Choosing A Childfree Life

Why does having children still seem to be the only acceptable option?

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So, when are you going to start having children? Chances are, if you’re a woman over the age of 18, or if you’ve been married for more than 30 seconds, you’ve been asked this question. Probably by your mum, or a friend, or even a well-meaning (albeit nosey) co-worker. The simple circumstance of having been born with a uterus seems to make everyone think that they have a right to know what you want—or don’t want—going on in there.

There are some of us who answer the above question with some variation of “never.” Cue the pearl-clutching, the shocked gasps, the exclamations of “oh you’ll change your mind!” If you’re really #blessed, you’ll be called selfish or self-absorbed. Women who are childfree by choice are shamed into thinking that their decision isn’t acceptable, or that it makes them a bad person, but I’m here to tell you that being childfree is a perfectly valid and fulfilling path to take, if you so choose. A study completed by the Office of National Statistics in 2013 states that 1 in 5 women is childless by age 45 (and that number is poised to increase).

Of course not all of those women are childfree because they want to be, but regardless, it’s time to create new social norms and stop telling women that being a mother is the absolute pinnacle of womanhood.

Deciding to Remain Childfree

I’ve never really been the most traditionally ‘maternal’ person. I grew up in a small village in conservative, rural Missouri, in a family of five children. A flautist from the age of five, I was fiercely independent and never someone who could easily be told what to do or how to think. I moved away for university, started travelling abroad, met my British husband, immigrated to the UK, and have been trying to carve out a career for myself in classical music—so needless to say, having children has never really meshed with my lifestyle. Of course there was a time growing up when I never really questioned if I’d have children, but rather, how many and when.

I was raised in a culture of assumed motherhood—women grew up, maybe they went to university or maybe they didn’t, but they always married young and almost immediately had children. But the second I sat and properly thought about whether or not children fit into the equation of what I actually wanted out of my life, I realised that becoming a mother definitely wasn’t for me.

Children are quite loud, it takes an hour to leave the house with them, they’re a bit boring,

Below, I’ve outlined some of the reasons why I decided not to have children (it gets a bit political and I know politics is a sensitive topic, but my political beliefs are an enormous part of who I am, and naturally play a large part in my decision not to reproduce).

I don’t like children

Now, my niece and nephews are lovely, sweet children, and I adore them. I also adore being able to leave them with their parents and go home to my cat and my quiet house. I don’t particularly have the patience or desire to sit and play the same games and read the same stories over and over and over again. I like talking about classical music and politics and not about cartoons or how many wheels a train has. Children are quite loud, it takes an hour to leave the house with them, they’re a bit boring, and their hands are always inexplicably sticky. I really just prefer the company of (non-sticky) adults.

Pregnancy and childbirth are horrifying

So let me get this straight: nine months of nausea, back aches, interrupted sleep, swollen ankles, and weight gain (and possibly gestational diabetes or preeclampsia or placenta previa), and you’re rewarded with a screaming, 8-pound infant literally tearing its way head and shoulders first out of your vagina? Nothing in the world sounds less appealing to me. My body is mine and mine alone, and I have no desire to be a vehicle for what essentially amounts to a parasite, only to then have to feed it and clothe it and worry over it forever.

Building my career is important to me

Women still face regular discrimination in the workplace—sexual harassment, the gender pay gap, unconscious bias that men are more suited to leadership roles than women—and often, pregnancy and childbirth increase that discrimination. Even putting aside the fact that careers are typically derailed by becoming a mother, being a classical musician is very time consuming and isn’t really conducive to having children. I don’t want to have a baby and then resent it for being the reason I had to give up my career. It isn’t fair to bring a child into the world and not give it all the love and attention it deserves. Since I’m not willing to give up my career or put my life on hold, I just don’t think limitless love and attention is something that I could offer.

The current political situation terrifies me

I’m a proud, lifelong, bleeding-heart liberal. Since around June 2016, I often have days when I wake up and think “I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t want to be born into a world like this, and I don’t want to be on this planet anymore.” There are overarching themes of xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, isolationism, misogyny, and enormous economic disparity permeating seemingly every aspect of society, and the current trend of electing politicians who don’t want to help anyone but the very richest people doesn’t look like it’s going to subside any time soon. In the country of my birth, over 33,000 people per year are fatally shot, there is currently a travel ban covering six majority-Muslim countries, and if you are diagnosed with cancer (or get into a car accident, or have a lifelong medical condition), you will likely either go bankrupt or die. Here in the U.K., affordable housing is nonexistent for a large portion of the population, people in work are having to access food banks in order to survive, and our precious NHS is on the verge of privatisation. I cannot fathom bringing a child into this world.

