Laura: “We began praying about what the Lord wanted us to do in terms of expanding our family. Our conclusion: we would remain childless”

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Throughout the history of our society, we are taught that we are to grow up, get married and have children. This has been the definition of family. But what if this cookie cutter definition doesn't fit everybody? Before we married, my now husband and I talked extensively about children. If we'd have any, how many, ect... We came to the conclusion that we'd adopt but never had a definite timeline or deadline. 

When we became engaged, my engagement ring was too big for my hand, so a spacer was put on it.  Life happened and we were never able to get it properly sized. We had plans to pass it down to our oldest child if they so chose to marry one day.  Every time I looked at it I pictured our future child, down on one knee, with this ring, shining from a velvety box.

After several years of marriage, the topic of children kept creeping into our lives. Older siblings and close friends began having children, and we started discussions about expanding our family. We both love children. I actually work in childcare, and I loved the idea of providing a stable home for a child that needed one. One issue we talked about at length was how my anxiety and our collective low energy levels would affect us as parents. 

Throughout those years, a funny thing happened. Those close to us with children began telling us how difficult it was, physically and mentally, and we began to see that first hand. Christmas with kids is a fun, albeit tiresome, experience even if you aren't a parent. We also began praying about what the Lord wanted us to do in terms of expanding our family. Which leads us to Christmas 2014.

With three kids in the house, all under six, Christmas at my parent's house was filled with lots of noise and movements only equal to that of the Energizer Bunny. On steroids. After three days of dizzying activity, my husband and I had a long discussion, a time of prayer, and reached a conclusion. We would remain childless.

We drove back from my parents in a daze. It's a bit disorienting when you think your life is moving in one direction, then the Lord comes in and says, "Nope. I want you to go here". Even though we knew we were making the right decision, in a way it sucked. Big time. But you move forward, taking one day at a time. You mourn the life you thought you'd have. And you think of what your life will become.

A few months have passed since our lives path changed. On Sunday we went to the jewelry store and picked up my engagement ring. Freshly sized to fit perfectly. I wear it now with my wedding band. Now when I look at my sparkly ring, I am reminded of our commitment to those children already in our lives. To influence them to grow into awesome adults and responsible citizens. And pump them full of sugar when they visit and give them back to their parents. ;-)

Here is what I've learned in this experience that I want others to know: NEVER feel like you are less of a person because you choose a path that includes marriage but not children. This does NOT make you less of a person if parenting is not in the cards. If you feel overwhelmed and feel parenting might not be for you, that's OK! –Laura

This story originally ran on the Be Anxious About Nothing blog. More blog entries on childlessness are here.

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

Renee: “I wonder if my mother-in-law secretly wonders what's wrong with me”

I'm 39, and I'm still resolutely staying with my IUD, and do not want a baby.

I'm married, and my mother-in-law is Cuban. My husband is the only bio-child of the family, so there used to be some pressure in the past to have kids. My mother-in-law would say, "When you have kids..." when I was engaged to David 5 years ago. I had to tell her several times over the years that I was pretty sure I didn't want kids, and her son was fine with that.

I wonder sometimes if she (and my other relatives) secretly wonder what's wrong with me, but they are polite enough the drop the topic now, and apply the pressure for more babies to my sister-in-law. 

I like my life; I like freedom, having the money to travel, and having time to read, play piano, and go for runs and take care of myself. I like being an aunt, but feel no desire to have my own child. I'm much more at peace with this, which is a hard-earned victory after roughly 7 years of feeling embarrassed and defensive about my vision for my life. –Renee

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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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Jenny: "I decided after the second miscarriage in 2001 that I would be ok if I didn't have kids"

I'm 40 years old, I have had 6 pregnancies, all miscarriages. All of my pregnancies were accidents, and although I would have loved any one of those children if they had survived, there is a part of me that feels huge relief and happiness that I'm not a mother. I decided after the second miscarriage in 2001 that I would be ok if I didn't have kids, by the last miscarriage in 2009, I had made the decision that I didn't even want children. 

I have found over the last 10 years when discussing my inability and lack of desire to have kids, I am constantly reassured that it could still happen, and that I am still young, that I shouldn't give up hope, and that I will regret that decision one day. It doesn't matter how much I reiterate that I don't want or need them and that I'm more than ok with the decision. I even had that discussion today with a work colleague. It's like people just don't understand how a woman could possibly CHOOSE not to have kids. 

