The thing about having children

It starts at the end of 20 (mid 30s at the latest). Maybe you are married, maybe you have just been with your partner for a longer period of time – the questioning doesn’t stop there, everyone (really everyone) wants to know: “Well, are there any children planned? The fact that this decision is absolutely personal and concerns no one but yourself and your partner is simply ignored. The consequence: More and more women feel pressured to have children.

Blogger Jana Wind also feels this pressure and expresses this feeling of being torn to and fro on her blog. We spoke with her and the author Sarah Diehl about emancipation, the desire to have children and conventions.

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Childless (un)happy?

“I love my freedom and the possibility of spontaneity. I like to travel, I like to spend my money on nonsense, I like to go for a spontaneous drink in the evening. I enjoy our life together as a couple, just letting it come to us, being unreasonable. Why does society constantly try to convince me that I am missing another baby to my happiness? And why does a sense of duty almost arise in me that I have to have a child in order to meet the expectations of others? This is my life.

My own short span of time in this world and whether I want to use my life to bring up another life should be my decision,” Jana writes on her blog. She never thought that the post would become her most read post.

The childless woman as a social nightmare

Among the comments are many positive voices, but also clearly negative ones: “I have received an extremely high level of encouragement. Both from mothers who have to struggle with stereotypes as well as from women who find themselves in a similar situation and feel strongly pressured by their environment. However, there have also been some comments from women who seem to have felt strongly attacked by my mail – and almost insulted me.

Some couples simply want to enjoy their togetherness and not think about children. © Bogdan Sonjachnyj / Shutterstock.com

To disagree is one thing, but to call my thoughts, worries and doubts on such a personal issue bad has already hit me,” says 29-year-old Jana Wind. The author, cultural scientist and filmmaker Sarah Diehl deals with the question “how and why our society builds such a spectre out of the childlessness of women”. For her book “The clock that never ticks” she has interviewed many women who have voluntarily lost children on the subject.

Her thesis: “People without children are not missing anything, they are neither happier nor unhappier, they simply set different priorities.”

“The clock that does not tick” by Sarah Diehl, Arche Verlag, 14.99 Euro © PR

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The reasons for deciding against children are manifold. Sometimes this decision is made of free will because other priorities are set, sometimes there is simply no desire to have children and sometimes women have no choice. Sarah Diehl also sees an unfulfillable expectation of women as a possible reason: “Women today are made a ‘You can have it all’-promise, which increases the burden, the pressure, to get it done as well.

Realistically speaking, the situation is quite different: “Children do not get along very well with the prevailing demands for flexibility and mobility in the world of work, and with the understanding of roles which continues to disadvantage women and which provides for a triple burden of employment, childcare and housekeeping”.

The one-sided presentation of the media also contributes to the ‘bad reputation’ childless women: Often women who are able to combine career and children are glorified as power women and rare exceptions are glorified and childless women are overstated as old maids or selfish hedonists. “In the media there are hardly any positive role models of childless women who are over forty.

Instead, the image of the haggard career woman is served up, who bitterly regrets her decision when it’s too late,” observes Diehl.

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The “mother, father, child” cliché is a long outdated role allocation

“Another reason for the uncertainty is the fact that motherhood is still an elementary component of what supposedly constitutes femininity,” explains the author. The social ideal model of the family still consists of a man who provides for the money, a woman who looks after the children and the household, and the children themselves. Characteristic of these stereotypical role clichés is also the fact that childless men are hardly ever criticised and rarely have to justify themselves.

“The image of the childless woman is miserable and overloaded with countless clichés,” says Sarah Diehl.

With the man it is quite different: “He never had an image, at most that of the lone wolf, which needs to be tamed.” Jana Wind also feels the difference between the sexes: “I believe that as much as we women have regained our role in society, there are still so many differences, not only in terms of pay and leadership positions. Society simply doesn’t make it easy for mothers to combine job and family, and there is probably still a long way to go before something like equality is achieved.

Nobody should feel alone with their worries just because they don’t fit into the social agenda.

Intimate questions of pregnant women The negative sides of pregnancy and motherhood are still often swept under the carpet. © Bogdan Sonjachnyj / Shutterstock.com

Between motherhood and tocophobia

It would certainly help an open discussion to talk honestly about pregnancy and the desire to have children. We often see and read that mothers talk about the birth of their children as the most beautiful experience of their lives. Of course, children can trigger a feeling of pure happiness, but your own children can also get on your nerves or even make you unhappy.

It is the same with pregnancy: “Neither pregnancy nor birth is experienced by all women without exception as wonderful and life-affirming. They change the whole body and the perception of the self, they are incredibly stressful and can push you to your limits,” says Diehl.

But nobody talks about these negative aspects, especially not in public. And so it is no wonder that women are insecure about child planning, have doubts or even get scared of having children (in pathological cases this is called tokophobia).

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Breaking taboos and conducting objective discussions

In a modern, open-minded society, it should be possible to speak objectively about everything. It is clear that it is difficult to approach such an emotional topic as child planning with objectivity and approximate neutrality. Nevertheless one should try it. This open communication is still failing: Mothers hardly dare to talk about the less pleasant aspects of having children. Abortions, fears, doubts or postnatal depression are taboo subjects that are kept secret.

Often one also has the feeling that women disappear behind their role as mothers and are only defined by it.

We must not allow ourselves to be defined solely by the productivity of our uterus. The conscious decision against having a child of our own is a private matter and, above all, completely ok. © Bogdan Sonjachnyj / Shutterstock.com

By people like Jana talking about their fears and doubts in all honesty and encouraging open dialogue, the situation can be changed: “From the reactions to my blog post I realize that fortunately I am not the only one who is concerned about whether she can and wants to take responsibility for a new life. Sarah Diehl, with her books and articles that are really worth reading, or the award-winning documentary film Abortion Democracy: Poland/South Africa, also initiates long overdue debates.

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We need to redefine womanhood

Overall, the discussion shows how important the topic is and how many people are involved. Sarah Diehl sums up the concern: “We women must ultimately come to formulate our own definition of being a woman, which perceives us in all our complexity, which is not given to us from outside and which reduces us to being a woman = motherhood. By avoiding one-sided, emotional opinions, we are already taking a big step in the right direction.

And the question “Well, when are children planned?” we simply refrain from asking.