“The more voices out there saying, ‘This is normal, there’s nothing wrong with you’ the better”

Jane, Berlin

I caught up with Jane as she was cycling thousands of miles along the public transport routes in Berlin, and she was happy to show me part of the city she’d just discovered. We chained our bikes (hers is much nicer!) near the Charlottenburg power station and crossed the huge metal Siemenssteg footbridge over the still waters of the Spree.

Malta feels like a small Catholic village. My mum, who’s Maltese, moved us there from England when I was eight, for about 20 years or so. Which is a long time on a small, religious island; it’s a bit claustrophobic at times.

I was looking to move somewhere, and at the time happened to meet someone who was from Berlin, so I took the opportunity to come here with her. I’ve been living here for nine years, and was married five years ago. In Berlin, you can be who you want to be, which is one of the big reasons I really like it here.

Back on Malta, a lot of people’s feelings towards gender roles and sexuality are rooted in a Catholic frame of reference. So, while there’s a huge expectation to have children, that should only happen between a man and a woman when they’re married. I think once people realised I was gay, they didn’t want me to have kids – because then I would be either a single mother, or one of two women raising them. And obviously that’s the worst thing that could ever happen to a child.

Most people think I don’t want children because I’m a lesbian. That’s totally wrong; for me, they’re two separate things. I took a long time to come out, because I didn’t feel that I could. The hard part is coming out to yourself – after that, coming out to other people was easier. It’s a horrible thing for someone to go through, feeling ashamed of who you like.

I knew I didn’t want to have kids before I realised I like women. I went to an all-girls school, and I remember, back when I was 13, 14, saying, “No, it doesn’t sound very appealing to me, or what I’d like to have in the future”. Everyone told me that my opinion would change, but I knew it wouldn’t. I guess I’ve always felt that motherhood was just not for me.

I was very relieved when my wife said she also didn’t want to have kids. If your partner really wants to have kids and you don’t, that’s a big issue. It’s something I couldn’t compromise on; you can’t have half a baby. We have cats – that’s enough!

My grandmother was always trying to get me married, obviously to a guy. But I never had the same pressures from my mother – she’s actually rather happy that my sister and I don’t want to have children. She was like “yes, I never wanted grandchildren – this is fantastic!” She wasn’t happy with her own marriage, and the way things went. She’s also a big worrier, and having more people to worry about wouldn’t help.

I used to work at a sustainability institute, studying air quality and air pollution, and the future isn’t looking good for the children we have now. These things about climate change have been known; I remember hearing about them in school, and we’re talking about the same thing 20 years on? It’s pathetic. It’s not fair to dump our problems on a younger generation – it’s going to be worse for them than it is for us.

When I was working in Malta, I noticed that some women would have master’s degrees and be good at their job, and then they’d get married and just stop working. I don’t get that. I’m not sure if that’s an internal thing, or if it’s just what they think society expects of them… It’s such an alien concept to me that I just don’t understand it.

I think it’s a myth that you can have a career and children without support. There’s so much pressure to be good at a career, and then also be a good mother; I cannot imagine the pressure and the stress that someone would have to go through to try and juggle that. As a woman, you have the whole pregnancy to deal with, and then after that, the societal expectations of you as a mother are just huge.

Because I always felt so strongly that I didn’t want children, I never thought I’d regret my decision. I would however have regretted giving into societal pressures. I tend to ignore people’s questions and comments. It’s my own personal decision, so if you think any less of me because of it, then that’s your problem not mine.

I feel lucky that we’re living in a time when it’s more acceptable for women not to have children. I can imagine, 50 years ago, it would have been a completely different perspective, like it’s expected of you to marry and have children. I certainly would have not been able to marry the woman I love and to live openly with her. These things would have just been out of the question, one, two generations ago.

Visibility and representation, obviously, these are huge issues for people of colour, or gay, lesbian and bisexual people. It’s absolutely huge to know you’re not the only person, that there are other people who have made the same life decision, and it’s something they don’t regret, that they feel good about. The more voices out there saying, “This is normal, it’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong with you – far from it”, the better.

Follow Jane’s biking adventures on Instagram and her blog, Pi-Cycles

Photos by Zoë Noble
Words edited by James Glazebrook