“I always say I was born in the wrong place.”

Olga, Berlin

I never wanted to have children. But I was born in Kazakhstan, and grew up in the post-Soviet Union world, where you get married, you have children, and that’s life, basically.

When I played with dolls, I never really enjoyed it. But, in my mind, it was never really an option not to have children. Because that’s how my parents lived, and my grandparents – it’s accepted as a social norm.

In Eastern Europe, and Muslim countries for that matter, people have a lot of children, and families are big. It seems like the role of a woman in society is to bring children into this world, to raise them and care for them. And without that, a woman isn’t seen like a woman.

When I was 18, I moved to the US, to Virginia. And life there was a little different. People do have kids, but a little later, and they are more respectful of people who don’t have children. I felt so comfortable there, like I belonged – it felt like home. I always say I was born in the wrong place.

Two years ago, I moved to Berlin, to the family-friendly neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg. Being surrounded by a vast amount of children made me realise that I really don’t want that kind of life. I want some peace.

I like my freedom and my free time, the time I can spend doing something productive, something active, learning something. I just don’t see that happening with children, especially in the first couple of years, while they’re still young.

When I fly, I see poor parents with a screaming kid, and they don’t know what to do. That’s a no-no for me, it’s not going to happen. And it doesn’t just happen to one family or two, but to everyone. It’s very overwhelming for me to think that one day your life could be completely different. One life basically ends, and another life begins.

In Germany, they also seem to think that having kids is the purpose of life. I’m asked a lot of questions like, “How come you don’t have kids yet?”. I used to say, “maybe later”, because that’s an answer that prompts people to leave you alone. But now that I’m older I’m just being honest: “I don’t want to have kids”. I’ve also realised that it’s OK, I’m not doing something wrong by not having kids.

I can’t seem to find the purpose of having children. It doesn’t matter how hard and how long I think about it – I can’t seem to find the purpose. A lot of people have children because of society, or because they think that when they are older their kids will take care of them. But that’s not a fact – you don’t know what’s going to happen.

Front of the Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin reads "Der Deutschen Kunst MDCCCLXXI"

Every time I speak to my mom, she says that she would like grandchildren, and always mentions her friends who have grandchildren. We’ve never really had a conversation, but the last couple of times we spoke, I’ve said, “Mom, I don’t think I want to have kids”. I haven’t completely laid it out, because I don’t think she’d be able to understand my decision, let alone accept it.

I’m still in touch with my friends back home, and they’re all married, except for one or two, and most of them have children. It’s completely a societal norm, and people just go along with it. I feel sad, because I personally think some of them might not want children, but they don’t realise it’s an option – they don’t know any different.

I really think it’s important to be honest with partners about this. In the beginning you can get away with saying “maybe one day”, but as you get deeper into the relationship, you will have to admit that you’ve decided not to have children.

It’s not fair for the other person, let’s say a man who wants to have kids – I don’t think it’s up to me to make this choice for him. It wouldn’t be fair, and the person wouldn’t be happy in the end. Would I want to be in a relationship when I’m not sure if the man would be happy with me because of that? I’d just move on – there are plenty of men who don’t want to have kids.

I think a lot of men don’t want to have kids, but they are also forced into these societal norms. They might know that the woman they are with wants to have kids, but also don’t feel free to say, “No, I don’t want to have kids”. I believe this happens quite a bit, but we don’t know about it.

I think, in the future, this is going to be discussed more and more, as women are more open about this decision. It’s important to bring awareness, and make this a subject that can be comfortably talked about.

It’s time for us to see women not just as an opportunity to have children. When women decide not to have children, they should be able to have that choice, and they shouldn’t just be seen as a body to bring kids into the world.

The change has started. Just like with any change, it’s going to take a while, but it’s already begun.

Photos by Zoë Noble
Words edited by James Glazebrook