“Don’t stress about biology so much.”

Jana, Berlin

When aerial artist Jana moved from the mountains of south Germany to Berlin, she had to climb a trapeze to see further. She shares her perspective on abortion, being a stepmother and the human need for art.

I remember this one moment when I was on a train with my friend and we were talking about children. I said, “Oh no, I don’t want to have kids”, and she wanted to know why, of course. I said, “Well, I wouldn’t want to bring children into this world”. And she told me, “That’s a very sad view of the world”. I was 14 at the time.

I still have the same opinion. For me, it’s not responsible to bring a child into this world. I find it very egotistical during this climate crisis, overpopulation, wars over resources and everything. Obviously, I can accept that someone has children, but I would really like everybody to make a conscious choice. I think, instead of always us having to answer why not, we should ask people who have kids, “why?” – and they have to have a good answer. It’s not enough to say it’s God’s plan or something.

I had an abortion when I was 21, and already living in Berlin. I went to this East German doctor and she said, “Well, yeah, abortion is fine, but you have to keep your first child”. I was like, “What?” In the whole city, there were only two gynaecologists who would do it without full anaesthetic. I needed to be in control, to really experience how they got rid of it, because if I didn’t, I would stress. But I never had a bad conscience – abortion is just my right and it’s natural. It was not a life that I was ending or anything.

My parents were very supportive. They are both academics and they always said, take your time – don’t have children early. My father’s reaction was quite funny: “Oh my god! You are so stupid to get pregnant, but at least you’re not stupid enough to keep the child”. But they didn’t realise that it really meant that I didn’t want children. So, every once in a while, my mom make this kind of sad joke that she doesn’t have grandchildren.

I have a brother with a younger wife, and they actually do want to have children. But they’ve been trying for years now, and haven’t been successful. They’re not as stressed about it as other friends who are trying. They’re just like, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. About 10 or 15 years ago, my brother was a sperm donor for a couple of my lesbian friends. So I sometimes jokingly say to my mother, “Actually, you already have grandchildren!”

I’m a grandmother of two, via one of my ex-partner’s children. He has two grown children who call me step-mom. I’ve known them since they were three or something, and they’re now in their thirties. When their father and I were together, they’d visit us a lot, especially on holidays. I spent a lot of time with them, and we were doing crazy art projects and circus stuff, like I was the crazy artistic mama.

I’m an artist and my chosen language is aerial. I come from the mountains in south Germany, and when I came to Berlin I couldn’t go up the mountains to see far any more. I needed to get up high to view far, so I climbed up on a trapeze and never came down again. I recently premiered my new performance with these big hanging stones that look like planets, with me hanging underneath them. It’s about the fragility of my body.

I find joy in performance, but I’m not doing it for fun. I’m doing it because I feel like I have to do it, not for myself, but for society. Another artist said that, in a crisis, we are there to transform the collective grief into something that society can have back again. I found this image beautiful because whenever we are talking about “systemically relevant” professions, the arts are the first thing to get kicked out. Human beings need art, and I’m honoured to be one of those artists, but I also want to be respected for that. Society values money first, then parenthood, then everything else.

I don’t like this comparison that my life is supposed to be easier because I don’t have children. It’s just different. I’m completely free to decide how to deal with my own time, and I like that a lot. But sometimes I’m envious of people who have children, because they are better at separating their work from their private time. They have to be. And then I realise I need to call my friends who aren’t my colleagues, because I haven’t talked to them in half a year!

My advice is to listen to yourself, and listen without judging yourself. And if people ask you why you don’t want children, why not ask them why they do? If I ever regret my choice, I can always adopt a child. Why bring another child into the world if there are already so many children who don’t have parents and need love? I have a friend who’s adopted two children from Russia and she’s my complete superhero.

People who are involuntarily childfree, and they’ve been struggling, I would tell them don’t stress about biology so much. Get a foster child or adopt a child, or be a grandma or an aunt or something, because it’s not about just biology and genes. I have no idea how it feels to want a child and can’t have one, but just think about it. You can have a child without your genes.

Find Jana at luftartistin.de

Photos by Zoë Noble
Words edited by James Glazebrook