Lately, I’ve been on the fence about whether or not I want to have children. Is it what I want, or something society tells me I want? I haven’t made up my mind, but I love talking to people on both sides to gain perspective. We talked to seven women — of different ages — about why they decided to be childfree and how it has shaped their lives…

Danielle, 50
When my husband and I married at age 28, he was interested in the idea of kids, but I wasn’t sure, so we talked and talked and talked about it for years. We decided that if it still didn’t feel right by the time I was 40, it would officially be off the table. That was 10 years ago. I was worried at first because, meeting with friends, my husband is the guy who’s on the floor playing with kids and I’m talking to the adults. I never felt like I ‘had to’ have a baby. I knew that it would require a major life change and I just never felt the pull of motherhood that I imagine other women do. My husband had a vasectomy and we told our parents we weren’t going to have kids. Our families have been mostly supportive of our decision. One of my sisters said, ‘Who will take care of you when you’re old?’ which is not enough of a reason to have kids. We both like the life we’ve created together and didn’t feel a need to change it. I can’t imagine our lives any differently — we have no regrets.

Rachel, 34
I’ve always known I wanted to be childfree. Or rather I should say, my heart wants kids maybe 25%, which feels too low for my partner and me to bring a child into this world. So many of my friends and siblings who have kids seem to have really wanted them, which made me recognize the lack of my own desire.

Being in a queer relationship also means that having a child requires a large financial, time and energy investment. For so many of our queer friends, it’s such an intentional decision. Also, choosing a sperm donor, maybe someone you’ve never met, who carries your kid’s genes. With friends in lesbian relationships, it’s been interesting also to see which partner will carry the child, or if they have multiple children, if you each carry one child. What I like about queer relationships is that even though there are a lot of hurdles to getting a child, you can make your own rules, which can be scary but also liberating. It’s been wonderful to see how my friends parent.

I’m always surprised by how many people have assumed I will change my mind or assume that my decision reflects some judgement of their life (it does not). Among my scientist peers, being childfree is relatively common, compared to my non-scientist friends, most of whom have children. Instead, I’m leaning into what Rachel Cargle describes as Rich Auntie Supreme. It’s such a fun community and I feel so seen there. I love getting to show up for my friends’ and relatives’ children, spending time with them, reading, playing and exploring with them. I think of the ‘gay uncle theory’ (or in my case, the gay aunt) in biology, where I get to funnel all the love, time and money I could have spent on my own children into supporting other people’s kids.

Additionally, I’m able to spend the rest of my time nurturing and indulging myself, spending my time and money on things that bring me deep joy and nurture my inner child. I read novels and watch foreign films. I travel and make spontaneous plans (when there isn’t a pandemic). I learned how to cross stitch and skateboard. I go for long runs and practice yoga and swim in the ocean. I cook luxurious meals which I drink with red wine and bake my favorite desserts. For me, having a child would feel like a loss of self and I’ve loved being able to cultivate a life so focused on pleasure.

J., 29
It was a something I always knew. I had really loving parents, but I also got the idea that children were more of a nuisance. I was told to act like an adult when I was four. I grew up in the Baptist church and wondered in my early twenties if I would find a partner who was ok with my not wanting a child. My husband said, ‘I kept waiting for you to change your mind’ because I actually love kids. I think when people think of childfree women they think we’re like Miranda Hobbes and way more staunch, but I was a student teacher, I taught at our church’s nursery, and I loved kids. But if you ask a little girl what she wants to be when she grows up and she says, ‘I want to be a mommy,’ people never tell her, ‘Oh, you’ll change your mind someday!’

I got my tubes tied last year and it was hard to find a doctor in Texas who would do it since I was in my twenties. I was constantly told, ‘We only do it if you already have kids.’ I finally found a doctor through a co-worker, and I felt like I was doing a drug deal. My co-worker told me, ‘My doctor will do it, but she doesn’t advertise it.’ I felt such a weight lifted after I had the procedure done, and it only solidified my decision. I am so happy being the favorite auntie, and I honestly think I have more to give to the world by not being a mother.

