Elizabeth Ho is an actor who you might have seen on the Netflix stoner sitcom Disjointed featuring an up-and-coming star called *checks notes* Kathy Bates. She’s also a postpartum doula, which has given her a close-up view of motherhood, and the mom role that Hollywood may soon expect her to play. Elizabeth knows “bone deep” that she doesn’t want kids, and she’s content to support her community, her parent friends, and she’s happy being the weird other part of the family, the most authentic expression of herself.
In this episode, Elizabeth brought up my previous conversations with 78 year-old childfree trailblazer Marcia Drut-Davis and environmentalist Marie Fisher, from whom I learned that “mother is a verb”. And I mention the United Nations Population Fund’s report on bodily autonomy, which you can find here.
Elizabeth: When you first reached out to me I said “Yes I want to do this”, I shuffled my feet for a while, because in Hollywood there is this standard I’m now entering my late 30s where now all my roles would be mom, that’s all I get is mom, that’s all Hollywood sees in me, and there was this fear of mine that if I came out to this podcast and spoke my truth as myself Elizabeth Ho, there would be some weird sort of blacklisting. And I realised how important it is for us, for me personally, to show up for myself and speak about my experience to hopefully show that, I’m a normal human being and living a wonderful life.
Zoë: Hey lovelies! Welcome back to We are Childfree, a podcast that celebrates childfree lives and shares our stories. Today’s guest is Elizabeth Ho, an actor who you might have seen on the Netflix stoner sitcom Disjointed, featuring an up-and-coming star called Kathy […] Bates? She’s also a postpartum doula, which has given her a close-up view of motherhood, and the mom role that Hollywood may soon expect her to play. Elizabeth knows “bone deep” that she doesn’t want kids, and she’s happy being the weird other part of the family, the most authentic expression of herself. For context, we spoke just after the Texas abortion ban, and before the attempted recall of California’s Democrat governor Gavin Newsom. We get into the war on women happening worldwide, which has long restricted the bodily autonomy of people of colour and disabled folks, and now is coming for the rest of the us. I learned a lot from Liz and left our conversation feeling super fired-up and inspired so I hope you do too!
Elizabeth: I was trying to think this morning on my walk, how I found We are Childfree and I couldn’t remember but I did remember feeling very passionate. I was like, I have to write this to Zoë or this community, because I just knew that you guys would understand, and it was, well we kind of have to back up a little. So, I am childfree by choice, and it took me a long time to get there and I’m sure we’ll delve deeper into that, but I ended up writing you because I was visiting with a friend who – I’m godmother to three of their children – and I do postpartum doula work as well, and I was showing my friends a picture of a friend’s baby who I was, you know we were talking about maybe working together. And my friend said “Oh, that baby is so cute! Are you sure you don’t want to have a baby yourself? Because I just want to hold it, it would be so cute!” And I just remember –and she knows my choice is to be childfree and that it took me while to get here. And I just remember staring at her and said, “There’s no doubt my baby would be very cute”. And then I took her hand and put it on my ovaries and I said, “This is as close as you’re getting to holding my baby”, and we kind of stared at each other and she realised, she was you know “Oh well you still have time”, whatever bull-shitty thing people say to women who choose to be childfree and I just said “Yeah”. You know, it’s uncomfortable but she got the point you know, and it was also hurtful because this is a family I’m also very close to and to have that rhetoric I think it’s just societal too. Mothers love their children, their fantastic little being, why wouldn’t you want to share that, it’s hard to be with someone who doesn’t want to share that experience.
Zoë: Yes, I had my sister and – we are twins – she said exactly the same one went in full you know, her new baby boy and I’m playing with him, well the first time I was holding him and you know, she said “oh you are so good with him and, are you sure you don’t want any?”, and I’m like “yes” and then she said it again the next time I went over to the UK, and I kept playing with him more, and she said “are you really sure you don’t want one?” and I was “Please, please stop asking me, I really I’m sure”. You’re right, it’s just so engrained in our society that this is what women do and I think you hit the nail in the head that they obviously have this amazing connection and bond and love with that child, and they want you to experience that and I think it’s very hard to try to make people understand that that’s not enough, right? It doesn’t- I don’t feel like I’m missing anything in my life without that, because I have connections, love, bonds with other beings in my world and I’m very content and happy with that. But yeah, it’s a tricky thing to navigate. I mean your friend, so did she stop asking you?