I am open about my miscarriages and my decision to not have kids, so it really frustrates me when people can't be open enough to accept my decision. 
My partner of 9 years is 10 years younger than me. We've had many discussions about having children, and after spending time with nephews, nieces and friends' kids, he is of the same opinion as me. We enjoy being able to do what we like, when we like, and with who we like. We enjoy each other's company, and living in our house with just us and the cat and fish. We like sleeping in. We like going out. It might be selfish, but we are also ok with that. –Jenny

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Rachel: "Does being a mom make me a better teacher? Maybe some moments. Other days my son is the reason I'm emotionally & physically exhausted"

I always thought I would graduate college, marry, wait a few years, and have 2-3 kids, all before turning 30. Instead, my husband and I married at 23. We knew it would be a while until we started a family. We had careers to start & bills to pay. We also didn't spend a lot of time together, so simply enjoying each other's company was satisfactory. Every year we found a new reason to put it off another year.

Being a teacher at a high school, you're expected to want kids because you work with kids. Other people perceive you as more "cold" to the students or not able to relate to the parents, if you don't have kids. Your students ask about your choices and why you don't have kids. Meanwhile, as you are aging, your teenage students are seeming constantly pregnant. It's awkward.

As we got closer to our 30s we began to re-evaluate what we wanted in our future. We decided to try and get pregnant. We decided that if it happened, it would be great adventure. If it didn't happen, well... we were finally getting financially comfortable so there were so many options on how we could enjoy one another. I got pregnant.

I enjoy motherhood but one is enough, especially due to my age & health concerns. Does being a mom make me a better teacher? Maybe some moments. Other days my son is the reason why I'm emotionally & physically exhausted. Nonetheless, I am more judgmental about how the amount of thought (or lack of) I perceive others placed into entering parenthood & their sex lives because I so carefully planned mine. Being a parent is both one of the most selfish and selfless things you can do, at the same time. –Rachel

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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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Hannah: "We're incredibly in love & incredibly happy the way our lives are, so why change it?"

Deciding not to have children, for me, was an easier decision than most of my friends & family want to believe. Growing up, I always thought I wanted to be a mom, but at 31, my attitude drastically changed & I'm lucky that I'm with someone who feels the same way as I do.

Our views on procreation can make life lonely as we're at that special age where our friends & families lives are consumed with first having children & then raising them. Conversations centre on their hectic lives as parents or questions of "when are you having children," & the subsequent shocked induced "why not?" 

Our decision to not have children is simply based on the fact that we're incredibly in love & incredibly happy the way our lives are, so why change it? We both work regular jobs & enjoy spending time together but also alone. A normal day for us is work, dinner, walk the dog, an hour or so of personal time & an hour or so of time together & repeat. We hope to be able to retire a little earlier & explore the world we live in. Simple. We often ask ourselves, "Where would children fit into our life"?

The question is; why should choosing not to have children deem one as being selfish?

I don't think selfish is a bad word, but an empowering one. One that says take control of your life & do what makes you happy. Everyone's version of happiness is different, for some it's having children for other's it's not & those decisions, of what makes you happy, shouldn't be questioned or chastised.

I'm proud of the life I've built & the choices I've made to get there, & if that makes me a selfish person than so be it. I'll happily wear that hat as I drink my glass (heck my bottle if I want to) of wine, read a good book next to my partner as they read theirs & make plans for a wonderful future together without children but hopefully full of happiness & love. –Hannah Stevens in Alberta, Canada

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The Selfish World Traveler: "A common refrain in my Jewishly observant high school was not whether one would have kids, but rather *how many* kids you wanted."

Growing up in a family of five children, I always assumed that one day I would have kids. 

A common refrain in my Jewishly observant high school class (all girls) was not whether one would be married and have kids, but rather *how many* kids you wanted. I always settled on four kids (because five was clearly too many) never pausing to consider whether I really wanted kids or not. 

My high school classmates and friends started getting married and reproducing soon after high school. I, being a good friend, was always privy to the inner workings of giving birth and taking care of infants. Changing diapers? Check. Hearing horror stories about birth? Check. Observing how unfair it seemed that men went off to work and had life outside the family home, while women were at home with piles of laundry and screaming kids? Shockingly still in the 21st century? Check, check, and check. 

Then there was my own family background. My parents were stuck in an unhappy marriage (still are), and us kids bore the brunt of it. So there was yelling and screaming, abusive punishments, instances of running away from home, and many, many unpleasant memories. 

Family and children was never something I associated with happiness. 

Many years later, I got married to a wonderful man, and friends and complete strangers immediately started asking when we would be having kids. I hated getting that question. It immediately got my hackles up, every single time, and a whole bunch of people were told to back off, not yet and it's none of their business. I knew I definitely did not want kids immediately, yet still assumed I would, eventually. Just not yet. 

