As I sat down to interview Louise I could see mountains and a big blue sky behind her in the the background. I was excited to meeting Louise and the experience of chatting to her was great.
We spoke for a long time, about Louise living in Cyprus, her being a teacher, adventures and of course her beautiful dogs.
We touched on so much, from assumptions made due to being a teacher without children, the impacts on her own understanding of self and how doing a course has made her come to understand that happiness comes from within, and Louise shares her story of being a carrier of Duchenne muscular dystrophy and how this has impacted the choices she has made in her life.
I hope you enjoy reading this interview as ,much as I enjoyed hanging out with Louise.
Anotherhood is about turning up the volume of the voices of women who do not have children, can you tell us why you wish to share your story?
I think it’s because I always felt quite lost, and because I’ve never really been sure if I’m childless or child free. I feel like it puts me in a category where sometimes I can really relate to people who are child free, and sometimes I can really relate to people who are child less as well.
I am not really child free, I have had my own struggles so it’s not a complete choice. I feel like the choice was sort of taken away from me.
I was thinking there must be other people out there that must be a bit of both, but you never know where those people are and I don’t really tend to opportunity to connect with them.
I did a life-coaching course, and it changed my life and I started to think about the reasons I feel the guilt and the shame over not having children.
I decided I was going to start a Facebook group for teachers without children, and it kind of exploded overnight which I didn’t expect, and that made me think, maybe there’s a real place for us right now, maybe there’s a lot of people struggling.
That’s why I wanted to share my story to maybe inspire, people who are like “oh I’m not really sure where I fit in.”
Can you share with us what was happening for you when you realised you wouldn’t have children?
So I think in a way I always knew because my brother had Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and I knew that when I was six and a half.
I was quite a perceptive child, I wasn’t buying my Mum was crying all the time because she had a headache.
I listened to things I shouldn’t of, I was probably too intelligent for my own good when I was young.
I knew my younger brother was going to die, I always knew.
At the same time I found out that my Mum was having my youngest brother, so it was quite a difficult time for me.
When I was eight my Aunty was having a baby and I remember her having to go through a lot of testing to see if it was going to be a boy.
Because obviously my Mum had a son with Duchene so my auntie could also be a carrier of Duchene. This was in the late 80s so testing wasn’t so they knew if she was a potential carrier but it was more that testing wasn’t definite then.
I remember thinking, if there’s a chance my Auntie’s a carrier of this, I probably have this.
I think because of that it just never occurred to me that I could have children I just grew up thinking well I can’t have kids anyway.
Even before I had a test I had just assumed I was a carrier.
There were just things clues, like I was bad at sport, I remember thinking I definitely have this.
So, when I got the test results I remember, opening the envelope and just scanning for where it says whether I was a carrier.
It was positive I am a carrier. I remember just crumpling it up in a ball and then going straight out, I didn’t even let myself process what had happened.
I was so angry because even though I didn’t think I wanted kids, the fact that that choice was taken away from me was hard.
I know me as a person and if I was ever going to have a kid, it was just going to happen to just like, oh okay cool. It was never going to be right we are having baby, I am just not that kind of person.
So the fact that it was kind of taken away made me really really angry for quite a while.
Suddenly I decided around the age of 26, that I did want to talk to the genetic counsellors just to see what my options were if I ever did change my mind.
So I’d gone to a doctor, and he said that, I couldn’t be a carrier, and I was like, what? and he said “no you can’t be it doesn’t work that way.” I was shocked and said “it does this is how the genetics of it works. You’re either female carrier or not, or a male with it or not. I was told him “I had the test and I’m a carrier”.
I caught myself and was like why am I explaining genetics with a doctor, it made me pretty angry. He basically said I couldn’t be a carrier and wanted me to have another test. He wrote a really confusing letter to the genetics team saying I need to be tested for this.
The genetics team rang me and said, “We have no idea what this letter means”. So I had to explain all over again, “Look, I’m a carrier, but I have to go through the process all over again because this doctor wouldn’t listen to me.”
Then I stared to wonder if the doctor was maybe right maybe it was a mistake, and then you get this sort of false hope of maybe I’m not a carrier. Then you get heartbroken all over again because of course, I am still a carrier. It was no mistake my doctor just didn’t understand it and didn’t listen to me, so now I have two printouts confirming I am a carrier.
