government agenda - the population is ageing, and we need people to produce more babies - but in Sweden you get 70 weeks paid parental leave, and part of that has to be taken by the man, in a heterosexual couple. It’s pretty cushy.
It’s a small country, and Stockholm is still comparatively small. People don’t have the guts to do anything differently. My personal opinion is that about 50% of everyone I know that have children, shouldn’t have children. They didn’t want it, it wasn’t their biological clock, or their true deep desire; they just felt like this is what they should be doing. When I lived in New York and New Orleans - a pocket of liberalism in the South - they were much more accepting and tolerant of people who don’t want to do exactly what everyone else is doing.
My friend works for Human Rights Watch, and so goes to lots of different countries and interviews people about different things. She’s spent a lot of time in Bangladesh, Nepal and certain African countries, and young women there say, “I don’t want to have kids, or get married. I want to go to school, I want to have a career”. Yet, in the Western world, it’s totally different.
The general attitude in the world pisses me off: that you’re selfish if you choose not to have children. This is the one task that a woman’s supposed to perform, so if you don’t do that, you’re not a real woman. But that’s the patriarchy. We’re still living in a sexist world, and there are way too many people who feel like they should be able to control women. I think of myself as a person, more than a woman.
The reasons not to have kids are plentiful. First, there’s the personal reason that I never felt like it. And then it’s such a huge responsibility; so many people were traumatised by their parents, even if they weren’t evil or abusive. You could create all these scars in another human being, and I don’t want to do that. My parents did their best, and I was still fucked up by my childhood to some degree.
The family ideal was shattered a long time ago by our parents’ generation, but somehow it still lives on. There’s still a stigma to being single, whether you’re gay or straight, because it seems to show that nobody wants you. There’s a status to being in a relationship, and then on top of that, to being married instead of “just” cohabiting or dating, and then to having a child.
It’s way worse to regret having had a child, than not, because then you’ve brought someone else into this world. The world is fucking over-populated, so isn’t it selfish to have children, at this point? I don’t feel very optimistic about the state of the world: really, you want to put another human being on this planet, when in our lifetime, we could be having wars over drinking water?
There seems to be a little bit of a movement, now, as people are actually talking about the choice not to have children. Maybe attitudes are changing a little bit; they should change.