WE ARE CHILDFREE

Cool aunt energy, with environmentalist, atheist and big, blended family member Marie Fisher

A role model showing young girls that you don’t need kids of your own to leave a better world for future generations.

Episode 4

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Marie Fisher comes from a big, blended family, and is one of 12 siblings! She’s an aunt to 13 nieces and nephews, and tries to be a role model for the younger girls, to show them they have choices, and that being childfree is a real, and rewarding, option. Marie is focused on limiting her environmental footprint and volunteers for various non-profits, an inspiring example of someone without kids of her own, who is doing her part to leave a better world for future generations.

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Transcript

Marie: There’s a saying that mother is a verb, not just the noun. And it’s true. So I think that we do have the ability to influence children’s lives, whether we’re teachers or aunts or sisters. I try very hard to be a role model for younger girls, whether it’s my nieces or friends’ daughters, and it’s like, “Look, you can you can have these things and and you can travel and have money and have a career and you know have all the things you want, and volunteer and be a good person”. And so it’s important to me to set that example for other women, because that’s all I really hope – is that people make a conscious choice and really sit with themselves and think about, “Is this really what I want? Or is this what is expected of me, or what someone else wants from me?”

Zoë: Welcome to We are Childfree, a podcast about childfree women and the lives we lead. I’m your host, Zoë, and each episode I speak with another incredible woman about her decision not to have children, and what it’s meant for her life. Today I’m talking to Marie Fisher, an environmentalist and atheist based in Portland, Oregon, who plays the role of the cool aunt in her big, blended family. Marie is one of 12 siblings and has 13 nieces and nephews. She’s really involved in their lives, and tries to be a role model for the younger girls especially – to show them they have options, and can make a difference, whether or not they decide to have kids.Marie’s doing her part to leave a better world for future generations by limiting her environmental impact and volunteering for various non-profits. We spoke in 2020 just before Amy Coney Barrett was appointed to the US Supreme Court, when things were looking very Handsmaid’s Tale, and Marie’s message rings as true now as it did then: stand your ground. Think hard about what you want your life to look like, and when you’ve made the decision that’s right for you, stay firm. So empowering right? Enjoy my conversation with Marie.

Marie: In some regard, I’ve always known. As a child, I didn’t play with dolls. I didn’t pick out children’s names, sort of some of those typical things that I think they expect from little girls. It was just when I envisioned my future. When I was a child, I envisioned being a businesswoman and going to work every day. And there was really no child in that vision, so I think it probably wasn’t until maybe post-college in my early- to mid- 20s, where I sort of solidified that. But you know, it was never really a decision for me. It just wasn’t something I assumed that I’d be doing.

Zoë: I see. So where did you grow up?

Marie: I grew up in rural New Jersey on the east coast of the US.

Zoë: Okay, and where are you now?

Marie: I’m in Portland, Oregon. So now I live on the west coast.

Zoë: Okay, and you come from a really big family.

Marie: That’s right.

Zoë: Really big.

Marie: I come from a blended family. And so I was a child of a second marriage on both sides. And so both of my parents had children from previous marriages, and they each had five. And then they had me and I have a younger sister. So that would be 12 in total.

Zoë: Amazing. Wow. That is a lot. That’s a lot and it was it, I mean, what are your memories from back then? Was it a fun childhood, was it just, you know, everyone running around screaming, chaotic?

Marie: That’s how I remember it, is chaotic. I was always a quiet child. And I like solitude. And it certainly wasn’t that. There’s a pretty substantial age gap. And so some of my older siblings were already in their late teens and 20s, and so didn’t live in the home when I was growing up. So it wasn’t like there were 12 of us in the home at the same time. But there were, you know, always a handful of us – four or five, six, at any given time. And as you can imagine, some of my older siblings were having children when I was quite young, and so I’ve been an aunt for really as long as I can remember.

Zoë: Okay.

Marie: Yeah, it was chaotic. It was always a full house and we didn’t have a lot of money. And it was a small house. So, you know, sharing bedrooms, sharing a single bathroom, meal times were just crazy.

Zoë: Yeah, I can only imagine. I have a twin sister, but my family, that’s it really. It’s just my parents, my auntie and uncle, and I can’t really comprehend what it must be like, with so many family members. So I imagine the holidays must be chaotic as well.

