WE ARE CHILDFREE

Finding acceptance, with Anna Brooke

A high school teacher's journey from circumstance to choice proves there are so many ways to be childfree.

Episode 25

Anna Brooke was born with a health issue which means that pregnancy and childbirth could be very dangerous for both herself and the child. Over time, she came to accept that she wouldn’t be able to have biological kids of her own. So instead of becoming a mother to the teen daughter she used to write to in her diary, Anna now works as a high school teacher. She’s showing her students that there are other ways to live. I’m so happy to be able to complicate the narrative around people without children, and super grateful to Anna for being so open, honest and vulnerable about her childfree journey.

Check out Anna’s artwork here.

The books we discussed in this episode: Regretting Motherhood by Orna Donath, Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers On The Decision Not To Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum, and The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano by Donna Freitas (who’s been on the We are Childfree podcast!)

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Transcript

Anna: For anyone who was maybe born with some sort of disability that then made them realise they can’t have children, this is your body. And listen to it, because it’s part of you and it will tell you what’s right. And I think being in close communication with your body is important and not ignoring it, not ignoring your needs, and I’m taking it seriously and taking yourself seriously, deciding that you are important enough to protect yourself is very important and, and will, it will be important to other people. And I think there are other ways to bring love to the world than having children.

Zoë: Hey lovelies! Welcome to We are Childfree, the podcast that celebrates childfree lives one story at a time. Today’s guest is Anna Brooke, a teacher here in Germany who complicates our understanding of people as either childfree by choice or childless by circumstance. This wonderful conversation lets you know: it’s OK if you don’t fit neatly into one of those boxes. Anna was born with a health issue which means pregnancy and childbirth could be very dangerous for both herself and the child. Over time, she came to accept that she wouldn’t be able to have biological children of her own, and when Anna met her husband they even considered being foster parents. But they came to the realisation that they couldn’t take on such a huge responsibility, so instead of becoming a mother to the teen daughter she used to write to in her diary, Anna now works as a high school teacher. She’s showing her students that there are other ways to live, and in turn, they inspire her and give her hope that the next generation won’t just accept the way things are – they’ll think outside of the box they’ve been squeezed into. I’m so, so grateful to Anna for being so open, honest and vulnerable, and showing that there’s no one way to be childfree. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

Zoë: You mentioned that, you know, becoming pregnant is possible for you, but not necessarily easy. So can you explain a bit more about that?

Anna: Yes. So I was born without a bladder and with the open abdomen and I’m in the process of getting that fixed. When I was very, very young, that was between the ages of one and three, they transplanted my urethra into my intestine and basically formed like an artificial bladder, a pouch. But my uterus is therefore in a different place than it would normally be, because there’s no bladder to hold it up. And so basically the way my doctors explained it to me is that my, that the sperm would have a harder time to get where he wants to be.

Zoë: When you were growing up, then, was there ever a thought about having children? Were you thinking about. this would be in my future?

Anna: Yes, definitely. When I was a child, I remember talking to my friends and they would say, “Oh, I want children”, or, “I don’t want children”, or “I want a boy” and “I want a girl”. And I usually said, “Oh yeah, me too”. And when I got older and realised what my condition really meant, it turned into “I’m gonna adopt”, and that was fine. And I never had a problem with that thought. And then in my late teenage years, I had like, conversations with my future daughter in my diary for a while, which I find really interesting looking back at it. Because that was a time when I had well, it was quite difficult between my mom and I. My mom was a single mother and she worked, obviously she had to, and I was her only child. And we had a very, very intense relationship. We still have quite a very close relationship, but teenage years are hard years. And so I started having that conversation in my diary with my daughter, but she was also in her teenage years, she was a teenager, not a child. And I think whenever I thought about having children, I thought about having teenage children, never actual little children, babies, and I never, wanted a baby. I cannot remember ever thinking, “Oh, I really want a baby”. I never had that thought or that feeling. It’s just, the thought of being pregnant is a bit spooky.