Elizabeth: Well, so far yeah. I mean, that’s the think that visit, it got uncomfortable for a second, because I spoke my truth and I think she realised that she kind of stepped into something that was uncomfortable to talk about which is, you know women’s right to choose or people who can have children’s right to choose whether or not they want to have children, and I love my godchildren and she knows that and I have been there for a lot of ups and downs, and I think once that happened she had to take a step back and be like, you know she had to listen to me, which is uncomfortable when we are used to this societal rhetoric when a woman says “I don’t know if I want to have kids” and another woman or man says: “well, maybe you will change your mind” and then we childfree person we are used to swallowing that, swallowing our want, our choice, our decision and be like “yeah” we politely chuff it off and continue the small talk, and as I get more comfortable in my fully integrated self, I realised that sometimes you have to be uncomfortable and stand in your truth, because if these people really do love you, though they’ll cherish whatever decision you make as long as you’re not hurting yourself or others, right? And so, I think it was sitting in that uncomfortableness which I hate, and I know she didn’t like either, but we had to just let it settle and then move on.
Zoë: So then, you said that it took you a while to come to this position. Could you tell me, can you remember was there a moment that you realised you didn’t want children? Or was that a slow process?
Elizabeth: Yeah sure, so I think it’s important to recognise I’m Asian-American, I’m Chinese American, I’m third or fourth generation looking down my lineage, and I said that because I feel with a lot of first generation second generation immigrant parents and children in America, there is this very big push to follow this life, which is: get good grades, go to college, have a family, have children, repeat and rinse. And I feel very lucky that I was a little further from that kind of mentality of establishing community in a new country, I grew up playing with baby dolls, I love my -I have a little sister, I wanted to be like my mom, she was the best example I could have of what it looks like to be a woman. She worked outside of the house, she was strong beautiful, funny, charismatic, and a great mother. But as I got older, I started to really question, I felt like I was trying to brainwash myself into wanting kids. So, what I started to do was I started to babysit a lot and then I started to be around people with kids all the time and because I was, it was almost like trying to prove to myself that, if you do this enough, you’ll like, if you are around kids enough, you’ll like it. And not just like the fun ice cream visit or that let’s go out and hang out and see a movie, in the weeds kind of stuff, baby’s sick, you’re over there helping, you are cooking, and cleaning, mom and dad aren’t home they’re gone, for whatever reason, and you are the adult in charge. And then I felt I continued to put myself in this position subconsciously, to try to convince myself that this is the life I wanted. Ad every time, Zoë, I would wash my hands of the family, I went “Man I’m so glad that is not my reality!”.
Zoë: yeah, I could imagine, I think it’s great advice to remember we were talking about the amazing Marcia Drut-Davis and her advice – get a journal, write down, you know, pro and con it, and look after children if you can to really get a reality of what this is like, so yeah I think that’s a great way of you to see exactly what it entail, it looks bloody hard, isn’t it?
Elizabeth: it is so hard and that’s the thing I have so much admiration for parents, and people who choose to raise children and want to have, it’s a full-time job, it’s a thankless full-time job that goes on for your life, and it’s 24/7, there are no breaks, and I personally don’t want to do it, and the people who want to do that I can only be there and support them. And that’s kind of where I ended up coming closer to doing more postpartum doula work which was supporting mothers in community when they go through this time; I really found a lot of hope and love for that, but I also face this thing of when other postpartum doulas meet me, they’re like “you don’t have kids?” I go “no, I don’t”. For me it’s about supporting other women and family units, I think in western society specifically, I don’t know about you but my family is spread out very far and so, for instance if my sister would have a child, I wouldn’t be able to easily go to her house and take care of her every single day during that postpartum period, and further on, what a postpartum doula does is be paid for that community, basically, you pay for someone to come in and help mother and support the woman and baby but mainly the woman as she transitions through this really big phase of life, and it really made me take another look at, what I think your podcast does so beautifully, of – what does it mean that the idea of mother as a verb “to mother” can be with or without giving birth to children through your own body or adopting, you know? But I can support other women and children without reproducing one myself.
Zoë: Absolutely, yeah, I think you spoke about that, it takes a village almost to look after children. You are right how now women don’t have that support network necessarily around them. In modern times now we are moving further away from our families, I see this a lot with my friends as well, that their families aren’t with them, they have children and they are alone, and then my female friends are the ones who are trying to balance having a career and having a child, and doing most of the child’s care, and it’s almost -yeah it’s like the way it works now just doesn’t fit with our lives and we’re kind of sold this idea that we can have it all. But I don’t know when I look at what we are meant to be having I think we are being conned a little bit, we are being told we can have it all. But it looks really stressful for women.