Marie: They were quite. My parents have both since passed. And there’s no longer any sort of expectation around, you know, those big holiday events anymore, which is actually quite a relief for me.

Zoë: Yeah, I mean, it’s funny that we can kind of fetishise the holidays and the time you spend with family, and the reality of it can be quite different. It can be quite stressful sometimes.

Marie: Oh, absolutely. Very, very tense. I was always the child who was, you know, finding a quiet place to hide with a book during holidays.

Zoë: Okay, so you’re more of an introvert?

Marie: Absolutely.

Zoë: So how many nephews and nieces do you actually have then?

Marie: I have 13, of varying ages. My younger sister actually was the most recent to have a baby. She has a two year old, but I have nieces and nephews in their mid-30s.

Zoë: Amazing. So how did your family take this decision not to have children?

Marie: I do have other siblings without children, whether through choice or circumstance. And so I think they were always very accepting of it. My mother, when she was alive, loved her grandchildren. I mean, she just lived for the children in the house, but there were always plenty of them. So I never felt any pressure to have any of my own.

Zoë: And I mean, because this was something you kind of knew from a very early age, I’m imagining you never needed to tell anyone. You know, it’s not like you needed to make the statement, “I’m, by the way, I’m not having children”. Or did you ever need to kind of make that to someone in your family?

Marie: I don’t think I ever needed to, but I think I did quite a lot actually growing up. Not that I recall, but from what I’ve heard from others, that I was always saying, I wasn’t having children. It’s funny – my younger sister has a teenage daughter now who has also been proclaiming that she’s not having children, which I find rather amusing. Well, we’ll see what ends up happening.

Zoë: Yeah, yeah. So can you understand why you decided so young not to have children? Or was it just something that was so natural to you?

Marie: I think, like I said, I never really had the desire anyway. But when I thought about it, my family certainly had its troubles, and I watched, you know, siblings and nieces and nephews go through different stages of life that were challenging for them. And I think I’ve always sort of had the sense that I didn’t want that responsibility – of bringing someone into the world and, and ultimately being responsible for their upbringing and their happiness and watching them struggle. And to me, it just seemed like this vast responsibility that, quite honestly, I never wanted.

Zoë: Yeah. And you have enough family members who kind of provide those children. You wrote when you applied to me initially about how you love your nephews and nieces, and you actually took one of your nieces on holiday as well.

Marie: I have, yeah. Several of them have come out to visit me on the west coast. I took my niece to London and Paris when she was 10.

Zoë: Amazing.

Marie: I have traveled with them. And yeah, I’ve never had a shortage of children in my life, even as a young child, you know, babysitting, changing diapers, that sort of thing. I had plenty of experience with it. So the decision was certainly not an uninformed one.

Zoë: Yes.

Marie: I wouldn’t say that I like children, to be quite honest. And I do feel as a childfree person, often sometimes that’s the caveat that we feel like we have to make when we’re explaining our childfree choices. Because it’s one thing to say you don’t want children, I think it’s even another to take it a step further and say you don’t like them. That doesn’t sit well with people. I don’t particularly like children. My nieces and nephews, you know, I enjoy spending time with them, but in limited amounts as well. So children are just not really part of my adult life. I live, you know, in the city, I socialise with other adults, I do have friends who have children, but their lives changed quite a bit once they have children. And so I don’t see them as much either. And when we do we try to do, you know, very adult activities. And so, you know, my day-to-day doesn’t involve children for the most part. And yeah, I’m quite happy with that.

Zoë: Yeah, people really do take offense, if you ever kind of suggest that you might not, love every child. They really take offense to it, which is kind of crazy. Because, you know, when when, I mean, when I’ve seen my friends and their children are running around or screaming, the beginning part doesn’t look that fun.

Marie: It really doesn’t, no.

Zoë: So it’s like, well, what’s the good part about this? Please tell me.

Marie: I’m watching – I’m 44, and so I have friends who had children earlier, who their children are now in high school or college. And so they’re grown. And, you know, there is nothing about it that has ever appealed to me. I have never once spent time with a friend’s child and thought, “Oh, maybe I could do this” or, “I want to do this”. In fact, the more time I spend with children, and listen to my friends who have children, the more it reaffirms my decision not to have them.

