Maythe is studying for her PhD in Edinburgh and is rarely seen without her best friend Frank her dog by her side. Maythe shares her story about deciding not to have children and how a diagnosis aligned with this decision.
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 with Anotherhood?
The number one reason is probably that I just never wanted children. I never had that drive to be a mother. The women around me growing up including my Mom and all my Aunts, they were working professionals.
No one in my family ever pressured me to have children, which I’m really grateful for.
That’s one reason and obviously, in this economy, who can afford to.
I am chasing an academic path, which, you know, unfortunately, one of the biggest sacrifices that I have to make is a stable family life. Which is not to say that I don’t feel like I have a family but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have a child and provide them with everything that they need, and also, chase my own dreams. In a way it makes me feel kind of selfish, but also I don’t want to end up having to resent my own child.
You touch there a little bit on your academic path could share with Anotherhood what it is?
Academia sucks. It’s the worst, really.
That’s not what I expected you to come out with.
It’s just like this grand dream, you know, producing and sharing knowledge, but these days, more and more I am thinking, ‘at what cost?’
I think academia is probably the only industry where you have worked in that field for over 10 years and you’re still considered a junior. I think that’s just so absurd.
People are bouncing from contract to contract, especially in in the States, a lot of my academic friends are like, “oh yeah I got another four month contract, and after that who knows what.”
There is no way for them to have a settled life. They can’t even get a dog, not to mention a child.
That’s what sucks about academia, and the academic job market is just horrendous. There are so many PhDs being done, but not enough jobs to actually turn all those PhDs into academics.
There are a bunch of people who have PhDs and who are qualified, but nowhere for them to actually do what they’ve been trained to do, which is such a shame.
It’s such a waste of talent.
Can you share with us what your PhD is about?
Yeah it’s about dogs.
They say study what you love, so I study dog-human relationships in Edinburgh. Specifically, I am looking at two streams of knowledge: I am looking at the ecologies and the economies of, the dog human relationships. For ecologies stream, I am looking at the daily habits and processes at work that go into maintaining this kind of relationship. In terms of economies, I’m looking at both monetary and financial economies because dogs cost money, and also, moral and ethical economies of how we exchange feelings and actions with one another.
We spoke recently about the role of a dog for somebody that is infertile and we got into a big discussion, I wonder what were your thoughts on that after we chatted?
It definitely got me thinking more about my existing participants and how a lot of them actually turned out to be childless women who have dogs.
I am thinking, ‘is this a trend, and if so, why?’
I think going back to why I don’t have children or why a lot of other people might not have children, especially in prime childbearing age, which is late 20s to late 30s.
Most of the time, it’s just that people just don’t feel like they can handle it in terms of money in terms of jobs. Even for people who are double income families, children are just way too expensive for a lot of the jobs that people have.
When I think about my parents and how they had two kids — obviously back then things were more affordable and they were both doctors’ in secure jobs — they didn’t have to worry about money. But thinking about people who work in service and hospitality, like, oh my god how do you afford a child. If you do, it’s such a precarious monetary position.
You spoke about chasing your academic dream, and how some of your friends couldn’t even have time for a dog
But I wonder whether if some women have got high profile careers and dreams that they are chasing, and so therefore children don’t feature because they want to chase their dreams for themselves.
I think so, what if I have a child and I ended up resenting the child, because it becomes an obstacle or a hindrance to my goals. I think that’s just such a toxic situation to be in.
I’m not saying human needs are superior, or more important than dogs but they are definitely lower maintenance than human children. I don’t think Frank will ever become such a big obstacle in my career that I’m going to end up resenting him, if anything, he is the inspiration behind my PhD project. So if anything, he is a huge help.
Can you share with us what was happening in your life when you realised you would not be having children?
I think I decided when I was nine years old that I would never be a Mom. I just never ever had that drive; I’ve never felt that kind of affinity toward children.
I have never found children cute and in a lot of ways, growing up, I felt like there was something broken about me because all of my friends would be “kids, they’re so cute, like, I can’t wait to be a mom, I really want to have kids.”
I thought ‘I never want that for me, is there something with wrong me?’
Then it became more of a final thing when I was 18.
