We Chose to Live Intentionally Child-Free and We’re Still Happy

couple holding hands

I’ve written here before about not being afraid to mourn the path not taken, and recently I’ve had to take that more to heart. I think I’ve started the mourning process about not having children.

A few incidents recently brought this life choice simmering to the top. I turned 31. I quit my job and haven’t found another one yet. (And haven’t been looking too hard, if I’m being honest.) I’ve been married for over two years. My husband turned 39. And all my friends are snuggling new babies, wearing maternity clothes, or trying to get pregnant (which is its own heartbreaking post). All the external signs of my life indicate that kids should be on the horizon, and I still don’t want them.

I haven’t wanted kids for a while—that’s not new. What’s new is that when I cracked a joke the other day about selling my eggs if we ever got really destitute (I’m blonde and had high SAT scores, so clearly I must be a desirable candidate!) it occurred to me that this probably isn’t an option anymore.

The train of thought that followed went something like this:

I’m 31-years-old. Nobody wants 31-year-old eggs. If my eggs are no longer useful to someone willing to pay for them, eventually they won’t be useful to me, either. They just won’t work anymore. “Eventually” is in this decade of my life. And at some point not having children won’t be a choice that we have to make sometime in the future, but it will be a choice that we already made, by not having them. I’m 31. Jeff is 39. It’s now (or in the next five years) or never. And it will probably be never. Holy f*cking sh*t.

You get the idea.

It all felt very real all of a sudden, in a way that it never has before. And with that, I entered the mourning process for the child we most likely will never have.

I love my life and I love my marriage, which makes this mourning process, and the sadness that accompanies it, confusing. But it is a confusion that I don’t mind talking about, because I firmly believe that the thing about hard choices and sad choices and second guessing is that women don’t talk about it, which makes everyone feel isolated and crazy without a shared experience to comfort and support. So I don’t mind talking about our choice and all my feelings around it. I’ve never been a closed book (hello, blog) and I love having intelligent discussions with people about personal issues like children. If I want society in general to view my child-free life with respect, I need to be open about it, and I am happy to be that example.

However, there are good ways and bad ways to have this discussion. Allow me to share one of each.

Jeff and I were having dinner with our friends last month when their six-year-old girl asked, out of the blue, “Lauren and Jeff, are you going to be parents?” We laughed, and her mom said, “When they’re ready, sweetheart.” Which wasn’t really true, but regardless, the conversation could have ended there. I chose to give her my own answer, though, and said “We probably won’t be parents, Grace, but that means we’ll be able to hang out with you even more!” She ran out of the room, satisfied, and my comment led to a great discussion with her mothers about their decision to have children and how that might have looked different if one of them didn’t want kids. These two parents treated me, and my choice, with respect, and I was able to offer not having kids as a valid option for a little girl who might someday remember that. This is why being honest about the difficulties around big life decisions matters.

More often, however, I feel that society doesn’t see my choice as a valid one, and that was never more evident than on my front porch on Halloween night. My neighbor from across the street brought his 2-year-old over for trick-or-treating, and he mentioned that one of the other families on our street wanted to have a block party next spring. I already knew this because I was planning it with them, but he pointed to my downstairs neighbors’ door and said, “Well now that they have a little one, it’s easier to get everyone together.” He then pointed out his carved pumpkin, which was apparently a character from a popular kids’ TV show. He asked us if we knew what it was, and when we said no, he said “Well you will, when you have kids, sooner rather than later.”

Jeff and I closed the door and burst out laughing (this guy is crazy, and he has said similarly awkward things before) but a few minutes later, my chest filled with rage. How dare this man insinuate that I am a less worthwhile neighbor or community member because I don’t have a “little one,” while he stood on the porch that my husband and I had decorated, and referred to my rude and unfriendly neighbors who had all their lights off and weren’t even passing out candy as the essential missing element of our community gathering, simply because they had a child? And worse, how dare he stand on my front porch and insist that I would also have a child before too long, since it was clearly the only way to fit in?

Additionally, when someone makes a comment like, “You’ll have a kid soon,” they have no idea what that couple is going through. What if we had been trying for a year, or two, or eight, and nothing was happening? What if I had just miscarried? What if we’d just found out we couldn’t have kids? What if what his comment triggered was not blinding rage but heartbreaking sorrow? Who feels that they have the right to make that kind of assumption?

It took two glasses of bourbon to shake that rage. Big ones. And I’m still angry typing it all out.

These two conversations both involved someone making an assumption that I would eventually have a child. And the danger with making assumptions is that it can, indeed, make you an ass. The difference between these two exchanges was that in the first case, the person listened for my response and treated me with respect. And that can make the difference between a productive and enlightening conversation, and your Halloween turning into a bourbon-soaked evening full of rage.

Sometimes when I drive down the highway, I am flabbergasted by the thought of every single car containing a different person, with different hopes and dreams and fears and thoughts weighing on their minds. Imagine! So many people. So many lives. So many choices. And often, we will never, ever know the story behind them.

But what if we could learn the story behind important and difficult life events? If we could expect people to treat us with kindness, would we be more willing to talk? And if we were kinder and more willing to listen, how much less alone would we feel?

So let’s be honest with each other. Have conversations. Share our hopes and dreams and fears. And instead of judging someone by what you think you see, be gentle, and ask them questions. Because you just never know.

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  • Umpteenth Sarah


    Lauren, I hear you, I empathize, and I am THERE. The “eventual child” assumption drives.me.bananas, even though I’m only 75% sure we don’t want kids. Plus, why should anyone else care? Neighbors, parents, friends, etc — everyone has an opinion about how we should choose to use our wombs. THANK YOU for writing this and sharing, and I can’t wait to read the comments.

    One of the reasons I loved this so much was because you balance the sense of loss, even though it’s chosen, perfectly with the inevitable frustration that comes from having people question your decision. This is so hard to navigate, emotionally.

    • Lauren

      I am pretty sure we will have kids, and the “eventual child” assumption drives me up the wall too! As Lauren says, nobody knows whether you just suffered your third miscarriage or are about to start IVF when they make these types of comments.

  • Emma

    Thanks so much Lauren for being honest about your choices and refusing to let people dictate how the conversation about your future, both short and long term, will go. And it’s good to know I’m not alone in having these feelings.

    But now I wonder if I might solicit some advice from the APW crew. Like Lauren, I’m 31 and am pretty sure kids aren’t in my future. A large part of it is that I’m not sure I really want to have kids — being a mom isn’t something I crave on any level. And part of it is that I’m starting to get to an age in which if I want to have kids, I should probably make it a priority, and I don’t want to.

    The problem is that my partner isn’t exactly on the same page. And more to the point, I’m not sure he really gets that if we want to have kids together, we need to start planning on it now. He’s under the impression that even if we don’t want kids now, we can change our minds in 5-10 years and be fine. Just the other day, a character on a television show mentioned that “it probably won’t be possible” for her to get pregnant once she’s in her 40s. And my partner said, “that’s ridiculous, lots of women get pregnant in their 40s.” I was flabbergasted. Does he not know that statistically, it’s extremely unlikely that you can conceive past 40 without medical intervention? Does he not realize that medical intervention in such an instance is (1) not cheap (2) not easy on your body and (3) no guarantee at all? I said something along the lines of, “At that age, having a kid is a full time job and there’s no guarantee, plus there are all kinds of health issues that make it riskier for the woman and the baby, and not everyone is up for that.” He just shrugged — he thinks I’m unnecessarily pessimistic about this subject. I think I’m being realistic.

    So I’m honest with him, and he hears me, but I still think he is assuming we can postpone kids a lot longer than we really can. And as I said, we don’t want kids now. We’re currently postponing our wedding in order to buy a house. By the time we get married, I’ll be 34 and he’ll be 36. And we have no intention of having kids right after we get married — we are looking forward to finally getting to enjoy our disposable income a little bit and not be in a planning/buying phase.

    How do I help him understand that this choice, for us, starts now? How do I prepare him for the entirely very possible disappointment of not being able to conceive in our late 30s or early 40s? How do I make it clear that I might not be willing to put myself through the hormone treatments or IVF or whatever else might be necessary to have a child at that age? Without seeming like I’m saying that this decision is 100% up to me, since obviously we’ll make it together? What have other people done?

    • Bubbles

      I myself have not had experience with your exact situation, but if I had, I would start by providing my partner with science-based reading material about the realities of trying to have a baby past the age of forty. Perhaps you could also find a blog or two of someone who is going through the process. I’m sure they’re out there. I imagine your gyno could point you in the right direction, in terms of informational pamphlets and whatnot.

    • JT

      I have had similar conversations with my husband about the timing of this decision. We are not yet at the point when we have to make a decision, but I can imagine how difficult these conversations must be. My suggestion is to involve a third party, a counselor or ob/gyn who deals with fertility issues, to discuss the issue and the possible outcomes of postponing the decision.

      • Emma

        Thanks to you both for the good advice! It had never occurred to me to involve my doctor, but my partner might be more likely to listen to a medical professional (who he deems impartial) than me on this issue. I actually recently had a conversation with my gynecologist about the prospect of freezing my eggs before 35 if I thought there was some chance I’d be an older mom — maybe I can invite D into a follow-up meeting with my gyno so he understands what that would entail (note: most men don’t seem to understand that extracting a freezing eggs is significantly less fun than, say, providing a sperm sample) as well as how it would affect our viability for pregnancy in the 35+ and 40+ age brackets.

        • Parsley

          So, if you don’t want to have kids, that’s a perfectly valid choice, of course. And if you do decide to have kids and want to have biological kids no matter what that takes, that’s also a valid choice, in my book. But, actually physically bearing a child is not the only way to become a parent, so perhaps that deadline isn’t quite this hard and fast? Just a thought…

          • Emma

            Of course. And adoption is part of our conversation. But I feel like we’re on the same page as far as that’s concerned, because adoption is a concept he can wrap his head around more readily than than the timing and viability of conception. It’s part of the equation, but it’s the one I have a handle on. I find it much more difficult to discuss the timing or odds of a pregnancy because I don’t think he fully understands the medical aspect of that (or what it would require me to got through physically, or us both financially).

        • Caroline

          I second the counselor respond, because a) couples counseling is awesome and b) it sounds like you are having some communications issues over this point, and couples counselors are good at helping with communications issues. The doctor might help your husband realize the timeline for biological kids, and a counselor can help you work through how that feels and what you both want to do. (like I said, counseling is awesome. It helps you improve your relationship and work through the frictiony spots.)

    • Jasmine Fancy

      I’m a few years younger, but we’ve already talked about the “what if” factor. Even if it’s not age, there are lots of reasons for women not being able to bear children that you don’t know about until you try. We are clear that medical intervention is very expensive and if any of the “what ifs” become reality we have a plan. My fellow also does not seem to truly understand how real those possibilities are, but even if he thinks its way less likely he was happy to discuss what we would do. And I feel a lot better knowing we’re clear on what would happen.

    • You can blame the media for that one. It seems like there’s always some celebrity or other in their late 30’s or 40’s being photographed with a “baby bump” (um, pregnancy is not an accessory like a clutch or hat). It makes it seems like it’s no big deal to have a baby at that age and that people are doing it all the time. The media conveniently forgets to mention all the infertility treatments they most likely had.

      It’s interesting that our life spans are increasing, but our fertile period is not.

      • Yes, and the fact that most of them did it with donated eggs, for example, as very few celebrities have recognized.

      • Emma

        Yes! I absolutely think this is part of it. Once when we were discussing it, he said it seemed that later pregnancies are becoming “easier”. But when I asked him if he could think of one personal friend or acquaintance (so not a famous person) who had a baby after the age of 40, he came up empty. Meanwhile, my sister had serious infertility issues at the age of 27, and I watched both my mentor and best friend from grad school deal with miscarriages, hormone treatments and, in one case, IVF and multiple birth in their 30s.

        I think part of the problem is that this is the kind of thing women discuss among themselves, which is why most women my age are fairly well versed in the arena of fertility/infertility. But we tend not to discuss it so openly with men, unless or until it happens to us and the man in question is our partner. And then men don’t seem to discuss it among themselves. So unless a man has actually experienced fertility problems himself or with his partner, all he has to go on is that Julia Roberts is an older mom and she seems totally fine, right?*

        *Not to say older moms aren’t fine, or even super happy and amazing. Just that obviously we are not privy to how hard or easy having children in her late 30s (early 40s) was for her. And of course, she may have had access to resources and options we wouldn’t, like an unlimited source of funding and the best possible doctors, treatments, etc.

