I Am The Death Of My Family

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I used to think that my grandmother was immortal. She and her two sisters, the holy matriarchal trinity of my family, are well in their eighties, but looking like they just passed fifty.

They have survived a war, being poor, abusive relationships, incredible grief, the patriarchy, life-threatening diseases, capitalism. No matter what life threw at them, they kept their chins up, marching into the future. They were invincible.

Until they weren’t. And this glorious illusion of resilience was broken into pieces.

The Day That Changed Everything

My grandmother learned how to use WhatsApp last year, during the pandemic, when she could not see her sisters or her two sons in person. It might take her half an hour to type a reply to my text but she does so with grace and a lot of emojis.

Now I am on a video call with her, four-thousand kilometers and half an ocean between us. Me, sitting on the volcanic island I made my home and her smiling at me from the rehabilitation center in a town in western Germany.

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She has always been petite and her hair is still perfectly made, the makeup on point.

But all of this cannot hide the fact that she is beyond skinny and pale like she was worn out by the sun.

Two weeks ago she had to undergo a massive surgery, removing cancer and with it a bunch of her organs.

There is a stoma bag attached to her body now and after this long period of pain and suffering, she is weak.

The first doctor she saw told her she would not survive this tiny spec of mutated cells that was clinging to her insides. Now, she is on the way to recovery, head held high, her hair freshly painted in a glowing copper color, like always.

And yet, my heart is shattered on the floor, never to be whole again.

A painful mix of anticipatory grief and guilt form a hurricane inside my soul, roaring and tearing at my heart. I know now that she will not live forever. This time it was close, too close.

And it triggers something in me. Because I know that I will be the end to this family of mine.

An Uncomfortable Truth

If you think now that I am about to commit a crime, do not worry. The reason I will be the death of my family is way simpler but maybe just as controversial as murder. I do not want to have children.

Every time I dare to say these words out loud, it opens the floodgates to a discussion, questioning my reasons, questioning my sanity, questioning my choices.

As if my body was public property, other people speak to me about how I will change my mind eventually, how I will die alone, how I, a cis woman, was made to have babies, and how my life will be pointless without a child.

It is incredibly hurtful to say these things. It is disrespectful to me as a person, but it is also immensely ignorant. Is a person who cannot have children worthless?

Is the life of someone pointless who always wanted to become a mother but didn’t?

How about trans people and people who do not fit into the gender binary? What about same-sex couples? And no, it is not “different”. It is the same topic, the same question.

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Selfish, Lonely, Irresponsible

Are we only on Earth to reproduce? Not to make art and love and sing and dance and garden and travel and explore? Is the only reason to have children to give your own life meaning and to not die alone?

Do you ever ask those questions to men or just to someone like me, who you assume has a functioning uterus?

Save your breath, I know the answer already, as no one ever questioned that relative of mine when he got a vasectomy when he was 20.

I know, because no one told my uncle that his life is worthless as he remained child-free. I know, because no one ever looks at my partner during these discussions, even when he is right beside me and expresses the same desire to be child-free.

People, especially cis women, who decide to be child-free by choice are often called selfish.

But I wonder if someone is really selfish for simply knowing their own boundaries and dreams?

Is it not rather the person who raises children with the main intention to not die alone? Is it really responsible to load the burden of giving meaning to your own life on the shoulders of your kids? Why are all your arguments always about what parenthood will do for you?

But I do not question your motivations when you tell me that you want to have children. I do not ask if you are in a good place to raise another human, financially, mentally, physically.

I do not point out that judging strangers like me over such simple topics will lead to judging your children and therefore making them feel unwanted and unloved at some point in their life.

I am simply happy because you made your choice and will explore this side of you. It is your own decision and none of my business.

Is It My Duty?

I know my grandmother is waiting. Waiting for me to get married and start a family on my own.

After her two sons, it would be on me to become my own matriarch and prove my strength. She would never say that, of course, but I know that this is the expectation.

I do not have the heart to tell her that it will very likely never happen. You never know what life has in store for you, but I never had the urge to become a mother and I don’t think this is going to change.

Still, there is this guilt. Not only from society and the never-ending discussions. But mostly from this invisible glooming truth that has been hanging over me like a guillotine. If I do not have children, my family tree dies.

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I am the only person of my generation. I do not have siblings or even cousins.

One day, after I have attended the funerals of everyone that raised me, there will be no one but me. I will bury my family and one day, when it is my time to leave, I will be the ancestor to no one.

Our names, our genes, our stories, buried beneath the earth with no one to pass it on. No legacy, no descendants, just the silence of bones.

The True Meaning of Legacy

To be honest, I do not know how to feel about this.

As an author, my name will be passed on in my work and my art. But is that enough? Does it even matter if we create a legacy with climate change on the horizon? Is it my duty to continue the family line, when so many of my relatives have chosen not to?

If there is something I learned from my community and all the forgotten and outcast queer kids in it, it is that family is not limited to your own bloodline or children.

You can create family, and therefore also legacy, by simply being who you are and showing up for the people you love. There are so many found families out there that have nothing to do with pregnancy, giving birth, or being a parent.

With my work towards creating a future of recovering nature, equal rights, and more creativity, I am already contributing a big part to what I would like to pass on.

I do not need to become a biological mother to create something incredible and be a nourishing being. I do not even need to be remembered as an individual.

Legacy is more than your DNA or your name. Legacy is actively creating the future you will not be a part of anymore.

Some raise children, so they can walk the Earth after them. Others create the Earth so that children can walk on it. Both are worthy, both are important.

My family tree might not be extended after me. 

But the strength of my ancestors, the resilience of my grandmother and her sisters, the ambition of my father, the joy of my uncle, and the kindness of my mother will flow into the plants I seed, the animals I care for, and the people I welcome into my life.

The love I give, in whatever shape or form, will continue on because death is simply a transformation into something new.

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Tasmin Hansmann is a storyteller, poet, and writer. She is the author of "The Anatomy of Waves" and "Welcome Home Dear Soul."

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.