Cover picture by Rob Bye
This article is the result of a casual conversation about this project, Instead of Kids. We spoke with Anne-Sophie about it on a Friday evening, and on a Saturday morning we woke up with this write-up in our inbox. Thank you for your honesty and story, Anne-Sophie! This is exactly what we set ourselves to: start talking openly about what’s on our minds and that we tend to share only privately. The only way we can start feeling not alone in this is letting others know we think and feel the same. And reading your experience about this topic, we certainly confirm that the struggle about having and not having children is alive everywhere in the world, no matter your upbringing.
Enjoy her writing and please let her know what you think in the comments!
“I was born in a small town of 302 inhabitants in the South-West of France. I was the first baby girl from my dad’s side of the family in three generations so everyone had high expectations of me, as a woman.
I was raised in a catholic and pretty traditional family. When I was a kid, I remember my dad telling me that “to keep a husband, you need to know how to cook”.
My mom was what people would see as a perfect mom. She had 3 kids and when my little sister was born, she decided to stop working outside of the house. From the year she turned 30 until today, 22 years later, she has only been working from home (from handling my dad’s company accounting to having a home daycare to becoming a farmer). My mom taught me how to read even before I began school. She prepared all our meals herself so we never had to eat prepared food. Sometimes she would spend more than 3 hours cooking per meal, and she still does when my sister and I come home for dinner. My mom was always there when we got back from school, helping us with our homework even though she dropped school when she was 13. When my dad came back from work, food was ready and kids were already in bed. Pretty traditional, I told you.
I always felt I had nothing in common with my parents, especially my mom, and when I was 14, I decided to go to boarding school, about an hour away from home. I was bored of living in a small town, bored with my family’s traditions. And somehow I was ashamed of my social background. High school was full of kids from wealthier backgrounds. And I might have become a bit arrogant towards my family. I had big dreams for myself. I wanted to become a journalist. I wanted to travel. I wanted to go to each and every country in the world and report about what was happening to the people there.
I remember talking to my big brother about having a family when I was 16. He used to say that having kids was completely selfish and very bad for the environment. My main thought was “there are plenty of orphans all over the world, we don’t need to make more”. So that year I decided to register online to start the adoption process. I had heard that it could take up to 15 years to adopt a kid so I was thinking 16 + 15, that’s 31, it’s perfect! By then I’ll have a steady job and I’ll be able to raise a kid. I never thought about getting married or having a traditional family. In my mind, I would adopt and raise a kid by myself. After 5 minutes on the French governmental website, I realised I couldn’t fill out the adoption paperwork until I had a “situation” (income, house, husband!).
My brother passed away soon after this, and I spent the next 5 years thinking that I will never ever have kids. Because what’s the point of it all? I was split between fighting depression and wanting to travel more than ever and enjoying every second in life. Because it can end right here, right now.
During that time, my parents would ask me very often – every time I came home – if I had a boyfriend or a girlfriend (they became more accepting with the time and I like to think that I contributed to that!). They were worried about me not having someone in my life.
My parents were the type of couple that did everything together. They even decided to sell our house and shut down the stable business they founded 10 years before to become farmers together at the age of 50. Work, hobbies, friends: since the moment they met when they were 17, they have shared every part of their life. So they couldn’t understand why, at 23 years old, I was still single. I felt like my little sister was following their steps. She found a boyfriend at 17, and she was already making big plans about her future life with him. I’ve been wanting to tell her “don’t follow this path”, “create your own story” ever since. But who am I to judge her?
So while my little sister was making plans on her future family, I was very much focused on my career. I studied journalism, even went for a year studying abroad in the US, worked in London and Paris, and when I met with my boyfriend a couple of years later, I was clear with him since the very beginning. “Don’t expect anything stable, the most important thing for me is my career”. I had not thought of having kids since I was 16 and I really didn’t think I would stay with him. I had other plans.
But things change. Long periods of unemployment made me reconsider everything. I left Paris and came back to my home-town, ended up living with my boyfriend quite quickly, and I began to see most of my friends around me getting married, and having kids. Soon, Facebook became this endless photo album of perfect wedding pictures and healthy babies. And they all looked so happy.
Before I moved back to the countryside, I always felt very sad for them all. Thinking of all the things I could do that they couldn’t. Especially traveling. But when I came back to live there, my reality had completely changed. I was unemployed, I had no money, I was depending on my summer job as a waitress and unemployment benefits for the rest of the year. So sometimes I was asking myself “OK, let’s imagine you accidentally get pregnant right now, you wouldn’t get an abortion would you?”.
Thankfully, this didn’t happen. We soon decided to move to Berlin with my boyfriend and things got better. Getting a proper job, being in a stable relationship, and finally being able to travel again. Having children never crossed my mind.
A while later, my gynaecologist thought I had a uterine fibroid, and it made me very depressed. I thought “that’s it now, I’m never gonna be able to have kids” (which is actually not true, but you know how you always freak out when your doctor is not so good and doesn’t take the time to explain you what your condition means!). So this brought me to talk to my boyfriend about the idea of having kids. He clearly told me he didn’t want any. Ever. That was a hard thing to swallow. I even thought stuff like “Come on, I’m almost 30, what if he never wants kids, I should maybe break up with him and find a boyfriend who wants a family”. I was completely lost. I think it was more the idea of not being able to have kids that hurt.
When I told my parents, they instantly talked about alternative way of having children. I felt like they were more disappointed than anxious. I was trying to convince myself that I didn’t want kids anyway, but they were saying things like “never say never”, “you say this today, but who knows about tomorrow”. I was completely lost! I didn’t know if it was me, wanting kids, or some kind of social pressure that I integrated despite the fact that I’ve always thought I didn’t ever want to have a family. When 2 months later, my gynaecologist admitted she had made a mistake and nothing was wrong with my uterus, I felt relieved. “At least, I don’t have to think about it anymore!”
I feel like all of this happened in my head because of what society (and by society I mean my immediate entourage) expects from me. I am a woman. I am supposed to have kids at some point – the sooner the better according to every doctor interviewed in women’s magazines. My parents have always told me “you’ll see, one day you’ll meet someone you really love, and you’ll want to have a family together”. But no, I don’t. My little cousin just had a baby and she told me “I hope she will have cousin soon”, but no, she won’t.
Last week I asked myself this question again: “What if you discover today that you’re accidentally pregnant? What would you do?”, and I think I wouldn’t keep it. Because I’m pretty happy with what I have right now. I’m not saying it’s a decision that will never change, but while I’m writing these lines, I don’t think having a kid would make me happier in any way. I’m seeking happiness in something else. Whether it’s writing, traveling, spending quality time with my boyfriend. And more than anything, my “freedom” makes me happy. I could quit my job on Monday. I could leave Berlin tomorrow. I could take a plane ticket for Lisbon right now. I’m not saying I will, but I need to know that I have the freedom to. So this is my instead of having kids, despite being raised in a traditional family.”