    • I think this is an incredibly important conversation to have immediately. If he assumes that you can always just get pregnant later, perhaps he hasn’t thought fully about actually not having children and what that would look like and feel like.

      I too suggest finding a counselor or therapist that deals with fertility issues to help you guys talk through this. He needs to confront this reality and if he just always assumes you guys will have kids at a later date, and then that date comes and goes and he realizes kids were important to him, it could have a major impact on your relationship. A counselor can help guide you through this conversation in a positive and productive way.

    • Just want to chime in here and offer that it was amazing to me how many misconceptions my husband had about trying to conceive, and how resistant he was to me saying in the least threatening way I could possibly muster, “This is the information I found. If you disagree, what is YOUR research suggesting?” We recently had a mega-talk, a State of the Union discussion, and now we’re more on the same page – but it took him seeing me in a really bad place before that talk was possible. Good luck to you!

      • Emma

        Thanks! It’s good to hear that someone else has been through the same thing and came out okay — it’s really hard to find a way to force the issue on something like this, especially in an engaged state, because a little part of me is saying, “No! What if he freaks out and you break up? That would be worse that just letting this fester.”

        Now I don’t think that’s true — I believe in open and honest communication, and we really do have it, even on this subject. But there’s always the lingering fear of the deal breaker, you know?

    • I have this conversation with my girlfriends– because one of us was lucky enough, at 39, to get pregnant the very first month they tried, followed by an amazingly easy pregnancy and not overly difficult labor. Because she did it, I shouldn’t be concerned about getting things started soon (i.e., no need to get married and have babies right now, even though I’m 37 and change).

    • Chiara

      One of the things that continues to surprise me about my SO is how little he actually knows about female anatomy and physiology.

      You asked “Does he not realize that medical intervention in such an instance is (1) not cheap (2) not easy on your body and (3) no guarantee at all?” And the frank answer is that he probably doesn’t. That part of health class in high school was not very interesting at the time (if it was taught at all) and what reason has he had to research it since?

      I think you need to lay it out in plain and simple language and state explicitly, maybe with research to back it up, that this is the way things work. Don’t assume that he knows these things.

  • Thanks for writing this and sharing it with us. This is the reason why I keep reading APW, because of the discussions, the support, the community. Because there is a space for talking about subjects that need to be talked about, that otherwise get lost.

    “…because I firmly believe that the thing about hard choices and sad choices and second guessing is that women don’t talk about it, which makes everyone feel isolated and crazy without a shared experience to comfort and support. So I don’t mind talking about our choice and all my feelings around it”

    All the best wishes for you.

  • Jo

    I appreciate your bravery in writing about this, Lauren. I’m most curious about your mourning process. We are on a similar threshold, the not feeling the urge as others around us walk through that doorway with leaps and bounds. And I see cartoons like this one (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/christmas) and have to wonder, if we choose not to – or don’t choose and therefore choose not to – have children, will we also be sad, drunken old people? I mean, I have a baker’s dozen of nieces and nephews to play with and help grow up, but I’m curious (and a little fearful, honestly) about what people without kids make of their lives as they get older. A focus on career? Travel? All of it of course, but will it feel empty? Because that’s what I hear from the people who have kids. How it fills your life and your heart. So what is life without kids? That’s what I wonder…

    • Jessica

      Wow. That comic is incredibly offensive.

      • Kess

        If it makes you feel any better, that comic always pretty much is on some level – that’s his way of creating humor. Sometimes I find it funny, often I don’t.

        • Maggie

          Agreed. And despite the tone of this particular comic (which really bothered me, though the website occasionally makes me laugh), I have a feeling if he decided to draw one representing Christmas *with* kids, it would be equally grim and offensive.

      • wow indeed. WTF is with that?
        Never mind the fact it assumes that those of us in our 20s and 30s with no kids also spend Christmas with our families!
        Rage. Rage.

        • Audrey

          Wow. Were we reading the same comic? Some people just seem to be offended by *everything.* It’s a comic. If it’s not funny to you, then perhaps you weren’t the intended audience.
          Pro tip: Life is easier when you don’t take everything personally.

    • Meredith

      “[…]what [do] people without kids make of their lives as they get older?”

      As someone who also most likely will not have children, all I can say is what do you make of your life right now?

      I feel pretty fulfilled in my life right now, so I can’t see how deciding not to have children would somehow make me feel empty. I fill my life with travel, hobbies, family, my partner, my career, friends etc. I’ll still have most of those things when I’m older.

      The idea that you’ll be an old lonely person if you don’t have kids is, in my opinion, a myth. I don’t feel lonely now, so why would I feel lonely when I’m 50. Or 60. Or 80. And having children would in no way guarantee that I wouldn’t feel lonely at that age (if for some reason I did).

      • I think things could start to get lonely when I get older and my older family members die and my siblings-in-law start to segregate themselves into their own celebrations with their immediate families. When we don’t have parents and no children and its just us, we’ll feel like tag-a-longs on someone else’s immediate family celebration.

        • Ideally if you wanted an invitation to siblings-in-law’s events they would welcome you with open arms and the tag-a-long feeling would lessen as you found a groove. Just like with any growing or shrinking family situation. If not then you’d create your own celebrations. Ideally.

        • Paula

          You will never be a tag-a-long if you give as much as you receive. My great-aunt, who had no children of her own, was our favorite “grandparent” of the lot because she CARED the most. We had dinner at her house every Monday night and she came to every dance recital and sporting event (and even some of the practices). Given that I had her phone number memorized by the time I was 4 and she had to get my mom to keep my sister and I from calling no more than twice a day, I’d hardly call her a tag-a-long.

      • Exactly. One can feel lonely with kids or without, one can have a fulfilled life with or without kids, and one can be happy or unhappy with or without kids. I see unhappy parents all the time, just very few people talk about it.

    • Exactly. I hear the same thing from practically every parent I know… having kids will change your life! I never knew I could love so much! My children are the best things I’ve ever done! Etc etc etc etc. On the one hand, I want those feelings, but on the other hand I wonder… Is that just parental instinct talking? Or worse, do parents say those things because they sort of have to? Their lives are changed in major and permanent ways; to put a positive spin on it might be a way to cope and make the most out of a crazy, overwhelming situation. I don’t know.

      I have a bunch of reasons why I don’t want to have kids, and only one reason why I might… I’m afraid that if I don’t have them, my life/heart/soul will be lacking something fundamental to the human experience, and I’ll regret it when I’m older. But I don’t think that alone is a good reason to have kids, especially considering all the reasons why I don’t want them. I’m obviously still thinking it over… just out loud in this space today.

      • anonnymous

        “on the other hand I wonder… Is that just parental instinct talking?”

        Ha, I’ve been coming at this from the other side (the “baby fever” side), and that sort of question is something I’ve been struggling with. Do I REALLY feel this way/want this thing, or is it just those sneaky chemicals talking?

        AND. Does it even make a difference? Or is setting up this system of “hormones bad, intellect good!” not only based on false premises, but totally toxic as a way of viewing my own desires? (Oh hai sex issues, didn’t even see you there!)

        Sorry yeah, I’m kinda going off on a tangent… but the decision of whether or not to have kids so often seems to deeply involve our hormones, and I don’t know about most people, but my distrustful love/hate relationship with those suckers could probably use some work.

      • Oh my goodness I just want to shoot people who rave about how its the “most fulfilling thing you can do”.
        Stop telling me my life has no meaning! You just want us to do it, so we are then miserable too, so you have someone to commiserate with! (and yes, I have a blog post of my own written up on this topic, I’m just trying to find the bravery to post it when I know some of my ILs read mt blog!)

    • V

      My husband and I have made the decision not to have children. Another aspect of the situation that I wonder about is maintaining day to day friendships with those who don’t share our decision. It’s just starting now with a handful of friends becoming new parents. Though I suspect in the next few years we’ll become the minority in our circle, and eventually, the odd ones out. We’ve learned that nurturing those friendships involves making plans in advance, saying goodnight at 10pm instead of 2am, and occasionally tolerating a few too many minutes of conversation about breast milk or crib-building frustrations. And so far, it’s ok. But what about 6-8 years from now when *all* of our friends are focused on pre-schools and soccer practice?

      • North Star

        The first person in my closest circle of friends had a baby recently & so far, the changes have been as you described. I too wonder how friendships will change over time as people have children and decide not to have children. I’ve really valued their friendships & sometimes worry that not having the experience of motherhood and be able to relate to things in the same way will impact our friendship negatively in the long run.

      • It depends on your friends, but if it helps, let me tell you that what I love about getting together with my friends who do not have kids is that I don’t have to talk about my children. Those friends remind me of the woman I was pre-babies, the reconnect me with aspects of myself that sometimes are buried in the daily craziness of raising 3 year-old twins. I love that, and I am deeply thankful to them for reminding me that I am Marcela and not just a mom. I am not as free as I was before, to meet them at any time, in the spur of the moment. Spontaneity is not really possible these days,and I know some may resent it. It is hard both ways, you know.

      • Chiara

        I’m not speaking from experience here, but I suspect the way you deal with friends during the transition of them having kids would be like you did during many other transitional periods. How do you maintain friendships when you go to different schools, move cities, change jobs, or start new relationships. You might have to work harder to maintain your friendship, and your interests might be different, but it can still work. And maybe it won’t and you won’t see them as often, but that’s the way life goes, and that’s the consequence of many decisions we make in life, not only the decision of whether or not we have children.

    • Rhubarb

      I’m probably going to have kids, partly because I think I’d regret it when I’m old. I’d regret it. Neither of my aunts had kids, though, and they don’t seem to have any trouble filling their days. One married into adult stepkids. She spends a lot of time helping her own mother, traveling locally, and generally having her own non-career, non-child oriented life. The other is really focused on her career as a dancer and is currently signing contracts to dance when she’s 52. She and I have a really nice relationship, so it’s not like she doesn’t see her younger family.

    • Parsley

      So, some of the mentors in my life who I look up to the most never had children. Most of them are very actively involved in the lives of their nieces and nephews. Their own lives are focused on their own goals – both career-wise and personally – and living in a joyful, honest, generous way.

      • Agreed – one of the greatest women I know is my mother’s best friend, who is 50, never married, without children, and also well-traveled, well-educated, fun, and full of life. And yes, she has nieces and nephews and friends’ children and she’s wonderful to all of us, but I’m pretty sure the basis of her happiness was never “spending time with us.”

        I think children do give your life meaning. But that’s far from the only place one can get meaning.

    • I don’t want to have kids, and I have an aunt and uncle in my family who never did. You might think this was a great way to see what my life can become, but it isn’t. It’s a grim picture, mostly because my aunt did want kids but through whatever reproductive reason was unable to.

      I don’t want to turn out like my aunt and uncle. She tries to make me into a child surrogate sometimes, and while I love her, I’m not her kid and I have my own parents I have to attend to. I can’t be her child as well. It puts a lot of pressure on me and my only other cousin (on that side of the family). I don’t want to do that to potential future nieces and nephews of mine to fill the void that not having children created.

      • But Ms Bunny, it sounds like not having kids was not an active choice on your aunts part – therefore it is different in an ever-so-subtle way to you making a conscious choice to not have children.

  • I’d love to hear more from the writer about her reasons behind her decision not to have children. Did you just not want them? Or did you want them but have other concerns that over-rode that desire? And if so, what were they? Financial, economic, social, environmental etc. In fact I’d love to hear from everyone on this.

    • I think, as for most people, the answer to this question is far more complicated than I could adequately express here. But basically, if I have kids, I want to WANT them– if not on a biological level, then at least on an intellectual level. Since nothing in my body craves a baby, and nothing in my head craves a baby, I have to come to the conclusion that it just isn’t for me. That said, I am only 31, and I realize this could change. Both my husband and I agree that if either of us woke up one day wanting a child, then the conversation would look very different. But at this point, I just don’t see that happening. This is only my experience, of course, and I’d love to hear from others!

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      I’m happy to answer your question, but I do wonder sometimes why having kids is the default, while choosing *not* to have kids is the deviant behavior (like, deviant in that it deviates from the traditional path, not deviant like tricky and evil). Why did those people who *have* kids choose to have them?

      I’m not firmly ensconced in the no-kids camp, but I definitely am pointed that way. I’m pretty sure my husband and I would be awesome parents, and I love families, but I also love the independence that comes from staying a duo. Kids are a major, major commitment, and since I committed my 20s to finding and building a career, I’m not sure I want to commit my 40s to the very noble job of raising a family — sure, it’s one option, but there are so many other things I’d love to do, like run for office, or run a non-profit, or serve on a volunteer commission, or take off two months and travel the world (I know, shouldn’t that be a 20s thing?), and for me, the decision to have kids would be saying that kids are more important to me than the other possibilities. I’m not sure I can say that, and until I can, I don’t think I should have children.

