I recently was featured on a new podcast, Unchained. Unbothered, by Keturah Kendrick about my blog and experience as a childfree African woman. Please check it out!
Today’s interview is with Nina Steele, the 42-year old founder of nonparents.com.
Can you tell me about yourself?
I am originally from the Ivory Coast, now a British citizen. In short, I am a British Ivorian.
In terms of which ethnic groups, I would rather be known as Ivorian as opposed to a specific ethnic group. This is because ethnicity in Africa, and the Ivory Coast , has become a highly divisive issue. People have lost their lives because of it, so I prefer the more inclusive approach of identifying myself as an Ivorian.
What do you do for work?
I work full time running nonparents.com. It’s a global community for people without children either by choice or circumstance. The site’s overriding aim is to promote a positive image of people without children. For far too long, the narrative has been that we are all destined to be parents, and that those without children are somehow missing out. The site debunks that myth by showing how fulfilling being a non-parent can be. From having more money to spare, to the freedom of doing all those things that parents often have to wait until the children have left home to start doing, the advantages of being a non-parent are endless.
Another myth the site has continuously challenged is the assumption that anyone without children will automatically suffer loneliness in old age, implying that parents always have their children around in old age to look after them. Well, I worked for an old people’s charity for eight years, and I can put that myth to bed. In my former job, the majority of elderly people who complained of being lonely had children. Being lonely in old age can strike anyone, regardless of whether they have children or not.
How long have you been childfree? Have you always known that you wouldn’t have children?
After trying to conceive for 9 years, my husband and I chose to accept that having children was never meant to be. Once we made the decision to stop trying, we never looked back. That was in 2013. In retrospect, I can see clearly that the only reason why I kept trying was because I had bought into the narrative that having children is a must for every couple. Not only that, coming from an African culture where having children is viewed as a person’s greatest achievement contributed to warping my view about what constitutes a life well lived. But of course, I became enlightened and realized how misleading all this message about parenthood is. For example, many of my relatives in the Ivory Coast have children they cannot afford. Some of the children are left to fend for themselves. And of course, many of us know of children in Nigeria and other parts of Africa being abandoned for being witches. I mean, the utter hypocrisy of it!
How have your family and friends reacted to you being childfree?
There was resistance at first. Some of my relatives had assumed that we would end up adopting. Now that everyone can see how happy we are as a couple, the subject of children is seldom mentioned.
You mentioned your husband. How does your partner feel about you being childfree?
My husband was never keen on having children to begin with. It was me who wanted them at first because of all the societal pressures and cultural issues I mentioned before. He is as happy to be childfree as I am.
Do you feel that society is accepting of your decision?
My relatives have certainly accepted our choice to be childfree. As for society, overpopulation (and all the issues that come with it) is forcing people to reassess their views on children. It is now obvious that finite resources cannot sustain an ever growing population. Not only that, increased pollution and damage to the environment are linked to overpopulation. These are issues that will affect all of us.
Do you think your advocacy is contributing to changing ideas about being childfree in general and for black people in particular?
My website is translated in 30 languages and so reaches people in all corners of the globe. I feel strongly about educating people about the benefits and advantages of being childfree. For too long, the narrative has been negative around this issue. But thankfully, people are now waking up to the reality that parenthood is far from the ideal we have been made to believe that it is.
As for black people in particular, I believe that social media and the Internet in general are helping many see that parenthood is not the only way. Many people from Africa have reached out to me through social media to tell me how much finding my website has changed their lives. A woman from Nigeria whose husband left her because she could not conceive went from being totally depressed to being empowered, thanks to nonparents.com. She is one of many, and that’s just the beginning. As the site continues to grow, I anticipate that many more lives will be impacted positively, wherever people happen to be in the world.
Photo credit: Nina Steele
Four years ago, I made the decision, after an awful date (not entirely unlike Grace’s encounter with Aziz Ansari), to stop dating men.
I’m not going to go into details, about what happened, but it was an awful date. I did what people screaming on the internet about how Grace should’ve said no and was ridiculous to expect Aziz Ansari to be a mind reader (I’m not going to give any of those garbage takes clicks, but you can find them if you Google.) I said the word “No” explicitly and repeatedly, and dude didn’t give a shit.
I deleted him from Facebook, and he sent me a message saying “Oh! I see we’re not friends on Facebook anymore!” A month later, he sent me a message cussing me out for not fucking him. For context, this is a man that my roommate at the time set me up with, so I had gone into it expecting to not have to be on guard for rapey behavior.