Elizabeth: Absolutely, I mean, I, like you have in your life many women friends who do it all. They have the job, they take care of their kids, they’re there for pickup after school, they take care of them, make all the meals, they schedule the house clean, they do the house clean, I was sitting back and thinking of why is that so uneven in the gender gap and I really do think it comes back to when women gave birth and they are breastfeeding if they can or want to, men can help and so all that time being up with the baby kind of falls to women because men honestly can’t produce milk, right? you choose to not do formula, and so I feel like, there is this role patterning that happens really early on with mother and child where the father can come in and help, but the workload falls to the mother, and I do think that then it’s perpetuated by society. I agree the workload is uneven, I think governments don’t support families, at least in USA we say we do but we absolutely don’t. I was reading something today about how expensive childcare is, just daycare, preschool, nannies, and that even if a women were to go and have a minimum wage job in the USA let’s say 15-16 dollars an hour, it would barely cover childcare to cover the time that they were gone from their child that is, its wild to me that women get this pressure of wanting to have kids but we as a society don’t support that. And I do really resonate with you saying we were sold a lie. In many regards, because I think I then hear other people say well, you have to have one, I look at the evidence of it and for me personally it just doesn’t seem like something that I want to participate in or perpetuate. Do I want to support the community around me? Absolutely, that is something that brings me great joy, but is this the reality I want for myself? Nope!
Zoë: Yeah and there should be nothing wrong with that and I think once people can kind of open their eyes and see that we all don’t have to have children and it’s kind of a weird idea to say that every woman should have a child, it just doesn’t make sense when we think about how different we all are, we are all good or bad at different things, why do we just all assume that women are the same person? And we want the same things and if I remove my viewpoint of how women are treated, how mothers are treated, and how this inequality in the home and how their career is affected, you know all these things are stack against women when they have children. So, I look at that and I go this is bullshit, this is ridiculous, I wish every woman who wants a child to have that support like you said, but when I remove that I still go, I just don’t have that desire either to have a child. Because I know my twin sister wanted it more than anything and I think back to when I was thinking about, you know do I want this? No, I got literally zero desire and people don’t understand that, do they? It’s like such a foreign idea. Do you think you felt like that? Obviously, I also had dolls when I was growing up, but I also was a bit more of a tomboy I had boys’ action figures, but I had barbies as well, but I probably would cut all their hair. When you were growing up, did you think, did you ever imagine your life with children?
Elizabeth: Yeah, all the time, I think of the media I consumed, as a child I think of the books I read, I think about the toys I was given, it all was very much focused on at the end of the day being a mother, or some version of femininity that included family with children. I wanted to touch back on something you said about your sister, which was you saw your sister really wanted a child, and that’s what I see, that’s what I want women who want to have children to have. I see that with my friends, I see that with a lot of my family members, the need to have children is just so bone deep, it’s like sewn into their DNA and their marrow – those are the people I want to have kids. I wish that there was that respect on our side too, which is, not that there are sides, but whatever, the respect of it. Bone deep I don’t feel like I want to be a mother or need to be one. My mother grew up with seven other brothers and sisters, she came up from a large family, and I grew up around a lot of cousins, and they all, except for, I think there are four of us who haven’t had kids, of a cohort of like 15-20 first cousins, it’s been really interesting now, because it seems now the more women move further away from home and get higher education or honestly just listen to their own self, do the self-care work that they deserve, that people are finding out that having children isn’t something that is meant for them in their lifespan.
Zoë: Yeah, it does feel like maybe this generation we all kind of realising that we have a choice. I mean when I spoke to my mom about her feelings about having kids, because she was a career woman and a breadwinner, and I was really intrigued by whether she actually wanted to have kids or whether this is just like what you did back then, she had said she thought maybe she wouldn’t have if she have lived in this time she probably wouldn’t because yeah you just don’t even questioned it back then. And soon as your mother I’m not sure if you had any conversations about you know her feelings about her being a mother or you being childfree, but it’s always interesting to hear from women from previous generations. What was going through their heads, you know, was it something that they could actually choose, you know.
Elizabeth: Yeah, I think about how a woman’s worth even in the 1950s was very much in staying at home and raise kids. Your neighbours, the women around you raised kids and that was your social group. Their kids had grandbabies and it just keeps going. And I think about what happened in the 70s and 80’s with the sexual evolution and women entering the work force more, but we were also still tasked with maintaining, upholding this idea of societal motherhood and having it all. I know my mom has expressed that having kids wasn’t as promising or like fruitful as she thought it was would be, I don’t think she would have had kids if she had that option for herself, a lot of her self-worth was I believe tied up in the American dream, settling down, having husband, kids, the white picket fence, and now that she is older and she is definitely -my parents are divorced, she is definitely living her best life right now, I’m like good, that’s what she deserved. She was a Broadway dancer and actress, and it does makes me curious if she would have continued that path and that kind of career choice have she not decided to settle down and have kids. We’ll never know but I do think it was around in the 70s, she grew up in the 50s, second gen, so I feel like it was a tough act to balance. I have a lot of empathy for that.
