Suzie: “I was hassled by a mother in a cake decorating class telling me I was going to die alone”

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I got my first couple of jobs out of university thanks to maternity leave here in Canada. Right out of school, I wanted to get my career in publishing going and I got some of my bigger breaks because women would go have children and never come back. Until this started to happen, I was quite neutral about having kids. I figured I probably would some day but was not fixated on it. Then women started disappearing. Not just from work but my life. If I didn't have children and was not planning on having them soon, you were out. The ones that returned were different. Remember after Madonna had her child? She was a completely different person. People freaked out. I freaked out.

The older I got the more I saw it happen around me. Women giving up on their dreams or changing. When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia I was like, no, I do not want that to happen to me. My career was stolen from me because of illness but you can not take away who I am. I do not want to change. I like me. My body has enough to deal with. Later as a spouse of someone in the military, the pressure got even more intense and I was the weirdo wife. The older I got I was considered an aberration. 

As a food enthusiast I signed up for a cake decorating class only to be hassled by a mother who was taking the class with her daughter telling me I was going to die alone. I have been many controversial things in this little life I have lived on this planet. Nothing has been more alienating than my choice not to be a mother. Thankfully there are a lot of people out there who do not care but clearly they many who take my decision not to have kids to heart as a personal rejection. The worse part is when they say I have no family. Anyone who knows me knows how close I am with my family. You do not need to have children to have a family. At least I don't. 

You can hear more about the story of me and that cake decorating class. I was so publicly humiliated. I still wish to this day I had taken my cake and thrown it in her fucking face but at the time I did not want to attack her in front of her child. It still haunts me to this day what the girl must have thought of the woman who took that abuse from her mother in that stupid cake decorating class. I have tolerated no fools since and shut it down right away. I am done being polite. –Suzie

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Sarah: "I feel like having kids would ruin everything"

I was always a child to be playing with dolls and prams and nappies etc. I never thought I'd get married and have kids, though.

I've always been careful but there was a time not long ago I was very un-careful. I fell pregnant and after some thinking, decided to get an abortion. As soon as I came round I never regretted it.
I felt childfree before that but since I have been more determined with it. I am 25 and though I know I'm young, I know I don't want kids.

I also know I won't be taken seriously. 

I have only just decided on the career I want to pursue, which is nursing and I want to travel to a few places. I also know that I enjoy my free time, being introverted, I love sleep, and I love time with my partner.

I feel like having kids would ruin everything.

I have felt broody a few times, but it's fantasy. When I look at the reality of having kids it really helps me away from the broodiness.

I'm confident that in ten years, no matter where I am in my life, whether I'm a nurse, whether I'm married to my current partner or someone else, I will still be adamantly childfree.

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Sophia: "One partner I had been dating for over three years deliberately tried to get me pregnant"

I always knew I didn't want to have children. I never played with dolls, mostly stuffed animals, and I was never their mother, they were all my friends. Now that I am in my forties I have found that my closest friends are child-free professional women or gay men. 

I've never felt that I could truly express why I don't want children for fear of offending friends and family. My mother thought I would change my mind, eventually. "Who will take care of you when you're old?" is what my parents say. Clearly, they have that in mind for me. I will give up my life as a professional college educated woman and go take care of my elderly parents back in a small town in Mexico when the time comes. I am dreading that day.

I've finally found a partner who sincerely doesn't want kids, no secret agenda, pressure etc. In the past I've had to end long term relationships because they really didn't take me seriously. One partner I had been dating for over three years deliberately tried to get me pregnant. He just didn't pull out, sorry to be crass. He said something like "Oh come on would having a kid with me be so bad?" I was really pissed and made him go with me to pay for the Morning After pill. We walked to go get it, and when told him to go in and buy it, he responded with, "This is my neighborhood people know me." I said "You're 33 yrs old are you kidding me!"  Things were never the same and we broke up quickly after.