      • Kess

        “I’m happy to answer your question, but I do wonder sometimes why having kids is the default, while choosing *not* to have kids is the deviant behavior (like, deviant in that it deviates from the traditional path, not deviant like tricky and evil). Why did those people who *have* kids choose to have them?”

        Scientifically – evolution kind of made it so having kids was the ultimate goal. Historically – you pretty much had kids anyway as birth control wasn’t available/effective.

        So, I guess there is precedence for assuming people will have kids, but that doesn’t mean our society can’t get out of that mindset.

        • Umpteenth Sarah

          True. It’s just that now, women can choose to be or not to be housewives and can choose to get or not to get married, both of which have roots in evolution. You hear questions about not having kids much more than you hear questions about “not being a stay-at-home wife” or not getting married — although with both of those, I still definitely know women who have been asked both.

        • KH_Tas

          This is not entirely correct, as you can get the same reproductive benefit from helping raise nieces/nephews as you do from having your own kids. (This information should be given below univeristy level biology, but at the moment it usually isn’t).

      • Umpteenth Sarah – I think it’s just a question of numbers – most couples do have kids, so the ones that don’t are left ‘explaining’.

        I would ask why people decided TO have kids, but I’ve only come across variations on the same answer, which always begins, ‘I want/ed’.

        So I wondered whether the reasons for not having them were similarly selfish (I wanted to travel / loved the standard of living we could afford etc), or whether people were deciding not to for selfless reasons (eg concerns about over-population etc).

        Thanks for weighing in, it’s such an interesting topic.

        • AmErika

          I’m going to throw something potentially controversial out there, in the hopes of continueing the discussion. I’ve been married for 2 months (!) and my husband is 5 years older than me, I’m under 30. My aunt asked me a while ago how many kids we wanted and I said “well I’d love four, but kids are expensive, so maybe 2 or 3”. She said “well I think having more than 2 is just socially irresponsible. the world is overpopulated already!”. I a little take aback, but then reminded myself she’s always this outspoken and both her children only have, 2 kids of their own. We aren’t trying yet and probably won’t be for a while because….I want to wake up hungover on a sunday morning and go lie on the couch, not deal with a child. And I love kids, and always have, but I wonder when the change to WANT them will kick in. I will say I’ve had disucssions in the past about not having kids at all due to overpopulation and hearing stories where you say ‘people should have a license to have a child’, but my other college and graduate educated have said “YOU are exactly the person that should be having children because you are educated and will help your child become educated and make sound decisions.” Neither of these two comments via friends or aunt greatly impact my own. I’m just waiting for the day to come when I WANT to spend my entire life being unselfish and looking after another human being.

          I do want to throw another question out there though….when the discussion veers towards the fact that one of your friends, lets say at dinner, has been trying for a while and hasn’t been able to have children, whats the best way to respond to him/her? I’m not sure there is a RIGHT thing to say, but would love to know how to support that person, if possible. Someone asked the question (“do you guys want kids?”) the other night and there was a long awkward silence when the friend had to say “it just may not be in the cards for us”.

          • Umpteenth Sarah

            I, personally, don’t think the ‘overpopulation’ argument is relevant to my decision to have kids or not have kids, nor do I think my ability to produce amazing human beings should really be part of the equation either. Too many uncertain variables going on there.

            As far as the second question, I don’t know… generally, my policy with stuff like that is to listen before talking and let them know that I’m happy to hear what they have to say if they feel like sharing. But it’s haaard, when childbearing is such a natural topic of convo for those of us in our early 30s/late 20s…

          • As for your second question – first, never ask people if they want kids or when they are having kids in the first place. Avoids awkward pauses followed by awkward answers, no matter what the answer is.

            Second – just let them know you are there and you care. Don’t offer advice. Don’t tell them to relax or go on vacation. Don’t bring it up every time you see them. If they tell you about special dates/events in the process, send them a message on that date to let them know you are thinking about them.

          • After seeing MANY friends deal with infertility issues, I just don’t ask the child question anymore. I may wonder in silence and trust that, if we are close enough and the person feels like doing so, she will tell me.

          • PA

            I think that overpopulation merits, at least, a discussion about adoption. As this post (and the comments) illustrates, there are many legitimate life choices regarding children, and to those who want to adopt children who would otherwise be impoverished, I say huzzah! Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, adoption is not always viable or desirable as an option.

            I would simply echo your own ideas that you should consider, very carefully, how many children you can provide for.

            As to what to say to someone who can’t have children of their own … I would simply not bring the subject up, ASIDE from first dropping, once, “Just so you know, I am always here to talk if you want to.” Basically: let your friend know you’re a resource, and then help her (or them) continue to take joy in other areas of life.

            Those are just my thoughts.

        • Noemi

          The whole “why” of having children was something we discussed in a college course I took. The professor asked us why our parents had us. We went around the room to try to explain. Many people answered that they were a surprise or a mistake, but some didn’t quite know how to respond, including me. Why did my parents have me? Because they wanted a friend for my sister? Because two is a good number? Because they wanted to raise a good little contributing member of society whom they could try to mold in their own fashion? I still grapple with this question- why did our parents have any of us? Why do *I* want children? I recently had a childhood friend’s mother tell me that she couldn’t picture me not having children. I took this as a compliment, but how can you make that judgment? Sometimes I can’t even convince myself that I’d be a good parent, but I know that I want to be one, and together with my husband raise a little human to be the kind of person I want there to be in the world. Of course, easier said than done.

          I may never understand the “why” of having children until I actually do. If I can.

          • thursday

            My friend’s mother says she had him “because I thought you’d be fun, and you were.”

            The idea of not having my own children makes me terribly sad, but I haven’t come up with any reasons it would actually be a good idea.

    • Meredith

      If you want a more scientific approach to why people are ‘childless by choice’ you can read ‘Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice’. I just finished it yesterday and it was great. In this book, there are (I believe) 6 common motivators presented (and other uncommon ones) for why people choose to not have children.

      • Maggie

        Here’s a link to a brief overview of that chapter–including a list of the 6 common motivators:

        • Thanks for these recommendations!

          • Maggie

            You’re welcome!

            Personally, the ones that resonate the most are:

            “-I love our life, our relationship as it is, and having a child won’t enhance it.
            -I do not want to take on the responsibility of raising a child.
            -People I know have not realized the rewards they expected as a parent.”

            The ones that *don’t* factor into my decision include:
            “-I don’t enjoy being around children.
            -I am concerned about the physical risks of childbirth and recovery.
            -I don’t think I would make a good parent.
            -I have no desire to have a child, no maternal/paternal instinct.”

        • KEA1

          Holy crap, I looked through the longer list of potential reasons, and with the exception of “partner does not want kids” and “I used to want them but don’t anymore,” every blessed one of them was a HUGE reason for me. I would never have been able to narrow the list down any further.

          And now, to get this message across to my boyfriend, who claims to want kids but who has shown no actual indication of knowing what he’s really talking about there… =(

    • Bubbles

      Personally, I just don’t dig kids. For the most part, I don’t enjoy being around children. Any time we’re out shopping and there’s a little hooligan running around the store and screaming, or a toddler having a meltdown, I have the urge to stab things. It’s not pretty. (I exaggerate. Mostly.)

      My friends have some pretty cool kids, but one of the awesome thing about hanging out with your friends’ kids is that they go home with Mommy and Daddy at the end of the day.

      My mother had been saying for years that she knew I would have pets instead of children when, as a very small girl, I started putting my baby dolls’ clothes on my stuffed animals.

      • AmErika

        I have a number of friends that don’t want children (they call them leeches), don’t want to be around them, and won’t even babysit their nieces and nephews. I feel that is way better than bringing someone into the world that you don’t care to look after.

        And if you do dig kids, but don’t want them of your own….well the world, especially parents, always needs fantastic aunties and uncles around!

        • Remember that Louisa May Alcott devoted a lovely chapter in “Little Women” to the importance of the maiden aunt. This was discussed at length by Elizabeth Gilbert in “Committed.”

    • Kelsey

      I’ll give you some reasons! Ha. Unfortunately, I feel like most people (besides my husband) don’t really understand them. When the kid conversation comes up and I mention we may not have any, I feel like I need to have a whole bunch of “really good” reasons to prove that our desire to remain childless is legit, when really the reasons don’t matter as long as our decision makes sense to us. I really think Lauren said it best, but for the sake of conversation, here are my personal reasons for not wanting kids:

      1. I don’t really like kids. I’m sure I would love my own if I had them, and I’m curious what that would feel like, but reasons 2-7 outweigh my curiosity.
      2. I don’t crave them on any level, and I never have.
      3. I’m happy and comfortable with my life as is. I prefer having sleep, money, and freedom to kids.
      4. I need balance in my life; I’m prone to anxiety and depression when I have too many things going on. I don’t have it in me to work and be a mother; this lady cannot “do it all” and I have no interest in trying. I don’t want to be a stay at home mom. I think having an interesting job and no kids is the best option for MY OWN health and happiness.
      5. I don’t like kid-related activities, and I don’t want to make my life and home kid friendly. I like being an adult and doing adult things, all the time.
      6. There are some traits that run in my family (and my husband’s family) that I’m afraid of passing on to any kids I would have, including alcoholism and mental illness. I just don’t want to risk saddling them with those things.
      7. There are already so many people in the world. I don’t know why, but adding to the human population without the deep desire to be a mother just feels irresponsible.

      I can’t wait to read further comments as to why other people would make the decision to remain childless, this is something that has been weighing on my mind for quite some time now!

      • AmErika

        I love, understand, and support all of your reasons! woo hoo for choosing a life that suits you and your man!

      • Yes so much to this list. I identify with every single one on it.

      • Vee

        You just put into words so many of the things that I’ve been unable to explain to people in the past but have felt internally. Every single one of them. Thank you for writing those out!

      • OMG me too!

        However, I do like kids, but only when I can give them back after a while.
        I have had times when I have craved them, but this has always passed within a couple of days
        At Christmas, I loved being able to just have a few wines, eat my meal and chill. My BIL / SIL had to work hard all day to juggle their two kids and it was a really good argument for birth control.
        I cant STAND kids games / songs etc. Get me out of here!

    • AustralianAmy

      I agree with others that it’s probably more complicated than I’ll make out here, but here goes nothing. (This is the first time I’ve expressed these views anywhere apart from to my fiance- which triggered the worst fight we’ve ever had- as I’m aware they’re unlikely to be taken well. But I can’t help how I feel, and I wish I didn’t feel this way, so here goes)

      Like a lot of people, I grew up assuming I’d have kids, because that’s what you do (with strong implications that I was obliged to), and anyone who didn’t was missing out on something (while a few aunts and uncles didn’t have kids, this was often discussed in front of me in patronising and pitying terms when I was very young. Even though one is highly qualified and has many hobbies and a great lifestyle, and another until a few years ago went on international trips at least annually). As a kid, I related to adults much better than to children, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

      As I grew up, I started to have more health problems, most of which are clearly inherited, which reduce my quality of life, included to but not limited to mental health problems. My mindset shifted in my early teens. I’d be a mum- I had to be- but I’d probably be a really crappy one. I started to feel guilty for inflicting myself and all my problems on my future children.

      When I was in my late teens-early 20’s, I dated an older guy whose siblings all had children, ranging in age from born while I was in the relationship to 15. His family were of a religious persuasion that pushed children hard- as many as you can, start as soon as you’re married sort of thing. They saw me as in my prime childbearing years and very rapid engagement, marriage, and lots of children were presumed to be in my future. I was conscripted into babysitting, particularly the youngest of the tribe. I very quickly came to realise that not only would I be a lousy mum, but I really didn’t like kids. The newborn would repeatedly vomit and sneeze all over me, and the toddler similarly. Everyone else would coo at how adorable it was- I just found it disgusting. The toddler would SCREAM over and over again for no apparent reason- apparently this was also endearing, rather than painful. The children ranging in age from the toddler to 10 I just could not predict the behaviour of, and to a greater or lesser extent it frightened me. (I have high functioning autism- not being able to more-or-less predict behaviour makes me panic) I found the under 10’s who could form complete sentences inane for the most part. I determined I’d find a way not to have kids.

