Yesterday, when I started writing this essay, was International Women’s Day. To honor this day, I’m spilling my guts about a personal topic not many people discuss openly — the decision to remain childfree. If you’re a 30-something who feels conflicted, confused, or even guilty about not wanting kids — baby, this ones for you.
Before I get started, let’s talk about verbiage. I’m talking about childfree vs childless. I like the way childfree sounds because it sort of implies you don’t don’t have kids by choice. On the other hand, childless sounds like you’re missing something. However, I read on Google that some people deem the term childfree “too aggressive.” So, I want to begin by saying I’m not tryna be aggro, okay?
Really, I prefer to say I’m blessed with no children.
Anyway, here’s my story of the twisted and detour-ridden road to my decision to stay childfree (at least for now).
The childfree indecision
Fairly recently — a little over a week ago, in fact — I decided I don’t want to have kids. It was something I was going back-and-forth on for quite a while. I felt stuck. I kept one leg on either side of the fence as my ever-supportive husband wondered where we stood any given week. Were we trying to have a baby? Were we not?
Even on the days I said “yes,” my body wasn’t all the way in it. I felt deep reservations coming from a place my rational mind couldn’t access. But I knew there was resistance there.
So, although part of me said yes, another piece always got in my own way. I never bothered to get ovulation prediction kits, even though they’re not expensive. I got the cheapest basal thermometer — one that often indicated I had the temperature of a corpse — and used it inconsistently. When my temps suggested ovulation had occurred, I didn’t bother to ring my sex bell. (I stole this idea from the childfree EFT Tapping Goddess, Gala Darling. It revolutionized my bedroom!)
Basically, I was half-assing it. Maybe part of me felt like if it were meant to be, it would happen like magic. But then I thought, do I really want to take such a la-di-da attitude with something that will assuredly change my life forever?
When I talked to friends, I’d say, “yeah, we’re not not trying to have a kid, but we’re not ready to try try.” Does reading that sentence hurt your brain as much as it does mine?
The truth is, I felt torn in two. When I talked to people who were firm in their decision to be childfree, I agreed. When I spoke to friends trying to have kids, I could relate to them, too.
To make matters more confusing, I felt like my desire to have kids changed with my monthly hormone fluctuations. Always the hormones.
My wavering conviction to become a parent was causing serious stress in my life and my relationship.
Before we got married, Jason and I talked about having kids and thought it was something we both wanted. But after the wedding, when we started discussing it more seriously, I hesitated. As Jason and I sat on the couch, I asked, “if we had a baby right now, where would it be?”
We scanned the cramped studio cottage rental we shared with our four large dogs and my home office, coming to the same conclusion. Our living situation was far from ideal for raising a kid. So, we’d wait.
About a year later, we bought our first house. We had much more space available — two bedrooms and 10 acres of land. However, I took one of the bedrooms as my writing studio, and we still own four large dogs. I couldn’t envision a baby crawling around the cold, hard tile floor that’s constantly covered in furballs no matter how often I sweep.
However, none of those things would prevent me from having a kid if I wanted one. There was something bigger going on. Something more complex.
Fears about pregnancy and childbirth
Without realizing it, I planted a lot of fear in my mind. I immersed myself in information about the downsides of parenting, and the many things that could go wrong during pregnancy and childbirth.
From about a year before I got married until a few months ago, I worked as a medical copywriter. I wrote web content for doctors and healthcare providers, including OB/GYNs. Actually, OB/GYN was one of my most common specialties. So, I spent a lot of time researching and writing about infertility, high-risk pregnancies, and complications that could prove deadly for mother and baby.
One of the reasons I left that line of work was because I developed the hypochondriasis that’s so common among medical students. I also convinced myself I needed Botox®, veneers, and a Vampire Facial®.
Never got any of it.
Anyway, around this same time, my former running coach had a baby. She publicly shared the story of her birth experience. I read about how this extremely fit, athletic woman — the same age as I am — went into an emergency Cesarean delivery unsure if she’d make it out alive. And, when she courageously asked her medical providers if she was going to die…
…they wouldn’t even look at her.
That sounds fucking horrible.
Sadly, many women have such experiences with childbirth. Not everyone can hire a doula to support and advocate for them in the delivery room.
Questioning everything that comes after pregnancy and childbirth
Aside from the fears surrounding pregnancy, labor, and delivery, I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with… you know… all the rest.
Listening to podcasts, I kept hearing about the difficult reality of parenting and its toll on a person’s mental health, marriage, and personal relationships.
One night, I listened to the ladies of Self-Helpless interview the hosts of #IMOMSOHARD. When the moms were asked what they do for self-care, they both said they like to veg out on the couch in front of some mindless TV with a glass of wine.