Zoë: How had she taken in to you saying you don’t want children? Does she support you?
Elizabeth: She likes to do things like “I had a dream you had kids”. And I be like “I’m glad you dreamt about it”. You know, so it’s an outgoing conversation. Same thing with my father, he does the “you won’t know love” and I just reply, “I guess I won’t”, but I again I have to have empathy, late 70s, that is just the time period they grew up in, I’m not going to change that. They are going to continue see me live my life and my full truth and see that I am happy, that I can have a productive life and a fulfilling family without children in it but surrounding myself with community and other people’s children.
Zoë: Absolutely, and I feel like, half the battle is just showing people we can be happy, fulfilled , live a wonderful live without children, I think people have this idea in their head that we are going to be lonely, sad, depressed, that we are going to regret it so they it’s almost like they are trying to help us by saying you should do it, you have to do it, it’s what you got to do, they think they are helping us, some people, some people are just horrible, but the people who obviously love you and they want they think about how are you going to be happy?, and it’s trying to people see that “no, we actually are happy this way, we don’t need to change”.
Elizabeth: It’s respecting our autonomy and saying yeah, I respect you and the decision making, I love you and I think that this is your life to live, and that you deserve to live it the way you want to. I think that is respect, that is love, and it’s something that I’m very grateful to have with my chosen family.
Zoë: Tell me a little about your chosen family.
Elizabeth: They are fantastic. I live in Los Angeles, I’m an actor, and before I launch into this, I did want to say I had a lot of when you first reached out to me I said “Yes I want to do this”, I shuffled my feet for a while, because in Hollywood there is this standard I’m now entering my late 30s where now all my roles would be mom, that’s all I get is mom, that’s all Hollywood sees in me, and there was this fear of mine that if I came out to this podcast and spoke my truth as myself Elizabeth Ho, there would be some weird sort of blacklisting. And I realised how important it is for us, for me personally, to show up for myself and speak about my experience to hopefully show that, I’m a normal human being and living a wonderful life with this chosen family that I’ll speak about in a second, and that this fear is perpetuated by a society that wanting us to fit in and be a part of whatever this idea of what a woman should look like. I’m really impressed by Gen Z about them just being like “I am my full self” and I really admire that about them, and I hope women of all ages get to a place where we can just be our full true selves. And also, I know plenty of moms – to circle back – who say like if you don’t have kids you will have regret and have depression, I know plenty of parents who have depression and anxiety and regret and still have kids. That’s all personal work. A child will not change that.
Zoë: There’s no guaranties.
Elizabeth: Absolutely not. My chosen family is wonderful, it’s made up of a lot of creatives, a lot of people who support each other in ways that I wish I had when I was little. I was a very shy kid, I didn’t have a lot of friends, I was really scared, I think some of it comes from ADHD and not being diagnosed with that properly as a young kid, and also just being, I was more introverted. And my chosen family love that about me. They are ok with me saying I made plans because I’m in a more extroverted mood and then cancel because I don’t feel ok that day and respecting that. My chosen family includes my goddaughter Ashika who is eighteen months, I’ve been a big part of her life because of covid I ended up nannying her, the family and during covid because she couldn’t have anyone from the outside come in, for fear of both her parents, one of them works in the medical field and one of them works in education, getting baby and parents sick. And that had been just an absolute delight, an honour to be part of that family, them respecting me as an auntie and a godmother, it’s just what I want for all, like if this is what you want as a childfree person and still you want to participate in helping children grow and supporting that kind of community, that’s all I wish for, it is the absolute best. Plus, I get to walk away, that’s the best part. It’s walking away and taking a nap. Parents don’t get that.
Zoë: They do not. It’s a full-time gig.
Elizabeth: It is, and it’s fantastic. Again so much respect for that but, I love my naps too much, Zoë.
Zoë: Oh god yeah, I love the positives of having a childfree life and I know you got some puppers as well, a couple of dogs as well.
Elizabeth: I got two adorable shih tzus, the loves of my life, just the cutest, but I also recognise that they are dogs, I’m not going to call them my fur children. If that is your journey and your truth, more power to you.
Zoë: I say it to my sister, I can’t leave her baby in the home and go for three hours on a bike ride.
Elizabeth: They would call child services on you.
Zoë: They would, thankfully that would happen, but I absolutely see the difference, I love my dog more than anything and I’m sure you love yours, but it’s like having been able to go long dog walks, going out whenever you want, there is that flexibility you have, which is lovely.
