'Childfree by choice, happy women are still largely unseen,' says Emma Gannon

Emma Gannon is blissfully childfree by choice - much like the protagonist in her debut novel, Olive. The bestselling author and podcaster reveals how her experiences inspired her novel - and shares an exclusive extract

childfree by choice

Emma Gannon is blissfully childfree by choice - much like the protagonist in her debut novel, Olive. The bestselling author and podcaster reveals how her experiences inspired her novel - and shares an exclusive extract

Upon turning 30, quite naturally a lot of conversations with friends started drifting towards motherhood. Some friends were becoming new mothers, some were trying - and I felt like there was an elephant in the room - before I started telling everyone I didn't think having children was me. I guess I'd never thought to say it out loud before, even though I always knew deep down I would be childfree by choice.

So I did what most writers do, and turned to Twitter to source some case studies and interviewees around the topic. I found myself getting lost in a sea of emails with brilliant childfree-by-choice women who immediately made me feel less alone.

These were childfree-by-choice women who felt like they were ‘having it all’ without kids. Although on the whole these women felt happy, unapologetic, joyful and fulfilled by their choices, I couldn't help but notice that childfree by choice still felt largely unseen (in the media, books, films), and these women were regularly judged and pitied by others. They'd get a lot of : 'Who’s going to take care of you when you’re older?' or 'Aren't you worried you're being selfish?'

It prompted me to write my first novel, Olive, with a childfree-by-choice protagonist at its centre, something I'm really proud of.

childfree by choice

Emma Gannon (Photo Credit: Paul Storrie)

Before you grab a copy, here's your exclusive Olive extract:

Time ticks on frustratingly slowly. I’m still waiting for the purple line to become a little clearer. I bring the test up close to my face. My eyes cross over and blur. Why do seconds seem so stretched out when you are waiting for something important? Bea always tells me to ‘zoom out’ when I get too overwhelmed with daily life.

‘Like you would do with your fingers on an Instagram photo, Ol, just breathe and use your two fingers to adjust, in and out,’ she’d say. I often get so anxious that I can’t find a logical way out of my own muddled-up thoughts, like a spider spasming in its own cobweb. That’s why looking at the sky and out to the sea scientifically relaxes humans – because when we look into that deep, deep blue we realize we are insignificant specks.

I sometimes find my brain racing around and around like a merry-go-round, and I feel like I’m going to be sick but can’t find a way to jump off safely. Breathe. Zoom out. Switch to bird’s-eye view, Olive. Breathe. It is OK. This is a Sliding Doors moment, but whatever happens, it’ll be OK.

I hear Bea shuffle out from her cubicle, the door gently closing. When I eventually emerge myself, the door accidentally slams loudly behind me. I look over at Bea, who has red cheeks with mascara-stained tears streaking down them.

‘You OK?’ I ask.

‘It’s … negative,’ she says, sniffing.

Oh … shit. She actually wanted it to say she was pregnant? Are those tears of disappointment?

I look down at my hands cupped around the pissy plastic container. ‘Me too. Negative,’ I say. I can’t help but sound relieved. I think of Jacob then, and I try to imagine what he’d say. If I tell him.

Two women, one result, two totally different responses whirring around in our heads, I can feel them clashing in the air. I thought we were in this together, Bea and I; I thought we wanted the same thing. We always do. I feel my utter joy and relief deflate slightly. I’m well and truly off the hook – not pregnant! Yes! We can carry on living our sweet, sweet lives. Wahoooo!

But I can’t bounce up and down, I have to pretend to look sad now. Also: Bea’s reaction has really knocked me for six. How did I not know she was trying for a baby? We know absolutely everything about each other?

Pfft. This is ridiculous. We don’t want kids. We’re only in our early twenties. And I thought Jeremy was away all the time for work. She’d be really screwing herself over if she got pregnant now. We haven’t even been out of university that long, and there’s so much time stretched out ahead of us to do big crazy things before we settle down.

We have parties to attend, careers to smash, hangovers to indulge in, impromptu cinema trips and dinner parties to throw. I have a work acquaintance who has just had a baby and she says that even a trip to the cinema costs her over £50 because they have to book a babysitter on top of the tickets, snacks and car parking. Is this really what we want, so soon? Our lives to be put on hold?

After a slow afternoon back at work we go to a small bar just off Soho Square – we both need a drink after all of that lunch-time palaver. We order a bottle of rosé. Then another one. After that we end up in a dingy basement club nearby, where the barman gives us a free bottle of champagne – I lied and said it was Bea’s birthday.

‘This is the silver lining eh, Bea – if you’d had a different result you wouldn’t be able to drink this delicious ch-champagne!’ I slur, sloshing my glass around.

‘Oh sshhhh,’ she said, smashing her champagne flute into mine. Luckily they were plastic.

Part of me wanted to ask her about the test, her disappointment: why a baby now, Bea? And why couldn’t you tell me? But the bigger, more selfish part of me kept quiet.

* Olive by Emma Gannon will be on sale from July 23rd and is published by Harper Collins

Maria Coole

Maria Coole is a contributing editor on Marie Claire.

Hello Marie Claire readers – you have reached your daily destination. I really hope you’re enjoying our reads and I'm very interested to know what you shared, liked and didn’t like (gah, it happens) by emailing me at: maria.coole@freelance.ti-media.com

But if you fancy finding out who you’re venting to then let me tell you I’m the one on the team that remembers the Spice Girls the first time round. I confidently predicted they’d be a one-hit wonder in the pages of Bliss magazine where I was deputy editor through the second half of the 90s. Having soundly killed any career ambitions in music journalism I’ve managed to keep myself in glow-boosting moisturisers and theatre tickets with a centuries-spanning career in journalism.

Yes, predating t’internet, when 'I’ll fax you' was grunted down a phone with a cord attached to it; when Glastonbury was still accessible by casually going under or over a flimsy fence; when gatecrashing a Foo Fighters aftershow party was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy and tapping Dave Grohl on the shoulder was... oh sorry I like to ramble.

Originally born and bred in that there Welsh seaside town kindly given a new lease of life by Gavin & Stacey, I started out as a junior writer for the Girl Guides and eventually earned enough Brownie points to move on and have a blast as deputy editor of Bliss, New Woman and editor of People newspaper magazine. I was on the launch team of Look in 2007 - where I stuck around as deputy editor and acting editor for almost ten years - shaping a magazine and website at the forefront of body positivity, mental wellbeing and empowering features. More recently, I’ve been Closer executive editor, assistant editor at the Financial Times’s How To Spend It (yes thanks, no probs with that life skill) and now I’m making my inner fangirl’s dream come true by working on this agenda-setting brand, the one that inspired me to become a journalist when Marie Claire launched back in 1988.

I’m a theatre addict, lover of Marvel franchises, most hard cheeses, all types of trees, half-price Itsu, cats, Dr Who, cherry tomatoes, Curly-Wurly, cats, blueberries, cats, boiled eggs, cats, maxi dresses, cats, Adidas shelltops, cats and their kittens. I’ve never knowingly operated any household white goods and once served Ripples as a main course. And finally, always remember what the late great Nora Ephron said, ‘Everything is copy.’