A few weeks ago I wrote an article about being childfree from the perspective of a single young African woman. The comments that followed the article had me seeking childfree African women. My search led me to Nina Steele, founder and editor of www.nonparents.com, a community for people without children, either by choice or circumstance. A childfree woman of Ivorian descent, she shares her childfree journey with me and how childfree women are often misunderstood.
African Feminism: Tell us about your childfree journey.
Nina Steele: My childfree journey started in 2004. That’s the year when my husband and I decided to start trying for a child. We weren’t obsessed with the idea of becoming parents, we just thought that it was a natural development in our relationship, as by then we had been married for 3 years. After a few years of trying unsuccessfully, we decided to seek medical advice. That’s when we discovered that my husband was infertile. He suffers from a rare medical condition called azoospermia, meaning he is unable to produce sperm. We tried both IVF and artificial insemination and when both failed, in 2013, we decided that enough was enough. We haven’t looked back since. We are both relieved that it never happened.
African Feminism: What are the challenges you have faced being a childfree African woman? Any joys?
Nina Steele: I am the only person in my family without children, out of the 7 of us. Understandably, since having children is such a big deal for most Africans, our decision to stop trying and not adopt was quite a hard pill for some family members to swallow. My mother kept sending me magic potions to help us conceive and eventually she had to accept that it wasn’t going to happen. What helped her come to terms with the fact that her only daughter was not going to give her the grandchildren she longed for, was in great part because she knew that I was in a very happy and stable marriage, unlike her own experience. She had 7 children by 6 different men.
African Feminism: What kind of reactions have you received from others in response to not having children?
Nina Steele: The reactions have been mixed. Old people often find it difficult to accept that anyone can ever be truly happy without children. I found myself on many occasions having to be brutally honest about this issue, even though it made some people very uncomfortable. Like the time when one lady told me how her friend was now paying the price of not having children because she was spending Christmas alone. Having worked for an old people’s charity for 8 years, I told her stories of people with children who never see much of them, including spending their Christmases alone. She apologized for her ignorance. Lack of education and knowledge on this issue is the main reason behind most of the stigma.
African Feminism: Do you feel there are common misconceptions about childfree individuals or the childfree lifestyle?
Nina Steele: I think the main one is that childfree people are selfish and that the decision not to have children is purely hedonistic. That cannot be further from the truth. Many people choose not to have children because of genetic illnesses and conditions they fear passing on to a child. For others, it is practical issues such as not having enough money and yes some people want more time to do all the things that they want to do with their lives. Whatever the reasons, there is nothing selfish about it. If anything, having children you cannot afford or look after well, just because you think that is what is expected of you, is the real selfishness in my view. Children are not toys. Having them has long lasting consequences, and people should think very carefully before having them.
African Feminism: Childfree by choice has often been said to be a “white thing”. What do you think?
Nina Steele: Absolutely not. I have come across a fair number of childfree Africans and blacks in general. The BBC did a week long show on being childless/childfree in Africa a few months ago, and one of the live shows was from Nigeria. A couple of the participants were women who chose not to have children. The truth is that more and more people are facing up to the stark reality that having children is far too much of a challenge. The money issue alone is enough to put a lot of people off.
African Feminism: Are there childfree by choice African women?
Nina Steele: Absolutely, as mentioned above. I know a few and they are living happy and fulfilled lives.
African Feminism: Why do you think African women are deciding to be childfree by choice?
Nina Steele: Because times have changed, and more and more African women are becoming courageous enough to live lives that are authentic as opposed to blindly following tradition. It is all down to courage. Without courage, you can never be truly happy, because you are too busy trying to please everyone and being afraid of other people’s opinions of you.
African Feminism: Do you feel childfree women are treated unfairly by society?
Nina Steele: Yes. Because even though we have come a long way, there is still a lot of stigma around. Having said that, the fact that more and more childfree women, including many celebrities are choosing to be more vocal on the issue, is helping change attitudes. The more people read about women getting on and enjoying their lives without being mothers, the more likely attitudes are to change. There is no point going on about the stigma of childlessness if we ourselves do not play our part in ending it.
African Feminism: Do you have any regrets being childfree?
Nina Steele: None whatsoever. I wouldn’t have it any other way, now that I know what I know about the joys of childlessness. This is the path that was meant for me and I am making the most of it.
African Feminism: What can be done to change the narrative around childfree African women?
Nina Steele: Because the culture in Africa is intrinsically obsessed with children, changing attitudes is not going to be easy. This is not helped by the fact that unlike Europe for example where secularism is the dominant religious reality, Africans still place a high value on religion, with children being seen as a gift from God. Poverty is another stumbling bloc, with children being seen as future pension funds. With a backdrop as challenging as this one, no wonder many African women believe that you can never be childless/childfree and happy in Africa. But I for one have to disagree because African women are known for being strong. Most of these women have courage in spades, and so should they put their minds and wills to it, they can change that culture of bias and intolerance. Once they stop fearing and worrying about what other people think of them and use that innate courage in their favours, all the existing obstacles will come tumbling down.
We’re grateful to Nina for courageously sharing her story with us and opening up a different paradigm to the conversation. To contanct Nina send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org