A case for child-free womanhood www.mindthebaby.ie Mind The Baby blog

A case for child-free womanhood

I spent all of my teens and early twenties being horrified at the concept of motherhood. The idea of getting pregnant and having a child was alien to me. Alien enough, that when I was in college I always had enough money set aside to make a trip to England just in case such a scenario should arise. I know that’s probably upsetting to a lot of people but it’s the truth. Motherhood was so alien to me that I fleetingly contemplated the idea of getting my tubes tied while I was still sensible and clearheaded and not overrun with irrational hormones and the relentless quickening tick of my biological clock. Of course this was ridiculous youthful, inexperienced idiocy at its best but it provides a good example of where my thinking was.

A case for child-free womanhood www.mindthebaby.ie Mind The Baby blog
photo credit: Lori Greig via photo pin cc

At some stage my opinion changed where having a baby didn’t seem so unreasonable but that was for other people and I lived my life is a child free zone, interested solely in reaping life’s benefits for myself, living one hedonistic, free-spirited day to the next, not particularly interested in the future outside of trying to climb up the career ladder. (Incidentally, I’ve misplaced my ladder. Have you seen it?).

Then one day I wanted a baby, and boy did I really want one. I couldn’t and can’t explain the overwhelming desire, a need almost, to have a baby. This eventually turned to desperation as months went by without any success. My daily life and my decision making was deeply affected by this waiting and wondering as to why nothing was happening.

It took us exactly two years to conceive, a passage of time that was long enough for us as a couple to think about, discuss and make important decisions for where our life would go if it turned out we couldn’t have children unassisted or indeed at all. One of the light bulb moments for me was realising that if we weren’t going to have children, then I needed to radically change my life.

I looked at my job and where my career seemed to be headed. I looked at where we lived, how we spent our free time, what our ambitions and dreams were, the choices we had made and thought, well if there aren’t going to be any children in this picture, life has to get damn well more exciting and full and satisfying and meaningful then it is right now because right now, life wasn’t good enough. If there won’t be any children, then these…compromises, let’s call them…that we’ve made to faciliate starting and having children need to go. And that’s what they were, compromises. A lot of life and living is compromised and sacrified when you have children. Listen, when I did finally get pregnant, I was more than happy to compromise and sacrifice – and would have compromised and scarificed a very great deal more – but that doesn’t downplay that you do have to make trade offs when you have children. You have to limit yourself to create a limitless world for your babies.

Since I have become a mother, my life has been enriched and I have felt love and received love in ways I never thought possible. It has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. But at the same time, it is the hardest thing I have ever done, or will do, in my life. I wanted it more than anything and still it has at times pushed me to the edge of reason. This experience all by itself has convinced me that motherhood is most definitely not for everyone. If I suspended two years of my life and put literally everything on hold while we tried to make a baby and still struggle with the challenges of mothering and parenting my son, what must it be like for a woman who finds herself with a baby when she never wanted to be a mother in the first place or circumstances have prevailed where she felt pressured to have a family?

Given the stage of life that we’re at now, with a toddler and moving in social circles with other people who have small children or babies on the way, myself and my husband often find ourselves engaged in conversations about responsible or acceptable fathering with horror stories of men’s reactions to having children and their adaptation to their new life. Stories of selfish, self absorbed, hands off, unsupportive fathers are regularly churned through rumour mills and usually end with “some men just aren’t cut out to be fathers” as if that’s a pefectly acceptable reason for a man to shirk his responsibilities. We NEVER hear the same phrase being used about women. Women are not allowed to be described as “not cut out” to be mothers. It’s like we believe that every women has an inevitable destiny to be come a mother. Because she has the biological potential, it must be realised unless something physiological prevents it. Society does not allow a woman to not be a mother because she doesn’t want to and yet the many reasons not to be are vast. Who can deny that the world is your oyster if you don’t have children? You can pursue any dream, goal, career, passion, adventure, fantasy, anything that you like without having to take anyone else into consideration. There is nothing holding you back. This is a very attractive option for your life.

