Brianna: “Since I missed out on so much as a child, I made the choice that I would live for my own happiness at a very young age”

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Hello, I'm Brianna from Melbourne, Australia. I come from a very dysfunctional family. All of my six cousins and my younger brother have had children with partners they weren't fully committed to, and at a very young age (below 25). Some tried to work it out, some didn't. They all have very low incomes, or are living off welfare.

My mother and father divorced when I was eight. My father was never much of a father, even after the divorce, and my mother is still mentally ill from her past and continues to fool medical professionals to this day.

She suffered PPD after many miscarriages and a stillborn. She paid a lot of money to have myself and my brother through fertility treatment, as my father was infertile.

I didn't have a great childhood. My mother tried her best, but we went without on a regular basis. She was very constrictive and controlling. I didn't fit in at school, as I was the poor one, and everyone knew it. I had to work lunchtimes at the school canteen to get a feed. At 16, I had to pay for half of my school camp fees from my part time job and pay registration on a car that I couldn't drive unsupervised, because my mother couldn't afford it.

Since I missed out on so much as a child, I made the choice that I would live for my own happiness at a very young age. I got educated, got out of the rural area I grew up in that had no career opportunities, kept out of trouble and worked hard.

My life at 24 is finally starting to get on track. I have a lovely fiance with Aspergers who shares my feelings on children, I have a great job in a government department and I can comfortably afford a lifestyle with a few extra perks like dinners out and nice holidays.

My fears of becoming a mother mainly stem from my upbringing, and the financial responsibility behind that, but my other reasons include: Fearing I would replicate my mother's actions with my children, not wanting to destroy my body, not wanting additional responsibility (enjoying my freedom), enjoying working and having my own funds, not wanting sleepless nights, being knee deep in poop, pee, vomit, and generally not liking children anyway.

Society is slowly but surely moving away from the notion that a women's worth is only in her children, and it's about time. Self care is not selfish.–Brianna

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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.

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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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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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Becca: "I have started to become quite vocal, standing up for my choice, fighting for it to be accepted as normal"

I've always known I don't want to have kids. The very idea just feels so incredibly unnatural and alien to me, and for the longest time I thought there was something wrong with me, because society teaches us that we're supposed to have kids, that it's the only way for us to achieve true happiness and fulfillment, that we don't know the meaning of true love until we have child that is our own flesh and blood, that we're not complete as women or worth as much if we don't reproduce. But I have found great comfort both online and in my life from like-minded people and now, at 36 soon-to-be 37, I am confident and reassured that I have made the right choice for me and my life.

I've had very few moments of doubt. When they occur it's much more of a fear of missing out rather than actually wanting to procreate, but that feeling has thankfully never lasted more than a couple of hours.

Like so many others, my choice to remain childfree has been questioned and disrespected. I've been told that'll I'll change my mind, that I'll regret it later when my life is all empty and I have no one to take care of me when I'm old. After I got married the questions and accusations got even worse. I've been told I'm robbing my husband of the enjoyments of fatherhood and that I'm immature and selfish. I find the concept of women being selfish for not longing for and succumbing to motherhood ludicrous. Surely, becoming a parent just because it is YOUR wish to do so, completely disregarding the risks of hereditary diseases, the environmental impact or the state of the world your child is brought into and having to navigate and so on, is more selfish? 

With every question and every accusation, I find that I'm getting more and more provoked and I have started to become quite vocal and standing up for my choice, fighting for it to be accepted as a normal and valid choice to make. This has landed me in a couple of heated word-exchanges. My husband on the other hand rolls his eyes at me and has more than once asked "why can't you just tell people we're unable to conceive and be done with it?". But to me it's a matter of principle, and although he is fully supportive of me not wanting to not have kids, I wish he'd back me up in my fight a bit more. - Becca, frontend/mobile developer and graphic designer, Oslo, Norway

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Megan: "Given the issues we face as a species, having children because you want them doesn't seem like a good enough reason to have them"

During a job interview, I was asked what I believe that no one else believes. I said, "Given the issues we face as a species, having children because you want them doesn't seem like a good enough reason to have them."