Zoë: Right. And have you ever faced any criticism, from either someone you know, or from a stranger, for the decision? Or has it been relatively supportive?

Marie: I would say more from strangers. And it doesn’t happen so much now in my 40s. Because I think that phase has sort of passed, but I would say definitely in my 20s and 30s, more strangers, you know, colleagues at work or older women – older women love to give advice to younger women.

Zoë: Right.

Marie: And so, I certainly remember those conversations. Silly things, like, “Who’s going to take care of you when you’re older?” Which of course is absolutely no guarantee anyway.

Zoë: Right.

Marie: Yeah. Children deserve their parents all the time when they get older?

Zoë: Absolutely, yes.

Marie: Not to an extent, I would say, and certainly not from people close to me or from family members. So I was lucky that way.

Zoë: Right? Yeah. Because your career is in the healthcare, pharmaceutical industry. Is that right?

Marie: That’s correct. And on the corporate side of things, in marketing. So I’ve always worked in headquarters and home offices and, you know, sat in an office behind a desk.

Zoë: Right. And I mean, yeah, because this is something that childfree women get told about – that we choose careers over having children. And, I mean, I don’t see if there’s anything wrong with that, to be honest. You know, you should be able to choose, you should be able to choose what you do with your life. And if that is career, then why not go for it? You know? I mean, have you noticed anything in that industry? You know, regarding childfree women, how they’re treated or, you know, when women have children, obviously, then lots of women sadly, don’t go back to their careers. Which is a real shame.

Marie: I do have some thoughts about it. My industry is very male-dominated to begin with. And so typically at the top are mostly men, many of whom have families, but of course, the same demands aren’t placed on them.

Zoë: No.

Marie: I am very, I understand that working mothers have it tough, and I do work with women who are either primary breadwinners or have careers, and, you know, deal with childcare. I will say that I have always felt like there is an expectation that childfree people don’t have the same demands on their time, or their time outside of the office isn’t as valuable. And so, I do feel like there are often precedents given to women who have children, to make concessions for them in the workplace, whether it’s having to leave early to pick up a child at daycare, or having to work from home because a child has a doctor’s appointment. And I’m not saying that shouldn’t happen, but I do feel like that my time, to me, outside of the office, is just as valuable as someone who has a family. And whether that’s me sitting on my sofa with a glass of wine, or someone tending to their children, I don’t feel that you can place different values on that. And so the one thing I would say about the workplace in general, that has always bothered me a little bit, is the expectation that childfree people can work longer hours or work later, or take the travel, or that our time just isn’t as valuable.

Zoë: Yeah, no, that’s ridiculous. I mean, you also told me that you were going to be on the board of a local nonprofit organization for HIV and AIDS. So you obviously fill your time outside of your job with a lot of things as well. And why shouldn’t you be given the same priority for your free time as, yeah, people who have children?

Marie: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. And so I work for several nonprofits, to volunteer my time. And, you know, of course, I have a host of other things I like to do outside of work. And I usually travel extensively. Not now, of course. But yeah, it’s true. I’m not sitting at home, watching television shows, when I’m not at work. Maybe, you know, it’s not childbearing, but it is important.

Zoë: Absolutely. I mean, we’re always kind of told that childfree women are selfish. And actually, in my eyes, I see childfree women as the people who contribute so much to their communities, and they have the time, the energy, the money, to give back, you know. A bit more perhaps, than people who can be so focused on their family that, you know, rightly so, raising a family takes so much energy and so much of yourself. You know, do those people really have anything left to give back to other organizations or communities? And childfree women actually can have that ability to give back so much more. So, I wish we were kind of seen a bit more in that positive light that actually, you know, we aren’t selfish. And, like you said, just sitting on our sofa, enjoying a glass of wine and chillin. Although that is also valid, like you said.