Zoë: Yeah. So then why do you think, what was the appeal of teenagers? Because everyone I would have thought “Not teenagers – it’s the nightmare”.

Anna: It’s in my work. I chose to be a teacher, a high school teacher. And I love working with teenagers. They’re so interesting. They’re so difficult. And they are in a phase when they are starting to make up their minds and realising who they are and what they want. And there’s so much confusion, but also so much clarity. And sometimes I feel in some ways they are more clear than adults are in the way they present themselves. They are so strong, and so, I don’t know, forward. And I like that, and I don’t shy away from the difficulty, but then I’m not a parent, so I can go home and don’t have to deal with them there.

Zoë: Yeah. I mean, the full-time role as a parent is just, there’s no time out. There’s no break from it. People will message me, people who will work with children, whether it’s through teaching or social care, and they will come across attitudes from parents that, you know, almost like, “How could you look after children if you don’t have any of your own?” Do you ever get any feelings of judgment or like, you know, you can’t do this role because you don’t have your own children?

Anna: Not that direct, you know every now and then they ask, “Do you have children?” And when I say no, it’s like, “ah”, you know, “aha there”, and there is that judgment. They wouldn’t say, “Well, you wouldn’t know then”, but you can almost hear the thought.

Zoë: Mm. Yes. Yeah. I think this is something that I hope we can dispel these myths around people who don’t have children – they can still love children. They can still care for them, nurture them. I always think about, you know, just because I might love cooking doesn’t mean I want to be a chef full time in a kitchen. We can be great at things, and love doing them, but also not want to do them full time. And there is, like we say, there is no time out for being a parent.

Anna: I just think it’s such an immense responsibility. I feel a huge responsibility towards my students. And I take my job very seriously and I love it and it’s hard and it’s exhausting, but it’s also great. But then imagining having even more responsibility for that person is overwhelming and I would just hate to not love it.

Zoë: Yes.You were born with this health issue. When did you find out that giving birth would be an actual threat to your own health? And did you ever have that conversation with your mother, with a doctor? You know, do you remember ever being told that this would be difficult?

Anna: So, in my early twenties, I was in a relationship and I think I got pregnant and my body was not ready, it wasn’t planned at all. It was an accident, and I had a very painful – it wasn’t an abortion because it wasn’t a doctor who did it, it, my body just got rid of it itself… Zoë: Miscarriage.

Anna: That’s the word I was looking for.

Zoë: Yeah, no worries.

Anna: And in the course of all of that, I was starting to talk to doctors about it. And they told me that because my pelvis is not very stable, it’s not very strong, That tiny little bit in the front of your pelvis that usually is closed, is open with me. And because of that being pregnant would be quite hard for my body. I would probably have to lie down for a very, very long time, not being able to move. And then it’s still very, very likely that I would have to give birth prematurely and that my pelvis could break.

Zoë: Oh, wow.

Anna: Yes. And also, that the baby would be harmed in the process. I can’t have a C-section for various reasons and yeah, that makes it all very complicated and very dangerous for both me and a child. And that is when I basically decided: “not interested”.

Zoë: Yeah. So that helped you kind of think it’s not gonna be worth putting your body through that kind of trauma and you just don’t know what could happen in that process. So did it feel like you had any kind of closure there? Will you, or did it take, was there any kind of a process that you had to go through to go like, “Okay, I’m not going to have biological children”, or were you pretty resolute of kind of, “Okay I can deal with this, I’m OK”?

Anna: I was pretty okay with it relatively fast, because I hadn’t really thought about having children anyway.

Zoë: From that moment, when you found out that this just wasn’t going to be something you would ever risk your health for, and how was that process being from then to now, did it ever change throughout throughout the years? Have you ever, did you ever feel like, “Okay, maybe I would put my health at risk”, or was it…

Anna: No. First of all, because I thought it would be incredibly unfair to the child because I was afraid that if something happened, if I decided to get pregnant, have a child, that child was okay, but I wasn’t that I would blame the child and that’s not okay. And I, yeah, that’s nothing I would want to live with, and I don’t want to have another person live with that kind of thing.