Climate change and catastrophic global warming are imminent

The children and grandchildren of people in my generation will acutely feel the effects of global warming. Flooding and rising sea levels will cause coastal erosion and push populations inland, crops will continue to fail because of unseasonable heat and sustained droughts, and freshwater supplies will dwindle. We could take action to slow the effects of climate change right now, but not nearly enough is being done. In my mind, it isn’t fair to have a child and then leave it with a failing planet. I also refuse to contribute to overpopulation and place even more pressure on our already-strained resources.

I love my life as it is

When I picture my life in ten years, it goes something like this: my husband and I, our cat, maybe a dog (a golden retriever or a springer spaniel), living in our dream house in Scotland—a beautiful, symmetrical Georgian country house made of blonde sandstone. We’ll have a bit of land, enough to grow some vegetables and maybe a few Christmas trees, and I’ll hopefully be playing in an orchestra.

My life with him and our little cat is everything I could have hoped for—why would I introduce something as life-changing as a baby, when I don’t feel like there’s anything missing?

Children just never show up in my long-term plan. My husband and I have a great life. We have the freedom to take holidays without having to plan child-friendly activities, we can go on spontaneous day trips visiting National Trust properties, or we can decide to go out for dinner and leave the house just ten minutes later. Also, I never thought I would get married, but I found my soulmate when I met my husband. I’m honestly not interested in dividing my attention between him and a child. My life with him and our little cat is everything I could have hoped for—why would I introduce something as life-changing as a baby, when I don’t feel like there’s anything missing?

Supporting Every Woman’s Choice

When I conducted a casual poll of the A Life Loved Facebook group, most of the women who are childfree by choice agreed with my list of reasons, to varying degrees, as to why they didn’t want to have children. There were also a few others: struggling with mental health issues and not wanting that struggle to affect a child; being on the fence about having children, but knowing that it’s better to regret not having a child than to regret a child who has already been born; fear that they’d be a “bad” mother; difficult family situations. No one justification is more valid than another.

Women who choose to be childfree are so often described as “selfish,” “cold,” and “uncaring” You don’t have to be a mum to be kind, sensitive, empathetic, and caring. Childfree women are all of those things. We care about the planet, about our relationships, about our friends’ children. You don’t have to be a mum to be selfless. Childfree women have decided to ignore the biological urge to procreate, and often for reasons beyond just “I don’t want to,” so to call us selfish is absurd.

Typically, when a woman becomes pregnant or has a child, there’s a sense of acceptance and support from society as a whole. She’s usually not asked to justify her decision or told she’s making the wrong choice. Most of us would never dream of telling a woman not to have a child, so why is it okay to tell her she should? As long as you’re making the decision that’s right for you, nothing else matters—it’s about time society caught up to the fact that some women want to become mothers, some women don’t, and that there’s no wrong answer to age-old question of “So, when are you going to start having children?”

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  • Yes, Haley, yes! While I’m more often than not perfectly comfortable with the decisions I make, it’s still always great when you realise there are people out there who feel the same way as you, and this is definitely the case with the issue of having children for me. I’m not saying never, but still being ambivalent about it at aged 35 (gasp) I’m still not prepared to jump in because I fear I may regret it when I’m old and possibly alone. And I realise as time goes on, my chances diminish, but I’m still all right with that, and my aspirations, career situation (except I can’t play a flute to save my life) and outlook are very similar to yours.

    A few years back the historian Lucy Worsley caused a furore in certain media outlets because she dared to say she didn’t want children. She talks about it here:

    I’d like to be able to live in a world where women aren’t considered unnatural monsters or pathetic cases for actively choosing not to have children. Keep fighting the good fight, Haley, and thanks for writing this. Xx

    • You’ve totally hit the nail on the head, Laura. I’m definitely comfortable with my decision, but there’s always such a nice feeling of solidarity that comes along with knowing that there are other women who are in the same boat (and who are also at the receiving end of the same “oh, you’ll change your mind” or “how selfish, to not have children” comments). Also: how incredible is Lucy Worsley? I love her even more, now!

