Marina: "The most dangerous men are the ones who pretend to be OK with my decision but think I'll change my mind with enough time or love"

My story is in direct contrast to the overarching themes in this project, but I'm adding it for another perspective. 

I was fortunate enough to have an extremely supportive family and community, so I have encountered neither pressure nor moral outrage. Up until my mid-20's, I dreamed of having a baby and raising a clever, funny little feminist. But I have health issues and was worried about pregnancy. I considered adoption, but it seemed like an expensive and overwhelming process. That's when I realized that I was more interested in 'having a child' than 'being a parent'. Once the distinction was clear in my mind, I just knew it wasn't going to happen. Luckily, my family was very education- and career-driven and encouraged me to pursue my Ph.D. and an ambitious career. 

I joked about "birthing" my dissertation- an expensive and laborious process. Now with my student debt, I couldn't afford a child anyway, but I'm increasingly happy and certain about my choice. I'm fortunate that in Los Angeles, I have a circle of childfree friends in their 30s and 40s, without whom I would probably feel very lonely. Other people may think I'm selfish, but I've had a handful of honest parents tell me that they love their children deeply, but envy my lifestyle. 

The easiest part is my family–no pressure. My father's large family continues to multiply, but my mother's big family took a turn during her generation. With her generation, it became more important to provide a justification for why they DID want children and were ready for them. Half of her siblings had 1 or 2 children; the other half had none. I don't hear anything from my father's more traditional family. Maybe I get a get a pass because we moved out of the small town into very different lives and feel kind of foreign. Or maybe they judge me with the same standards, but are too polite to tell me about it.

The hardest part is finding a partner. I'm divorced and in my mid-30s. I'd like to get married again, and there are plenty of single men in my city who don't have kids, but many of them want to eventually. I make sure to drop it into the conversation by the 3rd date so I don't waste anyone's time. Thus, I go on a lot of 3rd dates. The most dangerous men are the ones who pretend to be OK with my decision but think I'll change my mind with enough time or love. I've ended two of those relationships already-- one of them I almost married, and one I actually did. –Marina

A: Why are people offended when I say I'm more interested in furthering my career and travelling the world than having children?

I'm a 26-year-old Photographer's Assistant and one day at work I was talking to some of my co-workers. I work for a woman, and the majority of the people that we hire are a) female and b) have no desire to have children. We sat around one day at lunch discussing why we don't want to have children/don't have children (our ages range from mid 20's to late 50's), and someone made a really interesting point: "Why are people so comfortable with asking if we regret not having children? Should I ask if they regret having children?" 

This popped into my head again while I was at my partner's family get-together. His sister, who had two children at a very young age, his mother, and his aunt (with four children from a young age) were grilling us on when we would have children. They all were surprised when we told them we weren't planning on it and explained that the field of work I'm in doesn't allow much time to dedicate to making a family. I was floored when his aunt explained that we could begin having children when I feel like I have gone as far as I can go with my job.

Why is it expected that I'll give up on my career and then have children? Why was his aunt so offended when I told her I was more interested in making money, furthering my career, and travelling the world? Does it make me a bad person that I don't want kids? –A

AAH: "The stigma attached to mental illness is as misunderstood as the choice to remain childfree."

 My story has a few different components. 

The first part starts with the fact that I didnʻt like kids even when I was a kid. I never understood why they were so mean to each other, hated school, or misbehaved at home. Instead of playing with dolls and planning my future wedding, I spent my time learning literally every single breed of dog and memorizing the entire endangered species list. I have always had more compassion and empathy for animals than for babies or children. This is often a source of tension at times when I choose to play with my friend's dog rather than hold their infant. 

The second part of my story is that my aunt is also child-free, and happens to be my role model. Growing up, I was so envious of all the trips she took, and she seemed so happy, so I always figured it was okay if I didnʻt want children either. She is now retired, has no regrets, and is living the most incredibly fulfilling life. We are very similar physically and in many other ways, which makes me wonder if the childfree choice has a genetic component. 

Another part of my story is that my husband can't have kids because of an illness when he was younger. That was actually one of the reasons I started dating him! We are perfectly happy with our life, and have nearly twenty nieces and nephews to hang out with when we get the rare urge to spend time with children. One of the misconceptions surrounding the childfree choice is that we dislike children. That is not the case at all, as there is a big difference between *liking* children and *wanting* them. 

The last part of my story is more difficult to discuss, as the stigma attached to mental illness is as misunderstood as the choice to remain childfree. I have struggled with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder since I was young, and this is the primary reason I remain childfree. I am forty years old and am just now coming to grips with this "disease" and how it has affected every aspect of my life, both positively and negatively. I never know how I am going to feel when I wake up, and I often have weeks at a time where it takes every ounce of energy I have to get out of bed in the morning. I cannot imagine having to care for a child during the really bad days. Sometimes I feel like the *least* selfish thing I have done with my life is *not* have a child so they won't have to deal with the mood swings, substance abuse, need for medication and therapy, and all the other baggage that goes along with mental illness. 