So I quit dating. Prior to this, my entire dating experience had been with men, and to say that it had been awful would be an understatement. For some reason, any time people find out that I am no longer dating, I have experienced the whole range of disrespectful behaviors that childfree people are usually subjected to, only this time for a different reason. From people asking me “What would you do if you met someone you really liked?” (Does “I don’t date” sound like “I’d be willing to date someone if I met someone I really liked”?), “Are you seeing anyone?” (What part of “I don’t date” makes you think I’d be seeing someone?), arguing with me nonstop (some nonsensical version of “You have to go out with guys”), giving me unsolicited sexist advice on dating men (“you see, men want a woman who will play hard to get” — how the fuck is that relevant? I don’t give a shit what men want) and even going as far as to bringing other people into the discussion to get them to gang up on me.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, my entire life, I assumed that I’d meet someone one day, because I had bought into the bullshit cultural narrative that “There’s someone for everyone!” (There is literally no evidence to back up this claim, but it’s often repeated as though it’s some kind of a universal truth.) I did once get engaged to someone, but that relationship didn’t work out. I eventually came to terms with the fact that there is a huge disconnect with what I want from a relationship and what men actually do. Yet, people find it extremely important to blatantly disrespect me and try to force their amatonormative values on me, and try to argue me into continuing to put myself in harm’s way. As we’ve found out, even a man who’s made a name and tons of money off of marketing himself as a feminist ally, going as far as to write a book about modern romance, isn’t a safe person for a woman to be around. (There were already hints of this in his first stand-up, but I wrongly believed he had learned and evolved his ideas on women.)
So yeah, there might be a handful of good guys out there, but is it a good use of my time to keep putting myself in physical and emotional danger just on the off chance that I happen to meet one of the good ones, who also happens to be available, who I am attracted to and who is also attracted to me, and is also childfree?
Obviously, it’s not. I just can’t wrap my head around why people (and especially when it comes to women) find it so important that I devote my life to doing something that makes me absolutely miserable. I’ve taken a hard line on this: if you choose to treat me this way, I no longer have room for you in my life.
When I was in Ghana — mind you, I hadn’t even stopped dating then — the extremely religious, heteropatriarchal culture meant that all my family members and acquaintances had plenty of unsolicited commands about what I was meant to do with my life and my body — shit about me being single (like I’m just supposed to go to the boyfriend store and buy a boyfriend?), me not “giving a chance” to guys I was not at all interested in, not going out with every guy who demanded I do so simply because he demanded it, and not having children. These people didn’t know I was childfree. They just demanded that I “have kids now”, just because they said so.
People can choose to live their lives in a number of ways, and none of them require making themselves miserable just because other people say they need to. The amatonormative, natalist shit just needs to stop. I live my life on my terms, not yours. The significance that people place on culture is disproportionate. People create culture, and people can change it.
I am currently a final year student at Midlands State University in Zimbabwe. I’m studying for a Bachelor’s degree in tourism and hospitality management, majoring in food and beverage management. I hope to get into restaurant management shortly after I complete my program in June this year.
I’m from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, but I will be relocating to South Africa later this year. I am Northern Ndebele, which is the second largest ethnic group in Zimbabwe after Shona.
I have been childfree for five months now. I recently discovered that parenthood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I have always had a fear of getting a girl pregnant. I dread hearing the words “I am pregnant” from a woman I’m dating. I just think that it’s too big of a decision to make. I have seen people’s lives altered by a child in ways that aren’t good. I personally believe that much of the poverty in Africa is caused by unplanned pregnancies and people abandoning those kids afterwards in orphanages, or worse, the streets. I know personally of relatives who secretly whisper about other people “they would have been better off in life if they hadn’t had kids”, and that just makes me shudder. I think parenthood should be something that one is excited and enthusiastic about when entering, because if one is not, then life can be very difficult.
I also think that kids are very expensive, and for me there are so many better satisfying and personally fulfilling endeavors worth channeling my time and resources into. I don’t really subscribe to the notion of working hard at school so my potential kids can have a better life. I have worked hard my entire life simply because of the way I want to live my own life, that is, in a comfortable and stress-free manner. When I was 17, I found myself suddenly obsessed with getting a vasectomy. What I found fascinating was the fact that it was permanent, but I always talked myself out of it since I was “supposed” to have kids like everyone else in society.
But realizing that you are childfree is so liberating and relieving to the point where I just can’t imagine living my life any other way.