A couple of years later, when I was about to turn 30, I was *sure* that my biological clock would start ticking and I would start wanting kids. The same happened when I turned 34 (the age my mom was when she got pregnant with me) and 35 (the last chance before I started to get geriatric, in child-bearing terms).

My biological clock remained as silent as the tomb, and that's been the case until this day.

I don't know if it's my unhappy childhood and family life (my therapist certainly thinks it is), or if it's being aware of how difficult parents have it, or the fact that both I and my spouse value our freedom and our selfish, peaceful life. We travel the world, enjoy each others' company, have hours of quiet time alone in the evenings, and we have a cat. I often joke that it's much easier to leave a cat at home and take off, whereas leaving a child alone is frowned upon. 

I'm now 37, and still as convinced as ever that I don't now or ever will want kids. My selfish lifestyle is pretty good. –The Selfish World Traveler

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

Maureen: "I promised I would never have a child of my own even though I loved babies and the children in my extended family"

When I was 21 years old, I asked my to doctor sterilize me. He was a new doctor. One I was sent to by a Catholic hospital because it's against their policy. I thought I was going to have to fight. But surprisingly he said yes with out hesitation.

When I was 12 years old my hip dislocated while I was laying on my couch. The pain was unimaginable. My mom is a nurse. She didn't know why it happened but she understood it did and rushed me to the hospital. But by the time we got there I was fine. How odd? We came to find out from my estranged father that I had been born with a genetic disorder that was now rearing its ugly head.

My childhood was turned upside down. I was taken out of gymnastics class. I was crushed. I loved gymnastics and I was great! Party because of the flexibility caused by the disorder. At that moment I promised I would never have a child of my own even though I loved babies and all the younger children in my big extended family. I went on with my life mostly uninterrupted. Except for a dislocation here and there. As I grew up I watched my sister and cousins with the same disease reproduce and give their child a 1 in 2 chance to have the disorder.

Anytime I mentioned my desire to NEVER have my own children I was met with hostility or disgust or dismissed because of my young age. I never stopped liking children and I never changed my mind. When I was younger I thought I would have a baby if I didn't have Ehlers-Danlos but as I got older the thought drifted further and further in my mind. I decided I really didn't want children.

When I was 19 I started to have really bad back and hip pain. My dislocations were a few times a week. By the time I was 21 they where multiple times a day and the pain was chronic and pretty much EVERYWHERE! All of my joints and all of my back. Over the next 2 years I was put on a cocktail of pills. I'm 23 and currently have 6 prescriptions and take 14 pills a day every day. I was in a committed relationship when I was 21 and I was on birth control but had seen too many unplanned pregnancies in my family. Some while on birth control. In my big family I was the 2nd 21-year-old ever to not have had a baby. I decided it was time to get my tubes tied. To my surprise my doctor said yes without hesitation. A month later it was done.

For the first time in my adult life I went off birth control. Even people with the same disorder struggled for years to find a doctor like I did. Some more worse off then me. My family finally accepted that fact that I wasn't having children. But then I turned around and realized it wasn't just them. It was the entire world. I naïvely thought we were past this as a society. I watched as the glass ceiling moved further and further away. Every time I was told how sad it was that I would never have children. How my life would never be complete without them. How my fiancé was going to leave me eventually. How I was selfish. How I'm not allowed to be close to my pets because they are not little humans.

I looked towards others that shared my opinion of not having children. And found a whole other kind of hate. Those who hate children and the parents who decide to have them. I left the group and found somewhere I belonged. A Facebook group call Childfree Hate Free. I hope one day we can all have a childfree hate free discussion. Because hating is not the answer. We just want some common decency on the choices we make about our own body. –Maureen

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

Audrey: "When I was 22, I found out that it would be very dangerous for me to have children due to my rare genetic disorder"

 I had always wanted a large family while growing up. Like, 4 kids and a dog and a house and a white picket fence. When I was 22, I found out that it would be very dangerous for me to have children due to my rare genetic disorder, HHT, and my history of aneurism.

After taking about 4 years to come to terms with the fact that my dreams were gone, I decided to get my tubes tied. My doctor was 100% for this but the hospital refused because the only hospital in a 60-mile radius is a Catholic hospital. I became depressed and put off looking for another facility for two years.

Finally, I got the nerve to search for another facility and doctor. I found one in a hospital 60 miles away. The procedure was a breeze and the doctor was amazing! I am no longer in fear for my life and could not be happier. Also discovered along the way that I am happier being childfree. –Audrey Boutwell

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

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

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

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

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

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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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

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.