As a woman without a child, I’m constantly queried about when the time will be. You know what? Get your mind out of my uterus.
The other day, I was asked (again) whether I was planning to have children. The further I get into my thirties, the more I get asked this question — tick-tock and all that. Except this time it was by the guy who came to fix my rowing machine.
We had made small talk for a sum total of a minute and a half when he felt the pressing need to work out how it was possible that I didn’t have children by my age and that I really should get to it before it was too late. He didn’t say that last bit, of course — they never do — but that was the implication.
I often wonder why people feel that it is perfectly okay to ask a total stranger about their personal life choices. Perhaps I’d spent years trying to get pregnant — and it was a trauma that I didn’t particularly want to rehash while offering a glass of water to someone who was only in my house because I’d paid him to fix something.
Or maybe, just maybe, I don’t want children. And I don’t care to justify that to anyone, least of all someone I don’t know.
Despite the fact that childfree couples are set to become more common than families with kids in the next 10 years, there is still a strange stigma attached to this choice. The question about whether I want children is usually followed up with one about how my partner feels, as though I’m doing him an enormous disservice.
I wonder whether, on his own, he is asked so frequently about his childlessness. He doesn’t have the disadvantage of a biological clock, after all, counting minutes that usher him closer to that terrible point of no return.
Moving through your thirties, your friendship group starts to get divided up into those with children and those without. You start making friends who are either significantly older or younger, as your peers are no longer out taking dancing classes — they’re at home looking after children. An old friend with a young baby once said she “didn’t approve of my lifestyle choices” because I was still going to parties on a Saturday night.
A new friend without children asked me if I was planning to have kids within weeks of us getting to know each other, because she told me frankly that she didn’t want to form an emotional attachment to somebody who was going to drop off the map. I’ve had other child-free friends express a similar sentiment — we all know the difficulties (though not impossibility) of maintaining a close friendship with a woman who has kids.
But even though our demographic is growing rapidly, being childfree is still not treated as a normal thing for women to do. A few years ago, the HuffPost ran an article with the headline: “Cameron Diaz Says She’s Completely Happy With Her Choice To Be Childfree” as though it was unthinkable that a woman might find joy in something other than parenting. (Would they ever run such a headline about Leonardo DiCaprio, I wonder?)
Recently, a scathing Vanity Fair article about the coastal town of Byron Bay in Australia alerted me to the existence of so-called ‘mommy’ bloggers and influencers. Clearly I’m not their target audience. They tout a return to simplicity, which in effect means dressing their children in linen and refusing to give them phones while they earn a large income from displaying their family lives — or rather a perfect version of them — all over Instagram.
Their social media feeds espouse a sort of glorification of fertility and parenting, filled with pregnancy photoshoots and staged pictures of their abundance of children (in linen), all similar in age, among magnificent beach backdrops. I am not judging the decision to have children, but the popularity of mumstagrammers seems inherently at odds with demographic trends —in Australia, the average per woman is now less than two children.
I do wonder whether they get asked the same questions as me, but in reverse. Does anyone ask them why they decided to have children? Does anyone ask a woman with a child if she will regret her decision? Does anyone imply that her choices make her selfish? Emotionally unfulfilled? Immature?
Last week, while drinking wine on a balcony with my childfree friend on a Friday afternoon (because we can do that any time we want), she commented that there are no role models for women who do not have children. “Show us how that can be a fulfilling choice!” she practically shouted down to the street.
Show us how women can find rewards in something other than motherhood without it somehow making us “less than”. Show us how we can be valued as more than our reproductive capabilities. Let’s talk about how we can be fulfilled in our work, our creative pursuits, our friendships, and yes even in our relationships with other people’s children that doesn’t leave us wanting our own.
There are plenty of reasons why women decide not to have children. I don’t have to give you mine.