Zoë: No, absolutely.

Anna: Yeah.

Zoë: And I think, people put this kind of pressure on people to have children and they don’t know what other people are going through. They don’t know what, it’s not so simple for people. And if you push someone and pressure them into going ahead and having a child and putting their own health at risk, whether that’s physical or mental, you’re not only hurting the parents, you’re also hurting that child because it’s gonna affect both. So I hope we can encourage people to let people make these decisions themselves. And if someone says, no, they’re not having children do not pry, let them, you know… Have you ever had any? You have, you have – tell me about that.

Anna: Relatively recently. So I started my current job at the school I’m teaching at right now three years ago. And I have a couple of very lovely colleagues. And one of those colleagues is a female colleague. She’s, I really like her. We get along very well. She has one daughter and in the beginning she was like, “When are you getting pregnant? When are you getting pregnant?” And I always thought, “I’m not going to get pregnant”, and I told her. “Come on, it’s so much fun. It’s so much fun to have children!” And she would not stop. And then I, oh god, I at some point got really mad, and in the teacher’s lounge with people around yelled at her that I can’t have children and she should please stop asking me. And she was mortified and I thought, “Yeah. You should be mortified”.

Zoë: I mean, yeah. Like I hope that she learned a valuable lesson, to let, to not pry into people’s lives and let people live – and you don’t know what people are going through. You don’t know what, what people are dealing with, you know, behind closed doors. So it’s a shame that you were, had to go through that – it’s a shame that she just kept pushing.

Anna: Yeah. And I did not expect it from her because she is very, she’s a feminist and very easy-going and very lovely to talk to usually about that topic and those situations.

Zoë: Yeah. I think sometimes it’s almost like people can be on auto-pilot pilot as well. It’s like, they don’t really, if they sat down and thought about how personal these questions are, this, this isn’t just asking about the weather or, you know, “Hey, what are you, what are you doing for Christmas?” This is a really, really personal thing. And yeah, it’s one of those questions, I think, that society is just so used to asking women that they don’t realise that, you know, we need to stop, please stop. Yes. It’s so frustrating.

Anna: It is frustrating. But at the same time I thought, “Oh, it’s only half true because I could become pregnant”. And I could, if I really wanted to try, but I don’t. And I could just say, “No, I don’t, I don’t want children”. But then I think I was scared of the reaction.

Zoë: Yeah. And you’re not alone in that. I think there’s many, many people – and I did this as well when I was younger and people would ask, and I was like, “Ah, we are kind of, no, we’re on the fence”. And I’m like, why did I never, ever, I always knew I didn’t want them… why? So yeah, you were worried that you would have to have some kind of a back-and-forth about your decision.

Anna: Exactly. And then people just over and over trying to convince me when I really don’t want to be convinced and it has nothing to do with them and it’s not their life. It’s mine. And it’s my decision and yeah, it’s just…

Zoë: Yes. Now, do you feel like you can say this more strongly to someone if they did, or would you still just kind of, it’s easier perhaps to just be like, to say the simplest thing or… what would you say now? Do you think…

Anna: I think that really depends on who’s asking. Because there are people where I’m just like, “Oh, I don’t want to get into this with you”. And then I take the easy route and just say, “I can’t have children”. And some people know that I don’t want children and that I am happy not having children. And that is that it is a choice that I made combined with the complications. And that’s fine. And their reactions were okay. Ish.

Zoë: Okay. Yeah. So these were people in Germany, in your hometown.

Anna: Yeah. Old friends. Sometimes even family. Not my mother – my mother is cool. My mother is like, “Yeah, you make your own choices”. I think she’s happy that I decided definitely not to have children because she would just be too worried about my health.