Elizabeth: Being a human being is complicated and tiring, and I think about how even if someone like is like “You lallygag all day”, I’d be like, “Yeah, I do and it is great” – and it’s my choice, right? It comes back to my body my choices, there is the respect of me as a human being and being an autonomous person in this world. I just feel we get just the short stick of it so much by society.
Zoë: If we are not having children we are told we should be having an amazing career, we should be jet setting around the place, if we don’t have children what’s the point of us, that’s almost the idea put on childfree people, and I don’t understand, we should just be ok just living, just getting up, living our lives however we want to live them, if we pay our taxes, what the hell does it matter to anyone else what I do with my time, my life, if I’m a decent human being, if I feel happy with my life whatever that is, whatever that looks like, just like my friends and family who have kids, I hope they are truly happy and I want people to see that it’s OK for us to do whatever we want with our life. Do you feel that pressure as well that if you don’t have kids you’ve got to be something amazing and doing incredible things?
Elizabeth: Absolutely! We’ve got to be rich, we must just have so much money, we must like have like immaculate houses, I remember my dad one time it was probable around like six years ago and I was really starting to realise that I truly did not want children, because there was a lot of conversation about freezing eggs, should I freeze my eggs should I give myself more time. I remember my dad saying, there’s a doctors’ couple that he knows, and they don’t have kids, and they have an immaculate house but it’s very cold, and I said “That sounds great!” and then I told him: “Wait, wait, tell me more about this house. Where is it, what does it look like? Do they have a housekeeper? That sounds amazing!” and it just backfired on him, and he said “No, I meant it’s not filled with laughter and joy”. I was like “No that sounds, they just like leave it, and it’s clean? That sounds great, sign me up!”.
Zoë: Yes please, yeah, I mean, we can do whatever we want with our time. No one should have pressure on them to be filling their time with whatever society dictates to us. Live your life however you want and it’s such a shame that we as childfree women especially are deemed as maybe we don’t have value in this society, and I see the complete opposite. If you want to do things with helping others and helping the community, whatever it is I see this time and time again with childfree people, it’s like they have this bandwidth to just do, you know, other things that maybe parents might not have the bandwidth for, and of course they are focusing on their children or child, that makes sense, they should be, you know, so let us like fill the gaps, we can fill the gaps and help.
Elizabeth: We can fill the gaps, but also like don’t take advantage of us, I know that there are sometimes when people like well you don’t have kids so you can stay longer, right? And I went mmm, no that’s not how you treat a human being. Sorry. There is that thing that we are, because we don’t have kids we then can work longer hours or for less pay or don’t have to worry about medical illnesses, chronic fatigue, all that sort of stuff. No, we are living the same kind of life as everyone else is and there is the double standard of single guys who are, that weird uncle who didn’t have kids, he is just the weird uncle, we all hang out with him, but no one is like “Hey uncle Al, when are you having kids?” no one ever says that, no one says like “Oh, he must have a fantastic career”, or “He must live in absolute wealth”. No, they are known as bachelors; they do whatever they want and they’re just that weird other part of the family. I love being the weird other part of the family. Honestly, I think is the most authentic expression of me.
Zoë: I love that, yeah, I couldn’t agree more with you in this, I really think we need to embrace our weirdness and our uniqueness and what makes us all different is actually the best thing about humanity, is like we need to really break this idea of women on just one thing, even when you have kids it’s like now this person is a mother that’s it, they can’t be anything else, they can do anything else.
Elizabeth: That loss of identity is wild, Zoë.
Zoë: You must see this a lot obviously in your work so tell me a little about that.
Elizabeth: There is this Instagram, social media, blogger mommy, perfect life, perfect parenting life, that is unattainable for mothers to reach, and there is at least in my experience in being a witness to women going from being pregnant to having children, there is a period of grief where you’ve lost your old identity, it’s completely shifted from the bedrock up, and now you are floating into this new identity and what does it mean, what the societal expectations of what it means to be a mother are just suddenly thrust upon you: you must breastfeed, you shouldn’t breastfeed, you must work out, you shouldn’t workout, you must do early education, you shouldn’t early education, and everyone has an opinion on how to parent, and when all those things happen I notice that there is very much for women a loss of who they are as an individual because all of the sudden you have to take care of this other child and maintain a household or whatever. Part of the postpartum work is giving women space to breathe, giving women space to fill out who they are now, to hold all the things like being a woman, being a mother, a daughter, a wife, a partner, all those things, and it is heartbreaking sometimes to see that women are just all of the sudden give birth and now thrust into this new job with very little training, if this is their first birth, and just having to accept this whole new identity thrust upon them, it’s something that makes me very grateful to do the work I do and to bear witness and to hold that space for women. I think it’s really important.
