“I respect you for your choices, so respect me for mine.”

Sonia, Berlin

Sonia’s come a long way from her tiny village in the south of Spain. She moved to Berlin, learned German, changed her career a bunch of times, studied later in life, and leads a happy, satisfying life in her cute apartment with her adorable cats.

I think subconsciously it has always been in me that I wasn’t going to have children. But the decisive moment was when I was nine, and my godmother told me how children are born. I saw her with this gigantic baby bump, and I asked, “How is this going to get out of your body?” And she told me, through the same way it came in. Everyone was laughing so much, but I didn’t understand.

Once I understood a bit more about human reproduction, I was like, “This is not going to happen to me. This is barbaric”. I was pretty scared of it. Not only the fact that you’re carrying a life inside of you, but also the fact that your life becomes secondary. What you’re growing inside of you becomes the priority, and you’re just a host, a medium, a vehicle to bring some life into the world.

I grew up in a pretty conservative environment. I come from a tiny little village in Andalusia, in the south of Spain, where women are supposed to find a husband when they’re young, buy a house, form a big family… the whole heteronormative line. You could feel the pressure all the time, it was like preparation for having children. Everyone was staring at you, the way you were playing with your dolls: “Oh, she’s so caring, she’s going to be a great mother”. I’m such a loving, maternal person, and delicate, but in the end I was more focused on caring for animals. I was pretty confused because my environment was pushing me in one direction, and making me feel guilty for not wanting it.

I’ve been stubborn since I was very little, and always had very strong convictions about the way I wanted to lead my life. I was a natural leader, a secure person, and I really knew what I wanted. I never felt the need to, as we say in Spanish, “pass through the same hole as everyone else”. I can lead my own life and be perfectly happy as well. I respect you for your choices, so respect me for mine.

Both my sisters have children, and my family worries a lot about me not following the traditional path. Every time I go home, my dad asks, “When are you going to find a husband?” Back when he got married, a woman in such a small village could not survive on her own without a man. She was not allowed to work, so she had to depend on a man. They just cannot understand that I can support myself.

It’s hard for me, because my dad only asks me when I’m going to get married or when I’m going to have children. My career and my professional achievements are nothing to him. I’m like, “Hey dad, look at me. This is me during a conference. I wrote almost 200 pages for my thesis in English, which is not my native language. And I manage to speak German, and have survived in Berlin for 10 years…” But he’s blind to all that. I think he admires me a lot because I’m a very resourceful person, but he would like that I had this traditional life, so he could be at peace.

My elder sister came to visit me in Berlin with her husband and children, and she was actually impressed. Until that moment, she was pretty skeptical about my lifestyle, thinking of me as a poor little thing lost in a big city. Then she came here and saw that I was managing with everything, and lead a happy, satisfying life. She and my brother-in-law, I think they’re very happy with the path they chose, but they were not judgemental about mine and actually admire me.

I have friends my own age who say they are proud of me for doing what I’m doing, but that they’d be too scared to take their life in a different direction. And I have to admit that it wasn’t always easy. Nobody has given me anything for free, and I never took things for granted. I’ve lost my job many times, decided to study later in life, to change my career, my path. The German culture is so different, and I had to meld myself with the culture, in a way. And I decided to stay here in winter – terrible for a Mediterranean! Now I feel stronger and accomplished after going through all these difficulties. I’m happy and proud of myself.

We place a high value on motherhood when it comes to the life of a woman. In a way, we don’t think of women as individuals at all. We forget about their career aspirations, and only think of them as a carrier of life, which is a mistake. It’s important that we portray an image of happy and accomplished women who are doing great without any of that. There are little girls out there who are not dreaming about becoming mothers or having a family, but of being president of their countries, being leaders.

I really hope my story encourages people to take an unexplored and less easy path. It’s very satisfying in the end. Conversations like these are fostering a change. We aren’t just fostering a personal choice, but something that is affecting society, and politics. We need to hear more voices, to make women feel more confident and empowered in their choices. We need to see more people like us, and to support each other and be a community, so we can feel good about our choices.

Photos by Zoë Noble
Words edited by James Glazebrook