      My feelings on the matter haven’t really changed much, and I’m utterly unconvinced that it’d be different if they were my own (and am unwilling to take that risk- as someone else said, it’s a bit like a tattoo on your face, you want to be sure). The closest I’ve felt to a maternal instinct is feeling that I’d have children because you have to have children, and that completely evaporated when I was coerced into spending time with them. I’ve since had exposure to a wider range of children, and the panic and confusion I experience when exposed to young children hasn’t changed one bit. Toddlers terrify me- quite literally- and I don’t know how to deal with children until I can talk to them like an adult, and it’s very hard to know when that is. (Although as a side note, tweens and teens love that I treat them like adults) I’d almost describe myself as phobic.

      My fiance and I didn’t really “date” per se, but in our first week or so together, I sat him down for the protection/ STDs etc talk, which included “I don’t want children. We will use protection. If I fall pregnant, I’m having an abortion. I’ll include you in this, and I’m sorry if it upsets you, but ultimately it’s my body and I will not go through with it”. Thankfully, although he’s not as strident as I am, he had come to the conclusion before we started dating that he probably didn’t want to have children anymore.

      All this makes life hard now- most of my fiance’s friends have children under 10. I can suck it up, and do- but it takes a great deal of energy to suppress that fear (I don’t want to embarrass my fiance, I don’t want to appear like a child-hating monster- I don’t so much hate children as the strong, involuntary response they elicit from me- and I don’t want to hurt the children’s feelings). From what I can gather his friends have no idea how I feel, or that it takes hours of techniques I learned in CBT to calm myself down after I spend time with their children. I don’t even say anything when people throw their toddlers into my lap, even though my initial reaction is my brain crying and curling up in the foetal position. (That being said, my fiance and I are having a MASSIVE disagreement about whether the children are invited to the wedding. I feel I’m entitled to have that one day where I don’t feel that fear- whether that fear is justified, rational, or anything else- and then I’ll spend the rest of my life acting as if I find children delightful, as I’m expected to. He thinks it would be rude not to invite the children)

      Thankfully my family have not started on the children route much yet. I suspect I’m going to adopt the line “we’ll have children when it’s right for us” (thankfully it isn’t now and won’t be when we get married), and, if pressed, depending on the circumstances, either go for a version of “mind your own business” or say something about my PCOS.

      • AustralianAmy

        Sorry, that was much longer than I expected!

        • Canadian Amy

          I completely agree that if you are that phobic of children, you absolutely should not have to deal with them on your wedding day. I’m pretty alright with kids and babies in general, but there’s just no way I would invite anyone under 16 to my wedding.

          I don’t think it’s rude at all to have an adult-only wedding.

          • Jen

            Seconding this! I feel like this has been discussed somewhere on APW before, too, that people can leave their babies behind for one day. I just don’t like children and can’t imagine them at my wedding. But you have a legitimate fear!

  • As we near our first wedding anniversary, the baby pressure keeps escalating and it’s starting to make me really, really mad. At a New Years family party, I literally got bombarded from all sides. My mother-in-law cried about it (manipulative) and I got told I don’t know what love is since I don’t have a child. Ouch. We both want kids but it’s just not something that can happen right now… and I don’t think it’s fair that I should have to explain why to the whole world. I’m kind of glad this is happening to me… it has taught me that the decision to have children or not is a very personal thing and I will never pester anyone about the issue.

    • Becky2

      Oh God, I was told that too by someone who was missing her child. I don’t understand what it means to miss and love someone because I don’t want kids. I fumed about that for days. I feel your pain. I understand that motherhood is a privileged state in society, but come on.

    • What a horrible thing to say! Surely they think their own kids are capable of loving them and others?

    • AmErika

      Next time your name tag should read “I will not be speaking to you about our choice to or not to have kids right now. We are happy and I’d rather discuss your hip replacement. Happy new year!”

    • I have revised Meg’s advice from the APW book. In the first chapter, she advises the newly engaged to shut down detail questions with “OMG, we’re just so excited to be engaged! We haven’t even thought about the wedding yet!” (I’m paraphrasing.) As someone who is newly married (for the second time and at 29), I’m getting those oh-so-pushy questions, similar to those described in the post. I now respond with “OMG, we’re just so excited to be married! We haven’t even thought about kids yet!” Works every time and even puts a little of that hey-you’re-being-nosy-and-rude guilt on the receiver.

      • AmErika

        Excellent suggestion! Going to use this one…

      • Vee

        I totally want to use this, even after we’ve been married ten or fifteen years. Can you imagine the looks we’d get? That would be too funny!

      • We have been stopping people in their tracks by raving about the trip we are planning for May this year to go to Europe.
        If we havent decided by then to have kids, we will start going on about exciting home renovations, and our intended trip to do Christmas in Canada in a couple of years time (brought forward from “about 6-8 years time if we do decide to have kids)

    • Sometimes when people are that manipulative to me about not having kids, I have this urge to tell them sad, fake stories about my womb being infertile or horrible miscarriages. All to shut them up and make them feel bad. I know it’s manipulative, but is it any more mean than they were being toward me?

      • I want to do this! Too bad my mother-in-law would then get all up in my business about “have you tried praying” and “maybe you should eat more kale” and it would be even worse than it is now.

      • Beth

        yeah, one time a guy friend was bragging about parenthood and asking when it’d be my turn, and he’d pressured me in the past. I said, “we’re just really enjoying having enough sleep and sex! My vagina isn’t all stretched out– it’s awesome!” that shut him up.

    • MDBethann

      @Alice: So if you don’t know what love is, then how come you married your MIL’s son? (rhetorically speaking, of course). I love my FH dearly and miss him terribly when I travel for work, something I used to enjoy doing doing but now not so much if it means I’m away from him for more than a couple of days. I start to feel like my other half is missing. I think I figured out what love is, and if I haven’t, then I really shouldn’t be getting married in May. I’m guessing that you probably feel the same way about your hubby.

      That said, I am someone who wants kids, as is my FH. We enjoy being around kids and I’m all about raising a little person or two (biologically ours and/or adopted) to hold the values that we do. That said, after visiting with his adorable niece and nephew, we’re very glad to come home to our quiet house, 3 cats, and be glad we just have ourselves to take care of. And I definitely feel that way after a long day at the office. But a part of me just believes the rewards will outweigh the sacrifices so we plan on taking that leap, not too long after we marry because we are both 33.

      However, 2 of my bridesmaids and dearest friends are of the “I like kids when they belong to my family/friends but I have no desire to be a mom” perspective. I’ve known both of these ladies since our late teens and they felt that way then and have not changed their minds. They love being aunties, but not moms. And they’ve found partners who respect that and they’re all pretty darn happy.

      • It was someone else who made the you don’t know what love is comment… not my MIL. But it took all my strength to not punch her (she’s a close friend)… How dare she suggest that? I intensely love my husband. And having children or not having children won’t change that. I’m sure it’s a great experience and one I hope to have someday but come onnnnnnn. What a low blow.

        • AmErika

          People suck. You rock!

  • Good subject.

    It keeps surprising me how ingrained this idea is of people having children. It makes me feel really strange for never even having considered it a serious option.

    I used to fend off questions by saying I felt I would not be a good mom, but as I’ve matured, I feel that that’s no longer fair. Honestly, if I woke up one day and was a mom, I think I’d do a pretty decent job. It’s just. I don’t want to. I’m not even mildly curious.

    These days I try to explain to those who ask that I feel parenthood is a vocation. A calling. A serious one, comparable (in gravity of choice, I mean, not in result) to living as a celibate priest. Or having a sex change. It’s a life-altering decision from which there is no return. It’s something you do because deep down, you feel your life gets infinitely better when you do. You may even feel that life is unbearable if you don’t.

    For me, personally, assuming the role of mother (if I could, mind) while I don’t feel called to it would feel as strange as entering a convent or having a sex change for someone who does not feel called to that.

    Anyway. Lauren, have another glass of bourbon on me. The things that last rude neighbour said to you are absolutely out of line.

    • This is exactly how I feel as well. I’ve honestly never had the dream or sudden desire to have children and I respect parenthood so much that I would never go into it without passionately and completely feeling that it was something we had to do. I know I’m still young and that those feelings could be somewhere down the road but at 23, I feel like I would have felt SOMETHING by now if it was right. I’ve spent a lot of time working with awesome inner-city kids, a lot of whom needed better parents, but I’ve never had the impulse that said “I need one of those.”

      I also feel like I’m such a maternal person overall that I don’t feel a loss over not having my own kids. I tend to be the advice-giver and shoulder-to-cry-on, shit-digger-outer and cheerleader for all my loved ones so all that energy has plenty of places to go.

      • AmErika

        ditto that.

        • Karen

          I appreciate your putting this in terms of a vocation. I think people forget that being a parent is a 24 hour a day/365 days a year/for the rest of your life commitment. That means everything you say or do is related to your kids. Kids watch everything and are learning from your every conversation and activity. I think conscious parenting is a HUGE undertaking and should not be entered into lightly. If you are not willing to be a parent every single minute in a conscious way, then I don’t think people should enter into it (myself included). This is a radical lifestyle change and must be accepted for what it is. Becoming a parent is a choice and should only be taken on with reverence and thoughtfulness.

      • I think I have to respectfully disagree, for myself, about needing the passionate desire to have kids. I will admit my bias right off the top – I’m 30 and pregnant and choosing to have kids was more of an intellectual thing. I’ve always wanted kids in a vague way, but deciding to have them came down to a lot of thinking out timing and lifestyle choices and talking. It was never something I craved, but I knew that if *I* never had kids I would probably be unhappy. So we debated the when for a long time and then took the plunge.

        And also? Having kids is really scary, as Pluis implies. This is a FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE deadly serious decision, and I couldn’t have made it from the gut, from passion, only from the brain. Because there are no take backsies, and at least I went in to this with open eyes.

        Your mileage will absolutely vary, however, and I’m not trying to negate your choices!

        • Thank you for your response, Morgan.

          You definitely bring something out that I had not addressed in my post. Like you, I think that decisions regarding parenthood (no matter the outcome of those decisions) are often best made with a lot of in-depth rational thinking and talking and drawing time lines.

          It’s precisely through those conversations that I came to this analogy of “vocation” and how I have never felt one. That you went through the same process of extensive thinking and talking and came to a different conclusion for yourself is all the more beautiful, I think.

          By the way, congratulations on your pregnancy. I hope all is going well.

        • Morgan, I totally agree. I am too indecisive and self-doubting to only go with my passion and gut. My gut is a crazy lady, but my head and heart know that I want kids eventually and I’d better start planning because I’m not getting any younger.

    • Caroline

      I think that’s uninteresting analogy Pluis. I agree with Morgan that you don’t have to have that feeling to have kids and be a good parent, but some people definitly feel that way. I do. Being a mother is something I feel I HAVE to do. I simply must. I cannot imagine for myself a possibility of not having children. It is impossible. But that doesn’t mean that everyone else needs to feel that way to have kids, or to not have kids.

      • Ris

        I want to speak up, as someone who really, passionately wants kids (I’m thinking, bear a couple and adopt a couple). Here are a few reasons:

        – I want to hug and then steal every baby I see. Having my own will keep me out of jail.

        – I want to have tons of pictures crammed on my walls and mantle.

        – I want to be old and have Christmas at my house with about twenty grandkids running around me.

        – I think that raising and teaching children is a huge responsibility and honor, and I would love to do it. And I like projects.

        – My heart breaks for children without families.

        BUT – because I have (and always have had) these strong feelings, I absolutely support and sympathize with couples who don’t have those feelings. You have to be true to who you are.

        And not only that, but there are major opportunity costs to children. I’ve had to come to terms with what having a big family will mean for me and any potential future career/ plans. I’m a naturally ambitious person, I like to work, and I love adventurous international travel. If I was completely unhindered, I would be a war correspondent or refugee camp worker.

        It’s taken me a while to really sort through my priorities, and determine that, if I have to choose, I will chose children over a brilliant career. If that’s been a difficult process for me, I can’t imagine how hard it would be for a person who doesn’t really desire children in the first place.

        • Claire

          “My heart breaks for children without families.”

          I think this is a common feeling and a fairly un-evolved point of view. I know some people who see parenthood as some more advanced status in ones life. They seem to think that those who opt to be childfree are a step below them on some sort of scale.

          Our make up has urged us to have children for eons. Now, there is a shift. Those of us who choose not to have children have broken away from something that has compelled humans for thousands of years.

          For me, part of my choice was about devoting myself to one child vs. devoting myself to thousands through my work in education. I see my choice as a self-less one. The young people I take care of aren’t going to remember me in a few years and they sure aren’t going to take care of me when I’m old. They are going to go off into their different fields and do good things. Some will do great things. I’m proud of that.

