Motherhood

7 Women on Deciding Not to Have Kids

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.)

  1. Ann says...

    I keep going back to this post. I believe that women should have the ability to choose to not have children without the judgement and without constant belittling from those who choose to have children. These women can have whole fulfilling lives. They CAN BE and ARE happy with where they are in the lives. Men can choose to not have children and people don’t badger them and judge them to the same degree at all!

    That all said, I come from a fairly traditional background and the pressure to have children has been IMMENSE! I can’t sit down for 5 minutes without being badgered with ‘When are you having kids?’ questions. I grew up indifferent about having kids but always always felt strongly that women do not have to have kids if they don’t want to.

    I’m in my 30s and spent my 20s focusing on my career. I am a super successful creative leader in my industry and am constantly recruited. I’ve won design awards and am on the path to being able to buy a home in full. My husband and I travel a lot pre-COVID. But none of this matters. My mother literally said, “Your career doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have kids.” or “Your husband is OK with you having this?” Our conversations revolve around children or that if I don’t have children soon, I’ll give birth to deform babies. It’s just a very frustrating position to be in when you’re basically only valued as a person if you have babies.

    I miscarried twice last year and I can already hear her say, “It’s because you waited so long.” or some non-consequential but equally rude comment.

  2. Christina Copp says...

    I never wanted children.
    My husband and I lived together in London, UK, and he was ready to move back to his home country Australia. We came to a compromise – we would move to Australia and think about the kid option, but I wanted to stay in the UK longer and travel. So we did. Then we moved to Australia and I got pregnant pretty easily. That pregnancy ended at 22 weeks, my husband holding our tiny dying son, sobbing and saying ‘I can’t believe this was my only chance to have a child’ and in that moment, I knew I’d try again for him. Our daughter Anna is 13 months and so fun. I don’t regret her at all. However, it took me months to feel love, and while I do love her, it’s not always that all-consuming love I thought I’d have. And I miss the love I shared with my husband. He’s taken a bit of a back seat to her, though we’re in a much happier phase than the newborn one! But I do love how much he loves her, that feels worth it for the person I love most.
    I do miss my old life – lazing around reading all day, travelling – life not dictated by a nap schedule. But I had 37 years of that, and I soaked it up. I definitely don’t think having a child is the filling the missing piece of the puzzle. We only get one life, it should be spent however we want, we SHOULD be selfish, it’s OUR life!

  3. Meg says...

    Child free by choice in my 30’s and I feel like child free joy is not celebrated often. I’d like to share what one aspect I love about it! I feel such freedom at being child free. I love lazy weekend mornings laying in bed, reading, or making pancakes. If any other readers would like to share what they love about being child free I’d love to hear! 💓

    • Alice says...

      Great idea – I love being able to do my low paying, long hours, not child friendly, extremely gratifying career choice. I do what I love everyday, I feel like I’m making the world a better place and I can put all my energy into this endeavor. I love prioritizing my relationship. I love having sex whenever I want and making as much noise as I want. I love being able to create projects on a whim. I love being able to have crazy nights out and not worry about what will happen the next day when I’m hungover and tired. I love sleeping as late as I need each morning (self employed bliss). I love my friends, and I love that I can see them whenever I want. I love not owning a car and taking the metro everywhere I go. I love going to the farmers market and spending too much money on my fancy groceries and wine. I love traveling when school is in session to avoid crowds……

  4. Ani says...

    For much of my life I’ve been unsure on whether or not I wanted kids, but when my mom passed away 9 years ago, I found myself suddenly having a stronger longing to have them. I wanted to have a go at what my mom described her greatest passion—being our mom. Though I felt I could never come close to being the incredible mother she was, I wanted to try. I’ve decided since that I would like to have kids, but only if I had a partner who was in it with me. Well, I just turned 39 this week. I have had some short lived relationships through my thirties, one that was longer and I thought was a sure thing but turned out I was the only one that felt that way. As I’m nearing my 40s and not finding someone I connect with, I’m grappling with the fact that having my own kids may never happen. I’m wishing I had no desire to have them, but the truth is that I mostly feel a little sad when I consider it’s not in the cards for me. In other moments, I look at my life and love right where I’m at. I just wish there was more time to do it all. And that was another truth revealed when my mom died: time goes much too quickly, so take advantage of what you have.

  5. Amy says...

    COJ, can you please make the ads at the bottom of my phone go away? Or at least make them static images? I know ads are necessary but the movie trailer I’m forced to X out every 45 seconds is very distracting. Thank you!