Marie: Absolutely. I’m so glad you brought up the concept of selfishness, because it is one that I think is a common thread, for women. This idea that mothers are selfless and childfree women are selfish. And, first of all, I don’t balk at the term selfish. We’re all selfish. And we all prioritise things in our life. And, yes, absolutely, I’m a selfish individual. But this idea that people who choose motherhood are selfless is, quite honestly, silly to me. If you ask, we get asked all the time, you know, “Why? Why don’t you have children? Or what was that decision about?” If you were to ask a parent, “Why did you decide to have children?” It always starts with “I wanted”, that’s always the response. I want that.

Zoë: Yeah.

Marie: And so, to me, I will be so bold and provocative as to say that I believe the decision to have children is very selfish. And maybe the reasons behind it are good, but it is still a selfish decision. And I challenge anyone who says that it’s not.

Zoë: Absolutely. I mean, there are loads of kids who need homes desperately and when people just jump to the first easiest option, which is to have their own children, and I’m not saying that’s wrong, but I am saying also, look at yourself before you say to another person, they are selfish, because perhaps you might be just a selfish in another way. And you’re entitled to that form of selfishness, if you like, just as we can live our lives – childfree women can also live their lives. But yeah, why do you think there is this stigma then for childfree women? Where does it stem from?

Marie: I think a lot of these sort of outdated notions just stem from a different period in time when women didn’t have as many choices. And I’m also atheist, and that’s another important part of my identity. And I do believe that a lot of this comes from religion, and the acceptance of religion. Particularly, I can speak to the US, and this idea that this is what women are supposed to do. And now, women have more opportunities in terms of careers, but I think there’s still an expectation that you will still be a mother. It’s, it’s almost like a given. And I think that’s ingrained in little girls from the time that they’re small. And sadly, I think that a lot of women don’t question it. And I have yet to find a parent who will admit that they regret having children. Because apparently, that’s just a horrible thing to ever say, even if it’s true. But I do personally believe that there are a lot of women out there who, if they could go back and do it again, would have made a different choice – because it almost wasn’t a choice. I think it’s just this path – you will have children, you will get married, you will do these things and have a home. And I think a lot of people just don’t question it.

Zoë: Yeah, that’s the thing. And I mean, this is part of the reason this project is so important, because I just want everyone to really think about what they want to do with their life and where they’re best suited. And so many women, you know, my mum was someone who, I think, if she went back, she probably wouldn’t have had kids. She’s a great grandmother, and she loved us. But she was very, very honest and told me, it was hard. It was the hardest thing and it never stops. You know, “I’ll always be worrying about you, no matter how old you are. So my life is about worrying now”. And I really appreciated the honesty, to be honest. And I wish women could be honest and not face that judgment. Because you’re right. I actually I’ve never heard anyone else ever say to me, they regretted having children, because it’s such a taboo thing to even talk about. And it shouldn’t be.

Marie: It is. And I think it’s synonymous with, it means I don’t love my children. And that’s really untrue. Of course, someone loves their children, I think it’s fine to say absolutely, “I love my children, but I still would have gone back and made a different decision”. And, you know, as I mentioned, I have nieces. And what’s important to me is just again, that they’re making a conscious choice. And so if children are really what they want, then that’s absolutely fine. But I want them to know that they have choices. And I try very hard to be a role model for younger girls, whether it’s my nieces or friends’ daughters, and it’s like, “Look, you can you can have these things and and you can travel and have money and have a career and you know have all the things you want, and volunteer and be a good person”. And so it’s important to me to set that example for other women, because that’s all I really hope – is that people make a conscious choice and really sit with themselves and think about, “Is this really what I want? Or is this what is expected of me, or what someone else wants from me?”

Zoë: Absolutely. So do you think, for your nieces, is it getting easier for women? I mean, your nieces, when they grow up, will it be no judgments for childfree women? So what do you think?

Marie: No, I think it’s getting easier. But like many things in society, it’s so slow. It’s such a slow cultural shift and behavioral shift. And there’s still so much ingrained, at least in the American society. I feel it’s still something very much that is expected. And, honestly, as long as there are older women out there questioning those choices, and, you know, telling women that they should be having children or they should feel bad for not wanting them, then it will keep perpetuating. And I really don’t see that changing. I mean, even amongst very progressive liberal women with careers, I hear this sort of thing. And I think it’s definitely a very slow change. And yeah, women still don’t have equal rights.

