10 Questions with the editors of Otherhood


Alie Benge (she/her) is a New Zealand writer who lives in London. Her debut essay
collection, Ithaca, was published in 2023.

Lil O’Brien (she/her) is the author of Not That I’d Kiss a Girl (2020), a beloved Kiwi
memoir about coming out during her years at Otago University, among other things.

Kathryn van Beek (she/her) is the author of two children’s books and the short story
collection Pet (2020), which is also available as a podcast.


Q1: How did you three find your way to each other and cook this project up?

K: Lil and I actually went to the same high school a few years apart, but we didn’t properly meet until we started working on this book.

L: I saw Kathryn a few years ago at Verb Wellington and I have a pretty good memory for names, so I was like ‘That’s Kathryn van Beek’. I said hi in passing, and that was it. Then one day, Kate Camp’s essay ‘No Miracle Baby to See Here’ was tweeted, and we were both gushing over it in the comments. I said, ‘hey, this would be an amazing topic for an anthology’. She said she’d written an essay already and I mentioned Alie’s essay ‘Mother Of’ on The Pantograph Punch . . .

A: . . . Then I saw I’d been tweeted about by people I’d never met in person, and somewhat naively said ‘Someone needs to make this happen’, not thinking those someones would be us.

L: That probably would have been the end of it if Kathryn wasn’t so organised. Not even a day later she emailed me and had already drafted a pitch for publishers. We roped in Alie, and then somehow we were doing this thing!

Q2: What are the demographic stats on childlessness and household units with or without children?

K: Fertility rates are falling across the developed world, and the number of adults without kids is rising.

L: I found some quotes that I find quite funny because they sum up some of the drive behind Otherhood. Richard Johnson, from the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. said this about a 2016 study that found fewer people are having children: ‘. . . norms have been shifting, making childlessness “more acceptable” than it was two decades ago, when childless couples were frequently viewed as odd or peculiar.’ And from a survey referenced by the Pew Research Center: ‘Most adults disagree that people without children “lead empty lives . . .” A difference from 1988, when only 39 per cent agreed that childfree people weren’t living empty, empty lives.’

Q3: Why did this book need to be written? Do people without kids still face stigma today?

K: Having kids is so normal, so expected, that the question ‘Do you have kids?’ is often used as an icebreaker — but the people who’ve asked the question don’t always know how to respond to you when you answer in the negative. So yes, there’s still a surprising amount of stigma.

L: The book needed to be written simply because we need more stories of people who don’t have children — whether by choice or not — or who have children in their lives but for whom the answer to the question ‘Do you have children?’ isn’t as simple as ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Yes, Otherhood is an acknowledgement of the heartache and heartbreak that some people who are childless have, and may carry with them for a long time. But I think we also wanted it to be a safe space for people to be able to go, ‘Thank fucking god I don’t have children, yahoooooo!’ That kind of open joy in being childfree still feels transgressive in many spaces.

A: And because we’re still being told we’re selfish!

Q4: How did you scope out the range of contributors?

K: We put out an open call for essays, and chose stories that we think will reflect a wide range of experiences. Selecting the essays was really tough, and I think we each had a couple of personal favourites that didn’t make it into the final pages of the book.

L: Yeah, sometimes I still think about the essays that didn’t make it in when I can’t sleep at night.

A: We also did the awkward thing of approaching writers we admire to say ‘It seems like you don’t have kids, is that something you’d want to write about?’ and hoped they wouldn’t be wounded by the request.

L: Most of those people were like ‘Oh hell yeah, I’ve got some thoughts on this matter!’ It was clear we’d struck a rich vein of feeling.

Q5: Why did you crowdfund for this book, and what was the process like?

L: Paying our contributors a fair amount was really important to us, and with the intention to have 30 of them we knew that we needed a good chunk of change — this is well beyond the reach of what a publisher can cover. While our Creative NZ funding application feedback made it clear that they loved what Otherhood is about, we weren’t successful. And so, with essays streaming in, we gave ourselves a pep talk and turned to crowdfunding.

