I think it would be wrong to say that I decided anything, because I just never felt like having children. So it was never a decision to be made.
I honestly don’t think that having children is a logical decision for most women who live in the same context that I do, which is a rather independent and privileged Western life. I feel super lucky to live in a society, and at a time, where I have the luxury to decide what I want to do. Just having the right to decide what I can do with my body is truly worthy of happiness in and of itself.
I was born in the States, to Iranian parents. My family is very progressive, so I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted – at many times, more freedom than my friends who came from traditionally American families.
It could just be a bias in my social circle, but I know more Iranian women who don’t have kids than Western women. I have six cousins on my mom’s side of the family, and three of them haven’t had kids. They’re in their late 40s and going on 60, two men and one woman. And my cousin who’s a woman that never had kids, she has no regrets, no nothing – she’s just chillin’.
I have a very loving mom, who wants the best for me, and just doesn’t understand why a woman would decide not to have a child. My father’s been a pillar of support for me – in fact, he’s very much against having children. My brother’s just got engaged, and my dad is very concerned that he might have children!
My father tried to bring all sorts of logic into the argument, like climate change, politics and other kinds of global concerns – none of which I personally think play a role in the moment a woman decides to have a child. I’m like, “Dad, this has nothing to do with it. If somebody wants to have a child, if they feel like it’s what is going to make them happy, then they have to do that. This is not something where you sit down, open up a spreadsheet, and start putting pros and cons down.”
My life is a bit of a mystery to some people. My colleagues and my boss, they’re very happy in their conventional lifestyles, and they don’t even understand what I do with my spare time. I have the spontaneity to dedicate my time to whatever I want – to work, sports, art… even just sitting on my sofa with a nice cup of coffee and breathing in moments of calm. I can just soak up existence around me, and be mindful with no distraction. That’s something I can afford to do, which I really enjoy, to the bottom of my heart.
It’s almost like the possibilities are endless, and that can be one of the downsides of not having children. There’s this saying in Persian, that’s difficult to translate, but literally, it says, “It’s like your aunt’s soup. You eat it, you’re gonna get it. If you don’t eat it, you’re still gonna get it.” Because you’re fucked if you do, and you fucked if you don’t!
I feel blessed to have all of the spontaneity and freedom. But the personal responsibility that comes with every decision that I make can be very heavy. So, I see some of my friends who are forced into making certain decisions about things like where they’re living, and they don’t second-guess themselves. Because they have children, that makes them much more grounded. When I fly back to the US, I think, “Why is Berlin my home? I don’t have a kid that’s going to school there, with their own social circle…” I just have a few things, like an old rug from my late grandfather – wherever I roll that out is where my home is.
The freedom, it opens up this whole feeling, that I should technically have time to do everything and anything. I see colleagues who’ve gone on maternity leave, and wonder how they’re going to juggle their work with all that. And then I look at my own performance, and think, “I have no excuse – I need to be doing so much more”. There’s definitely a darker side to this, a heaviness. Because, with every decision you make, you’re deciding against something else.
I know that there are certain things that I’m missing out on. That special type of love of a parent to a child, which is a really beautiful and unique type of love that I’ll never be able to experience. Also, the whole experience of giving birth is quite magical – that transformation from nothing to life is just incredible. Just being so intimately implicated in that transition into life, into this world, is such a mysterious thing.
I can see it, and be in awe of it, but that’s not a reason to move me to want to have a child. People will come to me and say, “These are the things you’re missing out on”, and, sure, I guess I am. But that’s not a justification to bring a human being into the world, with all the repercussions that brings.
The question about whether women can be fulfilled or happy without children probably has some answers in evolutionary biology, and, of course, religion and the conservatism that comes with it. I think part of it is a struggle that we all have in a very general sense, of trying to rationalise certain actions which are driven from something that is innate to us, which comes from our reptilian history.
Looking back at this subconscious decision, I pat myself on the back. Retroactively, I can easily come up with a huge list of reasons why I’m thrilled not to have kids. But, that being said, if I did have that biological urge to have a kid, which would make me do the totally irrational thing of becoming pregnant, I’m sure I’d come up with a similarly long list of reasons why I would love being a mother. Either you’ll be compelled to have children, or you won’t – you have to let nature take its course.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve made sure to check in with myself, “Do I really not want kids?” I don’t want to let this become a dogmatic thing, and I try to stay pragmatic. It feels like it’s outside of the repertoire of my brain to consider, but crazy things happen. I try to stay open to the possibility, and be flexible to changing my mind. But I just can’t see that happening.
I get a lot of inspiration from this mentor I have in my life, a childfree woman in her late 70s. She’s like a godmother/mentor/guardian angel/all sorts of stuff, and she’s completely ageless. When I see her, I get filled with so much more confidence, because she’s living proof that everything’s going to be fine.
I’m very lucky to have a group of strong women around me, with and without children, who make me love being a woman. I think that is much more important than being happy about having or not having a child. In the end, as big of a deal as it is, to make that decision – if it’s a decision to be made – it’s just a small part of being a woman. I just love being a woman.
Photos by Zoë Noble
Words edited by James Glazebrook