“In my family, parenthood was never about blood. It was about loving a child and helping them grow.”

Brooke, Berlin

As an Australian living thousands of miles from home, Brooke always knows where to find the best sausage rolls. We chatted over a flat white at a local Aussie-owned café, where the decor popped along with the budding tattoo artist’s vibrant style.

For me, there wasn’t any big “coming out” as childfree. It was just something that everybody knew from the start.

My parents knew that I wasn’t going to have kids. I didn’t want baby dolls when I was a little girl – I was into My Little Ponies and stuff instead – but once, there was this doll that came out, and you could change its hair colour. A lot of other girls were into them, so I asked for one. And I remember mum saying, “You don’t really want that, Brooke”.

I’m adopted, and I never searched out the biologicals. So when I talk about my little sister, that’s someone who isn’t blood-related to me, but is also very much my sister. I know who my family is. And I wonder if that reduces any guilt that I would have otherwise? Because, in a way, I figure, not necessarily wanting kids is a hereditary trait – I joke that I come from a long line of women who didn’t want children.

Having kids is something that needs to be taken very, very seriously. My folks had to wait years and years to adopt me. Mum couldn’t work, because the call could come at any moment, and the authorities wanted her to be a stay-at-home mum for the first while.

They were given options – would you prefer a girl or boy? Would you be willing to take a kid that has Down syndrome or another illness? And they said, “We don’t care. We’ll take whatever baby that needs parenting.” IVF was an option as well, but they were like, “No, if there are kids that need families, we’ll be that for them”. That’s incredibly selfless, and it’s stuck with me – that’s what being a parent is.

They had redefined for themselves what parenthood was. It was never about blood, it was about loving a child and helping them grow. And there were repercussions for that. When women of my mum’s age got together, all they did was talk about their labour stories. Of course, she didn’t have one of those, and it was really isolating. But that also helped relieve the pressure from me, because we all knew that it wasn’t the act of birthing that made you a woman.

I feel like I’m just resting on my laurels, enjoying all of the things that the women before me have won for me. If I can’t cavort around the world, and have fun, and be happy with my life, then what’s the point of all the hard work and effort that my mom, and the generations previous to her, put in? I have a duty to have a great time!

I moved to Berlin for shits and giggles. I was already living in Tokyo, and I’d been checking out some of Southeast Asia as well. I was like, “OK, I need to leave these poor people alone for a while”, and I wanted to be somewhere where English wasn’t the native language, because I already know culture from Britain and the US. I had known a lot of people who’d been backpacking through Europe, and when the 15th person told me I should move to Berlin, I was like, fuck it!

Now I’m trying to completely restart my life, and retrain from scratch as a tattooer. It sounds very midlife crisis-y but it’s very on brand for me. I rush headlong into things, cheat fate when I can, and weaponise my Australian culture, which means not thinking too hard about all the terrible things that could happen. The ability to travel for residencies is a big draw for me. I might leave Berlin, but I’ll be back. No matter where I end up, travelling will be something that I do.

Outside of the US, the first generation of women who are actively making this choice are us. It’s us. It starts here. And I want to show women that you don’t have to have any hidden guilt or trauma around your decision. It can just be a decision, you know?

When childfree media talks about this stuff, there’s a weird arrogant tone, which I think definitely gives the wrong impression. It’s like a few years ago, when there was this big atheist movement in the US, which had its own nasty undertones – “we don’t believe in religion, and people who do are stupid”.

Maybe it’s because a lot of the media we’re reading is becoming more polarised, but I think there needs to be a chiller side of the conversation. Instead of going out there and saying, “We have decided not to have children for this and this reason”, what would probably be more useful is the media equivalent of a bunch of people sitting down on the couch, saying, “Hey, yeah, we’re not having kids. How’s it going? You want a beer?”

Find Brooke at Neuromantic Tattoo

Photos by Zoë Noble
Words edited by James Glazebrook