Zoë: We don’t.

Marie: I mean, regardless of all the advances, and you know, there have been quite a few in the past 50 years, but we still don’t have equal rights.

Zoë: No, that’s the bare minimum we need, before we can we can get anything else. It’s just like, okay, how about you give us the same money as men, you treat us the same as men. And I mean, we’re nowhere near reaching that yet. So you’re right, progress is so slow, and it feels sometimes like we’re going backwards. And I mean, watching the US and the political environment right now, it’s a bit scary. You think, “Wow, we could actually be going backwards”.

Marie: It’s very scary. Yeah, it’s very scary. And I know that this isn’t meant to be a political discussion. I’m a Democrat, I’m liberal and progressive. And it’s very scary, because it’s not just one or a few individuals in power, it’s ultimately all of the people who put them there. And so this belief is pervasive and persistent. And that scares me.

Zoë: Very much. And I mean, women’s rights seem to be just being cut left, right and centre. And to think that maybe Roe versus Wade could be overturned, and just women’s reproductive rights, and, you know, just going to a doctor, all of these aspects are possibly going to be reversed. And women are going to be set back even further. And it That’s so scary to me.

Marie: It is unbelievable, you know, there for a long time that women had children because they had no choice or they had many children, because they didn’t have reproductive access, or and obviously, this still happens in some countries. But to think in developed nations, that something like that could happen in the year 2020 is just an unbelievable thing. It’s like we’re living in an alternate reality right now.

Zoë: It is. Really, it is like The Handmaid’s Tale coming to life. It’s very scary. But I mean, thinking positive things, what are the positive things that you’ve done with your life that you couldn’t have if you had children. So, to any of the childfree women out there who may be you know, worried about this decision, and thinking I’m going to lead a very, you know, lonely, sad life, I want them to realise that this is not the case.

Marie: It is anything but. I mean, the most glaring difference is financial and economical, right? Children are very, very, very expensive, and not having them is – I’m sure there are actual facts and figures on, you know, how much more money over a lifetime, a childfree woman has. I think that’s the biggest one, but having that financial access certainly gives you the freedom to do other things, so that things like travel, or even material possessions, or buying your birth home, things like that. I would say the other real positive for me, and this isn’t the case for everyone, but because I do have such a big family and nephews, I’ve been able to dedicate myself, you know, as an aunt. And, you know, like I said, taking them on trips to Europe and flying them around the world – I couldn’t do that if I had my own children, obviously, so I’ve always been a sounding board for my nieces and nephews. And the way I look at it is they need a trusted adult that they can speak to about things that they’re not comfortable speaking with their parents about, but also one who will steer them in the right direction. So, I’ve always strived to be that for my nieces and nephews – “You can come to me with anything, and we can talk about it, and I am an adult, and I’m going to give you adult advice. Especially if I think that there’s harm or something like that, but I’m not your parent. And so I’m not going to view it with that lens”. And I think that’s an important role that I’ve played, and, you know, my siblings will say the same. You know, I am mostly the favorite aunt who buys the lavish gifts for birthdays and holidays. And I actually enjoy that role. I enjoy doing it from a distance. But yeah, I mean, that’s something – had I had my own children, I would never have been able to do that.

Zoë: And I mean, I’m sure your siblings are really grateful for that position that you have in their children’s lives. I mean, if you had your own children, you wouldn’t be able to give so much focus to the rest of your family, perhaps. So, you know, this is the one of the great things about when some women decide not to have children, we can put our focus into other things in life that still have a really positive effect on other human beings and on the world. And I wish we could get society to understand that we do have a real positive impact, in the world. You know, just because we don’t want kids, that doesn’t mean we’re useless as women, which is ridiculous.

Marie: It is ridiculous. There’s a saying that mother is a verb, not just the noun. And it’s true. So I think that we do have the ability to influence children’s lives, whether we’re teachers or aunts or sisters, I think we have the ability to have that sort of influence on a child’s life, and we may not all choose to, but it is there. And then I would say that the third real benefit, and you touched on this earlier, is the time to do things like volunteering and having more money to be able to give to causes that we support. And yes, you know, I think that that can’t be underestimated. Like you said, parents just aren’t, for the most part, they don’t have that sort of time and energy and money to put into things that are external from their family. And whereas we do, and it’s all – volunteering has always been very important to me, and it is something that I take very seriously like a dog. And I think that we all have a responsibility to give back in a way that’s bigger than ourselves.

