“This isn’t a fact-based decision. It’s about emotions.”

Maren, Berlin

I first connected with Maren over her analogue photography, and she certainly has an eye for a backdrop! Tucked away at the back of Berlin’s busy, gritty Mauerpark is a charming community garden, and a small birch wood where Maren loves to watch the sun rise: “I just love how enchanted and peaceful it feels.”

I think it was more of a realisation, than an actual decision. I grew up thinking that I would want children at some point, like it was a process you go through, or something that you acquire.

I saw family and friends either having, or really wanting, kids, and I always thought that I wasn’t quite there yet – but soon, it would happen. And I slowly realised, as time was running on, that it just never happened.

I have a very vivid imagination, and I can imagine myself in all sorts of situations. Whenever I tried to imagine myself in the future, with a family, it was like one of these cheesy daily soaps where certain characters have children, but they’re like decoration. They add to the plot or the character, but you never see them – they’re always with the nanny or in bed already. And that’s how I imagined my life with children – very far from reality.

At some point, I decided to just cut that part of my imagination. And, all of a sudden, I could imagine a life that suited me much better.

I think my sister was worried at one time that I might have children first – everything is a competition with siblings! She always really wanted children, and I’ve seen how she’s changed since she had them. Now she’s at peace with everything – she has what she always wanted. I’ve never heard from her that I should have kids, which is kind of cool.

My sister’s two girls are amazing. I love them so much that sometimes I think I couldn’t have had better kids myself. It makes me wonder if I would become a different person if I had children. What if I could improve? Or would it make me a terrible person? I don’t know, and I’m not going to find out. But it’s really interesting to see someone that you’re very close to take up a role that you don’t want.

At first, I wasn’t very open with my family about this. I think they all thought I just hadn’t found the right partner yet. When I did “come out” as childfree, there was definitely some disbelief, and forcing me into conversations to find out my reasons. That made me feel kind of helpless, because I don’t actually have a reason.

It’s a very strong emotion that motherhood is just not for me. I’ve tried to come up with reasons for myself, and to yell back at people when they try to convince me otherwise. But to be honest, I don’t need the reasons – that strong feeling is enough for me.

I’ve worked as a neuroscientist, done stroke research, and in my spare time I explore art, photography, music and all kinds of cultural events that Berlin has to offer. All these interests that you have aside from your job, they’re so important. I need them to balance against the depressing, sad and difficult work I do. I need to free myself from that, and do something completely different, which also takes time. If the only counterbalance to my job was a child – which is a job in itself – that would frighten me.

My choice has allowed me to try to be responsible for myself, because that’s a tough job. I have had some episodes of depression, which were really hard to deal with. And I feel like I’ve accomplished something by just being open about it, knowing when a new episode is on the horizon, and being able to approach it like, “How can I fight against this?” By focusing on me, I’ve learned so much more about myself. And if I had to care for another person, I would be in the dark about lots of things that are essentially me.

Something that one hears is, “But you’re so smart – or you have this or that talent – you should pass it on.” But that’s not necessarily encoded in my DNA – I can pass it on in different ways. Even if I had children, whatever I could give them would fade after some generations. We’re all going to be forgotten, eventually. It’s sad, but that’s the way it is. So I have no urge to leave a footprint.

I wish I wasn’t forced to defend myself at all times. I find myself in the position where I start to rant about children, which is also not fair, because I like children – I just don’t want to have them. Whether you think this is the right decision or not, just keep it to yourself. People try to give me reasons to have children, but this isn’t just a fact-based decision – it’s about emotions.

Photos by Zoë Noble
Words edited by James Glazebrook