Most of my friends are parents now, and can literally not post, think, or talk about anything outside of their family unit, how this is all they ever wanted out of life. I cannot relate at all, and am not very empathetic when they complain about how tired they are. It is lonely and frustrating sometimes, as I am forty years old and my lifestyle hasn't changed much since my twenties, so I have very little in common with people my age. 

I am continually perplexed when people call us selfish for not wanting children, and tired of those sad looks I get that imply I am missing out on something. Yes, I get plenty of uninterrupted sleep at night and can take vacations without much notice or planning...but that just makes me a better employee, wife, neighbor, and friend, with more time and energy to volunteer and make a difference on a larger community and global scale. I always felt destined for something greater than having kids. I recently completed my Master's Degree in Nursing Education, and I travel at any opportunity, which continually fuels my passion for cultural diversity and global health and makes me feel like a more tolerant, well-rounded individual. I don't feel like I am missing out on anything. –AAH

JJ: "I think my mother was not so much pissed off I wasn't giving her grandchildren, but that I refused to have the burdens and lifestyle she had."

I'm 61, live in the Poconos, PA, divorced, retired Purchasing Agent for big international electronics companies. I live with four dogs on a mountainside filled with books and art supplies which gives me lot's of time to meditate and reflect on things. This project got me thinking about things I haven't thought about in years. 

I think my mother (and many other mothers) are not so much pissed off that we who remain childless by choice are not "giving them grandchildren," but that we refuse to have the burdens and lifestyle that they had. They want to see us suffer just as they suffered so they will feel vindicated in their bitching about how hard it was to raise us. My mother used to wish twins on my sister and I as a form of punishment for "what we did to her." Misery loves company.

My mother actually told me when I was a teen that she never wanted children, that she only had them because "her husband and parents expected it of her." I don't have to tell you that what a bitter, selfish, crappy, self-involved mother she was, do I? Funny thing is my sister had two kids, and neither my sister, husband, kids, or the way they way they raised the kids were ever good enough for my mother and father anyway!

My mother felt she never had a choice or a voice in the matter. I think that it wasn't until the 60's and the pill, that women even considered that they could postpone or not have kids. I don't think it crossed my parents minds not to have kids, or that having kids they obviously didn't want would screw up the kids. 

I was so afraid I would be like them and hurt my children the way they hurt me I had decided not to have kids by the time I was sixteen. Not because I was selfish, but because I was afraid I'd do to a child what was done to me and my sister. Selfish was later, in my twenties and thirties when I decided that having a job and a place to live were more important than having kids I couldn't support, physically or emotionally.

The thing I find really strange is that by law, you have to take classes and pass a written and practical test to drive a car, and if you fail you can't drive...but millions of clueless people have babies every year with no idea how to raise healthy, happy children. You have to be 21 to drink because you aren't adult enough to have a beer, but it's ok to have a baby you didn't want or plan on? 

I will have crosses burning on the lawn in no time, but I blame religious zealotry and hatred for a lot of the reproductive malice and injustice of the world, not just in America. Your religion WANTS you to have babies, whether or not you can afford them, are capable of loving, raising, feeding, housing or clothing them. We need to have more of our faith/nationality!! We need to hold the hoards of non-believers at bay by increasing our numbers!

Italy and Russia are bribing citizens now to have babies. Portugal penalizes people who have no children with higher taxes. I read an article that said, "virtually every industrialized country has financial incentives to encourage procreation—tax deductions, family support programs, bonuses for children, etc. And yet fertility rates have been declining in virtually every industrialized country." That scares the pants off religious and political leaders. When women, especially in third world countries, start saying no to kids, they start saying I want to go to school, I want a job, I want choices, I am not a piece of property. That really puts a wrench in the works. 

So you see, we who are childless by choice are a small number of independent thinkers that threaten civilization to the core. If our "mental illness," our "selfish behaviors, our saying NO spreads, it could topple the world. –JJ

Leah: "To my friends and family, I'm not nearly as accomplished as my cousins who are congratulated for doing the same thing dumb teenagers do by mistake."

I'm 30 and childfree. I served as a Naval Officer (including going to flight school to fly tactical jets) and now I'm a federal prosecutor in NYC, but to my friends and family, I'm not nearly as accomplished as my cousins who are congratulated for doing the same thing dumb teenagers do by mistake. 

When I married my ex-husband, I told him I didn't want kids. He also thought I'd change my mind. Getting a divorce was my way of freeing him from having to spend the rest of his life resenting me and freeing me from the risk of him swapping out my birth control for baby aspirin. 