Zoë: Yes. And you are an environmentalist? Is that right?

Marie: I am, yeah.

Zoë: So this is yet another topic that’s interesting with the way the world is going. And overpopulation. Obviously, this is a big factor for childfree women. And maybe this is a positive for society that not everyone is producing children. But it doesn’t mean, it’s not seen as that. But this is really important to you, yes.

Marie: It is very important to me. And I won’t say it’s the reason I decided not to have children. But I have heard, I think it was like a millennial study, where a lot of young women are saying they’re not having children because of climate change. I think that’s wonderful. That’s absolutely wonderful. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily a driving factor for me, but it is very important. And if I look back over my lifetime, obviously, the environmental impact that I’ve had by simply not having children is huge. I also don’t own or drive a car. So I think that’s it, that’s another big one. But yeah, my environmental footprint is very small as compared to a family or –

Zoë: I think – isn’t having a child is basically the worst thing you can do for the environment? Sorry! But it’s the reality, right? And you know, this, yeah, no one wants to really talk about that. And if you did say that to a person who has a child, it’s never taken well.

Marie: No, it’s not. And the ironic part is, if you think about who should be the biggest environmentalists, it’s parents, because they’re the ones making future generations, right? So it’s the future generations who are going to have to clean up this mess and suffer the consequences of it. And so the biggest environmentalists should be the parents who are creating future generations. When I’m gone, Zoe, there’s nothing right, there’s nothing left. You know, I will die – and that will be the end of it. So why should I care what state I leave the earth in? But, I see so many parents who don’t recycle, don’t compost, don’t – they just don’t have time or energy. And it’s just one more thing on their list. And so, to me, that’s really ironic. You’re bringing future generations into the world and really not caring what sort of world you leave to them. Or, you know, just leaving that responsibility to them – they’ll figure it out. So it is interesting to me. And it’s important to me, as an environmentalist, that I leave behind a better world and have less of a footprint.

Zoë: Absolutely, yeah, I’m going to try that tack next time I talked about it. Well, let me put it this way –

Marie: Well it’s so true! What about your, your future great, great grandchildren, right? You don’t want them living in this toxic world, where they can’t drink the water and they can’t visit beautiful places.

Zoë: I think you’re right, though. Being a parent, it sucks your time and energy and you just don’t even have anything left to be like, “Okay, instead of buying this plastic toy car, I’m going to look for a sustainable toy maker, and I’m going to spend more money on purchasing something that is better for the environment”. But they just don’t have that energy or money to do those things. You know, which I get it – I get it. But yeah, I think a lot of it is consumerism, and we’re just told you’re meant to just buy stuff, constantly buy – buy the house, buy the car, the kids’ toys, or, you know, all of it – instead of actually thinking about, can we slow this down? Do we need this stuff? But it’s breaking that kind of brainwashing almost, that this is what you do as a human on this earth and when you go against that… As a childfree woman, we’re all kind of saying “no” to that. It kind of shocks people a little bit.

Marie: It does. And I agree with you about parenting taking time and energy and money that can’t be put towards other things. But I also think we shouldn’t allow that excuse, right? Because to get back to – in most cases – it was a choice. I understand not for everyone, but it was a choice that you made. And so when you made that choice to have a child, you made a lot of other choices at the same time, whether you realize it or not. And there’s accountability and responsibility that goes with that, you know, bringing up a productive human into the world and raising them, and all of that, but also making sure that the impact that they have on the earth is a positive one and not a negative one. And I think, you know, probably this isn’t something many people think about when they’re thinking about having children or after they have children. But I personally feel that those are the responsibilities of parents.

Zoë: Absolutely, yeah. This needs to be more of the conversation when you’re thinking about having children. It should be more like, “How are we going to raise these kids in a sustainable way that makes sure that the environment is going to be protected as much as possible?”, rather than just “Okay, we’re just going to do this and think about it later”, which you never do.

