I am 30 years old with a college degree and a full time job, and have been in a stable relationship for 10 years. And right now, I don’t want kids.
I’m not alone in that, either. The US birthrate has been declining for decades, and more women are entering their 30s with no children in tow.
This trend often draws curious reactions from people, especially women and especially mothers. Many are confused or doubtful that a woman would know with fair certainty that she doesn’t want kids.
- “You’ll change your mind.”
- “You’ll regret it later.”
- “Give yourself a few years.”
- “What else are you going to do?”
These are phrases I’ve heard repeated over and over again by countless women in my life — family, friends, co-workers and strangers alike.
I completely understand their perspective. As moms, they experience the world in a way that someone without children will never understand. They know how it feels to create and nurture human life. They have experienced beautiful moments such as the first time their child walks, their first day of school, and all of the other rites of passage that only a parent can cherish. Life before kids and life after kids was a tectonic shift in their lives, and I respect and admire moms for their choice to have children…but I wish they would do the same for those of us that choose not to.
Believe me when I say that the conscious choice to not have children does not come easy, and many women that don’t have kids have spent years coming to their decision. What’s more, this decision is often made with plenty of sadness, self-doubt, anxiety, fear and disappointment, all with the possibility of regret looming over it and the physical inability to take the decision back.
I know that moms don’t always mean to judge harshly or question the motives behind women who don’t want children, but I know from experience that it happens all the time. The perception that childless women are selfish, immature, heartless or irresponsible is all too common in society. In order to help bridge the gap between moms and non-moms, I want to suggest some real reasons that women decide not to have kids.
1Some women aren’t physically able to have children
According to the CDC, roughly 6 percent of married women in the US are not able to get pregnant, and another 12 percent of women have difficulty carrying a pregnancy to term. What’s more, this infertility rate doesn’t even include men; 35 percent of couples who seek treatment for infertility are doing so with a male factor as the cause.
Infertility is an invisible, embarrassing and often heartbreaking issue for a woman to experience. Research has suggested that over half of women experiencing a fertility issue report it as being “the most upsetting experience of their lives” and one that causes severe depression, anxiety and stress. It’s also a problem that many women keep secret because infertility so often feels like a symbol of failure and inadequacy.
There are also many women who can become pregnant, but doing so (or giving birth) could be dangerous. Many preexisting health conditions including diabetes, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure and kidney disease are all factors that increase a woman’s chances for a high-risk pregnancy. It’s been suggested that nearly 8.2 percent of babies born in the US every year are from high risk pregnancies, and recent reporting has shown the US to have the “worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world. “
So what does all this mean? It means that that the choice to not have children is sometimes affected by physical inability or risk. Sure, a woman could seek out expensive and risky medical treatments to combat her infertility, and she could also take the chance of dying in childbirth even if she knew her body wasn’t strong enough. Either way, these are painful and private issues that are rarely discussed openly with those around her.
2Some women are not financially secure
More than 13 million children in the United States either go hungry every day or live in food insecure homes, and roughly 40 million Americans are living in poverty. Low wages, failing public education, job insecurity and economic instability all contribute to this trend, but one thing is clear; many people are having children who can’t financially support them.
Pointing this out is not intended to shame less fortunate families, or suggest that they should miss out on the experience of having kids. But having kids who parents can’t feed, cloth, shelter, or generally provide a stable and healthy living environment for, is not ideal.
Many reasonable adults want to plan for the future, especially if that future requires supporting hungry mouths. What’s the point of having a family if you have to work two or more jobs to support them and have no time to actually bond with them? Additionally, struggling or overworked parents often have to send their children to under-staffed or “budget friendly” daycare, which can be dangerous. The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System reported over 3.5 million cases of daycare abuse and/or neglect cases in one year, and in 2016 there were 1,700 child fatalities. These types of dangers and incidences are a reality for many struggling families who cannot afford to stay home with their children or place them in quality day care.
3Many women don’t want to do it alone
Face it, women have two ticking clocks in their life — one telling them it’s time to meet a partner, and the other that it’s time to have a baby. If they’re lucky, they find the right person to build a solid foundation with by their mid-20s, and with that person they can confidently start a family. Unfortunately, however, many women find themselves single as they approach their 30s, and totally unprepared to have kids alone. Perhaps they dated the same man through their 20s but it ended up not working out, or maybe they decided to focus on their career only to be left with no stable intimate relationship. Whatever the reason, being a single parent is hard and many women may not feel up to the challenge.
Studies show that being raised in a single-parent home can limit a child’s access to economic, parental and community resources, all of which play a major part in development. Many children who are raised in single-parent households struggle with anxiety, depression, failing grades and financial insecurity, and the outcomes for the single parent are no better. Being a single mother means having to work more hours outside of the home and having to face the overwhelming challenges of raising children with no partner.
4Women can be fulfilled in other ways
Perhaps the hardest reason to explain or defend, is the fact that some women simply don’t want children. The horrors of pregnancy, fatigue,
weight gain, post-partum depression, sleepless nights, screaming babies, needy toddlers, constant worry, marital issues, financial burdens, boredom, stress, loss of self…these are the realities of having children. For some, the benefits of having kids outweigh them. For others, though, the desire to be a mom isn’t as strong.
Despite their biological capability, some women are simply fulfilled in other ways. Community, career, hobbies, passions, friends, travel, philanthropy; these are all important aspects of life that should never be considered less important than having children. Being a mother takes time, energy and resources — all of which are also needed to nurture the other parts of a woman’s life. It’s perfectly OK for some women to actively pursue other options than motherhood. We should celebrate and respect their choice.
Motherhood is not for everyone, and the world has a lot to offer to women who choose to not have kids. It’s important to never judge another woman’s decision about her own body and future — the process of making that decision is often more complicated and difficult than it may seem. Let’s support them.
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Sources: NPR, CDC, Harvard Health Magazine, HG.org, HealthData.gov, Prospect.org, NoKidHungry.org