A: We launched the Boosted campaign and were completely gobsmacked by the response. By the end of the first day, we had half the money raised.

K: This was my fourth crowdfunding rodeo, and it was great to do it as part of a team this time. It’s a lot of work!

Q6: Affirmation, acceptance, solace . . . What do you want those who are ‘others’ to find in Otherhood?

K: Parents naturally find communities of other parents through their kids. When you don’t have kids, it can be harder to find other people who share your experiences. We hope this book will provide a sense of community for our readers.

L: I love that people find different meanings in different places when they read a book, so I can’t wait to hear feedback. But I would love it if at least one person out there had the reaction of: ‘Oh wow, this is how I feel, and I’ve never seen it voiced before.’

A: I want people to see that there are so many ways to have a meaningful and satisfying life, even if it’s one you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself.

Q7: You three have each come to Otherhood via different routes and for different reasons. As you worked on this project, and perhaps identified with particular essays, did it help each of you in those same ways as above?

K: I tried to find some support when I was going through IVF and infertility, but most of the other women in the group I joined actually seemed to have kids! That was a bit hopeless, but meeting Alie and Lil and joining the Otherhood community made me feel ‘seen’ in a way I hadn’t felt previously.

L: Having done some of your own healing is important before you try to create or write anything around your experiences — I’ve heard Alie say before that you can’t process your trauma on the page. I probably couldn’t have done this project a couple of years ago because I hadn’t resolved my own feelings about my fertility journey enough to put it into a digestible form for readers. In my editor role I’ve had some really bonding moments with the people whose essays I edited. It’s been cool to experience the editor–contributor relationship and how it can be about helping them feel seen and heard as much as it is about grammar and structure.

A: The first time I wrote about being childfree by choice I was very uncertain and felt like it wasn’t ‘the right thing to do’. Writing a new essay for the book and hearing everyone else’s stories made me feel so sure I’d made the right choice, and I wasn’t doing anything ‘wrong’ by not having kids. That’s why it’s so important to hear other people’s stories, to see that the major narrative we’re given isn’t necessarily the only one available to us.

Q8: It’s not that easy working as three on projects such as this, especially as you were separated by vast distances. How did you manage it?

K: Actually, being a team of three made it really easy! I can’t imagine working on a project like this alone. It helped that we’re all girly swots. Lil and I brought our eldest-daughter energy to the project, and it was great having Alie in London because Lil and I would wake up each morning and Alie would have done all this work overnight like a magical fairy.

A: I would take the night shift!

L: Three was the perfect number. Even having just two people would have been so intense. But I think we’re also very lucky that we get along so well — there are constant jokes being thrown around, which we needed when things got really full on and we weren’t sure if we’d get through everything. We were also always really open with each other when we were having a stressful week and needed to focus elsewhere or take a wee break from Otherhood.

Q9: Is there a line from an essay that especially resonates for each of you?

L: I definitely remember some teary moments. But I also really love when people can make me chuckle with their writing, and there was a lot of that.

K: A theme that resonates with me is from Alie’s essay: What does it mean to live a good life? That’s a question worth pondering, whether or not you have kids.

A: There’s a moment in Helen Rickerby’s piece where she tells a friend that she doesn’t think she can finish the essay she’s writing and the friend says, ‘You must write it, you must finish it . . . women need to know that there are other ways to live a life.’ I burst into tears when I read that line because it came at a time when we were really struggling with the stress of this book, and running out of steam. It reminded me why we’re doing it, that there’s a community of people who are waiting for Otherhood, who have maybe never seen their story on a page.

Q10: And you must be proud of each of your essayists?

A: Absolutely! And not just the ones who ended up in the book. Everyone who submitted an essay did a brave, vulnerable thing.

K: These essays are all intensely personal. It was courageous of our essayists to share their stories, and they’re also all excellent writers. So I’m proud of them on both levels.

L: It’s been an honour for people to trust us with their stories. Writing about hard or personal things is a baller move that I respect immensely. I think people are going to be really moved by this book.