Zoë: Yeah, that makes sense. So what was it like growing up with a single mom?

Anna: It was good. I mean, she was working hard but we always did stuff together on the weekends. We had great holidays. She made time for me whenever she could. I never felt neglected. And I think I just grew up as a very self-sufficient person. I think that’s a good thing.

Zoë: Absolutely.

Anna: She wasn’t a helicopter mom. And I think I felt like she trusted me to make good choices.

Zoë: Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s great. So you have a good relationship with her and…

Anna: Complicated, but good. Yes.

Zoë: Oh, so complicated. I mean, lots of family members, there is that complication there. But you know, if she supports you in your, you know, your life and, and yeah…

Anna: And everything I do. She’s a wonderful woman and a wonderful mother and the strongest person I know.

Zoë: Really, that’s awesome. So then what about your father, how does he feel about you not having children? Was he okay?

Anna: Ah, my father. Yeah. So, we, between the age of eight and 24, I did not have contact with him. And I chose to get back in touch with him when I was 24. And that was good, I think, but obviously he missed a lot.

Zoë: Yeah.

Anna: And, for some reason, I think he decided that he had to give me relationship advice and stuff like that. Unwanted. When I was 30 I got out of a longer relationship and I was single for about four years and I was a very happy single and I did not rush into a new relationship and he thought that was strange, weird and gave me lots of interesting tips.

Zoë: Oh, dear. When parents give you tips on relationships? Okay…

Anna: Yeah. It was not a good thing.

Zoë: No, definitely not. I mean, you’re married now. That’s correct. Yeah. Yes. So did you ignore his tips and just…

Anna: Yeah. Yes, I did. His idea for me, it was to marry a doctor or lawyer and, yeah, anyone who knows me knows that would not be the right fit.

Zoë: Oh, really? Okay. So, you were just shaking your head at that point? “No, this is not, it’s not going to work.”

Anna: Yeah, exactly.

Zoë: Why? Are you a bit more of a rebel or just more free?

Anna: I hope I’m a bit more of a rebel. I hope I’m more free. I don’t know. I’m a very creative person. I studied art and I try to, when my day job allows it, work as a freelance artist as well. And I also, I don’t care about these things. I mean, maybe I would have met a lawyer who’s great, or I met a doctor who was great, but I…

Zoë: … it’s just not the focus for you. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Parents can come up with the weirdest things. Shouldn’t it just be the duty of a parents to love your child unconditionally and, and whatever makes that child happy, like encourage that, you know? But sadly that’s not the case for a lot of parents. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Anna: Yeah. I think they have this idea of the perfect child or what should make that child happy maybe. And they often don’t realise that their child is so different from their idea. And I think they miss out on a lot, when they focus on their idea instead of the actual child.

Zoë: Yes. I mean, you must see this a lot with your job as a teacher. It must be very frustrating. I imagine.

Anna: it is. And that is exactly the point. When some of my students come to me and decide to talk to me about their troubles, about their ideas, about their heartbreaks. And it is important that they have adult people in their lives who are not their parents, who they can talk to, who they can also share maybe their ideas that their parents don’t understand. And I also think it’s important that they know adults who don’t have children and are okay with it.

Zoë: Absolutely. Absolutely. We need more representations of life and, different ways of living. And there’s not one path for everyone. Right?

Anna: Exactly. Exactly. And you can’t, like at the age of 16 or 17, you can’t know what you want to be or what you want to do for the rest of your lives. It’s just impossible.

Zoë: Oh God. Yeah, I think back to when I was a teenager and I mean, it feels like another person, it doesn’t feel like it’s me. Gosh, yeah, we should just be encouraging kids at that age to, you know, to not worry so much about what they’re meant to be or who they’re meant to be, and just take it a day at a time, you know?

Anna: Exactly.