Years later I feel like it was an ego thing. Why would I not want to have his child? Lucky me. This is probably how most children are born: with an oops and some fantasy of how wonderful it could all be. Like Elizabeth Stanton famously said after meeting a man boasting eight children, "I have met few men worth repeating eight times."  –Sophia, 43, first generation Mexican-American, Los Angeles.

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Sam M: "Although being a stepmum wasn't really on my radar, it has been brilliant and such an education"

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I grew up in a Mormon family in Australia in the 70s and 80s. So having kids (lots of them and starting young), was a big feature. On my 16th birthday my mum sat me down and said "it was time I thought about getting married and having children." Every part of me recoiled in horror at the thought of it. But it was a useful conversation, because it crystallised what I'd kind of known already for years - having kids was not for me. 

I was all but openly ostracised by the church members for my non-conformance, which helped bring about a merciful end to religion being a part of my life.

When my boyfriend proposed at the age of 23, I was very honest and gave him multiple opportunities to back out. But he insisted it was fine. Fast forward ten years and it wasn't really fine for him any more, and he is now a happily married father with someone else. I'm glad he got that chance, I would hate to have taken it away from him.

My career has always been in leadership roles, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to use my nurturing, caring and developing skills on many generations of 'children' who have gone on to become amazing, successful humans in their own right.

I have also found a wonderful man who has 3 kids from his first marriage. Although being a stepmum wasn't really on my radar, it has been brilliant and such an education. 

Now at 45, I love all the children in my family and friendship group, and I am super proud of all my 'work babies.' I wouldn't change a thing.

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Catherine: "My mother had an opportunity to finally be herself, not someone's obedient wife, labouring mother, or dutiful daughter, just herself"

I am 49 and child free. This is probably due to circumstance, rather than choice. I say circumstance because I never persevered with any of the unhealthy relationships I had with men. I did go through a few years of wanting children but I took a clinical approach to my clucky emotions. I recognised that these feelings were merely biological instincts, common to all animal species. Although I had those feelings, it didn't mean I had to act on them. And so I waited for the feelings to pass and they did. Now I am grateful I never had children. In fact, I feel blessed to be child free.

I have always believed that having children by conscious choice is the ultimate in selfish behaviour and that insufficient thought is given to this important decision. I think it's strange that people think it is a self-less act, as if there is some foetus knocking on the front door begging to be let in and the mother, selflessly acquiesces with a long exhausted sigh and says "okay" and takes the parasite in and lets it feed off her for 9 months before she gives birth to it and is then trapped in motherhood legally for the next 18 years, usually for the term of her natural life.

Fortunately for me neither friends nor family have ever questioned my decision to not seek the experience of motherhood. To be honest, I have difficulty comprehending how some women become so fixated on motherhood, as if the very possession of a uterus means that one absolutely must procreate. As if, by becoming a biological mother, they have won a gold medal in the motherhood stakes. As if, by not using the uterus for its intended purpose, they are somehow a failure.

Being child free has given me freedom. The sort of freedom that my mother never had. Many years ago when I was living in the UK my mother came to visit me for 3 months. She said it was the most wonderful thing in the world to have such freedom. An opportunity to finally be herself, not someone's obedient wife, not someone's labouring mother, not someone's dutiful daughter, just herself; to eat dinner when she felt like it; sleep in until she felt like; and do whatever she pleased without restriction. 

I don't want my mother's life, bound and trapped in motherhood. I want freedom, choice, and an opportunity to be me. –Catherine Uí Néill, Melbourne, Australia

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Betty: "We all know that the Mom does the drudgery. If I could have been a Dad I might reconsider."

I grew up in an Ohio town where the norm is to marry your high school boyfriend and have kids by the time you're old enough to drink. I no longer live there. I'm a Christian, and so many in the church perceived the "be fruitful and multiply" to be a generalized command, rather than an optional blessing.

I never wanted kids. I felt called to write, to work in music and nonprofit. I am introverted, with adult ADD. If I took on the assumed calling to be a Mom, it would certainly jeopardize my confirmed calling, which is to be a writer. Because quite frankly we all know that the Mom does the drudgery. If I could have been a dad I might reconsider.

