Choosing childlessness

As a younger teen I often bragged that I would never get married and certainly never have children. Mostly, I got a kick out of making controversial statements. I also considered myself a feminist (still do) and naively felt that this was at odds with pursuing family life. But mainly, I saw marriages suffering all around me, with children caught in the middle, and it scared the hell out of me.

It was safer to make the joke and scandalise friends and family than to admit that wanted to be a wife and mother – as well as a writer, speaker and advocate, in whatever forms those roles would take.

But while my assertion was a more of a joke that ended up falling on me when I got engaged at 22, I know a number of women who actually do not want children. One told me that she’s sure she’d mess things up, having had a traumatic relationship with her own mother. Others have simply decided that it’s not what they want for their lives. Whether that’s because they doesn’t want to lose independence or freedom or for some other reason, I don’t know.

I’ve always had a certain admiration for women who choose childlessness. Even if they don’t stick with it further down the line, it’s a decision to be honest with themselves and the world about their lives.

And I think it’s a bit unfair to dismiss their views with: “You’re young. You’ll change your mind.” Surely this goes both ways – except that women who choose to have children can’t change their minds.

Still, I found myself saying exactly this to a friend who admitted again the other day that she didn’t want children. I said it off-hand, without much thought, as we passed the cake around. In fact, I’ve found myself saying it in a few conversations with friends who view things this way. It’s surprised me even as I’ve said it.

It’s almost as if I’ve developed some pregnant woman syndrome that makes me want to see others join me. It’s like a Jane Austen thing where married women are compelled to match-make others.

I realise it could just mean that I am happy and want to see my friends happy. But when did my idea of happiness shrink? To say that motherhood is what truly fulfils a woman is insulting not only to women who choose childlessness but to those who cannot have children. It’s also a pitiably small view of what “woman” is.

I’ve wondered too if I’ve said “You’ll change your mind” just because I want company. At 24, I’m the first in my circle of friends to be pregnant. I’m stepping out into the unknown and maybe I just want someone else to step out with me.

But even so, I know I’ll meet other women in my situation and I’m confident enough in my current friendships to believe that my friends see my having a baby as an experience they’re participating in too.

What I don’t think is going on is me suddenly imposing some ill-defined sense of morality on the situation. I don’t think that women “should” or “should not” have children. I don’t think maternal instinct is innate. I’m not even sure what it is.

Image: Joseph Francis


9 Comments

  1. March 2, 2011 / 12:04 pm

    An excellent and thought-provoking post. Like you, I respect and admire women who choose not to have children, who don’t feel pressured or defined by leanings towards family life. But like you, I also can’t help knowing that for me, having children has been the most fulfilling aspect of my life. So while I am happy to say that I admire women who have chosen not to have children, I’m also happy to say I admire women who have chosen to have a family and to do their best to bring up happy, confident, well-adjusted children. I don’t think there’s anything ‘anti feminist’ about that, especially if you are bringing up daughters to be amitious and compassionate. I’ve written about this in the past and was told by a psychologist that motherhood is seen as a club that only some can join – which leads to resentment. I think it’s a shame that women who are also mothers and women who have chosen a “child free” path should be portrayed as they so often are, as at loggerheads – yeah there may be some animosity there sometimes, but surely it doesn’t have to be that way? Sorry I have gone on a bit! Just some thoughts.

  2. March 2, 2011 / 12:08 pm

    Sorry meant to say I don’t think you wanting to see your friends happy based on your own experience means your notion of happiness is shrinking – you know your friends will only be happy if they follow their own way, but for someone who loves their kids, it’s pretty difficult to get away from the fact that you love them and they bring you joy! x

    • March 2, 2011 / 4:18 pm

      I agree, Linda. I admire women who make both decisions. Both come with their own sets of difficulties. And I think you may well be right about how I feel about my friends’ happiness! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Crystal Jigsaw
    March 2, 2011 / 2:17 pm

    I had my daughter when I was 30 and couldn’t have contemplated having children in my 20’s. She’s my only child but since I married my husband (her step-dad), he has very old fashioned and traditional views of womanhood and went through a phase of wanting a baby. I refused point blank because to me, having a child is a joint thing and should be shared. It isn’t just about the woman doing everything while daddy gets to play and read a bedtime story. I get really fed up of hearing about mums who do everything while the dads sit back and watch the footie. My husband would have contributed very little to childcare should we have had a child of our own; his idea of having a baby is to watch the woman get on with it – woman’s work, woman’s job, it’s the way he’s been brought up – he was born in 1949 into a very traditional family.

    Enjoy being a mum, but make sure you don’t become one who takes over.
    CJ xx

    • March 2, 2011 / 4:15 pm

      I think it make sense that a lot of women don’t start to want children until they’re in a certain place in their lives for the decision to make sense – for you it was probably 30. It sounds like you’ve carefully and wisely assessed your situation with regards to your husband wanting a baby.

      Thanks. I don’t think my husband would let me take over. He’s very keen on being hands-on – for now at least!

  4. Kylene Deosingh
    March 2, 2011 / 8:24 pm

    Maybe it’s something you’ll just “know” you’re ready for? Did you feel “ready” for it when you found out? *Sigh* I even thought I was ready for marriage until I was presented with the actual opportunity for it and I literally backed away slowly before breaking out in a run. lol.

    I think I want children eventually and I want at least one that comes from my womb and my ovum, just to see what he/she would look like. I found out I have PCOS last year so I hope I still am able to get pregnant when I’m “ready” but I feel as if I’d be missing out on something huge if I didn’t get the chance to raise a mini me, all the headaches included.

    • March 2, 2011 / 10:57 pm

      Sorry about the PCOS, Kylene. I hope that if you want kids, it works out for you, hon. x

      Actually, it’s not only younger women I was thinking of. I know a woman in her forties who is childless, married and never wanted children. So for her it wasn’t just a case of not being “ready”, presumably, though only she could answer that honestly. I can only guess.

      As for me, I desperately wanted children before getting pregnant and even when we were hardcore on the contraception, I would be absolutely gutted every time I’d start menstruating. But am I “ready”? That’s such a big question, I’ll probably write a post about it some day!

  5. March 2, 2011 / 10:14 pm

    I think it’s very brave for people to say they don’t or might not want children, although why we feel the need to announce it anyway is a bit silly. The one thing I really can’t stand however, and I’ve come across it, is people who don’t want children but then go out of their way to denounce children at every chance they get.
    I know one couple who did this to the point of being rude (making faces and shuddering every time a “child” was mentioned). Of course, they now have one child of their own who is more special than everyone else’s combined, yada yada yada. Peuk!

    • March 2, 2011 / 10:52 pm

      I agree with you. But actually the women I know who admit (and it is an admission rather than an announcement) that they don’t want children actually love their friends’ children. One of them is actually a brilliant auntie.

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