That's what seems selfish to me. We can't ask people whether they want to exist or not–how is choosing for them based on one's own preferences not selfish? Given that the suicide rate is climbing so high that it's actually lowering the life expectancy of middle-class white people in America, the question of whether or not a person wants to exist seems as imperative to ask as it is impossible to ask. To be fair, I made the choose not to have children based on my own preferences: I don't like children, the sound of babies crying gives me panic attacks, I don't believe I'd be a good mother (in large part because I don't want to be one). 

It seems the opposite of selfish to admit that. Kids are excellent perceivers; they can pick up on whether they are wanted and loved or not. I know what it's like to perceive (or believe) you're not wanted. I grew up in a very emotionally isolating family, probably because my parents didn't have the emotional things kids need. So now I, in turn, do not have what kids needs to become healthy adults. It would be selfish of me to have kids anyway, knowing that I don't have what it takes to be a mother.

Such an admission is not a failure. I'm not sad or sorry about not being capable of being a mother. I've known since I was six that I didn't want children. The patronizing comments of adults–"you'll change your mind when you're older" or "you'll want them when you meet the right person"–turned out to be wrong. I'm 31, happily married and couldn't be more sure that my decision not to procreate was the right one. My husband and I are enough for each other.

(By the way, I didn't get the job.) –Megan

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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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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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Julie: "Often I sit in a foreign country on our travels, lovely husband by my side, wine in hand, and I thank me for being smart"

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61 y.o. Gold Coast ex-entertainer. Vintage fashion tragic & Francophile. Married happily in January '18, for 40 years. Much to the horror of some , anger of some, and envy of some, I and I alone chose not to have children. Or did I? At no time in my life did it enter my head to give birth. Maternal instinct was tested when a lovely friend asked me to be her birthing partner. "I know you will never be a mum, I would like you to have this experience." Quoting A Chorus Line "Nothing. I felt nothing!" Beautiful baby, an exciting cesarean op to see. Nothing! We lost friends...they were told we weren't suitable to be around...not a good influence. With others, they said we had nothing in common anymore or nothing to offer...not being parents and all.

Any regrets? Mmmm...let me see...Adult children who won't leave home. 
Daughters who didn't listen and have produced numerous offspring in a single mother situation. Drug/Alcohol abuse that has become the "should be retired" parents' problem to deal with...etc.

Regrets...never.

Even the pitying glance when mentioning that you didn't procreate makes me smile. Often I sit in a foreign country on our travels, lovely husband by my side, wine in hand, I thank me for being smart. "You would be such a great mother"...in some one else's dream.

Mother of none. –Julie

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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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Kate: "Even now, at the age of 57, older men have asked me, 'So was it you, or was your husband shooting blanks?' "

Even now, at the age of 57, older men have asked me, "So was it you, or was your husband shooting blanks?" As if they need an answer, so unable to accept my choice. As if it's their business.

Or, "I'm so sorry. What are you going to do when you get old?' Which sends me off into gales of laughter. As a care aide I've seen older folk with plenty of children who never come to visit them in their homes, or even after they have been put in said care home by their children.

Another one I love is being told how selfish I am. Hm. That one I will never understand. In a world of shrinking resources, poverty, dysfunctional families, how is choosing NOT to bring yet another human being into this world, selfish? Hm.

Years ago my husband and I were called DINK(s). Double income, no kids. Hm. Again the point is? Perhaps the kindest comment came from my hairdresser. A father of five children who once said, 'well if you don't have 'em, you don't miss 'em." I liked that approach. It was accepting and kind with no judgement put on me or questioned of choice.

I was never the kid who wanted to play with Barbie or have a baby that peed water when pressed. Call me silly, but it just didn't appeal. I had puppies and a pony and rabbits and other lovely mammals that showed me what motherhood looked like, but I preferred to do exactly what I wanted. I hit the road at 17 and haven't looked back, and I'm pretty sure I'll be just fine. –Kate

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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

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JB: "I am a proud guardian of five pet birds, and they give me an outlet for my nurturing side"

I am 48 years old and have known I never wanted children since Elementary School. I recently got married and enjoy my childfree marriage very much. As I look back upon my life, I know I made the correct decision because I would have been trapped in poverty and single motherhood had I decided to have a child; something I never want for myself or the child. I still receive comments from my family, despite my age and disability, that I should have children now that I am happily married. I just laugh and tell them that I would not make a good mother. They argue with me about that, but then I ask them, "How could I make a good mother to a child I never wanted?" I am a proud guardian of five pet birds, and they give me an outlet for my nurturing side. –JB

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M J Aslin: "I hate 'childless.' It sounds like I have lost something, but if anything I have gained much more by not having children"

I am a 36-year-old female from Nottingham, England.