My periods started just getting really awful, I used to bleed two weeks in a month every month. And it was so heavy, I was anaemic because of my periods, which is just not normal. I was talking to my mom, and she said “that’s definitely not normal. Let’s go see a gynaecologist.” That’s when I found out that I have PCOS.
They basically looked at me and said, “you’re going to have trouble conceiving if you ever want to have children.”
Well, for me that was great because I didn’t want to have kids.
It almost felt like a relief for me when I got the diagnosis, because it felt more of a legitimate excuse not to have children than ‘I just don’t want kids’.
A lot of people just don’t take it seriously when I say that I don’t want kids. A lot of people seem to say, “oh, just wait until you get older” or, “you’ll change your mind”, all of that.
I am like, “Who the f**k are you, like, you don’t know me, I’ve been saying this since I was nine years old, f**k you.”
Getting the diagnosis was like, oh great, now no one can really dispute how I want to live my life because I have this like medical label that I can flash around in case anyone objects to my desires.
You mentioned you thought you were broken because you didn’t want children and all your friends did, what was that like?
I thought I should want to, but just felt different because that was never something I wanted. Obviously desires and hopes and dreams are also socially and culturally contingent and yeah, I just never felt like I was comfortably within the norms of what was expected of me as a woman.
What has been your experience in sharing your journey of not having children with those who are important to you?
My partner is very anti wanting children, which is great, I am very lucky in that regard.
Some or most of my exes and I broke up over the children issue, actually.
I had an ex who hundred percent wanted children, he had that dream of the white picket fence house with two kids and this and that and I was just like, “no, no to all of that.”
I don’t want to live like, in the suburbs. I don’t want to raise children. I think also when I have had male partners, the worry was that all the responsibilities of child bearing and rearing would fall on me.
It feels like the world is just made in a way that makes women way more responsible, something as simple, as having a changing station in women’s bathrooms, but not men’s.
I have my work, I’m tired, I’m busy, I have to eat, I have to do all of this on top of having a child to look after? No, I’m not doing that.
So I’ve had breakups because of that, which sucks but also I think it’s such an unbridgeable thing in compatibility: you either want children or you don’t. There’s no in-between.
But my parents, they’ve always been really supportive of whatever I wanted to do.
They’ve always been way more supportive of me about not having kids and choosing to pursue a career instead.
I think it’s mainly because my parents probably never wanted kids either and they wanted to pursue their careers, but they were kind of pressured into getting married and pressured into having children, by society, by their parents. They were like, “let’s not do this our kids.”
I have a lot of friends who dread holiday situations because their families are always asking “are you seeing anyone, are you planning a family”. My parents never ask me that, they do not care, they’re supportive whatever I do, as long as it’s safe and responsible.
They say “Who are we to tell you what to do with your life. You’re an adult, you can make decisions for yourself, and we trust you” which I really appreciate.
I wonder has it impacted relationships with those around you, in the past and to this present day?
I think most of my friends are quite supportive. I guess it’s also because most of my friends and I are queer. What it means to be family when you’re queer is just kind of different.
Having kids or not having kids, it’s seen as more of a choice. I think in the older generation in the queer community it can be quite different, because they can still be striving toward fitting in to the normalcy of the hetero family structure.
A lot of younger queer people are saying, “this is our chosen family and I’m happy with that.”
Leaving a biological progeny behind as your legacy… it’s just never been a thing for me. I think it’s such a selfish way of looking at parenthood because its means you’re looking at your child as your legacy instead of its own entity. What kind of pressure would that put on the child to live up to something? I don’t think that’s right.
Do you feel your decision to not have children has impacted the way you view your body?
I have like a big phobia of pregnancy, not even giving birth or babies – it’s pregnancy.
I know some people are like “oh you have that pregnancy glow, you look amazing”. But I think of it like a parasitic relationship. It just freaks me out so much. It’s literally leeching off of your body.
I have never had a great relationship with my body, I don’t think a lot of women do; unfortunately, there is still a lot of social pressure to look a certain way.
I was never like a Barbie doll. And I don’t think I ever felt like my body was designed for being able to be pregnant.
My mom had pregnancy-related complications, her thyroid stopped working, she lost some of her hair and her temperature regulation doesn’t work well, so she has to take a bunch of meds every day until she dies.