If it is acknowledged that some men are not meant to be fathers and we know that there are incredible fathers in all walks of life also, surely we can deduce that some element of fatherhood is personality based? A man can have a personality and a set of morals and values that are inclined towards or inclined against being a father. Obviously, it’s the same for women. Our own experiences, our communities, our families, society and the media tell us that there are many mothers out there who should never have become mothers and have done unspeakable harm to their children because of it. One of my mottos for life – of which I have quite a few – is “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” This can apply to almost anything. Just pick something that you able to do, and ask yourself if it’s the right thing to do. All women can be mothers, be it biological or otherwise. There’s compelling reasons for many not to be.

I admire women who look into themselves, recognise that motherhood is not for them and choose not to be a mother. Maybe more women need to do this and know that it’s okay to make that decision. I applaud women who are brave enough to tell people that they don’t want any children because we certainly don’t make that easy for any woman. We tell her she’ll change her mind when she meets the right man. We tell her that her biological clock will ring too loudly in her ears and she’ll come around. We call her selfish. We assume she’s infertile and must secretly be dying to have a baby.

She doesn’t want a baby. She’s knows herself well enough to know that having children and being a mother isn’t for her. Being a mother is a life choice, as legitimate as any other choice, like getting a mortgage or travelling the world for a few years. Let women make their choice and then leave them alone.

9 thoughts on “A case for child-free womanhood”

  1. I felt very similarly about having children when I was in college; although I babysat a lot as a teenager, that was for money: I didn’t consider myself at all maternal. Instead, I was highly ambitious and these two personalities — maternal and ambitious — well, American society at least tells us they are incompatible. So imagine my shock when I met my husband, a confirmed bachelor who nonchalantly asked if I wanted to make a baby with him…less than two weeks into dating! Every fiber of me said YES, I think because I sensed he would be a partner in parenting — cut out to be a dad, as you put it. Four children later, the partnership has not always been very even, but I feel very supported in my attempts to balance motherhood and career. Most of the time. Thanks for a great post.

    1. Thank you!

      I think the men in our lives do have a significant influence on the decision making process. Making babies with my husband also sounded very appealing to me – although it certainly wasn’t a case of finding the right man to change my mind! We started going out when I was 21. I was in my late 20s before my thoughts turned to starting a family.

      I’m sure it is the case that for some women who thought they didn’t want children genuinely did change their mind when they met the right man but I’d be confident there are many women who are just not interested in having children at all regardless of their relationship status. Marginalising these women by mocking them for not finding the right man yet is unfair.

  2. Hmmmm, I do agree that women are demonised in our society for not wanting to have children. I have a number of friends who have decided not to have children and they get sooooo many questions from family members about it (most assume wrongly that they are gay). However I also believe within feminism there is a devaluing of motherhood or an ignoring of it. I never ever wanted to have children, because I internalised the message that if I had my life would be ruined, I would achieve nothing (not that I was a high achiever in the first place!). Even when myself and my husband thought about having children we were very vague about it and it wasn’t something I was burning with desire to do – in fact I was very non-commital about the whole thing. And then I found it hard to conceive. Again I wasn’t that bothered – I still had that fear. Part of it was that I would be an awful mother (and yes I do believe that just because you are female does not equate with enjoying motherhood). But it was also because I considered myself a feminist and in my mind that meant children would be bad for me! Then I had my first child and I was so completely thrown by how amazing it was. Yes it was hard, I have never experienced anything harder (she didn’t sleep for 4 years!!), but it has also been the most incredible and important journey I have ever done in my life. Feminism never told me this!!! I think the most important thing is choice really – from all sides of the spectrum. Free to be childless without judgement from society but also feminism needs to embrace mothers and the many paths they walk and see it as a valid life option for women as well. What do you think?

    1. I wholeheartedly agree that feminism needs to embrace mothers. I also believe that the tide is slowly turning on this one. A lot of the most vocal feminist voices at the moment are mothers and this will certainly help.

      I consider myself a staunch feminist and before I turned my mind to having children I certainly would have thought like you did, that it would ruin my life but I think this was because I wasn’t interested in children rather than it being a feminist thought. I think when a woman is not in a headspace where she’s interested in children it’s very easy to make judgements and pour scorn. I know I did.

