“My choice to be childfree is important to me, because I have a very special relationship with my body.”

Léa, Berlin

On a beautiful autumn day, Léa invited me to walk with her and Olive (the same name as my dog!) along the lovely Landwehr Canal. This neighbourhood has been Léa’s home since she moved to Berlin six years ago, and it’s where she first found the space to explore and embrace her choice to become childfree.

I grew up in the suburbs of Lyon. Not the big city, not the deep countryside – like 5,000 inhabitants, middle class families. So you have access to things, but it’s still difficult to put yourself out there. As soon as you’re different, or you see things differently, people are a bit scared.

My mom’s a therapist, and some of the psychology she studied is a bit outdated. So when I told her I didn’t want children, at first she was concerned. As a therapist, she was like, “What does this say about you? According to some theories, it’s a bit weird”. And as a mom, she worried, “What did I do wrong? Was I a bad example? Were you unhappy as a child?”

We had to talk through this a lot. I bought her books from authors that are also not planning to have children. And it’s getting better. I can still feel a bit of resistance, like she still has some hope that I’m going to change my mind somehow. But she’s supportive.

We’ve both had to educate ourselves. On my side, I had to understand that she needed time to process the whole thing. So it’s an ongoing, open conversation. My mom was really smart to understand that times change, and that, if we want a healthy relationship, she will have to meet me halfway.

I’m very lucky, because my friends who have babies are very open-minded, and open to discussions about the topic. They have their decision, and they’re very respectful of mine. Actually, I’ve become the go-to for ranting about being a parent. When they reach out to other moms for help, they sometimes face closed doors. They’re told, “I don’t feel like this at all” – meaning, “Maybe you’re not a good mom”.

As soon as you have a child, you’re supposed to be perfect all the fucking time. And no one can do that. So I’m trying to move into this special point of view, to support my parent friends when they’re low, and just need someone to say, “Yes, it’s valid. You feel this way. And how can I help you with that? Like, maybe you leave the kid with the dad and we go to the spa together?”

My choice to be childfree is important to me, because I have a very special relationship with my body. I’ve struggled with an eating disorder since I was a teenager, and it’s taken me 10 years to love and accept my body the way it is now. In order to reach this point, I went through a lot of body modification – piercings, stretchings and tattoos – which helped me so much. I know that having, literally carrying, a child would mess up all this new balance I’ve found.

Graffiti on the side of the river Spree in Berlin: "LIEBE"

Maternity is letting go. When you create a new life, you can’t have control over it. It’s just happening. And I know that this would ruin my mental health completely. And when you deliver the baby, you’re expected to go back to how you looked before in, what, two weeks? I don’t know – it’s impossible.

I think that not having a child really helped me to stop things where they are now, so I can help people with children not go crazy. We need people to have children and make sure they’re happy and fulfilled. But we also need people to focus on themselves so they don’t unconsciously pile their shit on top of other people’s shit, you know?

Raising children is like everything in life. Some people are good at it, and some are not. Maybe I’d be a good mother, but I don’t even want to try. And I know that some people would do an amazing job, way better than me. So I just leave the whole room free for them. Do your thing. I’ll be on the side having an Aperol spritz.

Photos by Zoë Noble
Words edited by James Glazebrook