There's a Bible passage where Jesus is teaching a crowd, and a woman in the back interrupts him saying "Blessed is your Mom!" Jesus replied, "even more blessed are those who hear God's word and do it." Being a Mom is not the most important job in the world. The most important job is the one you were created for and give yourself wholeheartedly to. Am I selfish? No. I lack peers, friends, the ability to have a lasting conversation with anyone my age (38) because we share little common ground. Not creating new people has left me with few people to talk to.

I made my choice to be sterilized so that I could stay up odd hours, dive in to a songwriting binge in hopes that maybe one day someone who I'll never meet hears the song, and it's raw honestly, and feels like they aren't alone. And that stranger who I nurture from afar will not take care of me when I become elderly. –Betty

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Deborah: "My first and enduring role models for the child-free life were...nuns"

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There's an irony in hearing Pope Francis pontificate about the absolute necessity of having children. I say that because my first and enduring role models for the child-free life were...nuns. I was lucky to be taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame until age 18. They were the most impressive scholars, finest teachers, and–dare I say–some of the happiest women I have met in life. 

True, there was another set of reasons for my decision. My grandmother had 12 kids and died at 46. She never had a moment to herself. My parents loved and enjoyed us, but working full time as janitors, living in a tiny apartment, made parenting appear overwhelming.

But huge numbers of women with overwhelmed, depressed–even abusive parents–choose to have children. That's why I say that what made up my mind was not saying "no" to motherhood, but being able to say "yes" to a life devoted to intellect, art, sisterhoodspirituality and community service. 

The nuns didn't recruit me; maybe they sensed I was boy-crazy. But their example held strong until I learned the word "Bohemian", thanks to another single woman–our music teacher. I learned one could accentuate one's free spirit, flaunt convention, flounce one's skirts, have adventures, and create a kind of non-family out of kindred spirits met along the way.

I've treated patients–including the very poor and homeless–for 40 years now, and have written 3 books translated into 6 languages, have acted in a community theater, traveled, and had more fun than I sometimes care to admit.

SO! un-holy fathers of Fox News, let's remember that even Charles Darwin acknowledged that the maternal instinct–strong as it is in nature–is NOT the strongest instinct of all. (The migratory is stronger, for example). 

Without "selfish" women like Susan B. Anthony, Joan of Arc, Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Amelia Earhart, Emily Dickinson, Judge Sotomayor, and all the saints and nuns, we would be spiritually malnourished as women. 

If I could start over, I would choose this life again. –Dr Deborah Anna Luepnitz

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Eleni: "People don't often talk about the downsides to being a parent in a way that sounds real"

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When I was younger, I always assumed that I was destined to be a parent. I wasn't good at very much, but anyone could be a parent, right? All the years between the age of about 14 and 22 revolved around not making plans for my future, since I knew I was going to be a parent, and I knew I wasn't cut out to "have it all". 

Discovering my first childfree forum was baffling. I didn't understand how anyone could not want kids, and it took a lot of reading to start to realise that many of them raised excellent points about the hardships of parenting that I couldn't answer. So I started researching. Up until that point, I'd only been looking at one small part of parenting – the fun, snuggly part. It's scary how little I actually knew! People don't often talk about the downsides to being a parent in a way that sounds real, it's always laughed off as "so worth it." And I'm sure it is to some. But I quickly came to doubt that it would be for me. I'm simply not cut out for the bad parts.

I distinctly remember the night that all my remaining doubts vanished. I was browsing a confessions website and came across a story posted by the mother of a severely disabled adult child. Her husband had bailed, her son had the mental capacity of a toddler and she spent her days caring for him. Her whole life was gone, nothing left but fear for what might happen to her child when she eventually died. 

Making the decision final changed my life. I'm no more intelligent or talented than before, but there's nothing stopping me from trying, no reason to give anything up if I succeed, no one to worry about but myself if I fail. It's been very freeing.

I get asked sometimes "What if you regret this?" but, honestly, there's a chance for regret in any of the decisions we make. All anyone can do it figure out what feels right to us and hope it works out. – Eleni Fraser

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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

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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

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