By Maia Bondici
It’s becoming increasingly common for women to choose a childfree life. Nowadays they feel less pressured to conform to the stereotypical expectations of getting married, having children and being good housewives.
In 2012, around one in five women at the end of their childbearing years, born in 1967 in England and Wales had never had children, compared with their mother’s generation born in 1940 when only one in nine chose to be childfree.
The negativity that surrounds the subject created extremely divisive opinions in society and few people choose to remain impartial. Yet science has proved that childfree lives can be an improvement, not only for couples, but for the planet as well. Experts from the World Wildlife Fund say that Earth’s population is growing at a faster pace than it can sustain life. By 2050, earth’s population will supposedly have to colonise two planets to survive because the world’s resources of food and water will not cover the needs of so many inhabitants.
“When I hear the stories of people’s struggles and insecurities at work and in life – usually as a result of the conditioning and messages they receive – I am compelled to nurture the potential lying within them. I feel this is what I am here to do”
Why women choose the childfree life
A recent study from the Open University in the UK showed that childfree couples are happier than those with children. It involved 5,000 people and it concluded that childfree couples, whether married or cohabiting were 20 per cent happier with their relationship than couples who had children.
Sepi Roshan, a 40-year-old communications expert from Australia, knew she was never going to have children ever since she was in her early teens. Along with her husband, Justin, she lives a happy life in Finland after moving away from London. Her choice of being childfree came after the realisation that there are already many people out there who need care, support and guidance. “When I hear the stories of people’s struggles and insecurities at work and in life – usually as a result of the conditioning and messages they receive – I am compelled to nurture the potential lying within them. I feel this is what I am here to do.” Sepi is now a mentor to young people who are trying to break stereotypes.
She also dedicates herself to helping women in different industries, focusing on their personal development. She thinks: “The beauty of life is the choices it holds for us. So many of us want the basic right to decide how to live our lives – to design a life that suits us, on our own terms. No one likes being told what to do and how to do it. Yet many people continue to bind them- selves and others to social norms and expectations, which reinforces stereotypical views about what women and men must do with their lives.”
While many parents might view the lack of children as a selfish gesture, Sepi says: “If you are bringing another living, feeling, beautiful soul into this world to fulfill a personal need you have, to be a parent, to love someone or to share your knowledge, then that is a selfish act. Children do not ask to be born. Children are produced because two people, through their actions, create a brand new life.”
“If you are bringing another living, feeling, beautiful soul into this world to fulfill a personal need you have, to be a parent, to love someone or to share your knowledge, then that is a selfish act. Children do not ask to be born”
The role of regret
Jessicah, Lahitou, a 33-year-old writer, editor and mother of two from the US, says her children make her feel an overwhelming love and their existence puts hers in a different perspective. While she admits there is less time for self-care and work opportunities, her children changed her life in the best way possible. Her advice to childfree women is “to really try and think through the possibility of regret.” She thinks: “Women have the unfair reality of a window for having kids, but men aren’t off the hook either. At some point, age becomes an issue for everyone, and I am wondering if there isn’t a wave of uncertainty about the choice against having kids once that window has closed.”
Regret is only one of the points that mothers usually make when criticizing those who chose a childfree life. Some people assume that couples without children are scared, selfish or that they hate kids. Laura Vetisan, a 38-year- old lawyer from Romania and mother of two says: “It’s selfish. Having children is one of the greatest gifts of life and you don’t understand the feeling until you have them.”
Dawn Keffel, an expert in couples counselling says: “Fear of loosing the freedom to do what you want is often an obstacle to having children, as is seeing so many friends and families split up.” She says: “It may be because their own parent divorced and their own experience of being children may not have been that positive.”
Being childfree can mean a lot of criticism
However, women who don’t have children can face a lot of criticism when talking about their choice. In a survey carried out by WMN of 250 childfree women, 39 per cent said they were criticised by strangers, 28 per cent by family, 12 per cent by friends and co-workers, and over 10 per cent were criticised by all three.
“Co-workers and strangers tell me that ‘I’ll change my mind and that it’s different when I have my own’. Usually people are completely shocked and taken aback when I tell them I don’t want kids”
The survey also showed that 100 per cent of the women have been criticised for their decision. Over 60 per cent of them were called selfish and 20 per cent of them were reassured that they would change their mind.
Crystalann Jones, a 38-year-old American businesswoman, says her family and friends met her decision of being childfree with a lot of hostility. She says: “Co-workers and strangers tell me that ‘I’ll change my mind and that it’s different when I have my own’. Usually people are completely shocked and taken aback when I tell them I don’t want kids. They ask me ‘How could you not want kids?’ and meanwhile I always think ‘Why would you want to?’” Even my uncle called me a ‘selfish bitch’.”
Fighting back against condemnation
While the reasons for not having children vary from one person to another, many ignore the obvious one of not being medically able to get pregnant. In the same survey, 28 per cent of women were suffering from some sort of gynaecological problem.
Tori Hodgman is a 49-year-old corporate lawyer from Australia who also enjoys doing stand-up comedy shows in her spare time. In her 20s it was expected of her to have children, but she soon found out that she couldn’t have them because of gynaecological issues. She called herself childless for a long time, until she reached her 30s and realised the term had an extremely negative meaning.
“The judging from people with kids continued until I finally reached an age where I must have looked too old to have kids. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me ‘Why don’t you have kids?’ I’d be a very wealthy woman”
Tori faced a lot of criticism from most of the people in her life. She was distressed by relentless comments from people who were apparently unable to relate to her anymore. She then decided to surround herself with childfree people and create a community where others would not judge her, a community that became her second family. Tori started a private Facebook group, which now has over 5,000 members from all over the world. “By starting Childfree Chicks and then the sister group Childfree Chicks Confidential, I wanted to provide a supportive space for all childfree women where we could look out for each other and take care of each other,” she says.
“The judging from people with kids continued until I finally reached an age where I must have looked too old to have kids. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me ‘Why don’t you have kids?’ I’d be a very wealthy woman. It’s not okay for anyone to comment on my life choices. The only selfishness is coming from the people who have children.” Tori feels the childfree community is still seen as a minority in society and there is still a lot of work to do for people to respect and accept their choices.
She says: “Many members of my family and also my friends had blindly gone ahead with having kids because it was expected of them, rather than a burning desire to have children. So many of my friends with children have missed out on living their dreams. They are restricted financially and have to take care of their children during the best years of their lives when they have good health and could have pursued careers, travelled or afforded their dream home.”
“My mum has given me endless grief over the decision. She constantly says ‘but you would be such a good mother'”
In interviews with over 30 women conducted by WMN, more than half said that strangers assured them they would change their mind and that not having children was just another selfish whim. Some of these women have even had awful responses from their families and friends.
One of the child-free women, Rebecca McGrath said: “I was even laughed at derisively by strangers.” Lisa Wages said: “My mum has given me endless grief over the decision. She constantly says ‘but you would be such a good mother’.” Lena Olofson was called selfish and mean. She said: “I have had people tell me I had no purpose in life and that I was going to hell.”