Karen: “I dislike the assumption that I hate all children simply because I chose a life that didn't involve having any of my own”

I consider myself lucky; as a childfree woman I never faced pressure from my family to have children. I got married at 25 and was never asked "when are you starting a family?"

Perhaps it was obvious to those close to me that I wasn't cut from maternal cloth...perhaps my (male-dominated) interests and career put things in perspective for them. What I dislike, however, is the assumption that I hate all children simply because I chose a life that didn't involve having any of my own. I don't hate all children; in fact I used to be a sports coach to kids of a wide age range.

My other dislike is that women in my neighborhood don't express any interest in getting to know me, because, goodness, what would they ever talk to me about, since I'm not a mother like them (yes, sarcasm is implied)? –Karen

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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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Gwen: "I mistakenly got pregnant, and just KNEW I was not made to be a mommy, so I opted for an open adoption with two wonderful moms"

For years and years, when I mentioned that I have no desire for children, and that babies and I have a mutual distaste for each other in the form of screaming, friends, strangers, family, coworkers, and even bosses would tell me about how "that will change when you have one of your own." I mistakenly got pregnant, and just KNEW I was not made to be a mommy, so I opted for an open adoption with two wonderful moms. They were even present for the birth, and as soon as the girl was born, she went cooing to both of them, instant bonding. Then the doctors decided to bring her to me to see how things would go.... both of us started to scream. They immediately took her back to the adopted moms. So, no, it wasn't any different when it was "my own"!

As an addendum, we are all still in touch, and treat each other like adopted extended family. I send her birthday and holiday gifts, and they do come to visit (and invite me to visit them). I was even in touch with them earlier today! As she has been growing up past baby-hood, we have bonded as a sort of Aunt/Niece relationship, and are both very comfortable like that. And she is very happy with her wonderful mothers. I am grateful every day to have found them. –Gwen

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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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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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