  6. Thank you so much for normalizing this decision to be childfree by choice! I wrote a similar post on my blog a couple of years ago and I love so much that more women are being open about their decision. I’m still not sure if kids are in my future—I grew up with younger brothers and definitely imagined at some point that I’d have kids of my own, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that maybe they aren’t in my future, and that’s okay, too.

  7. E says...

    It’s so amazing to see articles like this with so many perspectives and, to date, over 900 (!!!) comments! I’m 45, in a 20 year relationship with a man who never wanted to have children we were so alone for so long on this issue. I always knew, he did too (for which we are both so grateful- to be on the same page about something so big). We both deeply, deeply love our nieces and nephew. Other children? Mmmm, no (and I hate the obligation to say “But, I love kids!”). We’ve never regretted our choice, despite the MANY times I’ve been told otherwise. There are so many paths to family.

  8. Maud says...

    Thank you for this story Kim!!

  9. Mary says...

    I too am someone who never liked being around children, but feel pressured to tack on, “…but I really love kids!” I am head over heels for my sister’s kids and love them more than words can say. But my 5 nieces and nephews on my husband’s side? I feel guilty every time I think of how I just tolerate them (doesn’t help that they’re bratty, wild, and poor-mannered). Sometimes I go out of my way to find reasons not to attend gatherings with these kids. It’s just too noisy, too overwhelming, and my face hurts from forcing a smile for the inevitable “let’s get all the kids in the middle of the room to do cute things so we can ooh and aah over them!” My husband’s family definitely expects me to show these kids as much love and attention as my own sister’s kids. I feel like a big faker.

    • Lucy says...

      Mary, I feel like we might be kindred spirits!!! I love my brother’s kids to death but I cannot STAND my husband’s nephews. Omg, this might actually be the first time I’m saying this out loud — they’re just TOO rude and entitled and overbearing and bratty and utterly self-absorbed, constantly shrieking/whining/pummeling each other and always interrupting the adults and monopolizing the conversation and acting like total know-it-all blowhards about such kid-related topics (not!) as the global economy, international trade and geopolitics. Really getting a head start on mansplaining things to people in the future! What’s worse is their parents just smile and entertain them and treat their rambling incoherent thoughts (which always drag on for far too long) like the gospel truth, and expect all in attendance to treat their kids’ verbal diarrhea with the same reverence. FFS, they’re 8 and 6 years old, it’s not like they’re savants or anything. They’re just spewing kid nonsense! I too have to plaster on a big fake polite smile, but I refuse to participate in the frankly grating “look at me, look at me” attention-grabbing pantomime and just excuse myself after tossing out a few requisite “oh really, that’s nice” comments to wander off elsewhere. I may not actually have been able to hide my impatience with such obnoxious behaviour as well as I’d thought though, coz my husband will be volunteered for babysitting duties once in a while but not me, ha. Honestly, kids like them make me long for the days when children were seen but not heard, although admittedly those 2 kids got that entitled from having their egos constantly massaged by their parents. My husband knows they’re not my favourites but he doesn’t pressure me to show them the same amount of affection as my own siblings’ kids, thank goodness. I too feel the occasional pangs of guilt but then I remember how they run roughshod over me — verbally and physically — and the guilt vanishes. I just have as little to do with them as possible, and that means limiting family gatherings too. You’re not alone!

    • Maud says...

      Same!! So glad to see that someone shares my feelings. :/

    • Mary says...

      Thank goodness for this CoJ community — I feel less alone! There’s a general air of shock I get when I vaguely mention this to close friends — like, “You don’t LOVE your dear husband’s nieces/nephews?!?” I care for their well-being, sure, but honestly they’re the worst. @Lucy, YES, kindred spirits indeed!! The longer these obligatory gatherings last, the more obvious it is that my patience and politeness have worn to the bone, and the happier I am to be childfree. Can I also confess that one of the silver linings of the pandemic has been not having to see these rotten kids? I feel bad that my husband asks about and shows so much love toward my sister’s kids, but he also generally enjoys kids. The only kids that I can truly love are my sister’s.

  10. margaret says...

