Being childless wasn’t my choice, but people assume it was | ABC Everyday


Being childless wasn’t my choice, but people assume it was

ABC Everyday / By Michael Barnett, as told to Kellie Scott

Portrait of Michael Barnett. He wears glasses and wears a floral shirt.
Michael Barnett says the reason he’s not a parent is “multi-fold”.(Supplied)

Growing up, Michael Barnett didn’t expect to have children.

“I’d never thought about the possibility of being in a relationship with a woman, or a man either, as I was born in 1969 and people didn’t talk about same-sex couples,” the 54-year-old from Naarm/Melbourne says.

“So my world view was parenting wasn’t likely to be an option.”

After coming out at 26, his perspective began to shift. And while Michael never felt a “burning desire” to be a dad, he was open to it.

But that openness was shut down, time and time again, as Michael shares with us as part of our series of people who are childless not by choice.

These are his words.

In hindsight, it could have happened

After coming out I found myself in my first relationship which lasted over seven years.

It was a wonderful relationship in many ways, but also complex, and for that reason parenting would never have worked.

A lesbian couple I’m still friends with now had asked me to be a sperm donor, which I considered.

But it didn’t go anywhere as they said they wanted to take the child overseas, and I didn’t want to be part of a situation where I wasn’t actively involved.

They ended up becoming parents and living locally, so in hindsight it could have happened.

I left the relationship I was in and entered into a new one, but that was not conducive to parenting either.

So having kids had come up in my thoughts, but it wasn’t something I could take that seriously.

Michael Barnett stands with his partner Gregory. They both wear dark suits, blue shirts and glasses.
Michael (right) met his husband Gregory in 2008.(Supplied: Nico Photography)

Unexpected news

The reason why I’m not a parent is multi-fold.

In the year 2000 I participated in research studying male contraceptive. As part of that I had to provide a sperm sample, and I was told my fertility wasn’t great.

That was like taking a sledgehammer to me.

I never really thought my fertility was important to me, yet felt completely emasculated when I was told that.

It was quite a shock, and it took me some time to come to terms with.

Another time I approached an IVF clinic to be a sperm donor, but they told me similarly: my sperm quality was low.

Another closed door

In 2008 I met my current partner, who I am happily married to.

But at the time of meeting, he had two teenage kids and when we talked about the possibility of starting a family together, he said he didn’t want to go down that path again.

Due to certain circumstances around his parenting role, I completely respected that.

But at the same time, it closed another door for me.

And none of it by choice. There was no-one to blame, not even myself.

Every step of the way there has been a scenario where I couldn’t be a parent, and increasingly over the years, as I’ve seen my brother and close friends have children, I’ve found I would have liked that.

My childlessness is not validated

I’m not sad, I’m not angry. In some ways I’m not even disappointed.

I just feel left out.

At times I’ve wondered if I would have had a different relationship with my parents if I’d brought grandchildren into their lives, much in the way my brother did.

What I feel most in all of this is I go through life without anyone acknowledging I didn’t get to be a parent.

Maybe they don’t think gay men want to become parents. Many do.

There is no validation.

I’ve come to terms with not having children, but haven’t come to terms with people not acknowledging that.

Family and Relationships, Parenting, Fertility and Infertility

My grandmother’s Rhodesian jacaranda

jacaranda-paintingFor as long as I knew her, my grandmother had a painting of a jacaranda tree hanging in her house.

I have been particularly fond of jacarandas all my life because of this painting, and when I see the rich purple flowers I think of her.

Living in Melbourne I see the occasional jacaranda but when I was in Sydney a few years back, I saw that the trees are everywhere, particularly on the North Shore, and they make the place look magical.

I decided to look up ‘jacaranda’ in Wikipedia and I found a photo from 1975 of the trees in Salisbury, Rhodesia. This is exactly where my grandmother lived. I opened up the photo to full size and saw a large avenue with jacarandas in full bloom, running the entire length of the street. And then I realised something.

The painting of a jacaranda hanging in my grandmother’s house wasn’t just a painting of a tree. It was a door into her life after she moved from England to her adopted country, where for thirty or so years she raised a family, ran businesses, loved and lost love, and farewelled her family when they emigrated to Australia. Despite joining her family in Melbourne in 1975 and living here until her death three decades later, my grandmother’s heart and home remained in Rhodesia.

And then my mother told me the painting was actually one my grandmother had commissioned, of a jacaranda on the tobacco farm my father had worked on. Dad told me the scene – of the tree and the distant hills – was the view from the kitchen window of the little cottage he lived in.

I realised this painting kept alive my grandmother’s connection with a life in another country, a place and time which in many ways no longer exists, and yet will always be there.

(Published in “In Their Branches“)