Zoë: And yeah. I mean, I love that you can fit that role for them. And you’re right, it’s such an important role if you have that kind of mentor or just that role model to look up to at that age. And to know that, you’ve got someone who you can talk to if you need to, because, because yeah, you know, can teenagers really talk to their parents? No, god, no, no. And I think it’s such an important place that you can fill in their lives, which is wonderful.

Anna: I think so. Yeah.

Zoë: I remember when you wrote to me, you talked about how you were very up-front with your husband, about your situation, about your feelings, relatively quickly. Am I right?

Anna: After three months.

Zoë: Okay, so, you know, run me through that. How did that go?

Anna: So I, I have to, I think, explain a little bit about the background of my husband. Because I am more or less the first relationship with a female he’s had, or longer relationship. Before me, he had relationships with men mainly. And so he told me that he never really considered having children – it never came up in his previous relationships. It was never a topic. And so he was quite cool with it. And then, I mean, things change, people change, opinions change, desires change. We’ve had the conversation again and again over the years, obviously. And he was always completely 100%, “I don’t want you to get pregnant, I don’t want you to put yourself in danger”. But at some point he was starting to talk about maybe considering fostering. And I have a colleague who fostered two children. I talked to him a lot about that. And we did the research and whenever we started talking about it more seriously, I got a panic attack.

Zoë: Oh, wow. Okay.

Anna: thought I can’t do this. This is too much responsibility. Because they come with a past and they usually come with a bad past. It’s not like they, I don’t know., they don’t just fall out of the sky. You know, they are troubled children who need parents, people who are very stable, very clear. I’m not saying that I’m not stable or not clear, but I’m not sure that I’m stable and clear enough. And then the pandemic happened. And we experienced parents with their children at home, around us and saw their struggles. And we saw a lot of really bad struggles. And that’s kind of helped if you can say us to make the decision that we are very happy not to have children.

Zoë: Yeah. I mean the last few years have absolutely, they’ve shown how difficult it can be, especially for mothers. Because ultimately it’s the mother who, because they earn less, they’re the ones who will either have to give up their work or they will be working at home more. And the lack of support that mothers got during this pandemic, it’s disgraceful really. So, yeah, I’m not, I’m not surprised that looking at that you were more worried about how that would affect you guys. And I think it’s really, it’s smart for any person to really, really analyse, “Can I do this?” for either a biological child or adopting, that neither path is a walk in the park. Neither path is easy. I wish more people would do, you know, would think long and hard, years before you have a child.

Anna: Exactly.

Zoë: You know, this isn’t something you can just go like, “Yes, let’s go for it”. So I think you guys did the right things thinking so hard about this.

Anna: I think so, too. And even, I earn much more than my husband and he’s the one who does everything in the house, you know, he’s the one who cleans and stuff. It’s wonderful. It would have been him who has stayed at home with a child. And I don’t want my partner to have to go through with actually, if he isn’t 100% sure that he wanted it, but even then I’m not 100% sure. And you need to do a partnership. You need to be a team in this. I grew up with a single mother. I know how hard it is to be a single mother from watching my mother do it. And she did it exceptionally well, but I know she struggled and I know there were really hard times and I’m in awe of all the single mothers out there who do it and love their children and have all the patience in the world or lose their patience, which is perfectly fine because you have to lose your patience every now and then. But it’s hard, having children is hard and having children in the pandemic is…

Zoë: Next-level hard

Anna: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Zoë: I’m sure you see a lot of frazzled parents.

Anna: Yeah.

Zoë: So then, thinking about the childfree movement, I mean, did you ever feel like stories like yours are not represented as much as say, you know… The childfree choice is often seen as very black or white – it’s, you either want kids or you don’t want kids, and there’s nothing in between. And obviously me doing this project, I see a huge variety and diversity inside of this movement, and we need to get voices like yours out there. Did you ever feel like, you know, you weren’t part of the conversation at all?