  • My husband has had the ‘that is selfish’ comment already and I, whilst lucky enough not to have been called that yet, I have had to fend off the ‘you’ll change your mind’ comments more than once. I have absolutely no desire to have and be responsible for a tiny person. I have no desire to take a step back from my career in order to have the tiny human, whether I would return to work immediately or not. On bad days, from my own deepest, darkest critical thoughts I sometimes think ‘prove you would be a good mum’ (I struggle with self belief sometimes) then realise that would be a terrible reason to start a family! I have no doubt that those that choose not to have children would take to it like a duck to water if it were to happen and love the child unconditionally but the point is some would rather not reach that point-it is not selfish to love the life you work very hard to create.
    Excellent article Haley, well done. Why do people think they have the right to tell anyone else how they should and shouldn’t live?! It boggles my mind! Keep living your own life the way you envision it! And just because they aren’t human babies- your fur babies are/will still being/be cared for by a terrific mum and dad!
    X x x

    • The “you’ll change your mind” comments are the worst, aren’t they? Like, thank you for implying that I, an adult woman, don’t know my own mind and can’t be trusted to make my own decisions about my womb. Infuriating.

      And your point about proving you’d be a good mum is so understandable. When womanhood and femininity are so tied up with motherhood, *of course* the thought crosses your mind…I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t crossed mine before!

  • This is brilliant Haley and so articulately written. I totally agree that your decision is anything but selfish and in fact the polar opposite! A very brave, interesting, witty, open and honest article. Also, your symmetrical Georgian house dream sounds idyllic and so utterly and perfectly peaceful! (Plus far more achievable without expensive children bleeding you dry financially too!) You’re a wise, strong and beautiful woman. x

  • This is a really well written interesting article. As someone who more than once has said the ‘you’ll change your mind’ comment its good to be reminded that my choices aren’t the only ones. I don’t expect all women to have the same dress sense as me or political views so I shouldn’t expect them to have the same views on motherhood. Thank you Haley xx

    • Exactly this…the world would be so boring if we were all carbon copies of each other, wouldn’t it? Thanks so much for commenting, Joy!

      • I have never understood the reasoning behind it being selfish to not want children. Surely it is more selfish to have a baby when you aren’t committed to it or haven’t considered if you are right to become a parent. If you are sure a childfree life is the best choice then I think it is more selfless to stick to your beliefs than to go into it half heartedly

  • So well written Haley. I was really young when I had my children- whom I love and adore more than life itself- however- and my god I can hear the gasps as I write this next sentence- if I had been slightly older and maybe the person I am now- I’m not sure that would have definitely been my plan? My brother and his partner have chosen not to have children and I completely respect their decision. Although people ask me all the time when they are going to have kids and even I get defensive over their decision. As if it’s such a bad thing? As if a woman’s life cannot be fulfilled without having children? My body will never be the same again- and I hate it- having pushed two 9 pound boys out of my still- very painful at times- vagina it really does beg the question- surely there’s another way? TMI yes most probably but you see my point. Xxx

    • I love everything about this, Julie. And thank you so much for your honesty re: potentially not having chosen motherhood if you were a bit older, as this is another thing that I think a lot of women feel guilt and shame over, even though it’s *completely* understandable and (most importantly) doesn’t mean that you don’t love your children.

      And giving birth is such a physically traumatic process–I’ve often said that as soon as they can fully incubate a foetus outside the womb, I might actually think about having a baby (but then, who am I kidding, I definitely still wouldn’t 😉 )

  • Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES. No, I don’t want children and it’s nobody’s business why. However, when pushed I’d give a lot of the same reasons as you do. I’m happy to tell people it’s because I/we don’t want them, that it’s a valid life choice, and that we simply don’t like children. I hate being patronised with “you’ll change your mind” (I’m approaching 37 and confident I won’t, thank you very much) and my personal favourite “you’ll feel different about you’re on” (um, let’s not test that out… although even if I did I would have to engage with OTHER children. Ugh).

    I’ve been told that I’m selfish, that it’s my purpose in life to have children, and the mother of a friend of ours said that we were lying about not wanting children to cover up the fact that we couldn’t; people’s insensitivity never ceases to amaze me. My mum happily supports my decision (she doesn’t want to be a grandmother – nobody considers that choice for a woman!) and agrees that I didn’t like children even when I was one! She also says that having children “isn’t all that” and that she may have chosen differently, if she had felt that there were choices open to her (she had me young and in secret from my maternal family).

    Not having children is as valid a life choice as not having children and should be respected as such. I love my life just the way it is.

    Let’s throw ourselves a non-baby shower!

  • Hayley, this article is hilarious and TRUE (I feel like you’re inside my head). I’m still on the fence, having never felt remotely maternal or had any interest in children. In fact, I feel massively uncomfortable around kids and never really know how to speak to them or play with them. That said, some of my close friends’ babies are sweet and I’m beginning to understand the intensity of that mother-child bond more than I did before. It does nag at me that if I don’t have one (I’d only have one), I might be missing out on something hugely rewarding. But… Childbirth. Pregnancy jeans. Peppa Pig. Just NO. I’m turning 34 in May so I need to make some sort of decision soon, either way. Your post has given me all the reasons Against, so now I need someone to write one on the For side!