I think for me, that was it really; I was never going to be having IVF.
I was in an emotionally abusive marriage with a man who didn’t want kids anyway.
Sometimes I get a bit upset, especially when you know you’re at school you see the little ones and they’re so cute you think it would be really nice. It bothers me from time to time. At the same time a lot of what I want to do doesn’t involve children. I love to travel and when covid is gone it will be really nice to think I could go places and do things again.
I just don’t think I’m ever going to feel settled enough to want to stay in one place. So I do think the way my life is that the things I like to do, like, I like to work out, I like my dogs. I like to move about. I like my freedom.
So, at the same time I’m kind of okay with how I am.
So how long have you been in Cyprus?
Last May, so about 15 months We came on holiday here and liked it and said, “Hey, let’s move to Cyprus.” So we just did. Not having children I was able to just say, Okay, all right, then why not, lets see what happens. There is so much freedom there’s nothing to lose in a way, so you can just give it a go.
You mentioned earlier the Facebook group you have set up, can you say more about it?
It’s really interesting; my whole group was about how in education systems there is such a difference in the way you’re treated if you’re someone who doesn’t have children.
When I started the group I had been looking for a group for a while but nothing seemed to fit, so I set one up.
I was really surprised how many other people felt the isolation, the double standards, and the pressure put on you.
And the assumptions put on you because you don’t have children.
I thought, you know, it’s hard enough for somebody like me who hasn’t even gone down the IVF route but for somebody who has done IVF three times maybe, or who has had miscarriages or who’s really struggling and still wants children, it’s so much worse.
The Facebook group is for both childfree and childless teachers.
You talk about assumptions what kind of assumptions do you think there are because you don’t have children and you’re in education?
That’s really hard because there are different levels really. You have always got the people asking you, “when are you having children?” or “why you don’t have children?”. Or it’s being assumed you’re not a good teacher because you’re not a parent, and that’s quite a common assumption. Conversations with other teachers always lead back to their own families and you can feel quite isolated that you can’t relate to their home life.
Then there is the assumption that you have more free time, than people who have to go home and look after children. That you can do more work or you can stay late, or you can do this club.
I don’t think that’s fair because you don’t know what someone’s got going on at home, you don’t know who they’re caring for their situation.
Its forgotten that people make the choice to have children and have this career, it was a choice they made.
It can be an assumption that you are a selfish person, or you must not like children.
So yeah in education it is hard especially as your surround by children all day. Its like a constant reminder, it’s not so easy, but you know you do it because you love the kids and they are like your little kids, they are like your little class family.
I worry about the kids I teach they become your priority and they’re the ones you’re thinking about, “did I do this right for so”, and “is so going to be okay”, “was I too hard on him today?” or, “I really need to get him to think about his writing better”. So you become, I think quite parental in that way quite maternal in looking after them.
What has been your experience in sharing your journey of not having children with those who are important to you?
My mom is like you could just get pregnant and see what happens and maybe it will be ok.
It’s just not something I was willing to do to myself I just think the emotional trauma you give yourself from something like that if the baby has Duchenne. I am pro choice but that doesn’t make an abortion easy to go through. I just didn’t think it was worth the risk.
I go through phases where I have been quite upset.
My partner now, I think he would like me to try, but I think I’m past that.
“Why don’t you just try?” gets quite frustrating, because, I am okay I don’t feel like I need a baby or a child to complete my life.