I have never felt maternal or broody, never saw myself with Children and never interested in having any. 

As it turns out I can't have children anyway. I had Endometriosis for 10 years and then had a hysterectomy when I was 26. I love my life. I also hate the phrase Childless. It sounds like I have lost something, but I haven't–if anything I have gained much more by not having children, so if I have to have a title (which I hate) then call me a non-parent

I have many children in my life and I love them dearly and enjoy being with them, for a few hours and then hand them back to their parents.

I love travelling with my husband, I love having a meal with my husband or friends, and I love being able to have a full conversation–something that I find almost impossible with my friends who have children. I often feel "in the way" if I visit my friends at home and their children are there. My friends are bust tidying up, doing house jobs, talking to and shouting at their children, feeding them or playing with them etc whilst I am there trying to have a conversation with them. I find it frustrating and find myself organising Adult time with my friends which often means meeting in a coffee shop for an hour without a child, and then arranging family time with them and their children where no conversations really happen. 

Most of my friends with children complain about the children and how hard it is looking after them, and I want to shout: "Did you not think about this before having them?" Seriously, who thinks being a parent is going to be easy?

I tell them that is one reason I don't have them....too much hard work and too much responsibility–at least I am honest. I like my life without Children. –M J Aslin

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Cynthia: "I am just wired this way. I have no dark confessions, no intellectual reasoning, and make absolutely no apologies"

It started after college. I was dating a man who wanted to know what our future was. He wanted a future with me, but I knew he wanted children, and I didn't. We were young, so it didn't matter at the time, but I knew the topic would resurface again, and it did. He said he never met a woman who didn't want children and he couldn't really understand my choice. I was atypical, I knew it and now he did too. We went our separate ways.

When I did decide to get married, my husband and I were both clear and on the same page when it came to procreating... we didn't want to. Well, it was clear for us, but for family, friends and strangers... not so much.

As many women can probably attest to, when you are in your 20s and 30s, people – and by people I mean everyone – feel free to broach the topic. My response became rote, "I will never say never, but not right now." It seemed to satisfy most of the inquiries, and was much simpler than what I really wanted to say, which was more along the lines of, "I am not having children, I don't want to have children. Stop asking me, it's none of your fucking business." But, I didn't dare. God forbid I made anyone uncomfortable. But that was then, and this is now.

The reality is that I have no definitive answer as to why I chose to be kidfree. I am just wired this way. I have no dark confessions, no intellectual reasoning, and make absolutely no apologies.

Although it hasn't always been easy, I am proud of my decision, and of the fact that I never allowed myself to feel guilt or shame for choosing to not have children, despite societal pressure. Going down a different path, no matter where you are headed, is always a bit bumpy. – Cynthia Hornig, co-founder, Women You Should Know

A version of this story previously ran on Women You Should Know and is republished here with express permission from its author.

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Jess: "I had my tubes tied when I was in my mid-20's. I had a hysterectomy at age 36 which was the best thing I've ever done."

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There's never been a time in my life when I've wanted to have my own children. Since I was a teenager I knew I didn't want kids and I had my tubes tied when I was in my mid-20's. I had a hysterectomy at age 36 which was the best thing I've ever done.

When I was younger, people said I'd change my mind, but I never have and I've never regretted it for one minute. My life is so fulfilling with the volunteer work I do for different charities, through looking after my cats and hens who I consider my non-human children and travelling the world with my husband. Also, it's wonderful to be able to do things spontaneously without having to consider the needs of a child.

The odd time I've thought that perhaps if I was ever super rich I would adopt a child, but I don't feel that not having a child leaves an empty space in my life. For anyone to think that being child free is selfish I would ask them why do they have kids? Who does it benefit to bring children into the world? Children don't ask to be born and there are a lot of people who suffer greatly through life. I would never want to bring a child into a world that is already over populated with humans; a world that can be very harsh and cruel.

I do believe that some people have children through pressure from family or society or because they feel that 'it's just what you do.' For anyone thinking that they must have kids even though they really don't want to, I say don't do it! It will be the best thing you've never done! –Jess W

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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

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

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

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

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.