Marie: Someone once said to me that having children is the ultimate form of hope. And I think it’s really true, you are really putting your hopes out there in the world by having children. But I also think it’s sort of a blind hope. And a lot of ways, you know, if we talked about just the current political landscape and where things stand… And so, to me, if you are choosing right now, at this moment in time, to have children, and also simultaneously thinking that things are pretty bad, what does that say about you? You’re choosing to bring humans into a world that you think is pretty bad. And so that sort of blows my mind – the people who are having children right now, and also complaining about the fate of the world? Because that is really selfish. I mean, that is, and it’s also hopeful, in a way, that thing? Well, I anticipate that when they’re adults, that will be a different world. And I just think that’s a bit misguided.

Zoë: Legacy is this thing that is talked about a lot as well, when you’re thinking about having children. Like what’s gonna be left behind you, if you don’t have children. Which I don’t understand, or I’ve never, ever cared about leaving, you know, having someone else have my blood, and when I die, they’re here. I’ve never ever thought about that. What are your thoughts about legacy?

Marie: I also don’t care about legacy, not in the least. I think that’s another very selfish concept of the way that people can live on after they’re gone. I have my estate set up such as that, when I die, it goes to nonprofits that I care about and so I chose not to leave it to various family members. My family’s way too big to figure that out anyway. But, quite honestly, that isn’t something that I think about. I would much rather organisations that I care about, know that that money is going towards them.

Zoë: Absolutely.

Marie: Yeah, legacy is a silly selfish concept.

Zoë: It really is. Yeah, it’s bizarre to me. But yeah, so many people just think, you know, they put all their bets on their child, fulfilling their life. The way that I think people don’t fulfil their own lives, and instead, they put all of their hopes onto a child to do it for them, instead of maybe having the guts to live the life that they want sometimes. And, you know, I just would much rather just live my life as best as I can. And focus on myself and my community and, you know, spreading the love, and having a positive impact on this world. But yeah, I mean, when I’m gone, I’m gone. And I’m okay with that.

Marie: Absolutely. I feel the same. You know, you had mentioned overpopulation. And I truly do believe that the earth is overpopulated. I think there are movements towards negative population growth or zero population growth. And I can get behind a lot of that. I don’t believe that you have the right to replicate more than yourself. I don’t believe that, you know, a couple has the right to have six children. It’s just I think it’s irresponsible. I think, you know, the earth has reached the carrying capacity, and we’re seeing so much of that, whether it’s the environmental impact or disease or hunger or – and I just see overpopulation at the heart of much of that. And so I think, yes, you may be able to afford to have a child and raise a child, and that’s fine, but it’s still placing a burden on the earth. And I think that that’s something that a lot of people don’t think about either. You shouldn’t necessarily have as many children as you can afford, or not afford. So, yeah, I think it gets back to environmental issues. And I think it’s just not something that people spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s so much bigger than themselves.

Zoë: Yeah. I mean, I wonder when are we going to really tackle this issue head on? Like, it seems so many governments, we’re just putting our head in the sand going, oh, well, yeah, this country is burning down, and we’ve got viruses all over, the world is turning upside down right now. And so many things are happening. We’ve got, you know, ice caps melting. And so we have the signs that we are definitely on a trajectory. That’s not good. And the main issue is overpopulation. But we aren’t even doing anything to tackle it. I mean, in Germany, because the birth rate has been so low, they are trying to incentivise women to have kids by giving them great maternity and paternity packages. And it’s like, okay, but why are we incentivising having more kids? We know the population is so overcrowded, shouldn’t we be tackling the environment before we do the things like this? But it’s such a taboo subject, even discussing regulating how many kids people would have.

Marie: It’s a very taboo subject. Yeah, you know, in the countries where they’ve done some of that has not gone over well. It is sort of this right, that people feel with this, you know, they’re born with this right to have children as much as they used to. And I really don’t think – I wish that people were making the decision. I wish that the governments didn’t have to interfere, that wasn’t even a discussion we need to have, because people were doing the responsible thing. But, and I know there are some developed countries, like you mentioned, where they’re very concerned about birth rates, and very concerned about that population pyramid where you have most of the population above the age of 50. And so then there’s this concern about who’s going to actually do the work in 20 years.