Do you think is there been any real challenges for you in not having children?
So far in my life no, but I’m also just 27, maybe the challenges are just waiting for me. I think when I turn 30; people will be like, “are you not thinking about having children because you know, they say the clock is ticking”. I’m sure with age, the questions will come… but so far, no. Not having children has benefited me a lot in terms of moving countries, doing school stuff, and having a dog (Frank).
That leads me on to the next question, what’s the positives then for you in not having children? You have spoken about your career, being able to do your PhD being able to move from Canada to Scotland, being able to move freely as much as you want. I wonder does freedom really feed into it for you?
100%, when I think about having a child the scariest thing is how much it’s going to hinder my freedom. That’s why I worry about resenting my own child, because I really value being able to do what I want to do.
I think it’s also an immigrant mind-set: my parents sacrificed so much for me to be able to study, be able to like live freely. I can do these things more so than they have ever been able to. I just can’t imagine giving that up because I know what’s been lost for that.
Can I ask where are your parents originally from then?
Yeah, they’re from South Korea.
I wonder did they move from South Korea to Canada then?
We decided to immigrate when I was 11. My mom and my sister and I moved to Canada while my dad stayed in Korea to work and send money, and so our family was separated for a long, long time.
Then my sister went back to Korea to go to an international school and get an American education in Korea. When I turned, 18, and I went off to university my mom went back to Korea so all my family is actually in Korea now.
Can I ask the question, what’s the culture like in Korea then around having families? Is it different to Canada and the UK?
My mom told me this recently and I think it’s so bizarre. Because South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates, the government is basically incentivising people to have more kids, resulting in people having kids because there’s a monetary incentive. I think there’s housing being built for new families with kids, they can get them cheaper than market price. My mom is saying that because there is an advantage to having kids you get treated like you’re doing service for your country.
There are all kinds of programmes to help, but for me it seems strange.
Birth rate and women’s education are correlated, more educated women don’t want to have kids because they know what’s in store for them. I think they wonder ‘why should I let my education go to waste, why would I give up on everything that I studied for and worked for years’, just to pursue something that I was never really all that passionate about.
If you could change one thing about how not having children is viewed, what would you wish to change?
I wish I could change other people’s reactions to my not having children.
I think it’d be nice if not having children is accepted as just a normal option. It’s just one of the options, rather than an anomaly or something weird. Sometimes I think some people think, ‘oh, you’re a crazy feminist’, as if feminism is all about having children or not. I don’t even think about it as a feminist rebellion. I don’t think my decision not to have kids is as a feminist act there’s nothing deeper involved aside from I just don’t want kids.
I just wish I didn’t have to justify it as much.
Anotherhood is all about connecting with our shared experiences, I wonder can you share anything that has really helped you to embrace your life without children?
Something that helps me in my life without children:
I mean Frank, obviously, he’s great, I love him, and he’s so much more interesting than a baby. Frank definitely helps me realise that this is the kind of life that I want to live.
He is such a character, he has a personality he has his like inner lives and thoughts. He communicates his feelings in weird ways and he has little quirks.
He really taught me — this is so cheesy — but he really taught me what unconditional love means. I used to always think that unconditional love was so stupid and that everything should be conditional. But not anymore. I love Frank whether he’s being good or naughty. Like, I could be mad at him for a moment for doing something really stupid like drinking from a dirty puddle (which he loves doing. I think he think it’s like flavoured water), but that doesn’t mean I stop loving him. There’s no condition under which I don’t love Frank.
Are there any podcast/ books that you have found have helped you on your journey?
I just started getting into podcasts, listening to everything here and there. There is this one that I really like it’s called ‘Binge Mode’. It’s a deep dive into different series: they have Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and Harry Potter. They do it chapter-by-chapter, movie-by-movie, and they’re just analysing everything and it’s so fun to listen to.
I like listening to feel good positive podcasts, but I also have so many books that I love.
They are mostly all academic books but there is this semi academic book it’s its called ‘Being Mortal.’
It is about living and dying well, it’s written by a physician and it basically explores how medicine has evolved to think about death as something to cure and delay, rather than something to work well toward.
Thank you for letting me chat to you so good just to hear more about you.
Yeah, it’s good. It was fun!