Zoë: Absolutely, I see this again and again with my friends and my sister as well, and I’m kind of there as an outsider almost looking in because I don’t have my own children so I’m able to really compare my situation with my sister’s specially and I say, “OK have you have time for yourself? Have you went for a walk today?” I really tried and encourage her as much as possible to keep doing the hobby that you like but it’s so difficult, because physically there’s only so much we can do in the time that we’ve got and, for women, especially society just they tell us we’re caregivers, we are meant to look after everyone else except ourselves. I feel like childfree people especially, because it’s almost like we are choosing ourselves, we are saying this is what I want and I’m going to decide for my life this is the right thing for my life and we are told we are selfish and it’s going against what society tell us women, and I really want every woman to see that they have worth, whether they have kids or not, and that they have value, whatever they do in life but, time and time again I see it with my friends who have kids it’s like, now that value is attached to their child, and trying to make them remember who they were before that child is hard because is physically and emotionally, mentally exhausting and draining and I see that, I wish there was more support for mothers especially, but its just a really hard thing, it’s a balancing act I’m guessing and who wins? your child kind of wins.
Elizabeth: And they should, they didn’t sign up for this when they were born. The societal contract when you decide to have a kid you say “Yes, I’m going to take care of you”, the child doesn’t go like: wait, what did I sign up for? They have no part in this, they just showing up for the show. I wanted to circle back to that word selfish, I‘ve heard you talk about it in other episodes. I hope more women are selfish, to me selfish means self-care and whether is selfish to want to have children, selfish to not want to have children, I hope more women become selfish for themselves because we deserve to have the right to choose what we want to do in our life.
Zoë: I love that. Absolutely. Reclaiming the word selfish and not letting other people tell us this is a negative thing because how can it be negative to do what’s right for your life? Because it’s not only your life, you’re thinking of the life of the child and ultimately no one who doesn’t have children should be pressured into having them and we see this, it’s have being an emotional few weeks with the Texas anti-abortion law, and seeing what’s going on in the world and how we are trying to force women one having children that they don’t want, even in cases of rape or incest, those things are horrendous but if a woman doesn’t want a baby, that’s enough, it doesn’t matter really what other circumstances are going on around them, if they don’t want that child they should absolutely be given autonomy to do that. And we are just rolling back these rights, I mean how has it been obviously in America? for us outside it’s been shocking to see what’s going on in Texas.
Elizabeth: I feel embarrassed, I feel ashamed, it is, right now California where I live is going through a Governor recall potentially which could potentially makes us closer to more conservative state which is very scary to think about, it’s hard, it reminds me of when, I remember when Trump was elected my best friend – her name is Elizabeth as well – we weren’t watching the election together but she drove over to my house and just held each other crying, because we knew that this was the start to what could potentially end up being a very tough time for women. I think about also, I saw this Tik Tok-er woman talking about how let’s say she was pregnant and have children of her own but her pregnancy isn’t viable, she will still have to keep the dead baby in her body and carry to full term even if it meant it could cause harm and potentially kill the mother because of that law, it’s wild, absolutely wild. It is wild that a rapist would have more rights than a victim. And that’s a war on women, that’s not a war on life, it’s a war on women, and its very frightening and it makes me very scared for I got three goddaughters, makes me very scared for their future, makes me very sad that this is the reality that they’re growing up in.
Zoë: It is terrifying, we think we live in progressive countries, but we don’t really, women everywhere are treated I would say as second-class citizens. I mean, here in Germany, in Berlin it’s apparently relatively progressive, but we can’t even advertise abortions on doctors websites, we are still meant to be ashamed for having abortions and now we are being told that we have no choice in the matter, we are going to be forced to have children, it’s scary I want to say it’s getting better but then you see how things so quickly can change and that’s why all of us are kind of following the news and watching what’s going on going like it doesn’t take much is it, for our rights for just be gone, what’s next, we can’t vote? What’s happening here, are we going to be in Handmaids Tale eventually? Is that what the future holds?
Elizabeth: I mean and then think about black and brown people in the United States, this has been the actual reality for them since the country was started – their right to choose, the autonomy of their bodies, the medical industry being against them, the government suppressing them, that is their actual reality, and disabled folks too, it’s where I recognise that I as a light-skinned person of colour I’m very privileged not being feeling the pressure of it, and I realise how blind I was and how much I perpetuated too the racism and the putting down of other cultures, just because I didn’t know and I wasn’t taught that’s ignorance or isn’t you know? I have the internet and we are all learning, and we have to be better.