I am also not really predictable; I think my family have just come to accept that now. If say things like I am moving to Cyprus, they’re like, okay, because they just know that’s what I am like. I have done it a lot, I moved to New Zealand, and I had never been there before. It is so different from them and their lives. I’m scared of everything don’t get me wrong, I’m terrified of everything but I just do it anyway. Life is too short, so I just do it scared. My Mum spends a lot of time saying “just come back, you can stay with us, you can get a job and then buy a house. I say, “it’s really not me though, is it?” Why would I do that? She just doesn’t understand why. In Cyprus you don’t earn a lot of money; you struggle to get through. And she says, “why would you want to do that?” I reply, “because of the beaches, the sun and I live in the mountains!” With Covid I was worried about work and she said, ”just come home”, so I said “So I can come and stay with you with my dogs.” She’s said, “you can’t bring the dogs.” “Okay, why can’t I bring the dogs?”She said “I am not having three dogs in my house.” This is interesting because if my brother said, “Can I can stay at your house with my kids?” What would you say to that? Because that would be okay, but because they’re dogs, that’s not okay. She said, “You have to learn to be responsible at some point. You should get them rehomed.” “How is rehoming my dogs responsible?” And then I sort of tried to say “Look if these were children” She said “but their not” “But, you know I can’t have children so this is what I have instead. So why is it different? If this is all I can have? Why? Why is it different? Because it wouldn’t be if I had three kids, you wouldn’t say to me, the two that you adopted, send those back.” I’m not saying animals and children are the same, I’m saying it’s a different choice but why is my choice less valid? So when she says now about coming back, I just say you know I can’t its not an option. So I just shut it down, because I just think, well, I’d rather stay here and struggle on with my dogs.
I wonder has it impacted relationships with those around you, in the past and to this present day?
To be honest, friends, I’ve got that have children have been really positive. And they haven’t left me because I don’t have children and they do. I mean your relationships do change with people because they assume you can’t relate to what they’re talking about. I think I would have got closer with certain people, or made more friends, if I had children. I think I have fewer friends but more of an online life in a community of women without children. I’ve made relationships with people of different ages, I’ve got friends who are older because their kids have grown up or I’ve got friends that are younger, because they’re not at that stage in life yet.
Do you think it’s harder to establish new friendships?
I think that there really needs to be a better online space to make friends in your area without kids. I don’t really know what the solution is. It’s great because you can zoom with people. You know, I’ve got friends all over the world that haven’t got kids, which is great, and they’re really supportive. But when you just want to go and have a coffee with them, have an actual face-to-face conversation, having them in the same vicinity to say, “hey, should we go and do this together?” You haven’t got that. So that’s what’s hard about it.
Do you feel not being able to have children and being a carrier of Duchenne has impacted the relationship you have with your body?
Because of the Duchenne I’ve always been quite critical of my body anyway. Because I am a carrier, I am supposed to have bi annual heart checks because it is a muscle wasting condition and they don’t know enough about the impact on carriers. They want to study me a little bit and my heart and things to see what my progress is like and to see if I do start having symptoms. I have very big calves and have always found exercise really hard. I trained as a personal trainer, but a lot of that was because I wanted to understand my body more. But what’s interesting is because of the Duchenne quite often somebody will tell you to do something and you think you’re doing it, but that’s not what you were doing at all. I don’t know if it is because I’m not having children, but I’ve always had body Dysmorphia I was always very conscious of my body not being good enough. I was anorexic as a teenager and I don’t know if it’s anything to do with not having children but the thought of having a baby just makes me want to hold my stomach, I don’t like the thought of it. I worry about not having the perfect body because I don’t have kids, I don’t have that excuse, my body should be perfect. There is that pressure because you have time to be in the gym every day; you should have the perfect figure. It has taken me a long time: I try to do intuitive eating now because of it. My weight has fluctuated and people will comment. I think all women get comments on their weight anyway, but I do feel pressure because I haven’t had kids.
What has been the most challenging part of your experience?
I think society and your own family are the worst. When my brother had his son, my Mum actually said to me “But it should have been you.”
And you just think “You of all people know the situation I’m in, and why I don’t have children, so why do you think, to keep continually reminding me is somehow helpful?”
When people ask you, there is that shaming feeling when you have to say no.
But the one that gets me more than any is that you won’t feel real love, you will never understand real love.
I think maybe for you, you needed a child to feel real love we’re all different.
I feel real love towards my dogs that’s an unconditional.
I think about the kids in my class and how sometimes I’ll wake up at 3am and worry about them.
I think, you can’t tell me that I don’t know, real love.
Sometimes you get told you’re selfish, I don’t think it’s selfish to not have a child. It’s about understanding that actually for me that isn’t going to work so surely it’s more selfish to have a child.