Anna: Absolutely. Yeah. I think until I found the We are Childfree podcast, I felt very much like that. And then that made me look into it more. And I found the book Regretting Motherhood by Orna Donath, which I found very eye-opening. And then I read Donna Freitas’ novel, The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano, which was also so good because it shows all those different paths that are possible and that it is not easy and it’s not like, “Oh, you either have a child and then that will happen, or you don’t have a child and then that will happen”. There’s an infinite amount of possibilities in between… And a book of essays by 16 different writers who all decided not to have children. Can’t remember the title…

Zoë: I know, I’ve read it as well. Yes, it is amazing. I’ll add all of these books suggestions, and I’ll put in the show notes. So anyone who is interested to read them, they can go and check that.

Anna: Yeah, because that helped me so much. Just starting to read about it more, starting to have all those different points of view of people who like me didn’t want children, decided not to have children. Couldn’t have children, led lives without their own children. And actually that started me talking more about it with the two friends I have that also don’t have children. And that was great because it got us close too. Because I realised, “Oh yeah, they, they also really don’t want children. It is also a choice for them”. And they talked a little bit about their experiences, which were quite similar to mine in terms of the reactions of people to their childlessness. And yeah, I think it’s, it’s important to find your people and give each other support.

Zoë: Absolutely. When you feel like you have that, you know, that support network, or just someone who has got your back, you have that strength and you’re not alone in matters. It really does matter.

Anna: Yeah.

Zoë: So then, people will often say to childfree or childless people, what’s your future going to be, what are you going to do with your, in your old age and what about you and your husband? Do you – how do you imagine your future?

Anna: Ah, in so many different ways,

Zoë: I like it.

Anna: We are thinking about possibly doing some work abroad for a while. I would certainly like to travel more when it’s possible again.

Zoë: Yes, please.

Anna: I could also imagine myself at some point, teaching in schools in a part of the world where education for girls is an issue, something like that, where, where I feel like my help is needed more. Not that my students don’t need me, but they don’t need-need me. We, my husband and I are both, we are so privileged and we teach mainly privileged children. And sometimes we feel like we could do more and we could help more in the world. And yeah, that’s definitely something we both want to look into. I don’t think that my art career has even started yet, so I definitely want to do something in that direction. I have been working on a book for a while, a picture book actually. And yeah, it’s very, very slow process as a teacher. You have very little time.

Zoë: Yes. I mean, you’ve got a day job, you’ve got then to have to try and have a life and to look after your health and all of these things and – yeah, that’s a lot. But there’s no deadlines on anything, is there, I think?

Anna: No. Exactly, exactly. And I believe in living many lives in one lifetime. I think if I’m lucky I have at least another five to 10 lives ahead of me.

Zoë: I love that so much. Yes, I think that’s the thing – we, as a society, we can get so stuck in this one, you know, there’s one route, there’s one path that we all must follow. And the one thing that when you don’t have those responsibilities of say, looking after a child, being a parent, you do have more freedom, perhaps more, more time and more energy, and you can maybe build whatever life you want. And this is one thing I hope that we can… You know, well to anyone who’s listening, who maybe it’s not so black and white for them, maybe they did want children and they’re not able to have kids and they look at the future and maybe they’re not sure if they can be happy or fulfilled. I hope that listening to, to voices like yours and knowing that you can create whatever life you want, there is no one set way to live your life. And I love that idea of having, you know, multiple lives and, and you know, why not do, you know, go for it. If the pandemic would let us! Please, that’s the only sticking point, but being able to explore these different things, it’s, it sounds like such an adventure. And I love that, you know.

Anna: Yeah. And I I think my students show me what’s possible a lot of the time and in return, I also show them what’s possible in a different way. And that keeps me hopeful and positive and enjoying my life the way I live it.