Relationships as a Childfree Man
I haven’t told my immediate family of my decision. This is because I have read the typical responses others get when they “come out the closet” and I imagine the same responses coming out of my parents’ mouths. But to be honest I just don’t want to be talked out of it or to be pressure to conform to my parents’ values, especially while I’m still economically dependent on them. I have decided to tell them maybe in my 30s or later. But honestly, it’s my body. I’m adult who can make decisions, and also choose how, where, why and to whom I disclose these decisions.
I have told some of my friends and in the process, I hoped that they would rethink parenthood. Very few of them are supportive, to some they just respond with “you’re too young”, “you will never meet a woman like that”, “you’re just saying that because you can’t afford them now”, or “Don’t you want to leave a legacy?”
But I am confident that I will remain steadfast this my decision for the rest of my life. No, I won’t change my mind.
I’ve been single for two months now. My ex-girlfriend and I dated for 3 weeks. One of the reasons we broke up was because she couldn’t understand why I wanted to be childfree, and why I was so insistent on getting sterilized as soon as possible, when she had planned to get pregnant in a year’s time and even raise kid(s) singlehandedly. One of the reasons why I’m single is because I’m realizing that, as a childfree man, there’s no use dating a woman who has plans to have kids at any given point in their life. I might meet someone who doesn’t want kids right now, but doesn’t identify as childfree, and will, in a few months, or years decide that she’s ready for children. For that reason, I have resolved to remain single until I meet a childfree woman. It’s pointless dating when you know the outcome will eventually tear you both apart.
It sucks, but I have to be true to myself and to every potential mate I meet. We both have to want the same thing, and for me, that’s a childfree romance.
My Cultural Context
As a young man in Zimbabwe, people don’t really nag me about not having children (unless I’ve told them that I’m childfree). I think it’s because at this point, as a 23-year-old guy, society doesn’t expect me to have kids yet. I think that the most annoying and, the situation in which I’m the most limited, is access to sterilization. I mean, asking for a vasectomy is challenging because I’m regarded as still “too young”. It’s inappropriate when doctors use their morals to dictate how and what you should do with your body. I’m still trying get a vasectomy in my home country, but the healthcare system in Zimbabwe is lacking resources, so I’ve decided to postpone it for another year. So until then, it’s celibacy and abstinence.
As an African childfree man, I would like to change the way people view parenthood. I would like to advise my peers, the younger generation, and even the men and women born a decade or two before me that it’s ok not to want kids. Being a parent is a choice, not an obligation. You can still find fulfillment in life if you don’t have kids. Personally, I would like to travel to countries all around the world, as travelling is something that I has always interested me. I don’t think that’s possible with kids. Plus, I love my career. I got big plans, I don’t have time to play daddy.
I wish the medical profession were more open to men and women taking control of their reproductive choices. Specifically, I wish they were more open to sterilization because at the end of the day, it’s our bodies, and therefore it’s our choice. And I also wish childfree women were treated with more respect and compassion. They have more difficulty than us childfree men. Yes, some women don’t want to have kids and that’s ok too. That doesn’t make them evil, or any less feminine, valuable or important than women with children.
People should know that just as we respect their decisions to have kids, we want them respect ours as well. We can all live in peace and harmony when we remove the tunnel vision.
Being childfree is awesome. I have freedom in every sense of the word. Physically, emotionally, financially, psychologically, mentally. I get to sleep whenever I want and eat whatever and whenever I want. If you are reading this and you are having serious doubts about having a child or children, I suggest you really take time to think about it like seriously. Weigh all the pros and cons of parenthood, and be sure that it’s something you won’t regret.
I think that having kids is like gambling. They could turn out to be great and upstanding individuals, but they could turn out to be awful people. For me, it’s better to regret not having kids than to regret having kids. You can’t change the latter.
I don’t gamble. Ever.
“Feminism is about choice! It’s my choice to [decidedly unfeminist thing]!”
This is a common idea and refrain in feminist circles. It’s usually invoked as a defense by a self-identified feminist, after another self-identifying feminist has questioned a choice that the former has made.
“Choice feminism”, while without an official dictionary definition, basically boils down to a woman deciding that any choice she makes is supported by feminism. Clearly, women should be allowed to make choices about how to live their lives.
Regarding choice feminism, Fem Magazine points out, however,
The argument… seems to ignore the results of socialization, which mediate every decision humans make within a given culture. We are socialized to uphold a power structure in which women are valued based on their adherence to strict Eurocentric beauty standards. Deviating from norms can result in social rejection or at the very least, endless questions on why you are not simply conforming to certain standards. Our fear of these consequences subsequently influences how we navigate our own behavior and social interactions.