No shade — but that sounds boring to me. Not to mention that all these t-shirts, hashtags, and brand names like “this is why mommy drinks lol” make me roll my eyes.
Anyway, when I raised these issues with Jason, he assured me I wouldn’t be that type of mom. That we could be the other kind of parents — the type I admire. He’s a true angel, my hubby is.
The positive parenting examples are few and far between
We know some rad parents who make it look so much fun. They travel, hike, and ski with kiddos in tow. These families are exceptional and rare, and I consider Jason and I to fit into those categories.
When we’d talk about our visions for parenthood, I’d share about a family I used to nanny for back in Mount Shasta. They were amazing.
I first met this family when the kids were 2 (a girl) and 8 months (a boy). I’d watch these adorable, happy cuties for long weekends when the parents — a professional couple in their early 40s — came to town for semi-annual meditation seminars. Not only did I love them — I wanted to be them one day.
So many things impressed me:
- The kids used the toilet on their own at age 2
- Both were highly verbal for their ages
- The oldest would soothe the youngest when he got upset around bedtime
- Mom gave me a baby carrier to wear the 8-month-old in so he could get constant contact while I had my hands free
But the best was the way the parents communicated with their kids. They spoke to them like blossoming little humans. When the oldest started asking real questions, they took the time to answer thoroughly.
What do I mean by real questions? One time, she asked what I was going to do with the fat wad of cash mom handed to me at the end of a 3-day weekend of childcare. You better believe they paid WELL. Mom chuckled, then said, “Remember the four things we do with money? We spend, save, give, and invest.”
She ticked off a finger for each one as the little girl nodded, clearly remembering a previous conversation about wealth management.
The best was when this smart little cookie asked her mom what a jury was. I was amazed as mom carefully explained criminal arrests, the concept of being innocent until proven guilty — which, she pointed out, was very important because that’s not the case in every country — and the court system. She didn’t dumb anything down. It was the type of lesson you’d expect to give a 4th grader, not a 4-year-old. I suppose it helped that the girl’s father was a lawyer, and she seemed familiar with his line of work.
But even these little angels wiped me out, and I was always grateful to go home at the end of the day. During the short, 3-4 day stints, I’d feel lonely spending 12-hour days with toddlers and not having any adults to converse with. Thank goddess they weren’t allowed to watch TV!
And still, I teeter-tottered
I’d like to believe that Jason and I could be amazing parents. I mean, have you seen our dogs?
After one of our more encouraging conversations, I decided to schedule an OB/GYN appointment. I was experiencing some symptoms that, combined with my medical-research-induced hypochondriasis, led me to believe I might have an underlying condition affecting my fertility.
Long story short — I’m healthy, (Thank Goddess). But the discussion with the nurse-midwife did nothing but instill more fears and concerns about pregnancy. I left the office contemplating genetic anomalies and the amount of testing I might have to undergo. Less than a week later, I told Jason I had changed my mind again about having a kid. Too much work.
If waiting in the lab to get a blood test was a pain in the arse, how would I feel about raising a child? Or a child with special needs? I don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about this, and I truly admire all of you who do. Whether you had biological children or adopted them, I admire all of you.
I know this is a touchy subject that people feel strongly about. The thing is, it’s a personal choice for all of us, or, at least it should be.
I’ve been called names like “child-hating bitch” by a woman my age who has four kids, two of which are already out of high school. All because I told her I don’t want my own. Honestly, I believe she was projecting her own feelings onto me.
Not my flavor of shit sandwich
I started thinking about the chit sandwich concept Elizabeth Gilbert describes in her book, Big Magic (which I highly recommend, and this is an affiliate link for you to support this blog at no extra cost).
Gilbert says that every life path comes with its own flavor of shit sandwich. We decide which sandwich we’re willing to eat in order to enjoy all the good side items that come with it.
For example, being an author involves eating a shit sandwich of rejection, isolation, and criticism about your work. While everyone wants to see their novel on the bestseller list and bookstore shelves, only the ones willing to eat that shit sandwich and ask for seconds have a shot of getting there. Like Gilbert, I’m happy to eat that shit sandwich.
But when it comes to raising kids, I realized the benefits aren’t compelling enough to make that particular sandwich look appealing. Not for me.
That brings me to my next point.
The hard facts of how having children affects your quality of life
The science nerd in me had to do some research about the psychosocial effects of raising children. below comes from this article in Psychology Today, by Ellen Walker, Ph. D., author of Complete Without Kids.
- “Recent statistics show that it costs about $200,000 to raise a child to the age of 18 and time-wise it takes an average of eight hours a day.”
- “…marital quality often drops after the transition into parenthood, and that there is an increase in marital happiness after the children leave home.”
