“Now I’m postmenopausal, it really is like I’m back to being 12 years old.”

Caroline, Montfort

Painter, surfer and childfree trailblazer Caroline Zimmermann shares her story of sixty years finding peace on this planet. She opens up about being “born again” at 32 when she was diagnosed with cancer, finally finding permission to live life her way, chasing waves and inspiration from California to Italy and France. At 59, Caroline feels like a kid again, menopause having released her from the influence of her hormones. With no pressure to procreate, Caroline is free to simply: create.

It was at age 32, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, that I resolved not to have children. I simply did not want bring a life into this world being so unsure of my future in it. My diagnosis gave me permission to be selfish, as I had care for myself if I was to survive. I needed to find my centre, my way to be on this Earth, in my broken body, and heal myself.

It’s like I was born again as another creature. Because after being diagnosed with an aggressive, invasive cancer, every year you’re alive feels like a gift. It gave me permission to live my life for me. Up until that point, I was so hard on myself, so judgmental and needing of acceptance.

I do seek approval and that’s why I create art. When I was a kid, I spent most of my time tending to animals in my suburban backyard in Southern California, and when not playing with them, I would draw them. I always created works of art for my mom and dad, and they put them up all over our house. I started painting in oils when I was eight years old, and my parents were really supportive of it as an endeavour.

I think I always wanted to be a good kid, to be a good daughter, and having a family – having children – was along that route. But at age 19, I went bad. I moved in with my university ceramics professor. That was the jumping-off point. I moved to Laguna Beach and became a surfer. And at that point I learned that, gosh, this is how I want my life to be.

There was a glitch that happened in the loop when I met somebody and he wanted to have kids. He said, ”I’ll take care of you, you don’t need to worry about anything.” And I thought, maybe I should go through with this, and my parents will be happy with me. Maybe they’ll approve of my life. But, as an artist, I never made time for kids. My painting supported me, my then-husband and our surfing lifestyle. I thought, “If I can afford a nanny I’ll have kids”, but that didn’t happen.

The relationship went terribly bad, and after that, I knew: I don’t have it in me, I just can’t be responsible for another life. When I said “no” to that path, my parents were very disappointed. But I never lost any sleep over it. This is the path that I was set on, this is how I was supposed to go. I’ve spent my life since travelling the world in search of waves and inspiration for my work.

I was drawn to Italy and somehow with my husband of 20 years we have made a life there together. We’re currently living in Haute Provence in France, having received residency for cultural reasons. We both have immense gratitude for the fullness in which we live. Having children can be a beautiful thing, but our creative processes have given us so much satisfaction and joy over the years, we do not sense that we are missing out.

And maybe that’s why at age 59, I still feel like a kid myself. Now I’m postmenopausal, it really is like I’m back to being 12 years old. That feeling of, wow, I don’t have estrogen burning through me, influencing my decisions and my relationships. It’s a whole different feeling of being in my body, without that influence, and certainly without any pressure to have kids.

I honestly feel that I’m doing a great thing for the planet by not birthing more human babies. It’s really sad for me to say, but I see all that we’ve done as a species, at such a cost to the Earth, and I’m reassured that we’re on our way out. We cannot sustain our existence and there will be life beyond us. It’s just a pity that so many beautiful lifeforms have been sacrificed because of our way of being on the planet.

I often consider my paintings “my babies”. They are indeed my creations and will be the little trace of me I leave behind. These are homages to things and people and places that I love, they’re adorations to those memories. I feel so fortunate that I can make something out of nothing, something that gives people pleasure.

My life has been rich and full, fuelled by the creative process. My desire has always been to simply create and not to procreate. I’ve been painting in oils since I was eight years old, and I still can’t wait to get into the studio and get back to work. There’s so much I want to do. There’s so much I want to put out there.

Photos and Video by Zoë Noble
Words edited by James Glazebrook