So sure, a woman may choose to wear makeup and that can be a feminist method of self-expression, but often times the “choice” women make to wear it is rooted in the desire to conform to patriarchal beauty standards. The same goes for shaving and most other beauty rituals, which all serve to reinforce the same narrow and oppressive idea of femininity.
Feminism can’t always be invoked as a woman’s justification of her choices, otherwise it begins to lose all meaning. (Reminder: feminism is a political ideology that is concerned with the economic, political, social, and cultural equality of all genders.)
I, for one, have made the choice to not have children, romantic relationships, to live alone (for now, anyway), not to wear earrings, makeup or dress in a “feminine” manner. These choices go against patriarchal conditioning and norms that state that a woman is to enter a cishet marriage, change her name to the man’s name (this varies depending on culture), be responsible for all emotional labor while being being the submissive partner in the relationship (see: changing her name to her husband’s name), have children who also take that man’s name, because, well, women are men’s property, and women exist to create more property for men. Don’t @ me.
Sure, everyone has a right to make choices, as long as these choices don’t harm others. Still, I would also argue that not everyone has to agree with everyone’s choices, particularly those that are made as a result of, and thus support, systems of oppression. Even while typing, I recognize what a slippery slope it is to say that not everyone has to like everyone’s choices. This is, after all, the argument used by bigots to justify their homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny. What’s the difference between saying “I don’t agree with the homosexual ‘lifestyle’” and saying “I don’t believe that children should automatically be given their father’s surname”? The difference is obvious to me: one of these is a choice made out of being is conditioned in an oppressive system, and the other…. well, isn’t.
No one’s choices are made in a vacuum, and no one’s choices are above critique. This includes mine. I’ve chosen a field of work whose goal is to loosen the grip of white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy around the world’s throat. So then, why do I choose to be an active participant in a capitalist society when I could move to the woods and live off the grid when I know that capitalism is an oppressive system that enriches very few while undermining the rights of many? While I try to make the most ethical choices possible, I no doubt fail to live up to all of my ideals, probably on a daily basis.
Where I start to find it difficult to reconcile things, is when women make choices that are clearly rooted in patriarchy, choices that help to fundamentally sustain women’s oppression in both overt and insidious ways, and pressuring other women to do so. As I’ve written about before on this blog and elsewhere, women constantly hassle me about my choice not to have children, demanding what I would do if I found a man who wanted them, telling me that I’ll change my mind, or alternately just pretending as though they don’t know that I’m not having children (despite me having been explicitly clear on the subject. I have this blog, for fuck’s sake). Women constantly hassle me about my choice to not engage in romantic or sexual relationships, when plenty of anecdotal evidence indicates that hetero relationships require far more work on the part of the female partner. The stories being told by women (and some men) right now also suggest that the safest thing a woman can do is to stay away from men, both socially and professionally.
People actively choosing to participate in their own oppression extends beyond gender and applies to other systems, and is manifested in myriad ways. It’s gay or poor people voting Republican in the United States. It’s black people having complete and utter disdain for their phenotypical characteristics to the point of using damaging chemicals on our hair and skin to change them. It’s British people voting to Brexit when they didn’t really want to leave the European Union.
Maybe instead of yelling that “feminism is about choice”, when making unfeminist choices, women should own that their choices run counter to the goals of feminism, but that they’re choosing them anyway.
I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure I have any answers. But these are issues that I’ve been grappling with for quite some time, and it seems they won’t be going away any time soon.
Today’s interview is with Keizy Paul, a 29-year old electronics engineer from Kampala, Uganda.
How do you identify?
I identify as a gay African.
How long have you known that you are child free?
Ever since I was in my teen years. I didn’t see [having children] as something so important or something that I should strive to achieve. It wasn’t in my plan. I had career goals, and the goal building myself up and make something meaningful out of my life. I just knew that having children wasn’t important.
Why don’t you want children?
If I had children, I don’t think I’d be a good parent. Secondly, I’m an antinatalist. I think having children is morally problematic. What I mean is, bringing children into this world exposes them to a vast array of harms, which would be troublesome for the child.
Basically what antinatalism is all about is stopping potential suffering of the unborn child. I subscribe to that philosophy quite strongly.
Are you out to your family?
Yes. They know that I’m not going have children at any time in the future. They’re comfortable with and respect my decision. They have no problem with it.