      I think my personal inner feminist never believed children could hold you back but I know for a fact this is because I grew up in a progressive household where my mother had a very successful career, four children and a husband who was the primary caregiver. It just always seemed normal to me.

      Fantastic comment – thanks for posting!

  3. Oh you gave me loads to chew over there Birthing Mamas! I went off and had a shower after I replied to have another think about it. Here’s my shower thought…

    In my mind, feminism is about choice, or more importantly the freedom to choose – the right things for you and your family. So by that definition it should be exactly as you describe – “Free to be childless without judgement from society but also feminism needs to embrace mothers and the many paths they walk and see it as a valid life option for women as well”. All choices should be valid if they’re the right choice for the woman who made it. The real challenge to overcome is creating a society where women can choose. The suppression is in the lack of choice. I read a really interesting news article the other day (I wish I had kept the link to share with you) which talked about how there’s still so many women in the world who are in a position where they don’t have the choice to not to procreate. Feminism has a long long way to go. The least we can do is sort ourselves out in the first world where all of our feminists are talking from the same page so we can concentrate on helping the women who desperately need support and attention.

    1. Completely agree Mind the Baby, and yes I do think feminism is evolving. I have read some great blog posts recently from women who choose (there’s that word again), to stay at home, but also consider themselves feminists – about how that choice needs to be valued and included in the discourse of what a feminist is and what a woman is. A couple of months after I had my first baby I went along to a Motherhood Conference in UCC. I was soooo excited. I had studied Sociology in college and it was only after having my daughter I realised that in all the years of study with many modules taken on women’s issues I had never taken a course on Motherhood. So I was fierce excited. I was due to go back to work a couple of weeks later and was very despondent about it. I just did not want to leave her – feelings I had never expected at all (I just though life would return to normal with the addition of a baby). Anyway, during one of the discussions it was mentioned that women who want to stay at home with their children only want to do so because they have been indoctrinated by the patriarchal culture. I challenged this, saying that in my case it was because my heart was filled with love for this tiny being who had totally turned my world upside down and I felt she still needed me (she was only 9 months at this stage). They totally dismissed me, and I was dumbfounded by it. It was a very disappointing experience. (As a sidebar, I ended up being able to take 13 months off which was great, and went back part time, but I was still upset leaving her. Fast forward to the second baby a few years later and this time I took 19 months off – finally discovered that being a SAHM is not for me!!! I loved being able to be there for them when they are smaller but as they get bigger I do enjoy having a bit of my own space – I am lucky though in that I have the choice!!!). Two great books if you are interested is: Radical Homemakers which looks at how feminism took the path that it did: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Radical-Homemakers-Reclaiming-Domesticity-Consumer/dp/0979439116/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347790616&sr=1-1 and Why Ireland Hates Motherhood http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mother-Ireland-Why-Hates-Motherhood/dp/1907535136/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347790695&sr=1-1 which is an interesting read as well (though I personally don’t find her criticisms of the women’s movement valid – I think i was pretty inevitable feminism took the path that it did at that time – it is now it needs ot change and develop. It’s nice to have this discussion – as you can probably gather it’s something I am hugely interested in

  4. I know this sounds like the jaded “you don’t have kids so you wouldn’t know” argument (which I always swore I would never use!) but I find it hard to believe that those women at the conference who dismissed your comments were mothers themselves – unless I have a very narrow view of being a mother! Surely even women who take no maternity leave and head straight back to work have an understanding of why another women would choose to be with her children at home?

    Thanks a million for the book recommendations. I have heard of Victoria White’s book but have never gotten around to reading it but I’ll definitely add it to the list and Radical Homemakers looks really interesting!

  5. My husband and I do not have any children (he’s 38, I’m 30). It’s not because we do not want them, it is simply because to this point in our lives we have been apathetic toward the decision. We love children and would be happy to have one yet we also love our current life and are happy to not have children involved. We’ve decided that as long as we don’t feel a strong nagging desire to have a baby we don’t want to do it. We’re perfectly happy and life is great.

What do you think?