Zoë: So what about relationships then? Has this decision to have children affected them?

Marie: That’s a good one! I’m single by choice.

Zoë: Okay.

Marie: But it has very much so. I mean, especially like we talked about your 20s and 30s. When you’re, you know of childbearing age, it’s something that comes up. I’m heterosexual so I date men. And it was definitely, most men would say, “Well, I don’t want to have children now. But someday I do”. And it’s something they’re sort of thinking about. And so I think it has, for me, it definitely has limited relationships, because I learned early on that it’s something that I have to put on the table very early. Because it may have long term consequences for someone else. And so I put it right out there, you know, first, second, third date, about not having children. Again, now that I’m in my 40s, it has changed quite a bit. The men in my cohort, oftentimes are divorced with grown children, which has taken away a lot of that pressure.

Zoë: Yeah.

Marie: You know, there is no expectation. I probably would not date someone with young children. Because, again, it’s just messy, and I don’t really want young children in my life. I have dated men with, you know, teenage and adult children. And that’s much less of an issue. But, you know, the other thing is, when I think about the type of person I want to be with, or what sort of relationship I want to be in, I also have to question, “This is someone who chose to have children”. And so, what does that mean to me, and what I think about them, and our feelings towards each other, that this was something that was important to them, and they chose to do for whatever reason… And it no longer puts the pressure on me to bear children, but at the same time, it does say something about them. And that’s something I’ve struggled with. You know, I certainly am willing to date someone with older children, but it is, you know, they’re a parent, and I’m not, and I think to some extent it puts this barrier there, you know.

Zoë: Right.

Marie: And again, they come at it with all the parents’ prejudices, of, “You don’t understand, you don’t know, you didn’t do this”. So it’s an interesting one.

Zoë: When is there going to be like a childfree dating app?

Marie: I guess there is.

Zoë: Maybe there is, exactly yeah. Because it makes sense, right? Of course you want to be with another person who has maybe the same values and wants to live the same kind of life? And yeah, when the other person has children in their life, it is very different. Very different. So I’m not surprised that you would want to be with another person who didn’t have kids. Yeah, that makes complete sense.

Marie: Yeah, and I have run into these challenges. Like you said, with holidays. So I love to travel over the holidays, and many times I’ve been on a plane on Christmas Day, it means nothing to me. I don’t ever want to be, now that I don’t have the expectation of spending holidays with my own biological family, I like to choose where I spend it. And so if I was dating someone who has children, and was, you know, beholden to celebrate these holidays, and we wouldn’t be able to celebrate them together, unless I did the family thing… That would be a struggle, to your point. And even, you know, again, getting back to the whole financial aspect. If someone is still supporting growing children or, you know, supporting an ex-wife or something like that, I mean, those all impact, as a couple, your financial status. And so, I have the means to do things like, you know, go out for nice dinners and travel and do things that I like to do, and have experiences that I pay for. And so it’s very difficult if I’m with someone who doesn’t have the ability to do those things, and doesn’t have that level of freedom or financial freedom.

Zoë: Absolutely, yes. So I think a really nice place to end it would be, what is your message then to the childfree women out there, who, maybe they’re not so open about their decision , or they can’t be, or they feel alone because of this decision? What could you say to them?

I would say stand your ground. There are many of us out there, probably more than you realise, if you’re feeling pressure, if you haven’t fully made up your mind and aren’t sure whether you want children but you’re feeling pressure, whether it’s age, or from family or society… And really sit with yourself and spend time thinking about “What do I want?” Take everyone else out of the equation. “What do I want? What are the things in the next year, five years, 10 years where I want my life to go? And where do children factor into that?” And if children are going to prevent you from achieving some of those things, then have a serious think about whether they make sense for you. And it’s not about what anyone else wants. It’s not about what your parents want or your partner wants or what you think you need to do. And again, stay firm.

Yes. Thank you, Marie, so much. Thank you so much for being so open. And yeah, I’ve really, really loved our conversation.

Marie: Thank you, Zoë, thank you for including me in this project. I think it’s a very important project and I wish you all the best.

Zoë: Thank you. And thank you, everyone for listening.

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