Her body, her choice

New research shows that women who choose a child free life – whatever the reason – are happy with their decision. So why is it that no one else is?

Karen was 29 when she returned home to New Zealand to attend her brother’s wedding. She was excited about the whole affair, but post-event reported that her experience was tainted by guests who had badgered her about when she was planning to ‘finally have a baby?’ This question to her, while at the same time her partner was asked about his career and in fact it was Karen who was doing exceedingly better in hers. One relative deemed it so unusual that she and her partner were still child-free, that they had brazenly asked Karen if she was barren. Wedding story of the year!

It’s almost 2020 and we’re still enduring a conversation that reflects antiquated societal beliefs that can’t separate women and motherhood. All the while, contemporary analysis from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that within the next decade the number of couples without children will surpass the number of couples with kids. The conversation is changing, perhaps the tipping point is now.

More couples are choosing not to have kids, and society can’t cope. It’s such a hot topic that the ABC brought it to life in a highly publicised feature in June, that followed a special episode on the Ladies, We Need To Talk podcast presented by Yumi Stynes. Surprisingly most of the social media chatter on the interviews was supportive. This, in stark contrast to past coverage on the same topic, including a prominent 60 Minutes segment aired within the past ten years that attracted hundreds of scathing comments aimed at the women featured, calling them ‘selfish’, ‘in denial’, ‘ungrateful’, and ‘shallow’.

The latest ABC spotlight on being ‘footloose and childfree’ dispels the myth that women are obliged to ‘find a partner and have kids’. More women around the world are choosing to ignore this path and research published by a range of universities and health organisations, including a significant study on the subject out of the University of Calgary, shows they’re happier for it.

Covering this subject, ABC.net.au quoted psychotherapist Zoe Krupka who defines childfree by choice “as a woman making a conscious decision that she doesn’t want to have her own children”.

“It doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to co-parent or step-parent or help her friends out with their kids or be an aunty, but she’s made a conscious decision that’s not based on infertility or chance or circumstances beyond her control,” said Dr Krupka.

The reasons cited for women choosing to be childfree range from worries about overpopulation and climate change, to not wanting to endure the unreasonable criticism mothers receive, mental health concerns, and a desire for independence and financial freedom. Women interviewed about their decision talk about wanting to travel and create in other ways; and about not being prepared to change what they know to be a happy life with their partner to something that will be entirely different and not necessarily the rosy picture imparted by peers.

It’s very easy to call such women selfish, and perhaps there’s something in that, comments Tory Shepherd who has written a book about her choice not to have children. The author of On Freedom told the ABC that by the same token, “if you’re having a kid just so they look after you when you’re older, that’s pretty selfish [too]”.

It’s a relief for many women to know that ultimately our sole purpose on earth is not to reproduce, but a choice we are free to make. However, it’s still a private emotional challenge having to manage with the expectations dealt by society as a whole. Women of ‘a certain age’ know well the pitiful looks received when the answer is ‘no’ to the question, ‘do you have children?’, and the social exclusion experienced when conversations are only about kids or invites to parties get ‘lost in the mail’.

There are the positives though, and reasons women confidently choose a childfree life: sleep, spontaneity, autonomy, independence, career, and ‘fur babies’ (not a ‘practice run before the real thing’).

The Ladies, We Need To Talk podcast talks to a guest who sums it up: “I would love it if people wouldn’t see it as something you lack … [but rather, you] as someone who embraces other things.”

How do you see it? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter, #childfreebychoice

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