I used to find boundary setting so hard, saying no to people, especially at work, you know, they know I don’t have any children at home. Also in relationships I think I have really struggled. I have experienced bad relationships because of having no boundaries. I thought I wasn’t good enough because I couldn’t have children. I use to think at least this person will accept me even though I am not able to have children. So I better do whatever they want me to do. I didn’t really realise that’s not how it works. But having the feeling Oh, well, you know, at least I found a man that’s is okay with this and it will be ok as long as he stays with me. Then realising what was I thinking? Am I not worth as much as anybody else? I do believe that you are who you are because of your experiences.
So can we touch on the positives? What are some of the positives that you found not having kids?
I think there are so many things and I don’t want to take them for granted. Just being able to get up and go wherever I want, whenever I want, and go for a swim in the sea, or, you know, binge watch Netflix, or, I can spend more time doing the things I want to do. Starting new hobbies and learning languages and doing all their courses I want to do. I did a self confidence course because I realised my self worth was really low and I think a lot of things that bothered me about not having children were because I felt judged by society and I felt guilty and I felt this shame because I didn’t have children.
So I did this course in self confidence, I think something within me just snapped because it made me realise that I was going to be happy, whether I had kids or not.
Once I realised that it was all about me and I could change it, move forward, I was able to find my own happiness I was all right.
I’m not a victim of my own choices. I’ve chosen this route, I have chosen this path, so I’ll own it, and that sort of changed my life and then I started life coaching.
I was thinking about helping teachers who were stressed, then it occurred to me one day “Why don’t I help, groups of like minded women without children.”
I thought a lot of women may feel like they don’t know what their purpose is without children, so maybe my purpose is to show these other women that they can get through that and it can be happy, because if I can do it anyone can.
I definitely spent a good 10 years of my life, not really knowing what I was doing or why or what I was going to do. Even what my purpose was whether I was a real human.
I used to see it as people walking on a glass ceiling above me. I couldn’t get to them, because everybody was worth more than I was. So, I didn’t want anyone to feel that way. So I just thought maybe my purpose is to help other people get through that time. So, it’s my new mission in life.
It also just gives you the time explore who you are as a person which is nice.
If you can change one thing about how not having children is viewed what would you change?
When people who are trying to help, they don’t help things by saying “like oh you’re really lucky”, Oh, your really lucky to not have kids in this lockdown.”
But you don’t know how hard it is for the people who would desperately love to be in your situation.
We are all looking at each other and thinking about how nice it would be to be in everybody’s lives.
Anotherhood is about connecting women with shared experiences. So I wonder, can you share anything that you found that’s helped you embrace your life without children?
I think what helped me was the realisation I was only going to find happiness through me. I was only going to get happiness from within. When my brother died that was huge, it was really awful. This is the 12th year, it was just this week actually that we lost him and this is the first year I didn’t spend the day feeling sad. I remember thinking, oh my god, I don’t want to forget him, but still it’s a corner turned. I remember that changing my life massively because it made me really think about how lucky I was I’m only here because I’m female. If I was male, I’d have been dead, what over 10 years ago. That opportunity to be alive is amazing, it really changed my life and made me think about all the things I wanted to do and to do for him and experience for him because he never got to. It was a tragedy, but I really think because of that I’ve really embraced life and not being scared of things and done things I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise because I don’t take my life for granted. I think a lot of people take life for granted and my brother just made me realise how special it is and how you want to live every day, for the moment and just to appreciate everything you get. I try and do gratitude every day and think about how lucky I am to be here. I always feel like he’s here with me, living through me and seeing all the things I see, and I try and make it a bit exciting for him. I have done a lot of travel adventures for myself and that’s really helped me because I’ve met so many nice people that way. I’ve done things that I never thought I would be brave enough to do.I climbed Kilimanjaro with some of the kids from work, and it was amazing. I think just doing things like that, getting up and going to China to do a charity walk by myself without knowing anybody. I can look back on it and see I grew in confidence over those days. It made me realise that it didn’t matter where I went; it was okay to do things on my own, being alone wasn’t bad. I was always going to meet people and it made me realise that I am the kind of person that can get on with more or less anybody. I’m always going to be okay. So that was helpful. And my dogs, they have really helped me as well, I love my dogs.
Louise Facebook group is called Childfree Teachers
If you would like to find out more about Duchenne muscular dystrophy just click here.