Zoë: When you look at the stats, we have a privilege right now to be able to choose that if I don’t want children, but now women in Texas don’t have this privilege, women around the world don’t have this privilege, fifty-five percent of women around the world don’t own their own bodies, a UN survey came out; so this project is sharing as many of our stories as possible to hopefully show the rest of the world that we are not just fighting for the white women, we are fighting for every woman, because black women and people of colour, they are the ones who have it a million times worse than us. Absolutely when you look at the stats, black women have died during childbirth, how they are treated when they have children in hospitals and they get less pain medications, you go on and on and on, it’s just heartbreaking, I’m sure you see and experience a lot of that in your work.
Elizabeth: I hadn’t had – now that I’m reflecting back, I hadn’t had any black women as clients, and part of that is because I refer them to black home healers, I just feel that I don’t have the capacity and the education to speak to that experience, history and culture. Not because I turn them away, but I also recommend this wonderful woman on Instagram named @blackbirthhealer who does incredible work, truly Zoë, this We are Childfree project illustrates to me how important it is for women to speak their truth about what we really want and to speak them out loud, to not just say them behind closed doors or around friends to set an example for others that’s what we, how we decide to live our lives, as long as we’re not hurting ourselves or others obviously, is important to model and to show to other people that it is a healthy, happy lifestyle, and our realities matter.
Zoë: Absolutely, yeah. So then, when did you realise it was a choice, that you could actually choose to not have children?
Elizabeth: After years of therapy! I remember going into my therapist, her name was Amanda, and I remember being like “I just need to solve this, that and the other” and being like, “OK we should be done in like three months, right? And then skip to like five years later. Therapy is the best investment I could have made for myself, talk about being selfish and thank God I get that space to be truly selfish for an hour every week, what a luxury and I hope it that it becomes more and more of a basic human right, a medical right. I remember talking about babysitting and being like I just really hate it, but you know I can’t wait to have kids. My therapist going like “ok so I’m just going to repeat that what you said”. I really like, I just contradicted myself, she went “Mhm” I mean, we can hold both of these things and realising through therapy untangling what I, Liz, wanted vs what society wanted, what my parents wanted, that was very tricky for me, it felt like a big ball of yarn that was very knotted but the more and more I picked that and unravelled the more I realised I didn’t want to have kids, and it was very scary to come in that realisation that made me feel like an outsider, especially being a light-skinned woman of colour I already feel like an outsider, being a woman I already feel like an outsider, but then to even go into this more narrow subside of not wanting to have children, it was very frightening, and I did have a lot of fear like wont I regret? wont I but then I think you and I touched earlier on it about my friends with children and people I know with children, they have regrets too, they have depression and anxiety, they have stressful days, happy days, whether or not you have children doesn’t change any of that and I really look to my friends who have children and deeply wanted them and realising I did not have that pull on me and to accept myself, I felt like I was broken almost and therapy helped me realise that you are not broken, society is telling you that and that’s just a lie. You know, you were coming to your own and making decisions for yourself and I think that’s what every parent want for their child, right? is to grow up fully healthy happy and making choices for themselves that make them healthy and happy, this is one of them for me, is deciding to be childfree.
Zoë: and then you, been with your partner for a long time, haven’t you? obviously he is childfree as well I’m assuming, how was that conversation with him? Tell me a bit about him as well.
Elizabeth: We’ve been together for seventeen years, his name is Ira, married for seven and we at the start of our relation were children basically we were like children, and we have seen the many different evolutions of each other. I have witnessed, I have been so lucky to witness the different evolutions of him and it’s also been so hard, it’s a new person every couple of years but that kernel of him, that goodness that I was attracted to and love is always there, and I remember at the start of our relationship children weren’t off the plate but both of us wanted to focus on career, and then we got married and it had always been an open discussion, and I was more leaning towards no at the time, so was he, and then I remember I think it was the first or second anniversary and he being like he just came to me all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and he said “I think we should have a baby!”, Zoë, I burst into tears, full tears because at that point I had been working with a therapist and realized that I didn’t want kids, and my reaction was the opposite of what he thought was going to happen he though I don’t know, I would tear off my clothes and say, “Let’s have a baby”.
Zoë: Poor guy!