How have people’s reactions been outside of your family?
My childfreedom is pretty abrasive. When it comes to my peers, they think I’m evil, that I’m selfish, for not wanting to bring a child into existence. It’s pretty rough. I’ve lost a couple of friends because of my views about procreation. It gets lonely sometimes. It’s not easy being childfree especially down here.
Do you belong to a community of childfree people?
Yes, they are mostly online American communities. I’m trying hard to start one down here in Uganda. But a lot of people here are obsessed with breeding and childbearing. Most of the groups I’m in are foreign.
Are there any challenges dealing with childfree people from a different cultural background from you?
The people in these groups are not vastly different. They are mostly white groups run by white, middle-class people.
There is a tinge of racism in these groups. They have this tendency to look down on you because you’re black and African. Sometimes when you tell them you’re childfree their responses are incredible. They can’t believe that you are black and childfree. That’s the trouble I run into when interacting in these groups.
Do you do activism around childfree work?
I run a Facebook page and to try raise awareness. I’ve printed some t-shirts. I have a few childfree friends, we go out on campaigns around Kampala, especially in the ghettos advocating for things like vasectomies and family planning. It’s in its infant stages.
What would you want to change for childfree Africans?
I want to eradicate the stigma of being African and childfree, because that’s the problem I face. African societies are heavily pronatalist, so seeing that change would be what I strive for.
Childfree African is starting an interview series of people who identify as being African and are committed to being childfree.
The first interview is with 29-year old Lauren Holmes, a yoga teacher from Texas.
How do you identify?
I am a straight African woman of the diaspora.
How long have you know that you are childfree?
I didn’t know the name for it but I’ve known since I was pretty young, five or six. I could never picture the white picket fence and the kids, just me and he husband or a dog or something.
I didn’t tell anyone, though. I kept it to myself because I knew it wasn’t quite what I was “supposed to” want— I grew up in a very Christian household where the traditional gender roles were pushed pretty heavily. Women were supposed to be submissive, and all that jazz.
As a result, I thought I was probably going to have children, just because it was so expected and so ingrained that I didn’t think there were any other options.
When I got older, when I was in high school, the issue wasn’t even really on my radar. I grew up in small town where sex ed was nonexistent. Like, 20 girls that I graduated with were pregnant, or had had kids. When someone got pregnant, all I knew was that I didn’t want that.
When I was a sophomore in college, I met my (now) husband. We had started dating and he said he wasn’t a big fan of kids. I was so relieved. That was when I realized, “hey, this was a choice a couple can make!”
I had no idea there was a community or even groups of people that didn’t want to have kids, because where I grew up up, you were considered an adult when you had a child. Which is a little ridiculous, because I have 16- and 17-year old cousins who have children. Family members ask me when I’m going to grow up, and… I’m an adult I work, I pay taxes.
How do people react to you, a black woman, choosing to live a life without children?
Not well! [chuckles] When I tell people I’m childfree, I might as well be saying “my husband and I are monsters.” The reaction is so visceral sometimes. It’s like people are wondering what’s wrong with us… Did we have horrible childhoods? Were we abused?
I just like my house quiet. I don’t’ want to step on Legos. It’s just not an ideal lifestyle for me.
Do you have siblings?
I have two half-brothers, one brother has 13 kids. The other one has four. I remember when the Maury Povich show, where he does these “are you the father” things, I used to live in fear that my brother would appear on there.
I’m my mom’s only child, she wants her own grandbabies. So, even though my brothers have children, it hasn’t taken the pressure off the expectation for me to have kids. This is especially the case with my husband’s family. He’s the eldest, and his family keeps asking when he’s going to have a baby, because there’s this idea that the family line will crumble if he doesn’t.
Do you have any support systems?
Other than random Facebook groups, I don’t really have any kind of a support system. We’re in an interesting situation because my husband is in the military, where it’s expected that you have to have a huge family. We only know one other couple that doesn’t have children. Every other couple we know, and even single people have children because it’s part of the military lifestyle. Everyone has five or six kids, but I try not to pass judgement.
It would be great if we had a black childfree community. We live in a condensed, predominantly white area. It’s hard to find black people in general let alone black people that are childfree. We’re kind of isolated right now. We’ll be here for another six or seven months.
What do you dislike the most about being a childfree African?
I can’t stand the judgement. The rest of it is awesome. We go where we want, at the drop of a hat we can decide where we want to go. I love that. The only thing I dislike is the judgement that we get and the isolation that we feel.