          The irony of working in education is that I also know how much it costs to educate a child properly, while not making anywhere near enough to do that. That that’s a whole different topic!

          • Maggie

            I could be wrong, but I read, “My heart breaks for children without families” as referring to *children* who are without parents/devoted caregivers, not *families* w/out kids… so maybe not an un-evolved POV…?

          • Claire

            D’oh! I totally misread. So sorry!

            There are people who feel sorry for those without children while not knowing if they are child free by choice. I think that was on my mind and I read what I wanted to see there.


        • KEA1

          As one who does not want, and has never wanted, children–but who is very eager to have a full life with a vigorous career–I can assure you that the decision was an easy one. The hard decision is when you actually want both!

          • Ris

            Yep, Claire, Maggie read me right. I’m 100% cool with people choosing to not bear kids… as I said in the very next sentence. My heart breaks for the kids whose parents decided they actually didn’t want them AFTER the fact. Thus my desire to adopt.

  • Lizzie

    Interesting stuff. I’m also 31 and about to quit a job that isn’t doing it for me, and for the first time as I think about what comes next, I’m doing very careful calculations about how and when I should try to get pregnant. Because I do really want kids. I’ve never exactly been sure about what is driving that (innate desire, need to please my mother, looking for an excuse to revisit aspects of childhood myself…take your pick), but the explanation I usually offer (at least when I’m drinking), is that I feel like my body has come equipped with this very expensive and very sophisticated power tool (sorry – I work in the building industry) that I’ve been making painful monthly payments on for more than half my life and it would drive me absolutely crazy if I just had that sitting around but never put it to use. I used to joke about selling my eggs too (I’m not blonde, but according to the advertisements that used to run in my college newspaper, Jewish also gets you points…), but aside from my desire to avoid invasive elective surgery, the compulsion I have is less about using available DNA and more about wanting to put my crazy life-creation apparatus to work.

    That said, one thing that hasn’t yet come up in this discussion is the idea of adopting. There is a slightly less strict timeline on this and I’ve always figured that if my high-tech baby-making machinery doesn’t run as smoothly as I’d hoped, we would take this route.

    • AmErika

      I loved your analogy. And I’m aaaaaaall for adopting, should it need to be considered.

      • Let’s also keep in mind that adoption can be a first choice, too, not just a “last resort.” Adopted kids aren’t the bottom of the barrel!

        I get what you’re saying. I guess as an auntie to a cute little guy who was adopted by his parents BEFORE they went for pregnancy, I’m a little sensitive to the negativity of the discourse surrounding adoption – the idea that it is the “less good” way of making a family that you do when you can’t do it the way you really want to. Adoption always involves some kind of loss for someone (and so is painful), but that doesn’t mean it can’t be the first, best choice for some people/situations!

        • Lizzie

          I completely understand what you’re saying, and I agree. If I didn’t personally have the aforementioned obsession/fascination/terror with the idea of bearing a child because LOOK AT THE CRAZY SHIT THAT MY BODY CAN (hopefully) DO!, I would adopt as a first choice, for lots and lots of other reasons. Either way, it wouldn’t be a concession and we would be no less a family.

  • Molly

    “Sometimes when I drive down the highway, I am flabbergasted by the thought of every single car containing a different person, with different hopes and dreams and fears and thoughts weighing on their minds. Imagine! So many people. So many lives. So many choices. And often, we will never, ever know the story behind them.”

    Wow. This is so perfectly put. Thank you for summing up my world view in one fell swoop. There are a LOT of people who could hurt people less if they listened to that.

    • Back in my days of my high school journalism class, we were told that everyone has a (real, interesting) story, and it was our job to find it. So true!

  • My husband and I are pretty firm about not having children right now and we’ve been preparing the people in our lives for that for over a year now. We say, “Look, family member/friend, I know you expect that I’ll change my mind when I’m older or we’ve been married longer or we’re suddenly the only weird couple that doesn’t have them. We don’t think we will change our minds and you need to accept that. You can be thrilled if we do but, realistically, it’s just not likely to happen.” And they typically stop saying awkward things to us but most of them, I know, still hope that we will have kids and it complicates the way we feel somewhat. Like those people we love will see us as incomplete without children in our family.

    Furthermore, I get angry when people act in their own sneak way like that we will change our minds. Isn’t it valid that we very probably won’t? Once my doctor asked me if I was waiting until I was through with grad school and working to have children. I’m 23, by the way. I got publicly angry about it on Facebook because I felt like everyone I encountered secretly thought that to be a complete woman, I had to go through the rite of bearing and raising children. A friend tried to calm me down saying that it was a natural question–that all people see kids as the next logical step after marriage. But really, is it right that that’s the case? Does it really serve us as a gender to be on baby watch?

    For us, also, we’re beginning to mourn that eventually we probably will be the only people among our friends who don’t have children and that, in a way, even if they still really care about us, we’ll be on the outside all the time. Even being pretty young, because all of our friends and co-workers are at least a few years older, we’re starting to see that happen even now. It doesn’t make me want to have kids to fit in but it does break my heart a little.

    • I purposely lead people on on our first wedding anniversary.
      I knew they would be on baby watch, so when DH and I went and bought flights to Europe as a first anniversary present (nice pieces of paper, those!), I posted that it was “about time we shared some more exciting news”.
      Yep, the assumption (even though I had been talking about Europe since before we got engaged!) was that I was pregnant. I loved disappointing people…

      But yes, get angry at the assumptions! Assumptions are rude!

  • Moz

    Once again I am overwhelmed by the generosity of the APW community – thanks Lauren.

  • Excellently written, Lauren. I think it’s horrible that for some reason, society doesn’t see a family as a “real family” unless they have kids. I think it’s wonderful for a couple to decide that having kids isn’t for them, instead of feeling pressured to have one or two just because that’s what society expects.

    Also, I find it incredibly rude that anyone brings up the issue with you, like saying “when are you planning on having kids?” or “you’d better start soon.” How is it appropriate to talk to someone about their sex life and marital decisions? My husband and I just got married in November and we’re already starting to field these questions. My usual response is “Right now, I like wine way more than I like kids.” We’d actually like to have kids in the future, but at least not for a couple of years. Right now, I’m enjoying being part of a family of two.

    • Louise

      Annie, I wholeheartedly agree with you. We did choose to have kids – I’m 22 weeks pregnant at the mo – but I hated questions about when to have kids and we waited quite some time after getting married before trying to conceive. I think it is a super-inappropriate question to ask. Who knows what the couple you’re asking is going through? The worst was one of my husbands co-workers (an American woman; we’re both Europeans) whom I ‘d never met before in my life. Somehow the second question that came out of her mouth was: so when do you plan on having children? How can you even respond to such a question when you’ve never met someone before?
      I can only imagine what it must be like if you don’t plan on having kids or plan on not having kids how annoying those questions must be. As a rule I therefore never ask people on their plans for family life (unless the other person brings it up in conversation). I don’t want to cause awkwardness or embarrassment for anyone (including myself).
      (equally bad, I might add, is that once you’re pregnant, people somehow feel it’s appropriate to ask you how long it took you to conceive. What makes people think it’s great to ask you about the state of your uterus/ovaries/sperm?)

      • Oh my lord, I can’t even imagine asking someone how long it took to conceive! That’s SO personal! I wouldn’t ask someone “How’s your menstruation cycle recently?”

        Best wishes for your pregnancy and growing family!!

        • Laura

          Wow — *way* too personal a question! The assumption I hear a lot these days, now that I’m expecting, is that I must be planning to have more than one child. (The husband and I have been thinking, more and more, that it makes sense for us to have just one.) It makes me wonder what other assumptions are lurking down the road — and it’s definitely made me more mindful of what I say to others when we’re talking about life choices. Congratulations and best wishes for your family and the baby!

          • Louise

            thank you Laura!

          • CarbonGirl

            I think if we decide to have kids, one will be all I can handle. I really like the idea of a one child family. But when I have discussed this with friends and family all I get are horrified responses of how mean and selfish that would be to the only child. Someone even told me I was better off having none at all! How obnoxious!

        • Louise

          thank you Annie!

      • My friend’s girlfriend, a woman I don’t particularly like, got very forceful over dinner once asking when we were planning on having kids. As in, I kept changing the topic and she kept asking outright again. I’d had a miscarriage a few weeks earlier. Yeah, like that wasn’t fucking salt in the wound…

        After we announced out current pregnancy (30 weeks!), I was surprised by the number of people who asked if it was planned. Say what? For me it topped the ‘how long to conceive’ question only because how often it was asked. Some people’s children!

        • M.

          One aspect of intended/not intended pregnancy questions (and “how long were you trying” questions) is that they sometimes can get at the “how are you feeling about this” question without locking someone into the socially-normal response (“Great! It’s great. Everything’s great. So excited.”).

          You probably don’t want to say “actually, my pregnancy kind of sucks; I feel mostly sick and not glowy at all; I partly wish this hadn’t happened” to someone who’s been struggling with infertility for years and years and who would give their right arm to be able to have the morning sickness you’re loathing right now. And from what I’ve seen, it’s not very socially acceptable in many circles to be anything other than jubilantly, constantly excited about motherhood if pregnant (even child-free ones; I’ve sometimes run into “if you’re having a kid because you’re 75% sure it’s a good idea, that’s not good enough!” sorts of things). (kind of like, while engaged, you’re supposed to Love The Wedding All The Time, but with an extra side-order of “you’ll ruin the baby’s life if you’re not 100% excited all-the-time” guilt) (plus, many people seem to specialize in delivering DOOM and “you’ll see” to you all the time, just like with weddings. I do *not* understand how these are supposed to go together.)

          On the other hand, if someone has been trying for a long, long time, this increases the odds that congratulatory victory dances are appropriate. The pregnancy may still suck, and/or they may be having second thoughts, etc., but most finally-pregnant people I’ve known have wanted to talk about the upsides and baby gear, not the downsides, whereas more of the “oh! That’s… interesting. We’re pregnant” people have really, really needed a safe outlet for “aaack! how are we going to do this?!!” sorts of things. So, sometimes a question that gets you to “how are you really doing with everything?” can open up good things.

          That being said, unless you know people well enough already to more or less know both what’s going on and their levels of comfort with discussing that sort of thing, you shouldn’t ask. Especially in grocery stores.

          • Louise

            Oh I totally agree… I’m having a fairly easy pregnancy so far – yet I don’t exactly love being pregnant. I hate not feeling like myself – I’m very Type A and hate that I’m crying all the time, keep forgetting stuff (esp. difficult as I’m trying to write my PhD thesis at the same time) and tired constantly. I’m very lucky in that I had one friend who was pregnant before me and who was very open about not liking her pregnancies very much. She loves her kids and feels very lucky to have them but the road to getting there just wasn’t that great. So I was very happy that last week, when I really started to feel crap, I could email and call her and talk about things and she gave me some great tips. It truly sometimes feels as if you’re not permitted to be anything but jubilant about it all.

            And thanks to all for your congratulations! Very excited (and at the same time nervous and scared) about it all. To some of the people who asked how long it took us to conceive, we’ve gently explained that thats a very private question that makes most people very uncomfortable. So hopefully they won’t be asking anyone else in the future…

      • For me I get the completely inappropriate tactless questions more often from people who hardly know me or know me only on a superficial level. My closest friends never ask. We are pretty lucky though in that family only made a few jokes shortly after we got married and hasn’t said much of anything since.

      • Umpteenth Sarah

        I totally agree about the “how long did conception take” question (yikes!), but I thought about it for a second and thought that maybe some of those askers are asking because they’re trying to have kids or may some day want kids and are just trying to get a sense of how long it can take? I’m not trying to have kids, but if I was, and if it was taking a long time, finding other people for whom it took a long time might be a way of finding support. That doesn’t excuse asking a very personal question like that, but maybe just another way of thinking about it? Maybe?

        • Louise

          Sarah, some of the people who asked the question indeed were just wondering because they’re nervous themselves. But I even got asked by a co-worker I don’t really know, while 4 other people were standing around, so that was just majorly awkward… and most people don’t even realize how sensitive a topic this could be, so to them we’ve started explaining that maybe this isnt the best question to ask :-)

          • Umpteenth Sarah

            Indeed — and regardless of motives, time and place are really the determining factors here. If I seriously wanted to talk about my problems with conception (hypothetically), I’d talk with a friend privately, not make it idle office chatter! That’s pretty indefensible.

      • I had twins, and the first question people would ask was : “Do twins run in your families?”and when the answer was NO, they would immediately ask : “oh then it was IVF , right?” and when the answer was, again, NO, the question that would follow would be: “Oh and how on earth did that happen then?”