Elizabeth: well, you know that’s called expectation management, and I remember sitting down and after the big burst of emotion saying: I love you I have always wanted whatever you want, if you really want to have kids, I don’t think I’m the person who can give that to you and if that is something you really really want, we may have to divorce because I don’t want to keep you from something that you really really want, I remember him really sitting down and looking at me and I heard this from other friends, men who just out of the blue decide they want to have kids, the reasoning I remember him saying: “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a mini-me?” And I just remember being like: “Do you know how much fucking work a child is?” He grew up in a family of four boys but he like many men, he didn’t do childcare, he didn’t do babysitting, we have godkids but he wasn’t there for the overnight stays when parents were out of town or taking care of them when the whole house was sick, you know like, he showed up for birthday parties and helped and he showed up for Christmastime and other fun stuff. So that’s a very edited view and I remember telling him like we really need to think about this, I’m willing to, you know, I often listen my gut reaction, because of my childhood drama I punch first and think about it later, so my knee jerk reaction is “No”, but I also want to give myself time to really digest and think about this. At the time his brother had a child, and they were having some problems and they needed childcare, Henry our nephew was, I think, thirteen months at the time and so they, I live in California, and they asked us to come to New York, and rent an Airbnb and watch Henry for two weeks. And we did and I remember my husband, he is a writer thinking, “Oh I’m going to get so much writing done”, and now if he tells this story back he’s going to be like, “I never said that”, whatever, but, in my truth, in my version I remember him being very excited, this would be a time of getting to be in being in New York and writing and spend time with my nephew, at thirteen months old he just started walking, it was a fucking terror, you know, especially an Airbnb that you don’t have control over, there’s no childproofing, there’s a nap schedule, there’s a feeding schedule, and he was very attached to his parents, he’d never been without them, it was very hard to be away from them for twelve, fourteen hours out of a day, and I remember at the end of the trip just watching my husband realise that it didn’t truly hit him how much work a child is, and how much work they deserve to have, you know, to be protected, to grow up in safe environment, to have all the options, to be well fed to get all the opportunities that they deserve, it’s a lot of work, and I remember him being like “oh you know maybe we can put this on the back right now”, and then he started to go on therapy himself, and the more conversations we had the more we realised how much we love being a support to our friends and family who do have children and not having children ourselves.
Zoë: it’s interesting, isn’t it, how different men and women can see the role of being a parent, you know, like the dad is kind of, rock up, they play, rough and tumble and then they go to the pub, have a few pints – the whole idea is so different and I think having that real experience with a child is an eye opener and he obviously had one kind of picture of what it would be like and the reality is so different to that.
Elizabeth: And here’s the thing, he is, if he wants to be a great dad, a great father figure to other children, he is; he is a great mentor, he’s a great teacher, he is wonderful with our nephew Henry, he is fantastic, I just don’t think men necessarily -and women but mainly men- understand the energy and time commitment children are because they don’t see it, it’s not engrained in their culture.
Zoë: No, absolutely. Do you think he gets less questions about it?
Elizabeth: Oh my God, absolutely!
Zoë: Right, yeah, my husband as well, it’s like I don’t think he’s ever been asked if he wants kids, it’s so interesting, my experience is so different. So yeah, tell me about the differences for you guys.
Elizabeth: Well, I think, you know – it’s interesting – when we are at kids’ birthdays parties the dads all kind of congregate, and “Oh when are you having kids?” I think it’s the only time he’s asked by friends and family I think they stopped asking we have been together for so long and they go: well, I guess its really not happening now. When I hang out with women with children or even my friends with kids it always comes out, it’s always like “when are you going to have some? Or “I’m sure you’ll change your mind”, all these things that childfree women are listening, we know them all very very well and it just depends on moods how we answer, but he doesn’t, he hangs out with friends and they just hang out, they are playing games, they are like playing tennis or they are podcasting, watching movies, it never comes up, ever, even the men who are fathers that he is friends with and hangs out, they talk about like “What Sally and Bobby get up to?” oh that’s cool but it never rolls back to “So, Ira, when are you going to have a Sally or Bobby?” Never, never ever.
Zoë: It’s just so interesting, isn’t it? very frustrating, when I’m like no one’s ever ask you anything and then I, if I go to the doctor or a gynaecologist or anything I get a third degree, what about you?
Elizabeth: Yeah, I’ve left gynaecologists because the vibe was, I remember saying, “Yeah, I’m thinking of maybe a hysterectomy” and them being like – you’ve talked about this with other women on your podcast – them being like “Well you’ll change your mind, we should keep your options open”, and I’m like “Mmm, pretty sure I have lived in this body longer than you had. I think I’m pretty sure I understand what I want”. Yeah, it is so annoying but, again like finding this community that you’ve created has been so lovely to take a break from the society that is ingrained in us, and see this community of women sharing their experiences and realising I’m not alone, you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, I’m not crazy. You know, perhaps we are “selfish” but I’m glad we are, we deserve it.
Zoë: We are Childfree is hosted by me, Zoë Noble, and produced by James Glazebrook. If you liked this episode, please leave a review on your podcast app, as this really helps other people find us. Head to wearechildfree.com to read more inspiring childfree stories, find out how to share your story with me and to be first to know when the We are Childfree community launches. Speak soon lovelies :)