Childfree by Choice
My biological clock broke years ago.
I don’t remember a day in my life I've wanted children. To carry them, birth them, feed them, raise them, worry about them, support them.
For a long time, I thought I was being selfish. I thought I was depriving someone of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That I wasn't doing my part to contribute to humanity and the world.
Society told me that to fit in—to achieve what I, as a child of the United States, understood to be 'The American Dream'—I needed 2.5 kids and a house with a white picket fence. I assumed, as my mother regularly reminded me, that I'd eventually change my mind; that some deep-seated maternal instinct would one day bubble to the surface and of course I'd want to be a mum.
That day never came.
Free to follow my own dreams, I moved from New York to Edinburgh seven years ago to escape a crushing sense of solitude. Fast, frenzied, and fantastic, the Big Apple left me anxious, longing for something more. Thankfully, I found that something—a new circle of childfree friends—3,000 miles across an ocean.
Now 35 and settled in Scotland, I'm sure that day will never arrive. So I'll trade that fence for a hedge, but you can keep the bairns.
Despite growing up with no first cousins, I never saw my married-but-kid-free aunts as role models. Childfree by choice wasn't openly discussed by my family or the characters I watched on TV. It wasn't offered as an option to young women planning their futures through pubescent prophecy games of MASH, crossing off celebrity names to share a mansion, apartment, shack, or house. It was considered a grim fate if you were going to work as an internationally renowned fashion designer and live in a swanky mansion with heartthrob husband Mark-Paul Gosselaar—but have zero kids.
Considering my happily childfree life, I'm often reminded of an episode of Sex & the City, in which quintessential New Yorker Carrie, after losing an expensive pair of shoes at a friend's baby shower, announces she's marrying herself and registers for only one thing: the AWOL Manolo Blahniks.
Likely intended as a more straightforward statement on being single, the inventive idea (like someone posing with their completed dissertation in a newborn photoshoot spoof) highlights the pressure on women to give in to unreasonable expectations—like parenting. It was the first time I saw someone, fictional or not, really embrace that culture of independence that so many young people, myself included, were scared to acknowledge.
My '90s childhood wasn't exactly rife with open chats about personal identity. So while I didn't shy away from explaining to anyone within earshot that no, I never want kids, and no, I don't think I'll change my mind, I still felt like an outsider, misunderstood by adults who thought they knew best. Even today, pregnancy-related affairs—maternity photos, baby showers, sip-and-see parties—leave me feeling nervous and awkward, unsure how to bond with women who endure such a profound experience I'll simply never comprehend.
It wasn't until recently that I finally stopped asking my mum—who, thanks to my big brother, has two amazing grandchildren—whether she was upset I won't be giving her any more (she always said no). Now that I've found my kidless coterie, I no longer need that assurance.
Moving forward, I hope to take up my relatives' unspoken mantle and stand proudly as a childfree woman—honoured to be a member of Rachel Cargle's Rich Auntie Supreme community. Social entrepreneur, philanthropic innovator, and public academic Cargle in 2020 launched a welcoming, energetic, understanding, hilarious virtual home for folks who choose (or are even forced into) the non-reproductive path.
'We recognize that not being a mother doesn't mean that we can't relish in being a nurturing part of the villages among us. We enjoy being "auntie" to our little ones: biological or not', the group's website says. 'We are often (not always) rich in time, rich in rest, rich in travel, rich in space, rich in spontaneity. […] We don't whisper our decision, we live it out with the same joy and pride that others get to have in their own life decisions'.
There is now no shortage of kids in my life—from my flesh-and-blood nephew and niece to previously unfettered friends' growing families. And for every new baby born into my world, I am eternally grateful I choose to be childfree. I choose to sleep in on weekends, to stay up late (realistically, I'm reading in bed by 10:30 p.m every night), to move at my own pace, to spend money on what makes me happy, to binge-watch Netflix without interruption.
I also choose to hang bunting and congratulatory balloons when friends bring home a newborn. I choose (whenever possible) to push a toddler on the play park swing until their smile fades and the flying fox becomes free. I choose to stock my home with toys, books, games, and activities for visiting rugrats. I just don't want my own.
Delicately flushed cheeks. Lively curls blowing in the wind. Demure smile creeping across a virgin face. Eyes wide with wonder, curiosity, excitement, hunger. There's something captivating about children; their naivety, unsullied by human nature; their gossamer voices, like a ray of sunshine beaming out of tiny parted lips.
I never expected to be so deeply impacted by someone else's offspring; to experience such a strong pull of affection every time I look at their sweet face or hear their tender giggle or feel the soft touch of their wee hand. I don't doubt I'd feel the same way—tenfold—if I carried my own for nine months.
But spending time with friends' kids—even mournfully returning them at the end of the day—has given me a new, positive perspective on being childfree.
There are a hundred and one reasons I don't want children, and there's no shame or fault in that. I don't owe anyone an explanation. Not my family. Not my friends. Not a stranger on the internet. And neither do you.
I'm Steph (she/they), an intersectional feminist, LGBTQIA+ advocate, anti-racist in progress, Girlguiding leader, and proud Barry Manilow fan. I'm also a tech news reporter for PCMag.com and run a small linoprint business (find me at @andpressed on Instagram). I am passionate about giving young girls a voice and teaching the next generation that parenthood is not a requirement.