        1) I don’t know, I suppose for twins to start running in one’s family there has to be a first time, anyway! and 2) Why would I want to discuss that with a stranger???

    • The family legitimacy issue has really gotten on my nerves, too.

      I’ve started responding to it: when someone refers to having children as “starting a family,” I’ve asked, “Oh, don’t you actually think that a married couple is a family already? I think we’re a family now without kids, just like ___ are with their kids! Of course you must agree, or else what might that imply about couples who want children but aren’t able to have them?”

      Works every time.

  • JT

    Discussions in the APW community about making choices- getting married, waiting to get married, not getting married, having children, not having children- have helped me grow as a woman and as a person. As I entered the second half of my twenties, I have had to start making choices that can’t be unmade and have for the first time, really had to mourn the paths not taken. I love being able to hear about others’ choices, to deepen my understanding of the paths others are choosing and have the opportunity to celebrate the fact that we are able to make these choices.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Lauren!

  • Jennifer

    Fabulous post, Lauren. I’m not in your shoes at all, having very much wanted children and being currently pregnant, but I went through a grieving process in my mid-30s (before I got together with my now-husband, so this was a completely-on-my-own grieving) when I realized I was most likely either never going to be a mother or would have to take another path to get there.

    What has completely astounded me are the number of people who, upon learning that I’m pregnant, have expressed some sort of “ah, I figured that would be coming sometime around now since it’s been about a year since your wedding.” I’m thirty-bleeping-nine, you’d think even people who annoyingly make the default assumption that a wedding will be followed by babies within a couple of years might not make such assumptions with women of my age. It took a lot for us to get here, for both age-related and non-age-related reasons, so even with us choosing to have children, pregnancy was in no way a given. But even if I were younger, I think the assumption would still be incredibly obnoxious, never mind how annoying it would be if we were choosing not to have children. (Though I guess after hearing other stories, I should give most of these people some credit for not voicing their assumption until after I was knocked up.)

    But the one that made me ragey was when, midway through the first trimester (before I was really showing – just bloating – and well before we were telling anyone other than our closest family and friends) a work acquaintance flat-out asked me if I was expecting and when I told her no (because it was still a secret), back-pedaled with “oh, you looked so happy, I figured you must be pregnant.” WHAT? As if the only possible reason a woman could be looking very happy would be pregnancy, or at least close enough to the only reason to warrant asking a woman in the hallway at work if she’s expecting? It took me days to stop seething over that one.

    All of which is to say, my favorite part of this is your presenting a couple-only family as a valid choice for your friends’ daughter. Whichever choices she makes from whatever choices she has, I’m sure that will be something she remembers, even if it’s not a concrete or conscious memory. I worry a little that because went to great lengths to have a child, our daughter will soak up an even stronger Must Have Babies message than what she’ll likely get from society at large, and I hope the examples of our friends who don’t have children will show her that other choices can lead to wonderful lives, too.

  • SeptBride

    Lauren – Thank you so much for taking the time to write this thoughtful post and are for putting yourself out there to discuss this difficult topic. I have been following your journey on your blog and have a tremendous amount of respect for your decision-making process.

    I do want children – desparately, in fact* – but I also went through a long, thoughtful period where my husband and I had to decide *why* we wanted to bring children into this world. For us, simply having a biological urge to reproduce or being expected to do so just wasn’t enough. We needed real, tangible reasons that having a child was right for *us* and we needed a lot of space to discuss the ins and outs of our decision – how would we go about trying to conceive? What would we do if we had a hard time getting pregnant/how far were we willing to go? How would we nurture our marriage as we grew as people and worked to expand our family? What type of partners and parents did we want to be? So, although we came to very different decisions, I think our thought process has been the same, and for this reason it is very easy for me to relate to what you are saying. I am sure you and Jeff have had a series of very similar discussions about how you want to grow your lives and your partnership.

    Also similar is my need to grieve the road not taken. I think it was on APW that I first came across this concept, and it is one I have tried to embrace in every aspect of my life. It is so important to take the time and space to allow yourself to grieve what will not be. That doesn’t mean you are any less sure in your decision, just that you take an adult approach to making choices.

    *Meg – yes, please, please, please, can we also talk about how to hold onto your marriage and your sanity when making a baby is hard? Because it is so very much harder than I would have ever imagined and the fact that it is also an unspoken struggle for many women.

    • There have been a couple of posts about this under Reclaiming Wife, if I’m remembering correctly, and I think there are as many of us who do want kids but can’t or can’t-yet have them as there are people who don’t want them.

    • AmErika

      Thanks so much for putting the questions you and your husband discussed about children on APW. We aren’t even there yet, but this is a GREAT way to start the discussion with him. We both want them, but also both like wine and beer better right now. :)

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      “For us, simply having a biological urge to reproduce or being expected to do so just wasn’t enough. We needed real, tangible reasons that having a child was right for *us* and we needed a lot of space to discuss the ins and outs of our decision”

      Yes. If I ever have children, I want the decision to be made independent of biological urgings, which, in fairness my husband can’t feel!

      • Oh, I don’t know about the husband not feeling the biological urge. My husband was FAR broodier than I was before we started trying. Some men definitely can have the urge for babies. Actually, of the two of us, he was probably the only with one with the urge and the ticking clock…

        • Umpteenth Sarah

          Ha, touche. Good to know! I’ve heard of empathetic pregnancies but not empathetic pre-pregnancies. And, I suppose, now that I think about it, from a biological standpoint men should technically want to have kids as much as women. But yeah, what I mean is that I don’t want biological urgings(from either of us!) to make the kids decision for us.

        • RachelC

          Oh yeah – my husband for SURE has baby fever WAY more than me. He keeps saying we’re going to get knocked up as soon as he finishes school and gets a job and I keep being like “…heh heh let’s not make that decision without me…”

  • Becky2

    People also don’t like it when you tell them there may be a chance for kids later, but you don’t want to be pregnant. There are many reasons why a woman wouldn’t want to be pregnant but it’s a given that pregnancy is something you have to experience to be a whole woman. The myth that it makes you a better, more complete person is what gets me. Lots of people don’t understand this and follow it up with “you’ll sees” and “one days. “

    • Amy

      Oh, I’ll give an earful to anyone who’ll listen about how much pregnancy can suck. I’m about 32 weeks along and I am just over it. I didn’t even have it all that hard, but throwing up for 18+ weeks was not what I expected on top of all the other fun aches/pains/etc.
      (Required disclaimer – I’m thrilled the baby is healthy and all that, but man, pregnancy is not a good time for some women).

      • And even when it is an easy pregnancy, it’s still a strange and weird thing that’s regularly uncomfortable. I mean, even if you never throw up, you’ll still probably end up with someone head butting your bladder for weeks on end.

        Pregnancy =/= magic woman time. It = growing human life inside you. Which is, yes, pretty cool, but it doesn’t make me more of a woman or anyone else less of one.

        • Kristen

          I just have to chime in – I’m 22 weeks and I surprised myself with the realization that I do not like being pregnant. Like, at all. And I’ve had a pretty easy time of it. I mean, I’m 35 and my husband is 36, so this was very much a planned, wanted pregnancy. But people (my MIL especially) don’t respond well when I say that I”m glad that I’m going to have a baby this spring, but that I wish I wasn’t pregnant. It makes me feel selfish or as if I’m not a proper mother already.

          • Louise

            Kristen, I feel you! I’m also 22 weeks along and don’t like it very much. Was happy to have a good friend who also didnt like being pregnant at all so I feel like I can at least share it with people. What I dislike most of all is all the emotional turmoil that I have no control over (whilst I’m normally very much in control; love my job and don’t mind working late to finish something, I now cry just about every day over nothing and need at least 11 hours of sleep a night). Good luck on the 18 week countdown :-)

    • Ashley B-M

      And just to bring it back to Caitlin Moran’s “How to Be a Woman”– there’s also that nasty business of having to be gone for anywhere from 3-12 months (minimum) with the pregnancy and baby. I don’t want to be pregnant in part because I don’t want to check out of life (work, graduate school, friends, hobbies) for months– and that’s assuming things go well. I can’t imagine the anxiety and bed rest required of a woman going through a high-risk pregnancy.

    • Yes! It is TOTALLY possible to want to be a parent without wanting to be pregnant.

  • I mentioned this to Lauren last night, but I had sort of an “aha!” moment the other day when I looked around and thought, “Why don’t all of these people have dogs??” Because having dogs is 1. something I have always, always wanted, and 2. something I find incredibly fulfilling. This is not to say that dogs replace children, but for me, it was a bit of insight into how people who really do want children feel. I have never felt that way about kids. When my wife and I started dating, she told me upfront that she did not ever want children, and I said that was fine as long as we could have a dog. Works for me!

    • Meredith

      I think I just had an Aha! moment as well, Miranda. When people say they want kids ‘just not yet’ I never got how they could know that- what that felt like. But when its framed as wanting a dog, I’m like ‘YES YES YES DOG DOG DOG… just not yet’. When I think of kids I’m like ‘eeeeeekkkk….Nooo’.

      • Ahaha, “YES YES YES DOG DOG DOG… just not yet” is exactly where I’m at. That helps me understand how some women feel when they describe seeing babies and wanting them, because I pretty much melt over stray puppies but babies do nothing for me (yet?).

    • Kelsey

      Seriously! My dog is fabulous, and he is also as much as I ever want to handle! I’m so totally satisfied with having a dog and no kids!!!!

    • Vee

      The way people feel about babies? Is how I feel about dogs. I get all melty when I see a happy puppy. I cry when I read stories about abused dogs. My husband is the same way, and we both just really feel like our purpose in life is to give homes to dogs instead of children. Dogs are great! And so appreciative. So much less talk-backsies than teenagers ;)

    • I tell everyone I have puppy fever. And sometimes I brood about the fact that I do not have a puppy. Judge away, folks.

      • We went to visit friends who are pregnant and have a gorgeous wee kitten.
        I had total kitten lust and started begging DH “can we have another one?”… Given our current kitten isnt even a year old and is… odd… it wouldnt be a good idea…

      • AJ

        I’ve had puppy fever for like a year. My husband and I just adopted a little dog that a friend of ours couldn’t take care of anymore, and we’re totally disgusting and giddy about him. This might be how new parents feel, like everything is more fun now that there’s a “little one” to take along :)

        • Vmed

          I don’t know- I had dog fever a few years ago. Very intense wake-up-early-every-saturday-morning-to-squee-at-adoptable-mutts-on-petfinder-for-months dog fever. And I got my dog, after much thought and discussion and many failed applications (small rescue dogs get spoken for quickly in my part of the world).

          Now 16 weeks pregnant, I never had the same type of baby fever- not for my husband’s puppy (cute as he was), and not for the human I’m growing. Once I had one creature to care for, I got a lot more calm about expanding our family. I was desperate for a dog, but not desperate for a child. I think that’s good- it became less about what I needed, and more about whether it’s right for everyone (husband, me, dog, and puppy- will this timing work out for us as a family?).

  • I learned the lesson about asking about kids the hard way a couple years ago. I had just been talking to someone else about having kids the day or two before, so when I was chatting with another friend of mine it came to mind and I said, “So! Are you and [her husband] thinking of having kids yet?” And there was a long pause and then, “actually, I had a miscarriage last May.”

    Oh… my…

    Of course I felt awful. At the same time, I just hadn’t realized what had happened. I didn’t know, and I hadn’t meant to bring back her pain. She and I have talked about it since, and we’re okay. I try not to ask those questions out of nowhere, and yet at the same time, I don’t think it’s an illegitimate question to ask a friend. We need to have those serious discussions sometimes.

    But it’s the assumption, I think, that’s the worst. The fact that I said “yet”. And I also feel this keenly because I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, the leading cause of infertility in women, and I know that it might not be easy for me to have kids when the time comes. And earlier this summer, I had an ovarian cancer scare (biopsy was negative!) but I had a heart-wrenching period when I thought I might lose my uterus at age 25.

    This is an emotionally charged issue. Whether the emotions are an ache to be a mom, like I know I already have, or the emotions that come with defending a decision not to be one.

    • AmErika

      Just wanted to give you a hug.

      • AmErika

        Only because I understand having a hard conversation with a friend and because I’ve found myself making assumptions….and don’t want to. And for what you’ve been through.

  • Lauren, your ‘Road not Taken’ post is still one of my favorite things ever written on the internet, and this is fantastic as well.