Peggy, 67
I knew by age 13 that I didn’t want to have kids. In my life, at times I’ve exhibited enormous wisdom, and at other times, enormous stupidity. One of the points of wisdom was not marrying someone who wanted kids when I didn’t. My husband didn’t want kids, and every time we’d go to visit my in-laws they’d ask if I was pregnant yet. Finally, we just had to tell them we weren’t having children.

I would meet new women in town and the first thing they’d say is, ‘How many kids do you have? Don’t you want kids? Don’t you want someone to love?’ To which I answered, ‘None. No. I don’t need someone to love.’ I’ve been divorced for 40 years now and thank god I didn’t have any kids with my ex. I would’ve been tied to him forever, because parenting doesn’t just stop when they’re 18 and move out of the house. When I was about 35, I went to my gynecologist to get my tubes tied. I still didn’t want kids and I wanted to get off birth control. She explained some alternative options for avoiding pregnancy but told me I couldn’t get the procedure done then because I was still of childbearing age; they thought I might change my mind, which is bullshit. This was in the late 80s, and it took me about a decade to convince them to do the procedure.

Some benefits of being childfree have been how much I’ve been able to travel and how much money I have at my disposal. For example, I spent six weeks in Ecuador and I spent a month in the Yucatan Peninsula. I didn’t make a lot of money — I had a government job — and I wouldn’t have had enough to travel if I’d had a child. I cannot wait to travel solo again. All I need is someone to watch my cats when I go. I’ve never ever, ever had any regrets.

Margaret, 38
Back in the spring of 2016 when my now-husband were dating, I went to visit one of my best friends and meet her newborn baby, Stella. As I held the brand new life in my arms, I knew in that moment that this was not what I wanted. It was that fast. Sob stories and childhood issues aside, my relationship with my mother is almost non-existent. I realized I didn’t want to take a gamble on my life by creating another one just for the sake of expectations. After returning from my trip, my boyfriend and I went out to eat. Brian cautiously asked, ‘Soooo….does this now make you want to have a bunch of Stellas?’ I responded, ‘No. In fact made me realize that I don’t want children, but I do want you.’ And that’s how I proposed to my boyfriend, now husband.

Katie, 34
My journey to being childfree started with my French teacher in high school. She was the most well-traveled, well-spoken, smart, wonderful human, who opened my eyes to the option of choosing not to have kids. In the suburban Midwest, there were very few examples of women living a childfree life. My choice was solidified when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27. The frenzy of appointments included an appointment with the fertility doctor. At the time, my partner and I weren’t yet married and ultimately I’d have to put off chemo and treatment to wait for the egg retrieval and all the hormone injections that go along with that. It was truly the most important ultimatum of my life: choose fertility or choose to preserve my own livelihood as quickly as possible. I chose myself. I hope that being childfree makes me a better daughter, friend, wife and sister. I can be present in ways that I probably couldn’t if I were looking after another human. I love kids and cherish my friends’ kids and my many nieces, but I don’t feel passionate enough about my love of kids to have one myself. I hope that we can normalize that feeling for women!

Ana, 53
My husband and I had a lot of discussion about children before we married, and essentially decided that if one of us wanted kids badly enough, then the other would happily compromise. We let it ride as long as we could and eventually realized that, while we loved kids, we also really loved our life the way it was. We live in a big city and enjoy a lot that it has to offer. Neither of us felt compelled to have children.

We’re completely content childfree and have friends and family with children who we enjoy spending time with. In my early 20s, I lived with my sister and her son. I was in the room when he popped out, which contributed to a strong connection to him. I very naturally fell into co-parenting with her, and I cared for him when she went back to work, so I got a lot of one-on-one time, just figuring it out as I went. A while back, he started including me in his Mother’s Day celebrations, and I was floored! It was so sweet and genuinely a beautiful gesture. Despite having been pretty darn close to motherhood, I never felt the pull to have a child myself. Still, I’m so grateful to be included in his life in this way. He’s very close to his mom, and I get to be the auntie-mom-second-banana. Lucky me!

Thank you so much to those who generously shared their stories! Would you like to have kids or not? Are you on the fence? We’d love to hear your thoughts…

P.S. 8 more women on choosing not to have kids, 5 Cup of Jo readers on why they’re childfree, and what if you’re not sure if you want kids or not?

(Photo by Lucas Ottone/Stocksy.)