Challenging Assumptions, Changing Lives: An Interview with Nina Steele

Nina Steele

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

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Interview with Keizy, a Childfree Electrical Engineer

Today’s interview is with Keizy Paul, a 29-year old electronics engineer from Kampala, Uganda.

keizy paul

 

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.

 

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Interview with Lauren, a Childfree Texan Yogi

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.