Zoë: How do you think it’s going to be for the kids that you’re teaching right now? We were talking about this as well, just before we started recording about how they have such clarity, or they have this honesty and that they haven’t kind of succumbed to that maybe… obviously they have pressures in their life, but it’s like you said, they are unencumbered perhaps. Do you think that people raised those girls that they will have it easier if they have people like you, who can show them that if they don’t have children, they’ll be fine, they’ll be absolutely fine. Like, there are other ways to live. Do you think that it’s getting easier for maybe actually boys and girls? Because there’s pressure on everyone, you know, that they have to fit into these boxes of, “If you’re a boy, you have to be this way. You have to be strong and not cry and you have to be macho… and if you’re a girl, you have to stay quiet and minimise yourself and fit these beauty standards”. I mean, it’s endless, it’s endless.

Anna: It is endless. I hope it is getting better. I see in my students an enormous amount of potential and willingness to make a difference, and they are so open and so unwilling to take shit from people. And I love that. I love that. They question me, I love that they question the world, that they question people who they don’t understand and they do it openly and directly. And I think that’s important. I think we need loud voices who question the world as it is right now, because right now our world is really crazy. And I like that they don’t just sit there, put their head in the sand and be like, “Oh, I can’t do anything, anyway”. They usually, most of my students don’t do that. They’re not like that.

Zoë: I think they will. I think, they maybe look around at what’s going on and they can see that it’s not working. What we’re doing right now is not working. So what needs to change? You know, how can they change it? And I, I think that gives me, that gives me hope,

Anna: Yeah, exactly.

Zoë: So yeah, keep going. There are big movements and I think this is what we need. We need them to not take any shit, I think, because we probably… Yeah, our generation – you kind of get complacent and you just say, “Oh, we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine. We’ll be fine”. And now we’re looking around and going, “We’re not going to be fine unless we do something”. So I love that they are standing up to that and fighting.

Anna: Yeah. And I hope it is enough. Because, I mean, when you look at what is happening in the US right now with the women’s movement, with women’s choices, it’s so scary. I really feel for them and I wish I could be there and be in the streets with them and be like… what I can do is talk about it here and raise awareness and hope that this will not happen here.

Zoë: Yeah, that’s the thing that so many people don’t realise how, how messed up it is for women here. And, we can think, “We’ll be fine. It won’t happen to us”, but so quickly and so easily we can go backwards. And, like you said, if you look at the US it doesn’t take much for rights to be stripped away. And now, we see abortion now being impossible for some people. And it’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking. But yeah, we have to do what we can in our own neighbourhoods and our own communities and in our countries. And then you look at generation Z and they are, like you said, they’re not going to take any shit, they’re out there. And they’re doing something about climate change, and which is wonderful. But you’re right – it’s a culture of making women feel scared to even walk at night and we should be – sadly, we have to be scared, because we can be murdered or we could. And that has also that the rise of domestic violence during the pandemic via, you know, men’s violence against women where we’re seeing these numbers go up and, you’re kind of thinking, well, it’s 2021 and we’re failing on all sides, it would seem for helping women to gain equality. When I hear that you and your husband have this symbiotic kind of arrangement where you do what is best for your partnership, and instead of fitting these gender roles, you just, you know, you’ve worked out what is best in your partnership. Which, my husband and I were the same, he does more cooking, cleaning, and I do more of the work. But it works, that works for us. And I think this is something that we need to encourage, you know, if you want to be in a partnership, stop looking at it as like, “man does, this woman does this”. We need people to raise their kids in that way, because we are all conditioned…

Anna: We absolutely are, definitely. I have a very good friend and she is a single mother of a boy. He’s now an adult, but when we met, he was tiny. And so I, saw the way she raised him. And I know, she tried to raise them in a feminist way, but there were still these gender roles that were so ingrained in her that she didn’t even realise that she would put them on him. And he is a wonderful person. And definitely not a typical macho man. Absolutely not. But there were things in the household he didn’t have to do. And I’m 100% sure that had it been a daughter she would have had to help in the kitchen. Bring the trash out stuff like that. And those are tiny things, but they are important.

