I remember the dead air between us after my dad asked me this question over breakfast the day before I got married. I remember not being strong in my answer that I knew was strong in my heart. I just looked down and mumbled, “I don’t think so.” My dad chuckled and said, “It’s a big decision, and it’s your choice. If you don’t want them, don’t have them.”
I come back to that conversation a lot as I’m regularly asked about my baby-making plans. For years, it was second nature to answer: “not yet” to avoid the inevitable shame I would feel if I answered honestly.
From the moment we’re babies, girls are given baby dolls. We have play kitchens. We play house and push our dolls in strollers. We’re frequently peppered with statements like: “You will understand when you are a mom one day.” Then, as we move through our 20s and 30s, we’re asked: “How many kids do you want?” But there wasn’t a single moment when I thought “I can’t wait to be a mom.” It’s that simple. I never wanted to be a mother.
I’m now 42. I still haven’t changed my mind, and at this point, I’m certain I never will. Now, the question I ask myself is “Why does everyone want me to have a baby?” In fact, this past year is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to confidently say out loud, “I’m childfree by choice.” This is, in part, because I am noticing an ever-so-slow shift in the conversation. Lately, specifically because people have noticed gender inequality that COVID-19 life heightened, I’ve noticed childfree podcasts and podcast episodes popping up, Instagram accounts gaining followers, and published media articles that either celebrate the decision to live childfree or examine why it is happening.
I realize I’m writing this blog from a place of privilege. In some countries and places in the U.S, women aren’t given the choice. But also here in the U.S., we’re empathic about reproductive rights. We’ll hold up our “my body my choice” signs at protests. We’ll don our pink hats and march for hours through the streets. We’ll be appalled when we learn that Britney Spears is forced to have an IUD, but the moment a woman gets engaged, the signs come down and the pressure we feel growing up becomes overt and questions regarding plans to “make a family” become more frequent. Our society has made it clear: if your choice is not to bear and raise children and your particular body has the means of which to do so, your choice is a mistake.
Isn’t deciding to birth and raise a child the most fundamental reproductive and life-changing choice we can ever make? Why don’t we encourage girls, starting at a young age, to explore different life paths, and not assume that one day they will or will want to become mothers—and normalize the choice not to do so?
I love my life. I have a strong marriage, a great group of friends, and a job I love. I have hobbies like (novice) gardening. I love to travel, run, and practice yoga. I’m a godmother. I’m an aunt to my two nieces and a sister to a man who loves being a father. I’ve built a career working on behalf of children’s education and health. I’m a lifelong volunteer. I have an adorable dog and 16 plants, although you won’t hear me call myself a “dog mom” or “plant mom” because again, why must women be moms?
I’ve purposefully built a life I love, and I know that should I have caved to society’s traditional pressures, I may not have this.
While navigating through life in the U.S. as a married, childfree woman can be a lonely path, I’m proud that I made this choice. I’m grateful for my family and friends who over the years have encouraged me to do what makes me happy.
Not every girl and woman has that support. What could her life look like if she did? It could look like what she—herself—dreams, not what our society dreams for her. That could be a life with her own biological children or not. Either path is valuable.