I've always known I didn't want kids. A few weeks ago, my mother asked if I thought she was a good mother. I asked why she was asking, and she said it was because of my childfree status. I told her two things about why she is such an amazing mom: (1) it was thanks to her and her mother's generation that I get to CHOOSE whether or not I have kids rather than being forced into motherhood against my will, and (2) I'm happy with my life (thanks in large part to my upbringing) and I have no desire to change that. –Leah Gould

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Marie: "Even from a young age, I equated motherhood with a loss of independence."

I've always known that motherhood wasn't for me. I never played with dolls as a child. For me, make believe meant dressing up in my mother's high heels and father's suitcase and proclaiming that I was going "off to work." Even from a young age, I equated motherhood with a loss of independence. As I got older, I wasn't shy about disclosing that I didn't want children, but that information was generally met with some form of, "you'll change your mind," "you just haven't met the right person yet," or "but who will take care of you when you're older?" Luckily, those arguments never came from my parents, who were older when I was born, and seemed to understand that I didn't have the maternal instinct.

Eventually, around my late 30's, the arguments mostly stopped (though they were sometimes replaced with pitying looks, as though I'd squandered my childbearing years and was now paying the price). I'm now in my early 40's and have become even more outspoken, particularly when it comes to championing girls and young women who say they don't want kids. My niece is 13 and has been saying she's not having kids for the past few years, much to my sister's dismay. I've recently seen more chiildfree older women publicly stating unequivocally that they don't regret their decisions, which makes me feel really good. –Marie Fisher

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

KS: " India has a very strong patriarchal culture and I consider myself honestly lucky to have liberal parents"

I am a heterosexual, 30-year-old, cis-gendered female from NJ, USA. I've been thinking seriously about not wanting to have children for the past several years. It seems like something for which I don't have any overwhelming affinity. No very good reason I would want kids, and plenty of reasons (genetics, money, the commitment and responsibility, the annoyance...) that I don't. It just doesn't seem like something that I would want to add to my life. I don't feel feel much of a maternal instinct (unless maybe when it comes to kittens and puppies?). I've heard others say this is normal, and the instinct kicks in once you've actually had a child... but again, it's just not something that I feel particularly interested in developing. 

I think I intellectually understand why others would want children, but it still always shocks me when I hear about someone's pregnancy announcement (as in, "ahh why??").

I have been dating a cis-gendered man for about 3.5 years now and we've talked about not having children. He says he's okay with that lifestyle, but I'm not sure if I believe him. I think he believes it, but I worry that he'll change his mind within a few years. In any case, he has never pushed back about my personal opinions about being child-averse.

My social circle is fairly small and very liberal (not that political ideologies are necessarily correlated with child-having), and I don't think there would be any male or female friend or co-worker that would question or judge my decision. 

I was born in the US, but my parents immigrated here from India in their late 20s. India has a very strong patriarchal culture and also veryyyy much attributes value to a female for getting married (early 20s) and having children. I consider myself honestly lucky to have liberal parents (relative to other Indian immigrants). They have never pressured me to get married or have children and think it's up to me to decide what life choices would make me happy, as long as I am being a generally moral person. This has really freed me from a lot of guilt and pressure that I imagine other ladies may feel coming from their Indian families. It gives me one less factor to have to worry about as I think about this decision for myself. 

I still do feel kind of like a selfish lady. Even though I know I shouldn't. –KS

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Gretchen: "The only thing I want in my uterus is tumbleweed...and my IUD"

I like to say that the only thing I want in my uterus is tumbleweed...and my IUD. I'm forty-six, financially stable and in a long-term strong marriage, but there's no way I'd bear a child, and I've known that since my late twenties.

I share some reasons for not wanting to bear children with others. Like many, I'm terribly concerned about the environmental impact of children, especially in the Western world. We are severely overpopulated now, and I can't contribute to that in good faith. And because environmental impacts are changing the planet, I also fear the kind of world I would be handing over, the irreparable damage I would be leaving my child to grapple with. 

My quality of life is lovely and balanced now, too. I enjoy the work I do as a writer and activist. My work as an animal advocate is essential for me. I also thrive on quality time with my husband and friends. And I love the fact that we have the time, money, and flexibility to travel internationally, adopt numerous rescue animals, make significant donations to worthy causes, take in art and performance, relax deeply, and support others in need. 

