In two months, my partner and I are getting married. Right after we announced our engagement, a ton of “innocent” questions started trickling in.
“Marriage this year, babies the next, heh?” “So you’re properly settled down now, huh? Will kids follow anytime soon?” “Have you already spoken about the future? I mean, like having kids etc.?” Or the worst of them all, “are you already expecting?”
As if planning for a child was (still) the only reason for getting married.
I assume our environment’s sudden interest in the state of our reproductive organs is somehow understandable. No matter how outdated and overcome for some, the equation of wedding-children-buying/building a house remains prevalent for many. And if you happen to tick any of these off the list, the rest must immediately follow. Because that’s how it works, right?
Portions of my Facebook and Instagram feed would suggest so. In the past three years, at least five friends of my age have had babies, and countless others got married. So what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I just follow their example?
Societal pressures are real, and any deviation from the line might arouse self-doubt, guilt, or straight-up fear from our environment’s reaction. People of all genders and generations are too quick to tell us what they believe we should do with our bodies, and even quicker at ignoring or downright frowning upon our personal choices and opinions.
Classic negative reactions range from “you will change your mind when you get older” (as if I were still a teenager), to “who’s going to take care of you when you retire” (as if the ultimate point of having a child were to raise our personal carer), and my all-time favourite “you will never become a ‘real’ woman without having children” (so what was I until now, exactly? A dinosaur?)
However, years have passed by and I still haven’t woken up with a sudden urge to deliver a new human to the world.
Perhaps my teenage years of listening to music that was way too loud for my poor eardrums made me deaf to my biological clock ticking? Who knows.
For some reason, saying that one wants to stay child-free out loud is still widely controversial. As if not wanting little chubby beings rolling around the house licking furniture and low-key poisonous houseplants was evidence of a severe biological error.
To be perfectly honest, I acknowledge the immense privilege of allowing me to make such a decision. There are many women who wish to have children but for one reason or another cannot or suffer during the process. There are also women born into heavily patriarchal societies where contraception options or abortion facilities are inaccessible or highly restricted. Sadly, we don’t need to go too far for examples.
At the same time, there are countless women who actually regret having children. Or those who have them, but aren’t capable of providing them with a suitable and loving home. Many of these women, if given another chance, would have chosen differently.
And lastly, there are women like me. Those who, after years of careful consideration, realised that becoming a mother simply isn’t on their bucket list. And we are perfectly fine with that. Because at some point, it’s no longer about finding reasons for not having children. It’s about not finding any real reason for having them.
Judging by social media comment sections, discussion forums, or even last year’s article on The Atlantic, evidence is slowly piling up to prove that desire for motherhood is far from ubiquitous. I mean, The Guardian dedicated a whole series to the question of motherhood choices and Jenny Mustard’s spot-on videos on the topic prompt new comments every day.
The main point is: whatever decision women choose to make, they are all perfectly valid, and deserve to be respected equally.
However, since having children is still the default position for many, there seems to be a feeling, or even a light suspicion, that if someone doesn’t feel or act the way we expect, they need to have a (valid) reason for it. Perhaps an illness or a childhood trauma. To give you the benefit of doubt, I state at least some of mine below. But to be entirely honest, even if most of these were to be somehow sorted out, I would in all likelihood still not have kids. But some other women probably would. Or at least the whole experience could be (even) more pleasurable and somewhat less stressful.
Reasons why women might not want children (beyond ‘there must be something wrong with them’):
1. Gender pay gap. Inadequate childcare. Mental health issues during motherhood. If we really want more women to have children, we need to focus on setting up the right conditions first. Limiting things like abortion rights, access to sex education and contraceptives or any other crazy authoritarian idea, will definitely not help.
2. World events. Living on a boiling and polluted planet. Earth at its current state simply is not the safest and the most exciting place to bring tiny humans into, if you ask me.
3. Finances. Many households are now struggling to pay bills, not to mention other expenses. But even if we weren’t in the midst of an energy crisis, skyrocketing inflation, and an unsustainable rentier economy, raising children would still be a massive expense. And as Jenny jokingly suggests in her video, perhaps saving up for a future carer might actually prove a more economic option.
4. Mobility. We love exploring new places, visiting our families and friends scattered around the globe, and sometimes travelling even for work. The freelancing lifestyle is something we enjoy very much, but it also barely allows us to get house plants, not to mention a future dog (or two). I don’t even want to start imagining what children would do to this equation.
5. Sleep. I’m basically a toddler myself. If I sleep for anything less than 8-9 hours, I get groggy and am completely useless when it comes to any mentally demanding tasks. Getting continuously woken up in the middle of the night for at least two years of my life, if not more? No, thank you. I highly doubt my brain would survive that. Or my mental health, when I think about it.
6. Sex. Yes, I love having sex. In any room. And at any time of the day. Sex is our favourite past-time, our most intimate point of connection, and the reason we started dating. With all these testimonies portraying the negative impact that having children might have on partners’ intimacy, I would rather play it safe and abstain.
7. I love my lifestyle. This might sound egoistic, narcissistic, and even make some people angry, but it’s probably one of the top reasons for staying childless for me. I love creating my own schedule, slowing down when desired, having a calm, tidy and clean home, keeping my body in shape, and moving around whenever I desire… the list goes on. Having the ability to feel in charge of my life, having a room of my own, so to speak, is absolutely invaluable to me. I feel fulfilled, present in my body, and confident in my femininity. I don’t need to have a child to become a ‘real’ woman. My path to self-realisation simply lies elsewhere. And I mean, wouldn’t it be more egoistic to have children that you don’t want?
8. I love my partner. Based on research evidence and personal observations, though, having children has a significant impact on partnerships, both positive and negative. My partner is the most important human being in my life. We live together, work alongside each other, and spend most of our days in close proximity. I honestly cannot bear the thought of this connection fading away, not even for our hypothetical child. Maybe we would get lucky and our relationship would become even stronger with children. But I personally don’t find it worth the risk.
9. My partner’s choices. Don’t worry, this is in no way a one-sided decision. My partner shares most of these reasons. We regularly check in with each other to see whether our stances have changed in any way. And so far, they have not (maybe the constant influx of screaming kids in the Airbnb above us has something to do with that). But if they ever do, even though we doubt that, we will decide our next steps together.
10. I just don’t feel like it. This might be the plainest argument of them all. But the simple truth is, having children, at least at this stage in my life, simply isn’t my vibe. And that’s ok.
This piece is in no way a criticism of those who choose or desire to have children. Its sole purpose is to show that there are a lot of women who simply feel differently. Perhaps my preferences will change one day, and if they do, I will respond with an open mind. But if they do not, and I see this as more likely, I will rest calm and assured that I made the right decision. My body. My choices. Simple as that.
If you are someone who also does not plan to have children and struggles with societal pressures, I am hoping this article will feel like a warm hug. An uplifting comment. A kind smile. All decisions are valid, remember that.
Written by Lucie Hunter.
Lucie is a PhD candidate in Political Sociology at Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence, Italy. While not at university, she works as a freelance (documentary) filmmaker and podcast editor and discusses all things burnout and slow living on her blog The Mindful Academic. You can usually find her roaming through Florentine galleries, passionately/obsessively advocating for the societal role of art, or sipping red wine in a local enoteca.
Illustrated by Selen Sarikaya.
Selen is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer based in Florence, Italy. Her work can be found here. She mostly enjoys illustrating small intimate moments and arguably bigger societal issues. Her hobbies include being overwhelmed by where the world is going, mindlessly wandering the streets of Florence and secretly drawing anyone around.