    As someone who, like you, has actively decided not to have children, I think your willingness to talk about it is so important. We need to be more open with others who don’t realize it’s a choice to make them realize that it is, in fact, a choice and a very valid one. We need to make them realize that sometimes, you can’t just decide to have kids and have them. And we need to do it calmly and with the same selfassuredness that people have when they so willingly declare that “you’ll have kids someday.” I like to think that those folks just weren’t as lucky as us to be taught or have realized that they had a choice.

  • Steph

    THANK YOU so much for your post and thank you Meg for talking about this here. I am 32, have never wanted kids, still don’t, but am starting to feel these same feelings. I have had such a hard time finding other people at my same stage of life who are experiencing something similar. It felt so good to read this post and feel understood, and that I’m not crazy!!!

  • Kashia

    Lauren, thank you for your honesty and the grace with which you approached this very challenging and emotionally charged topic.

    I’ve only been married a few months. At my husband’s Christmas party for work, I found myself confronted by several people who I had literally just met who wanted to know when we were going to start having kids. I tried to blow them off with a vague, “oh well, haven’t really thought about it yet”.

    I was then point blank informed that, “people who don’t have children are selfish.” I was so shocked that someone could be that rude and completely insensitive to the many many potential reasons that we weren’t having kids tomorrow. I’m still angry and frustrated with that kind of ignorance, as if someone, anyone has the right to make that kind of statement.

    We need to talk more about having children, not having children, the challenges around trying to have children, and the effects all of this has on our marriages. We have to talk about this more. There should be more than one valid choice within society.

    • Becky2

      Agreed. There is also a word in there that could be reclaimed: selfish. Being selfish isn’t always negative. I’ve heard this no-kids-is-selfish argument before, but being selfish can mean taking care of yourself and that’s not a bad or shameful thing.

      • weird! I’ve heard the having-kids-is-selfish argument, and especially the having-kids-using-fertility treatment (as we have to do) is selfish, but never NOT having kids is selfish! goes to show, it’s all completely made up anyways

        • My favourite aunt told me once that I was too selfish to have kids, so thats a slightly different take on it again, right?
          That one stuck, and became my main reasoning for a loooong time as to why I didnt want kids, and is to a degree, still the background to our current reasoning for possibly not having kids.

    • PA

      I would be so tempted to say, “Frankly, I think it’s pretty selfish to try to impose your lifestyle choices on someone you’ve just met.”

      Then I would remember it was my SO’s coworkers, stare blankly for a moment, mumble something, and sidle off. This is why work events can be awkward…

    • Amy

      So, by that reasoning the kids on 16 and pregnant are paragons of virtue and self-sacrifice? Sure doesn’t seem like it to me.
      I’d argue that there are no people more selfish than those who have children thoughtlessly. People who examine their lives, desires, finances, and decide not to have children are about as far away from selfish as you can get.

      • just wanted to REALLY say exactly: “People who examine their lives, desires, finances, and decide not to have children are about as far away from selfish as you can get.”

      • Kyley

        Hey, can we not knock teen mothers around here? I think it’s unnecessary and cruel.

    • Paige

      Oh ‘selfish’. This makes me giggle. My husband and I have been married 5 months. I’m 25. At least 3 times a week someone (usually a stranger) asks when we’re having kids. I always tell them I’m on the 5 year plan because I’m too selfish right now to have kids. I don’t think of this as a bad thing. Right now we enjoy traveling, working on our home, drinking copious amount of wine…. There is no way I’d want a kid in my life right now. But someday I will. I think it’s vey rude for someone to tell you ‘people who don’t have kids are selfish’ but in my mind it’s ok for me to say I don’t want kids yet because I’m selfish now.

      I agree ‘selfish’ can easily swing between negtive and positive depending on context. Right now I’m HAPPY to be selfish:)))

  • bts

    Last month, there was one of those annoying commercials by one of those big chain jewelery stores that showed a couple staying up late with an infant and there’s a line where one of them says “It’s our first Christmas together as a family.”

    My husband looked at me and said, “But we’re a family!” We don’t have kids. We may never have kids. But the two of us are definitely a family as we are. (I married a good one!)

    As another woman in her early thirties still unsure but mostly on the “no” side of the kids question, this resonates with me. I’ve started getting more questions about when (not if) we’ll be having kids.

    I find it difficult to tell people with children that I just don’t understand what it feels like to want children, that as much fun as kids can be I simply don’t have the yearning that I’ve heard other people describe. I do wonder if at 45 or 60 or 82 I’ll regret not having children. On the other hand, I look at my difficult relationship with my own parents and I fear I’d be signing up for a lifetime of misery, and I remember too that there’s no guarantee that kids will be who you expect them to be or that they’ll be able to provide whatever it is you hope they’ll provide in your old age.

    I do feel like I’m the lesser daughter-in-law now that my husband’s brother and his wife have a child. I feel like I need to apologize for not reproducing, which is a complicated thing to feel. And I know my parents still expect us to have kids even though we’ve said we don’t think we want them. I think that little space we leave open leads people to assume that we’ll just change our minds, that my biological clock will kick in any minute now. Maybe it will. But I have yet to have any evidence of that.

    • Anon

      “I do feel like I’m the lesser daughter-in-law now that my husband’s brother and his wife have a child. I feel like I need to apologize for not reproducing, which is a complicated thing to feel.”

      Me, too. In my case, the in-laws have never vocalized anything that would lead me to feel this way, so I’m not sure if I’m picking up on some unspoken feeling, or projecting it onto them, but either way: complicated and uncomfortable.

      • I joke with J that we should feel lucky that we have siblings who could provide grandchildren – less pressure on us! That, along with my mom’s statement at our wedding of “You’re not allowed to have kids yet – I’m too cool to be a grandmother” really took a lot of pressure off our decision to not have kids.

    • Emily Rae

      I just got married, and a month before the wedding my sister-in-law and her husband had their first child, the first grandchild for my in-laws. When people ask about my own fertility situation (ewww), I joke that sister-in-law has “taken the pressure off me”. Now I’m rethinking that statement, because 1. It assumes there was pressure, and that I accept it and 2. It perpetuates the stereotypes of in-law relationships, and deflects from my astonishment at their rudeness to inquire about something so private. I’m revising my answer from now on.

    • Ashley B-M

      I can’t even tell you how annoyed I am when friends who want to have or are pregnant with their first child say, “I just won’t feel like we’re a family until we have a child.” All I can think is, “well that’s weird… maybe you made the wrong choice in life partner because my husband and I felt like family even before we got married.” Obviously, I don’t say that because everyone’s emotional needs and wants are valid etc etc… Also, I could just be defensive.

      My husband and I are family– with or without children. Do you suddenly cease to be a family if a child dies (horrible and earth-shattering as that loss may be)? No. And nobody would suggest otherwise.

      • Ashley

        I’ve heard similar sentiments about a house not being a home until it’s filled with kids (and all their stuff) I find this particularly upsetting because we have worked so hard to create a home in our house and it has nothing to do with the things in it and everything to do with the emotions around it.

      • Kate W.

        I agree with you, and I was just thinking about your corollary — ceasing to be a family if the child dies. There are a bunch of novels and movies and things that show us exactly that — a family falling apart when the child dies, the couple being unable to stay together afterwards. I remember reading a book this summer that was about that, though the couple eventually reunited after a time apart. That’s a message pop culture is throwing at us — possibly feeding the have-a-child-or-don’t-be-a-family rhetoric?

        • I think thats part of culture in general perhaps? This expectation that kids will be your light and reason for living – anecdotal evidence seems to be showing a high number of divorces at 50 and 60, when the kids have moved out and the parents realise they dont have anything in common anymore, and havent been more than colleagues for years.
          I think this is also a similar thing that you see in pop-culture. The parental relationship may not have been strong enough to start with, or the relationship one parent built with the kids became more important than the marriage?

  • Meredith

    What timing. I just finished reading “Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice” by Laura S. Scott yesterday. Actually I started and finished it yesterday.

    I’m in a committed relationship of 6 years that is heading towards marriage (besides the kids thing we’d be engaged). It wasn’t until recently, within the last 1-2 years, when we seriously started talking about marriage, that kids came up. This may sound late, but we started dating when we were 19. Children were a far off idea, like paying taxes, investments and health insurance- things you deal with then you ‘become an adult.’ Well… now we are adults. And now we’re in a bit of a mess.

    I had never seriously thought about having children. Even when I started to consider marriage as a possibility with my partner, I never got past marriage to kids. When I started reading APW, in late 2009, right after I graduated college, it was the first time I seriously thought about kids at all. And since then I’ve moved more and more towards not having them.

    My partner wants them. Or at least, he says he does. When I asked “why do you want children?” his first response was “I just always imagined that I would have a family”. To which I first said, children do not define family, so let’s stop calling ‘having children’ ‘starting a family’- they are not synonymous. Then I said “that’s not really a reason, can you be more specific?”. He hasn’t really.

    Since then, I’ve given many reasons why I don’t want children, the most important, to me at least, being that when I picture myself with children, I have no positive response at all. I almost physically shudder. Other reasons include, I like my freedom and independence, kids obviously limit both and at this moment, I enjoy my life how it is and I can’t see how having a child would enhance it.

    In my heart I think I’ve known my decision about this for a while, but vocally I haven’t been as forceful, always saying “well I don’t think I do, but I’m young and I could change my mind”, which gives my partner (false) hope that I one day will/ could want them- that in general I’m still open to the idea. After finishing the book above yesterday, I don’t think I’m open to having to children. I don’t think I ever really was, I just needed someone to validate my emotions and my decision.

    I’ve asked my partner “what if I decide that I don’t want children at all?” his response was “that would be a huge problem”. So I think as of yesterday, we now have a ‘huge problem’. One that could potentially end our 6 year relationship- a relationship that otherwise would have resulted in marriage. And I’m terrified- not of being alone or never finding another person, just terrified of losing my partner. And here come the tears… I knew I shouldn’t have written this comment at work.

    • Anna

      This entire post has spoken to me so much that I needed to comment for the first time on APW. Your specific comment is EXACTLY my situation. My partner and I have been together for 4 years and have hit the same roadblock – like you’ve said –
      “In my heart I think I’ve known my decision about this for a while, but vocally I haven’t been as forceful.” I’m 32 and my partner is 37 and I’ve never wanted children – in my heart or in my head. I’ve let myself get swept up in society’s narrative that when I meet the right person or one day I’ll wake up and realize that I DO want kids. The truth is that I don’t want kids and I’m tired of society telling me that I’m not a real woman or selfish or that there is something wrong with me for not wanting kids. But now I am faced with the VERY real possibility of losing someone I want to spend the rest of my life with over the issue of having kids. And when I bring this up with my therapist – even she tells me that we don’t have to make that decision right now. But when one person wants kids and one person doesn’t – how do you compromise on that? Why am I losing someone over someone who doesn’t even exisit yet?

      • Ashley

        Big hugs to both of you. SUCH a difficult place to be. I started to write a comment back to you but it’s more than just to you so look for it on it’s own down further.

        • AmErika

          Awww now I have tears in my eyes. ENORMOUS hugs to both of you.

    • AmErika

      I send you hugs yet part of me wants to give you an even bigger one for finding your voice and listening to your gut. I have no experience with your situation and understand it could result in absolute heartbreak, but what I read was you finally listened to yourself, and wherever that leads you, that in itself is so valuable.

    • jessie

      Meredith, your feelings (and parts of your story) echo my own so I had to respond. I met my partner at 19, and on our first date, kids came up: he didn’t want them, and neither did I. Done deal. But then the years went by, and we were still together, and then there it was: I was 25, he was 26, I now wanted to be a parent, and he still didn’t. I wish I could say it went smoothly, but it didn’t. The last two years have been the hardest of my life, as far as this is concerned. Our relationship is most definitely worn down as a result of this, and while we have decided to stay together and are getting married in March of this year (I’m now 27, he’s 28), I definitely see the scars that hard times put on relationships. For me, I was able to be flexible on timing and number of children, but I knew that I want to be a parent to a child, and that was non-negotiable. For him, he felt that I was prioritizing someone who wasn’t even alive or possible yet (the child) over the family that was here now (him).