    • I was rather pragmatic in my approach to deciding whether or not it was something I wanted in life (though to be fair, I don’t think I was every really “on the fence,” and I’ve always leaned more towards not having children). Of course there are some good things, but for me, the con side massively outweighs the pro side. Also: I think Peppa Pig might be a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

  • I think I always knew I wanted kids but I did go through a phase of not being totally sure and told a few people I might not. I hated the comments then, I hate them even more now I have a kid. It’s hard fucking work, it changes your life and turns it upside down but just because I’m happy with that does not mean that the next person will be. I just can’t get my head around why that’s not ok for some people. We’re all different, it should be embraced that women and couples feel empowered to make their own reproductive choices. I really hope that will be the case for future generations and I hope I never put pressure on my children to reproduce should they not want to.

  • Oh Haley, I could hug you for writing this. It takes guts and strength (which you have bags of so not surprised it is you) to say these things and put it out there into the media for all to see.

    I have always known I did not want children since I was 14 and accepted with my first relationship that yes I might change my mind because I was still only 20 and might feel differently later, I allowed their experience speaking the respect it deserved. However, within 3 dates of every relationship since that one I have had the conversation with partners.

    HOW tiring is justifying???
    My also have the absolute privilege of looking so young and whilst I know this means all the women everywhere who have to worry about grey hairs and wrinkles can tell me to shut the hell up, this further compounds my “You’ll change your mind” experiences because I then follow this with my “No! Your not!” experiences. I also like children so will happily look after friend’s children overnight, understand the struggles of helping my oldest friend who doesn’t drive get to the soft play centre with 3 children under the age of 9 and know how to talk to children. I’ve also worked in a fostering agency for 7 years and so it’s even harder for people to understand that I like children but I love knowing when I can give them back!

    I will leave you with the worst “Why don’t you want children?” experience I had – but not in the way you think.
    When asked this question I always counter with “Why do you want children?” because I think it unfair I be asked to justify when people who want them never have to.
    The answer I was given was “Because as my mum says, “If you can fuck, you can take on the responsibility of that” What? Worst reason I’ve heard yet for having children!
    (and yes, this person was not of a faith that would mean contraception was not an option!)

    • Solidarity, Vicki. Also: oh my god, the comment about accepting having children because they’re a consequence of sex that you should just be prepared for has given me massive flashbacks to Catholic school. So many things wrong with that idea, and such an unhealthy, antiquated way to view sex.

  • Really interesting and well-written, Haley, and a point of view that we do not see in print often enough. Although I have a child and always knew I wanted to be a mother (if possible!), I fully understand and support every woman who doesn’t, exactly for the reasons you have listed above.

    Personally I have never been asked the ‘when will you have a baby’-question, and that’s because I’m disabled and people must have assumed that either my body is not able to cope with a pregnancy or that I am not able to look after a child. Talking to my LGBTQIA+ friends, they have similar experiences, they are rarely asked when they will finally have children – this pressure to procreate is tied to heteronormative values, and that sucks too.

    • Nina, your second paragraph is SUCH a good point. And I’m sure LGBTQIA+ couples and couples where one or both of them are disabled face a *whole* other set of rude, judgemental questions when they decide to bring a child into the world.

  • Hi Haley! I really like your article, it inspires a mindful approach to life. I am a fellow flautist, and also an art historian, who enjoys visiting National Trust properties. Your dream home sounds super lovely! I am a 30 year old first time mum, and I don’t agree with all your viewpoints. For example, I don’t think the solution to differences between men and women in work life is for women to stop having children. It just underlines the idea of being either a career woman or a mum. I strongly believe women can do both!

    • Hi Elise! So, I’m absolutely not arguing for all women to stop having children. Women can definitely work and have a family! But there are some careers where having a family life and a successful career is very difficult, and more often than not, one or both will suffer (because unfortunately, we do live in a world where women’s careers still typically take a hit after falling pregnant and giving birth). Being a freelance musician means long hours, evenings and weekends, low pay, and low job security. For me, I know that to be the musician I aspire to be, a child just doesn’t fit into that picture. To be totally honest though, if I really wanted children and a career, I’d do both and wouldn’t think twice about it–but I just don’t really want children. Being able to focus more on my career is more of a positive side effect of being childfree than a definite reason why I decided not to have kids 🙂

  • I’m happily expecting my first child at 38 – finally. But oh my goodness it has driven me mad that some/many people assume you are less than caring if you are not a mother. ‘As a parent..blah blah’ no, I’m sorry but horrific news stories about child abuse or starving babies do NOT affect YOU more! My childless, beating heart cares and loves just as deeply as anyone with their own brood of offspring. Also, that people assume you don’t like children if you choose not to have them. I am a primary school teacher, I love children…..please don’t assume I am some kind of heartless ogre if I don’t have my own- it may be a case of ‘not yet’ or I might just prefer not to have any, but either is OK. X

    • YES SALLY. You don’t have to have a child to have empathy for other people or concern over what’s happening in the world. That’s such a silly, unfounded idea!

