In our series ‘Let’s Normalise…’ we look at women making major life decisions on their own schedule. Beginning a new career at 50, starting a family at 40, doing an OE at 60… life only gets better and more interesting as you get older. This edition? I don’t want children.
Why is it when women say they don’t want kids, people become outraged? Kelly Bertrand looks into the ‘last female taboo’ and talks to a young woman who has simply decided motherhood’s not for her.
When Kate tells people she doesn’t want kids, one of two things will happen.
She’ll be met with a supremely awkward silence, followed by a hastily changed subject, or she’ll be told, “Oh, you have to have kids! It’s the best thing in the world!”
“Every time,” she tells Capsule with an exasperated smile. “It’s never a normal conversation following that. There’s also a lot of ‘oh, you might not want them yet – but just you wait!’. But no, actually. I just don’t want kids.”
Kate, an Auckland-based advertising executive, says that children are simply not what she wants in her life – and she doesn’t understand why people find that so hard to accept.
“I’ve never been particularly maternal,” she explains. “I’ve never been one of those women who ogle babies or felt clucky. And like everyone else I thought that would change as I got older and it would be this intense desirethat would just come over me, but it hasn’t happened.”
Kate and her husband did used to assume kids would be a part of their relationship – but as they’ve settled into their lives, they gradually realised that they really like their life – and they didn’t want it to change.
“It seems like the natural progression of adult life, you tick off the boxes – marriage, house, baby – so of course you just figure it’ll happen. But ticking off a box just because society tells you to is not a good enough reason to have children, I don’t think.”
Kate’s not alone – this year, our birth rate dropped to its lowest level on record, according to Stats NZ, with Kiwi women giving birth an average of 1.61 times each. Countries like Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States have seen similar trends.
So why are more and more women choosing to live child-free? Factors like cost of living and helping the environment certainly come into play, but for a lot of women, it just comes down to a simple reason – they just don’t want children.
Many people say that having kids is the most natural thing in the world – and yup, sure. But what people don’t tend to mention is the huge toll it takes on women. Physically, mentally, financially, emotionally, spiritually – the loss of identity, the loss of career, the loss of your figure is totally worth it for some women. But for others, it’s just not.
As well as not feeling ‘maternal’, Kate says that there are other reasons for wanting to stay child-free.
“This might not sound great, but I really value my relationship with my husband,” she explains. “I love how we are together, and I’ve seen so many couples who just break when they have kids. And maybe it’s not because of the kids, but they seem to make life infinitely harder. I just don’t want that for my life – and of course, there are all these amazing things that come with children, but all of the difficulties that come with them seem to be getting harder.
“We don’t live in communities anymore, where raising children is a shared responsibility. And a lot of us can barely make ends meet as it is. Also, there’s the option of being able to choose what you want to do with your life – that’s just not something I want to give up.”
And yet, for all our feminist pushes and battles for equality, the stigma of not wanting to be a mother is still rampant. We all know that women are damned if we do, damned if we don’t – “No matter what we choose, someone’s going to have a very strong opinion about it,” says Kate – but what is with this lingering and inherent belief that we’re somehow not fulfilling our purpose if we don’t procreate?
“I don’t know,” Kate muses. “There are some people who still believe that a women’s role is to stay home and have kids, and maybe it’s more ingrained in people that they’d like to believe.
“Out of all my friends, there’s only one other couple who have decided to not have kids and are open about it, and all of the others either have them or are pregnant. And I can’t help but wonder, did you all actually want to have kids? Or is it just the pressure on you? Some of this is really hard to say and you think you sound like an evil human, but potentially, I don’t think all of those people wanted that future.”
Child-free and childless women have long been discriminated against. Bearing children has been viewed as the acceptable choice for thousands of years – ancient Roman women with no kids could be legally divorced, in the Middle Ages, they thought infertility was a sign that Satan had come calling.
These days, terms like ‘selfish’ or ‘career-obsessed’ are used instead, and not having kids has been described as the ‘final female taboo’ But what’s stayed the same is that we as a society still believe that bearing a child is a moral imperative.
A 2018 Indiana University study confirmed this, their findings showing that child free women (and men) were consistently viewed as being less “personally fulfilled” than those with kids. Study participants also reported “significantly greater” feelings of moral outrage, anger, disapproval and distrust towards those who have chosen to be child free.
While it’s still a strange subject, Kate’s used to people’s awkwardness when she says she’s not having kids. It’s a fraught issue for so many women, especially those who desperately want children but have difficulty conceiving, but for Kate, she wishes she could speak more freely about her decision because, quite simply, she doesn’t think it’s a big deal.
“There’s definitely more hesitation to even bring up the idea of having kids amongst young people, which I understand is out of concern for those who are struggling so much with infertility,” she says. “Older people – not so much!
“People assume that it’s a touchy subject, which I get, but for me it’s not and I’m happy to talk about it. It’s a little unfortunate that it can’t be a normal conversation.”
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