- “Parents are more likely to be depressed than their childfree counterparts. In fact, people without kids were happier than any other group, including empty nesters.”
Feeling pulled to the childfree side
Around the same time I saw the nurse-midwife, Jason and I had a visit from a married couple we met back in California. They were in their 50s, childfree, and spending the year traveling all over North America.
Catching up with them was so delightful. They talked about the MBA he was pursuing online from an international university, the virtual Spanish lessons she was taking, and their plans to spend the following year traveling to different countries all over the world. Their energy and enthusiasm felt like a breath of fresh air.
After they left, Jason and I returned to the baby conversation. We agreed that we could see ourselves living the kind of globe-trotting lifestyle our friends had. But having kids would prevent that, or at least make it much more difficult. And when I thought about other friends and public figures who had the kind of lives I wanted to emulate, most of them were childfree.
After that, I started leaning farther and farther to the “don’t want kids” side of the fence.
But what if you change your mind?
Just as being a parent involves sacrifices, I know remaining childless might cause feelings of missing out on something meaningful. Jason and I have discussed this as well, and both agree that if we ever change our minds, adoption is an appealing option.
It would allow Jason and I to become parents when we’re ready, regardless of the biological window closing a little more every month. Adoption has many other benefits, including:
- Eliminating my fears about pregnancy and childbirth
- Reducing the carbon footprint of having a kid (had to mention it!)
- Providing the option to bypass the diaper/bottle feed/up all night phase by adopting a toddler or young child instead of an infant
Honestly, it sounds like something I might want. Some day. Not now.
Last summer, I read a New York Times article about Venezuelan women who are suffering due to lack of access to contraception. The story profiled several women who had more children than they could care for. When Jason came home from work that day, I enthusiastically pitched him my plan to adopt a Venezuelan baby. I was hell-bent on it. I wanted to help lift the burden from these women.
Then, I realized I could make a bigger impact by donating to an organization that provides women with contraceptives than I could by adopting one child. I’m expanding on that concept as I enter this phase of life when many others my age are becoming parents.
But there was still resistance
Even after considering all this, I felt just as conflicted about not wanting kids as I had felt about having them.
There’s a lot of pressure to have kids, especially for women. You probably feel it to some degree.
Remember the meditator parents I used to nanny for? They shared with me a bit about why they waited until their late-30s/early 40s to start a family. I recall the mom saying, “and then you get to a point where you have to have kids.” She was referring, to the ticking of the biological clock, of course, but I was still thrown off by the severity of her words.
I have to have kids? By a certain time? This message is everywhere.
Several years ago, another friend shared a similar sentiment when she was talking about where she saw her relationship going. She said something like, “…marriage and family is the next step,” as if she was following some roadmap to a happy life.
Comments like this have always bothered me. As you may know, I’ve never been one to follow the herd. In my opinion, my next step is wherever I choose to set my fuckin foot down. And there’s usually quite a bit of bushwhacking involved. No one else gets to walk my life path but me, so why the hell would I let them tell me where to go and how to get there?
As stressed as the indecisiveness had made me, I thought I’d feel relieved when I told my husband I didn’t want kids. But I didn’t.
I still felt this tug, and it didn’t feel like it was coming from external pressures or expectations from my family. I felt it within me.
It felt like guilt and shame.
Like I would be disappointing my family and my ancestors if I failed to continue the bloodline. I felt this way even though my brother already has a kid — and one more on the way.
It took deep work, and the help of my spiritual sister Ray Dawn, to release this guilt and move on.
Now that I feel free, I’ve been able to think more clearly. I started making a plan for how I could provide a whole, fulfilling life for myself without children.
My childfree plan
Part of my motivation for starting a business and writing a novel was to generate enough wealth to make a difference in the lives of many while also leaving something behind as a sort of legacy.
My dream is to use the time, energy, and money I save by being childfree to grow my business, publish dozens of books (both fiction and non), and make a six-figure donation to a children’s hospital.
When I think of all the lives I could change this way, I feel happy, hopeful, and, yes, even fulfilled.
As far as loneliness and having someone to care for me when I’m older…
Well, I hate to break it to you, but there’s no guarantee your kid is going to be able to do that for you. And, personally, I’d rather not burden someone else with that expectation.
I could prepare by saving enough to pay for caregivers and support when I need it, and I could connect with other childfree adults and enjoy a Golden Girls-esque living situation if anything happens to my husband. The point is, I can make empowered choices for my own wellbeing instead of hoping someone else will handle it.
Actually, I’d probably do that even if I had kids.
With all that said, Jason and I believe that if we conceived unexpectedly, we’d consider it a miracle.
For now, I feel blessed to have no children.