  • I have really enjoyed the discussion provoked by this article so thank you Haley for putting this out there in such an articulate manner 🙂

    I have nothing but respect and admiration for women who choose not to have children. I actually can’t fathom in some ways being of child bearing age, knowing that opportunity won’t be with you forever and being confident enough to know you won’t want to turn back the clock when it’s too late. Bloody go you! And everyone actually whether you want children or not! Your life, your choice and no-one else’s! I am more than 100% with you on the notion that our wombs are no-one else’s business and I will continue to be annoyed by all of society’s stereotypes and expectations of women surrounding children. However, I feel I’m going to become unpopular by saying this, but I can’t help but be shocked at some of your word choices in this article. A newborn as being a ‘parasite’ (I understand you probably mean this literally, but a bit brutal still, no?) and children as being ‘boring’. We were all ‘parasites’, ‘boring’ and took an hour to get out of the house once! I think regardless of our feelings on children as adults, we have to be empathetic to the fact that we have all been there ourselves, albeit completely unaware of the impact we’re having on our parents at the time. I definitely support this as a reason to not have children, but at the same time, children aren’t children forever.

    I have been nodding along at your points too; I share your fears over how children can impact my career, which is incredibly precious to me, and not being able to go out for spontaneous dinners! But am I selfish for wanting children? Are all the pregnant ladies, mothers and those TTC a problem to the world in your eyes because we’re contributing to the overpopulation crisis and subjecting our children to the impacts of global warming and idiot politicians? I really do admire your political spirit because I am useless when it comes to this sort of stuff (despite studying a bit of politics at uni!!) but do you feel this is a far fetched point to make? It seems a bit utopian to me.

    I am perhaps throwing a grenade in here, but I really only want to spark healthy and friendly debate because your views are different to my own and I genuinely enjoy delving into the minds of others! This is definitely an article and a debate I have enjoyed from afar today so thank you for keeping the internet interesting 🙂 And thank you for giving women a voice on this too. It’s so important. We must never stop challenging these issues in the hope the women of the future won’t have to answer to anyone even once about their choices about what does or doesn’t happen in their womb and their lives. I hope you and Adam are able to fulfil your life plans one day – that Georgian cottage does sound rather wonderful! x

  • Thank you for explaining! 🙂 Being a musician is not the easiest job, and the practicalities are difficult to combine with having a family. And as much as I love being a mum, it is a lot of work! But I am in no way less motivated to do a good job as an art historian and musician. Becoming a mother has made me more confident, happier and mindful of how I live my life, and my career benefits from this. I have a child, but I still have other interests. I believe one can lead a fulfilling life with our without children. I really enjoyed reading your piece, and I feel inspired to treasure my life and all it contains even more. Thank you! 🙂

  • Haley this is as others say extremely well written. I am 57 (well nearly) and I have never wanted children. The gene completely escaped me. I am very happy and find my life is very rich without them. I have an amazing husband who does have two children. I love them and met them when they were little and they are grown up know, but thankfully their mother and her husband get on great with us and we have always split the childcare and my husband was always very hands on. In fact my 20 year old step daughter lives with us presently.
    I also found looking after children very boring too. I have beautiful nieces and nephew who I love but I just have no real mother like genes. After half an hour I am done with playing and doing the same thing over and over. If you want children I wish people welll but we shouldn’t have to make excuses why some of us don’t want them or in fact need them to enrich your life. I have had a great career travelling around Europe and the Uk. I wouldn’t have been able to do that with small children. I was also a nurse for a long time so I know how to care for people so am not heartless or unfeeling just in case you think wow this is a cold person.
    My husband loves that I can spend time with him and our life is very spontaneous. Thank you for writing this for younger women who struggle explaining why they don’t want kids. I have never regretted my decision ever!
    Enjoy your independance and freedom; also your quality time with your husband and friends. It’s not selfish if you are not cut out to care for children, they require total commitment life long and if you can’t give that children would suffer.

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