    Thanks for this article Kim! My husband and I decided to stay child-free at age 40, and 11 years later, we’re thrilled with our decision. One interesting thing I’ve noticed over the years: when I first decided not to have kids, I thought it would be important to me to have kids in my life, so I gave my friends free babysitting, and volunteered with kids. You know what? It turns out I’m so much happier when I don’t do that, when I hang out and volunteer with adults instead. The lesson that I’ve drawn from this is that we’re so programmed as women to believe that children are crucial to a happy life that it’s incredibly hard to recognize when that isn’t personally true. I’m so grateful that I heeded my gut feeling because societal expectations made it very difficult to think through this decision honestly. I hope articles like this one make it much easier for women making this decision today!

  11. Lesley says...

    I have been waiting for an article like this for a long time. Women passed the age of childbearing who didn’t have children and love their life. I am about to turn 40 and coming to terms with the fact that I won’t be a mother. I never wanted children but for some reason, no longer having the option to is casting my choice in a different light. I think what I’m grieving is the loss that comes from choosing one path over another, along with the passage of time and moving into a new phase of womanhood. Please keep stories like these coming. Woman are so wonderful and all of our paths and choices should be celebrated!

  12. Kate says...

    I am so grateful for this article, thank you for including every facet of being a woman!
    Before getting married, my husband and I had an honest conversation and both of us felt strongly that we did not want children. A few years into our marriage we started to see a few newly married couples we knew who had also agreed not to have children, divorce because one of them changed their mind. That scared me. So my husband and I had another honest conversation and much like Ana in the article, we decided that if one of us changed our minds, we would at least talk about it and decide from there. But that’s been 16 years and we both feel as strongly if not stronger now that not having children is the right choice for us.
    I am a petite woman with a baby face, often being mistaken for someone in their 20’s, despite the truth that I’m on the precipice of my 40’s. Often when I tell people I’m meeting for the first time, I don’t have any children, it doesn’t solicit much of a reaction. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because they assume I’m much younger than I am. Sometimes I wonder if that will change as my face catches up to my real age.
    There are times I try to peer into the future and see what the road and ahead holds. Of course I can’t say for sure, but for now I don’t see any regrets in my choices.

  13. Caroline says...

    I can’t even explain how much this article helped me. Thank you, COJ, for always reminding me that I am not alone. ❤️

  14. Marsha says...

    Due to life circumstances and poor choices by my mother, I became the primary caregiver to my newborn sister at the age of 13 yrs old. Let me tell you that was a life changing experience and more or less solidified my decision not to have children. I married late in life, age 59, to a man with wonderful adult children. While I sometimes feel wistful about not having raised the lovely children of my husband, I know in my heart I made the right choice for me by not having children. I have enjoyed my life, have wonderful long term friendships and now a great husband! I can only say that I wish society did not view childless women as suspect in some way. It is not selfish to not bear children, and in my mind far better than having them and then being unable or unwilling to become parents who raise well-adjusted responsible adults. People make life choices for many reasons. So, to those who choose to remain childless, I say hurrah to knowing and being true to yourself.

  15. Katie says...

    Mostly I can’t get over the fact that it’s apparently hard for a woman to get her tubes tied if she wants to! Infuriating.

  16. Jen says...

    This is something I felt I didn’t have to explain to people. I felt it’s my life and whoever I spend my life with life also. I never was worried on peoples choices and feelings about me not having kids. I am happy with my decision and it’s something I do not want. Plain and simple. We have to normalize not having to have a long drawn out answer on why not.

  17. honore says...

    American has not, in fact, supported mothers or families, despite the last several decades of propaganda. For that reason, I’m out.

  18. Gwen says...

    Catching up on COJ and a bit late to the discussion, but I love this post. My husband and I are in our 30s and child free by choice. One thing that helped solidify my decision not to have kids is that I work with an unusually large number of women (and men) who are in their 40s-60s and do not have children. I don’t know all of them well outside of work, have any idea how they feel about not having children, but even just having these coworkers as an example makes me feel like I’m not breaking some huge cultural norm.

  19. Lynn says...

    I love this! Can we please normalize the fact that just because a woman can reproduce doesn’t mean she wants children? Or that just because two people are married doesn’t mean the next thing is to have kids? The second I got married the questions rolled in on when I was going to have kids. In fact, I have a friend who since we were children, she wanted to be a mom, and has constantly asked me to have kids since we were in our early 20s–this always irritated me and made me not want to have them even more. I have so many friends who have a strong desire to be a mom and I am not sure I’ve felt that. I do enjoy children and love my niece and nephew to bits, but I always say that I am going to take life one day at a time and if at some point I get the urge and desire to have a child, I will. But right now, I don’t want one. I love the freedom I have to travel and sleep in, and sleep through the night, and do whatever I want whenever I want.