Deep inside I always thought I wanted children…probably… eventually…possibly. When I graduated from college in the late 1990s, friends started having children while I remained happily unencumbered. Even after I married, our family planning consisted of not having children right away. And when I reached my late thirties–a time when many childless women become desperate for motherhood-I nevertheless did not feel like I was missing out on anything.
Today, more and more women are choosing not to have children, and while the stigma has not entirely lifted, it is not entirely what it used to be, either. Some say the urge to have children is partially biological. If so, then what does that say about women who do not want to have children? I meet women, both older and younger, who struggle with the contemplation of parenthood. Should they try to have a child anyway, and if they do not, will they regret it later? Furthermore, do they actually want a child to fulfill their own needs, or do they feel the pressure of society, their extended family, or even a spouse? The issue is obviously even more fraught for women of prime childbearing age who are having trouble conceiving. How far should they push the issue, and how much money are they willing to spend on making it happen?
In my late 30s and early forties, my husband and I did actively try to conceive. We were unsuccessful in our natural attempts. We started to consider IVF (in vitro fertilization) but the physical ramifications and financial burdens were too great compared to our apathetic desires. I have seen other women who wanted children so much that they almost seemed to erase a part of themselves with their anxiety. Though I probably would have welcomed a child, the yearning of these women seemed absolutely foreign to me. As a result, we just decided to stop focusing on having a baby, and a baby never came.
I do not regret not having children and I do not feel like I missed out on the experience. However, I rarely volunteer how utterly happy I am with the decision I made either. This decision has allowed me to prosper in other aspects of my life. It has granted me the time to be able to successfully start and run a business. It has allowed me to become empowered in a way that a full-time mother will never experience. In essence, a childless life has given me both personal and economic freedom.
I used to wonder how life could have been different. Could I have been that supermom who juggled family and a full-time career, giving my extra time to my family, instead of providing open availability to my clients? The straight answer is no, and whenever I traveled down this possible future path, depression would come upon me. No matter how helpful my husband promised to be, I knew the bulk of the responsibility would fall on me, the mother. Deep down I always knew that was not the life for me.
I have never given life to another person. However, I am amazed and grateful, daily, at how much happiness has come my way. I have friends of all ages. I’ve had incredible romances, spectacular travels and now an amazing marriage. I take pleasure in being able to take my niece to Europe every summer and show her the wonders of the world. I am not immune to the desire to care about other living creatures. I am the mother of five cats, whom my husband and I call “the kids.” We love them dearly and they play an important role in my life, just as I do in theirs.
So many accounts of lives without children–lives such as mine–are met with negative societal reactions. It is difficult when one is young to make the distinction between what you think you should want, and what you actually want. One thing everyone who is childless hears is, “If you don’t have children, you will regret it later.” They are wrong. I do not regret my decision. To have no regrets means one experienced everything just as one had planned and made the correct decision at every single juncture. I honestly feel I have followed the path I was meant to follow, and children were simply not meant to be part of that equation.
To younger women who believe that a child-free life will be an unfulfilling one, please keep in mind that your future self is a person you have not yet met. Do not presume to know everything about your future self in advance, and do not think you can control every element of your life. The reality is, sometimes even the choices you make by default can bring great happiness–perhaps, just not the sort of happiness you initially envisioned.