Zoë: Oh, oh, 100 percent. It all adds up to a picture. And if you feel like you don’t have to help when you’re growing up because a woman is going to look after you or do it, you take that on into your adult life. You do. And I see this with, friends and couples who I know. And I’ve said this before on the podcast, I see this in partnerships where the guy will say, they’re a feminist. They say they want women’s equality. All of that, that dah, dah, dah. And then when either a child comes in, or just generally, it’s the woman who is doing most of the childcare, it’s the woman who is doing most of the cleaning in the house. And, you know, I’m scratching my head going, “I thought you were a feminist. I thought you wanted women to get equality and all this, but when it’s inside of your house, everything kind of goes out the window.” So, yeah, I think we can, put mothers on this kind of impossible standard. And I see this, I see this with so many friends and family members that they are constantly thinking they’re failing because their child is not sleeping through the night, or they’re not feeding the the amazing, healthy home-cooked recipes every day… The pressure that we add on to women is unbelievable. And this idea that you’re failing, if you’re not perfect at anything. And it’s horrible.

Anna: And it’s unrealistic. I mean, first of all, who would want to be that kind of person – sounds really exhausting and you can’t, physically can’t, emotionally can’t, and logistically can’t. I mean, it is impossible. And we should not expect women to be everything at once because we don’t expect it of men usually, there are other expectations they have struggle with, I am sure, but there’s this whole mother, madonna, holy person who is almost God-like, has to give up herself completely at the same time, she has to look a certain way and has to behave a certain way and has to be sexually appealing as well, because God forbid you are not sexually attractive anymore. And it’s just, it’s too much. It’s ridiculous.

Zoë: I’m loving my wrinkles., I’m determined that I’m going to love getting older because there’s a privilege in getting older and we should be grateful that I’m still here. I’m still here. I’m 40 in February. I’m still here, you know doing like as best as I can. And I’m not gonna let some fucked-up ideal of what a woman should be like stop me feeling good about myself. And I love that we can see more representations of this and hear from voices like yours as well. It’s so important, you know?

Anna: Thank you. I hope it helps some people.

Zoë: Oh, my, Anna, it helps so many people. Your story, I know will resonate with so many because this, this movement, you know, being childfree, whether you’re childfree by choice or by circumstance, you know, society judges all of us. If we don’t have children in our life, if we don’t want them, or if we can’t have them, there is a judgment, there, there is a stigma there. And you know, we need to see different representations of ways of living. And if you don’t want kids, if you can’t have kids, you can still be happy. You can still live a fulfilling life. And, and I think it’s so important to just see, you know, different kinds of different role models and hear different voices. So yours is a really important one. I have lots and lots of people who message me saying, maybe they always thought they would have kids, but you know, a health issue has meant that that’s not possible. Or maybe the health issue means that they are now deciding that they’re just definitely not going to do it, you know? And it’s important that they know that they’re not alone and that they absolutely have a community – there’s people supporting them. So thank you so much for sharing your story. I really, really do appreciate it. What about then maybe a nice way to end it – you know, because I know there will be people listening to this and they’ll be going like, “You know, finally I hear someone who is like me”, do you have any advice for anyone who has a similar story to you, who has health issues that have meant they couldn’t have children? Would you have anything that you would tell them?

Anna: I see. For anyone who was maybe born with some sort of disability that then made them realise they can’t have children, this is your body. And listen to it, because it’s part of you and it will tell you what’s right. And I think being in close communication with your body is important and not ignoring it, not ignoring your needs, and I’m taking it seriously and taking yourself seriously, deciding that you are important enough to protect yourself is very important and, and will, it will be important to other people. And I think there are other ways to bring love to the world than having children.

Zoë: We are Childfree is hosted by me, Zoë Noble, and produced by James Glazebrook and Anna Gunn. This podcast is brought to you by the generous support of the We are Childfree community, the most empowering childfree space on the internet. To find out how to join our global community and support our mission of changing childfree lives, head to wearechildfree.com. Speak soon lovelies!

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