But the most important reason I will not have kids is an unusual one, though I'm always puzzled that it's atypical. It is simply this: While many feel that the joys of life balance out the pain—at least at certain times of their lives—others simply do not. We wake up day after day after day and deal with what we are handed and what we create. For some, these factors make life itself deeply burdensome. Whatever the cause, the struggle can cause people to lash out at each other, to close off to themselves or others, to end their own lives, to feel profound loneliness, to suffer. 
Because there is no way to determine whether a child of my body would want to be here, I simply cannot make that enormous choice. It would be hubris for me to think I should dictate that he or she must BE, must spend 90 years grappling with life, because I said so. – Gretchen Primack

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Gracie: "Even if I was healthy I still would not want children. I have never had the desire"

I'm 25 with many health issues, including a somewhat rare genetic disorder, hypogamagolemia which makes my immune system basically nonexistent. I used to be paramedic then became a nurse but I had to leave the medical field because of this issue. There is no cure, I find it morally wrong for me to have a child and pass this on. My lifespan is estimated to be shorter because of this disorder. I'm constantly ill.

Furthermore I just have never liked children, they make me uncomfortable and even when I was a kid I knew I never wanted to be a mother. I also have PTSD which I am still trying to handle and am on multiple medications for it, all these medications are known for causing birth defects. If I ever got pregnant I would have to get off my medications which I honestly do not believe I could last 9 months without it. I also have a syncope disorder, when I am ill I lose consciousness even more frequently, this would make for a high risk pregnancy.

Even if I was healthy I still would not want children, I have never had the desire to have them and would rather pursue career goals instead. I have absolute no patience with children and know that I would be a terrible mother. – Gracie

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Nyx: "I don't desire to pass along my hearing disability to a child that didn't ask for it"

I've never really had that great desire to have children, and my maternal instinct is almost nonexistent. But more than that, I don't desire to pass along my hearing disability to a child that didn't ask for it. I remember how cruel children were to me growing up for being different and I do not wish it on any child, not to mention the sheer expense of hearing aids as they are not fully covered by most insurance plans on top of the expense of having children. (For comparison, the type of hearing aids that work are about $5000.00 for a pair). – Nyx

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Carolyn: "At 38, I have yet to 'change my mind.'"

At 38, I have yet to "change my mind." I've come up with plenty of reasons for not having kids, from mental health to physical health (I have a condition that can cause fertility issues, no idea if I'm fertile as I've never had it checked). The real reason however is simple: I don't want children. Never have, never will. 

I have no maternal drive, no interest in babies or small children and no desire to find out if it really is "different when it's your own child". I am constantly told I am wrong about this, as though other people know my mind better than I do. 

The only regret I have about not wanting children is an inability to really empathise with friends who do, but are struggling. If I'm "selfish" so be it. The population is hardly in decline. I think the world can easily get along without a mini me. – Carolyn

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Verna: "Growing up it always looked like fun to be our father - and not fun to be our mother"

Growing up it always looked like fun to be our father - and not fun to be our mother. My relationship with my mother was difficult from the beginning. She was a rage-a-holic and I was her main focus . My point of sanity was in not having children. I never wanted to replicate in any way, shape or form the dynamics my mother and I shared. My mother was a doctor and very much of and in the world. I got married quite young - age 22 - and it was my mother who encouraged me not to marry so young, and not to have children unless it was something I felt I deeply needed and wanted to do.

It was not. 

When I married I now realize that neither one of us talked about having or not having children. It was not a discussion. Then eventually it became clear that we were not moving in that direction. Brad was a sculptor and there was never enough time for his work.

My life was predicated on being childless – the work I did, the career I had – none of that would have been possible with children.

I am an Aunt and it is a role that is extremely important to me.

For my nieces and nephews, they and their parents are the inner circle. They may feel like my inner circle however I am not in theirs. – Verna

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.

Kamalamani: "It never occurred to me that I wouldn't become a mother"

It never occurred to me that I wouldn't become a mother. "I'll have kids by the time I'm 30" I would say when asked. I was 27 when I realised – with a jolt – that I had a choice. I was shocked that I'd been so shaped by pro-natalism that I hadn't even realised I had a choice, despite being an independent woman. So I decided provisionally, just for a year, that I wouldn't have children. I wanted to see how it felt and consider other pathways. That was a disorienting and liberating process! I began researching the subject of elective or voluntary childlessness – I worked as an academic back then.

Turning 30 with no children felt fine; I had a rich working life and a deepening practice of engaged Buddhism. Two years later my best friend Vicky shared the happy news of her first pregnancy. That night my dreams made it very clear that I wouldn't be becoming a Mum - my decision finally made itself. The research morphed into my second book 'Other than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind,' published by Earth Books last year, aimed to support others in this decision-making process.

I feel very fortunate to hold spaces and meet those who are childless by circumstance, happenstance and loss, as well as the childfree by choice. I am finding ways of bridging between the childless and childfree – there's often a huge grey area between the two groups – given that we face the same pronatal forces and are unhelpfully stereotyped. I've lately been encouraging the reclaiming of our longings and legacies as we take our places and become more visible – I long for the day when we're no longer judged because of our choices or circumstances around procreation and we're freer to narrate our own stories. – Kamalamani Palmer

Do you have a story about navigating the choice not to have children? Share it here.