Updated: Jul 12
I am happily child free, by choice.
There are endless reasons that a women might not give birth to a child. There are many conditions that affect fertility, physical illnesses that makes it too dangerous or, for trans women, an inability to become mothers naturally, to name just a few. These challenges often, rightly, elicit concern and sympathy from others, but there is one reason that seems instead to invite derision, personal (and often inappropriate) questions and sometimes even anger - choice.
There is an expectation that all women want to be mothers - even sometimes that the act of (or possibility of) giving birth is the definition of being one. I find this hugely problematic and, frankly, pretty damaging to female identity. I am 33, a cisgender woman, with regular periods, a wonderful long term partner with whom I live and a healthy, steady income. For all intents and purposes, we are ready to be parents - except that we aren’t really sure we want to be. This is really challenging to discuss openly because, for some reason, people seem to find it threatening - other women in particular. I don’t mean ”expected” in the Victorian sense, but rather that everyone seems to just imagine they and everyone else will have children by their 30s. Most people do just that. Most of my friends have great careers, friends, marriages and have now started to have children - I am delighted for them, and I adore their little ones, but I’m just not sure I am keen myself.
In my late teens and early twenties, I was sure that I would have children, but as time has passed (and my eggs aged as everyone keeps telling me), I feel less and less inclined. It has taken me a little by surprise to be honest, especially because I feel excited and confident about my future, which I know will include all sorts of marvellous things, children or no. I know that some people will be screaming at the screen that having children is the best thing that ever happened to them. I don’t doubt it. Others will be saying that I will regret it, or that I will regret it in 20 years. Maybe I will. But maybe I won’t, and what would that life be like? It's not something we are encouraged to consider.
There are so many questions that people throw at me when me or my partner are pushed (through the baby making inquisition that inevitably happens after 30) to say that we aren’t sure we want children. People are endlessly asking if we are thinking about having them - always commenting on our ages and even suggesting that we should urgently freeze our eggs as if they are about to curdle - and people often say it in the same breath as telling us how awful it is that people ask others about their fertility all the time. Pretty personal, and, in my view, it’s generally best not to ask about people’s baby plans - you have no idea what they are going through. For those that do ask, they often find our views completely incomprehensible.
For example, one thing people find hard to comprehend is that I find children completely engaging and hilarious. I truly adore them and often go out of my way to spend time with friends' children and my partners nieces and nephews. I spend ages thinking about the best gifts they might like for birthdays and Christmas and I even volunteer to do the theme park trips that others (even their parents!) might dread. Not liking children isn’t the reason I don’t really want one.
Others say, ‘oh, but you would be such great mum’. Yes, I know. I know I would be a superb mother - I already am a spectacular dog mum and I know I have the appropriate loving attributes. But surely that isn’t the best reason to have a baby. I think I would be a really good farmer too, but I have no desire to go and buy a farm.
Others will say I am a ‘career woman’ but I am sure I could have children as well as my career, as many women do. It really irks me that we would never call a childless male a ‘career man’ and yet me not desperately wanting to have children automatically makes me an über ambitious female professional, who is so ruthless that I can’t let a toddler get in the way. It’s true that I have a great, great life - my dream career, a fab partner, a group of close friends and enough money to travel and buy what I want, and maybe that does contribute to my lack of desire to bring a child into the world. But whilst I have no doubt that whilst my life would change with children, I am sure it would be enriching in others ways - IF that is what I wanted to do.
That said, I do worry about the long term impacts of being a mother - what if my children have huge life challenges, like a life altering addiction, for example. What if the world continues on this trajectory of societal and environmental decline? Isn’t it selfish to bring a child into that? If people do consider these issues, they don’t seem to stand in the way of procreation, and frankly if they did, no one would have children right now, so nature is rather cleverly keeping the species going. I can only conclude that whilst I worry about this, others don’t because their urge for children is greater than these risks.
People often see it as an exciting challenge to persuade me how wonderful childrearing is, telling me that the sleepless nights and nappies aren’t so bad. That isn’t the reason I don’t want to do it - I do love my sleep, but if I really wanted children, that wouldn’t cross my mind. Some people can also feel like it’s an affront to their decisions or that you perceive their life is filled with awful drudgery. What other people decide to do doesn’t cross my mind and I generally think their lives look wonderful, even if there are hard parts - but that applies to all of us.
Which leads me to the central reason that I don’t I think I want to have children - it seems to me that if I really wanted a child, hormonally and in my life plan, my body would be telling me to get cracking and I would be desperate to have one by this point. So many people tell me how they desperately want/wanted one, feel/felt an overwhelming urge that overrides all worries you might have about ruining your life. They tell me they had reached a natural ebb in their career, felt there was something to be added by creating another member of the family but for most, I think there was an urge that was out of their hands and in the gift of mother nature. I don’t have this urge, so should I really just do it anyway? Surely not wanting one (at least right now) is a good reason not to? Can I really have a baby that I actively don’t want at the moment, just in case I regret it in 20 years (another reason people often give me)? We don’t make any other decisions like that (at least I don’t!) so why this one?
Trying to find answers to these questions in itself is challenging. I have approached this in the same way I do most other areas of my life - research and a little obsession. Unsurprisingly, I have found that the only representations of childlessness, almost everywhere, is from people who regret not being able to have children. The other voice is from the people who had them and completely adore them (obviously). What is missing are the experiences of people whoregretted having them (obviously not something most people admit, let alone publish on the internet) and people who never wanted them and never look back. People just don’t talk about it. Someone who desperately wanted children but was unable to have them is not comparable to my situation, because of course they will regret that, but my situation is one of choice. Recently, Kathy Burke presented a mini series on channel 4, in which she refreshingly explained that she never wanted children and never regretted it for a second. It was really powerful for me, that this is a choice that can be positive, empowering and fulfilling.
It’s so important that we think more carefully about this representation - in popular culture, childless women are often bitter, child-stealing, unfulfilled spinsters who regret their lack of motherhood until they die some horrible death. Yes figures from the Office of National Statistics show that at the age of 45, 18 per cent of British women are childless. That means that nearly a fifth of the female population don’t have children, for a range of reasons, and yet we are only invited to observe this in sad, silent pity, and not ask ourselves why more and more women are living their lives without becoming mothers. I don’t rule out getting a hormonal punch in the ovaries in the coming years, and becoming a mother to a brood of 6 and loving it, but even if that does happen, I would still like to live in a society where not having children can be seen as an exciting, valid (environmentally friendly) decision.
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