      We sought counselling together, and I cannot recommend that more highly. You’re right to say that false hope isn’t really helpful – my partner gave me that for awhile, and while we’re now openly and honestly in a place where we will have a child, I can tell you that for me, his false-hope giving just eroded my trust in what he told me, as his did in what I told him, as it took me YEARS to own up to my desire to have children. I can’t tell you how many hours in the last two years were spent crying over this, and all I can offer, after al lthat, is the following: (1) This is terrible, and it’s okay if you feel like everything is falling apart, because it is, in a way; (2) Counselling helped me personally, and us as a couple – sometimes having a third party in the rooms helps you to frame things in a way that you don’t in heat-of-the-moment conversations with your partner; (3) Having come out the other side, I would always prefer having had the hard conversation and knowing where I stand, than wasting time being unsure; (4) You are stronger than you think, and you will be strong enough to continue or end this relationship, even though both will be hard; (5) You obviously can’t compromise on a child’s existence, but you can compromise on a lot of other aspects of life. Looking at children as one aspect of life can help both of you to talk about your various aspirations and needs. Unfortunately, not every couple is in sync on this issue, and those of us who aren’t may find that one or both of us gives or takes on something that we wouldn’t do otherwise, and not just on the easy things, but on the hard things as well. Hopefully, some counselling can help you decide what you and your partner can compromise on, and what you just can’t. I am thinking of you.

      • Meredith

        I will probably seek counseling at some point, and will urge my partner to do so as well (I’ve actually already looked). I feel like there are 3 options here, I change my mind, he changes his or we end our relationship. Any of those three is going to take a lot of discussion and reflection and will probably be more productive with a qualified third party.

        Thank you for sharing your story.

        • MDBethann

          If it is really important to your partner to be a dad, have you thought about fostering? There are lots of kids out there who need parental figures in their lives, whether for awhile or a short time, and it wouldn’t necessarily be easy, but it might be another way of looking at things. And while it can be “for life” it doesn’t have to be either.

          There could be other volunteer options too… Big Brothers/Big Sisters, etc. to give your partner the “dad” experience he wants.

        • Jessie

          It’s true that someone changes their mind or no one does, but that doesn’t always have to look the same way. Just as having kids isn’t pure joy or pure torture, you may find that you are able to carve out a life that meets both your needs, just not in the way you envision now. I’m not saying it will be like this for you- I’m just saying that I assumed that everything had to end because we get differently about this really big topic, but by giving ourselves time to really think about what we wanted from our lives, we’ve nt only found a path that works for us, but learned how to navigate the hardest conversations together. Another reason counselling helped me: it opened me up to the idea of reinvisoning major aspects of life and being ok with it. I liken it to getting an incurable disease-life deals you a blow, but hopefully you’re able to reimagine life in a new way, and find joy in a new path.

      • Anonymous today

        I knew there was a reason I read through all the comments before sharing my own story. I broke up with the love of my life because there is no compromise between 0 and 1. It took a lot of soul searching, painful conversations, and counseling. I ended our relationship so he could find someone who could give him children without losing herself. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, and I’m sorry you, both Anna and Meredith, are facing this. You may come to different conclusions.

        And now we’re both married to wonderful people who are better matches for us. I still don’t want children. I say, “maybe one” in case it does happen, but we’re not planning on it, and we’re happy that way.

    • Edelweiss

      Huge hug and a serious praise for bravely working through this and not pushing it under the rug.

      “I just always imagined…”
      This may or may not be relevant to you, but I found that my wonderful male partner has many assumptions about life that he hasn’t thought through as much as I have and therefore can’t specifically articulate his reasoning. Part of this is because as a privledged male from a “traditional” family he hasn’t had to think about name changes and biologically he isn’t reminded of the potential of childbirth each month.

      He always imagined that if he were to get married he would have biological children. Having specific conversations with him has helped flesh this out. It’s made him realize the choices are more complicated than he first realized. In his case, it’s made him picture alternative versions of our life. It’s harder for you because you’ve realized you definitively don’t want children, and I was unsure. BUT painting specific pictures for him helped him reflect and clarify what he wanted, which gave us a basis for compromise*.

      “I’ve always believed in adoption if we had kids I’d push to adopt, how do you feel about that?”
      “I don’t know that I/you can biologically have kids. How do you feel about that and what would our life look like then?”
      “I’m genetically likely to have twins. How do you feel about that?”
      “I’m not sure I want kids, how do you feel about that?”
      “If I was pregnant and we discovered the child had a disorder that would prevent them from having a normal life, I wouldn’t want to abort if we believed the child could still be happy. How do you feel about that?”

      *In case anyone is curious about the compromise: I entered the conversations unsure if I wanted kids, but positive I did not want biological children. We’ve left the conversations both unsure we want kids, with a possibility of having a biological and adopted child down the road, if one of us begins to passionately want children. And tabling the conversation until we’ve lived and traveled together for 5 years and are ready to set more long-term goals. We also have begun making plans about how we will be active role models in our nieces’ and nephews’ lives throughout their different stages.

      • Meredith

        Oh I definitely agree. I’ve thought about kids, my career, where I want to live, how I want to live my life etc in much more detail and with much more intent than my partner has. When we first started talking about children I offered many different scenarios for him to contemplate:

        “when do you want to have kids? do you realize your career goals and that ‘baby timeline’ don’t really match up?”
        “would you consider adoption as a first choice?”
        “what if I can’t get pregnant?”
        “would you turn to fertility treatment before adoption?”
        “how many kids do you want?”
        “why do you want kids?”

        etc. I think this at least gave him a glimpse at how much I had really thought about all this and maybe gave him far more to consider than simply “I want my own biological children.” I really pressed him about why specifically he wanted children, which is a very hard question to answer if you haven’t really thought about it. We sort of left it at that- me still waiting for a clear answer about why he wanted kids. Most recently this was about 2 months ago, so soon I am going to bring it up again. Hopefully, he’s fleshed out his thoughts a bit more and at least given more consideration to potentially not having kids at all. We’ll see.

  • E

    After reading this post (which was wonderful) and all the comments, I have a question from the definitely-planning-to-try-for-children-eventually side. What would be a good way to respond to questions about having children that would also show my respect for the decision to not have children? I realize that I am in a privileged state at the moment, as it is easy for me to answer the inevitable “when do you plan on having kids?” question with “oh, in four or five years” and leave it at that (I’m currently 24, so that fits well in with society’s expectations). However, I recognize that by answering that so simply, I’m also reinforcing the idea that it is an acceptable question to ask a newly (or even not newly) wedded couple. What do the APWs out there think is a good way to avoid this? Should I avoid answering the question altogether? Respond that we’re not sure if we’re having kids, even though we are?

    A similar example is the great name-changing debate. I did change my name, but it was after a lot of thought and not a few long discussions with my now-husband. When people comment on my new name, or mention anything about changing names, I’m always sure to mention that although I did change my name, I considered not changing it, hyphenating it, and having my husband change his. I do this not to “prove” that I’m not traditional, but to merely point out that there are other options that people should keep in mind (especially important when talking to members of older generations).

    I’d like that have a similar response to questions comments about kids, but somehow “well, we are planning to have children but remember not all people do!” seems a bit awkward. Perhaps that best response is simply replying that that is a private decision between my husband and I, which makes sense for perfect strangers/acquaintances who have no business asking in the first place, but what about family members/close friends who I genuinely do not mind telling that we do plan to have children eventually? Just curious if anybody else has any thoughts on this!

    • moonitfractal

      I guess you could answer as if they asked you if, rather than when you’d like children. For example, “We’ve decided that we would definitely like to have kids and are thinking of doing so in four or five years.” It subverts the paradigm without being awkward.

      • Catherine

        I think this is a great idea for a response! It frames having children as a *decision* you made actively, instead of something that’s automatically bound to happen. It also allows you to express your enthusiasm about one day becoming parents while reminding people that there are other options out there.

        Also, E, thank you so much for considering issues like this when you respond to questions – as a childfree woman, it makes me so happy when parents (or people who want to be parents) are mindful and supportive of those of us who choose different paths.

      • jessie

        I’m always a fan of answering the question you think should be asked, rather than the one that someone actually asked. Awesome answer!

    • Cass

      I am also curious regarding the answer to this question.
      It’s a point of contention whenever my sister asks me about kids. Although I’d love to have babies eventually, the timing right now is uncertain, and not something myself or my husband are ready for.
      Mostly I’d like to defuse my discussions about family from any preconceptions.

    • The best way to answer that question – I’m fine, thanks for asking.

      I was looking for similar advice from Miss Manners and that’s what she suggested to do. You can combine it with a furrowed eye brow, evil eye thing too if you want just to drive the point home (that’s my suggestion).

  • PA

    Let me start off by saying that I am so sorry you’ve been having these experiences. As someone who makes a fair number of “non-traditional choices,” I’m accustomed to making people a bit uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I am saddened and baffled by the experiences you have had – I wish people would be willing to come to the realization that, “it’s not the choice I have made, or even would make if I could do it again – but it’s a valid one.”

    Simply put, I think your choice will make people uncomfortable because it causes them to examine choices they may have made by default.

    In a bit more depth, I think that a large portion of backlash against “non-traditional” choices is the fact that a lot of people do not question their assumptions of what will give meaning to their lives. When they see someone make a choice that is “different,” suddenly their own choices are called into question. In a moment of emotional flux, they do not look inward, but instead challenge the choices of the other person. They cling to an assumption that this other person will someday realize “how wrong they’ve been,” because if that other person was NOT wrong, well … does that mean that they themselves were wrong?

    It’s especially baffling given that having children causes a HUGE lifestyle-change, altering all sorts of other relationships and removing a good amount of spontanaeity from one’s life. One would think that other people would at least be willing to understand the ambivalence others have…

    To speak more broadly, however, I have noticed that people also follow a great many assumptions in the job-sphere. Things like, “if I get a promotion, I will be happier,” or, “if I can make enough to buy a new car, I will be happier.” It could be true…but sometimes it is not, and then people wind up feeling vaguely dissatisfied with life, but unable to articulate exactly WHY …

  • Amanda

    What a wonderfully timely and thought provoking post. Thank you Lauren for your honesty and for allowing us to have this conversation here.

    Last week my (truly evil) mother-in-law asked my sister-in-law if I was pregnant because I looked pregnant in a photo she saw on Facebook (we do not speak to my MIL). We have been married for 7 months. I am not pregnant nor do we have any plans to have kids in the near future, if at all, in large part because I’m planning on becoming a DOCTOR. This is just another example on a long list of both our families considering the act of procreating as the pinnacle of civilization and certainly much more important than any silly career goals or “life goals” we might have.

    I get upset sometimes when I think about how our families view our siblings (both have had “oops” children out of wedlock) and us – at an equal level if not higher merely because they have kids. We’ve both worked full time while going to university, have been completely self sufficient for years and years, and actually sat down, discussed our relationship, goals, dreams, values, expectations, etc. and made the decision to spend the rest of our lives together (I’m not saying that getting married is what’s right for everyone but in both cases the siblings have stayed with the child’s other parent without really discussing or considering if this person is someone they should be with or want to be with forever).

    While I know there are others out there that are in the same boat as us it’s been really nice to read this post and the comments given the utter disbelief and confusion we get from family when we say we *might* (probably) will not have children.

    • Claire

      I’m in the same boat. The girl inside of me who gave up having fun for getting an education and seeking out great responsibilities in her career wants to stomp her foot when the big brother who struggles in all areas of his life gets top billing via his two children.

      Thankfully, the moments when I feel that way are fleeting.

  • Anne

    Excellent post, Lauren. At 30, we are about 90% on the side of not wanting to have children, but we’re not ready to close that door yet. Like many of you, I’ve never had “The Urge”…and thus far, I haven’t seen many (any?) people I know parent in a way that would work for us, and with our lives. Nor do I feel like we have the type of village-style social network (at this point) that I would need emotionally and logistically to confidently bring a child into our lives. There’s been almost no pressure (intentional or otherwise) from our social network to have kids so far, so I guess we’re lucky that way. But then, we’ve both been very vocal about not wanting kids for years, and most of our close friends aren’t having them yet, so that may change. Especially since my husband is an only child…

    I do sometimes fear that we may regret not having children, but my much greater fear is that we *will* have them and regret it.

  • Cass

    What an enlightening post. I guess I never even thought that people would just “assume” that you’ll have kids.
    I suppose my husband and I just haven’t reached that point in our lives when all our friends are having kids. But my whole life, to the people I surround myself with, not having kids has always been a perfectly valid option.

    Also Lauren, the part about the neighbor making assumptions (of any sort) made me angry, too. And I wondered if 11am is too early for bourbon.

  • Ashley

    I want to tell my story, because I feel like I’ve been where so many commenters are and I need to tell the APW communty how much they have saved me. What you’re creating here Meg, is so real and so important. It doesn’t come close to the network I have anywhere else in my life and I consider that I have a pretty good network. So here it is, I had always assumed that I wanted to have children but really never given it any thought, until I found out that my partner unequivocally didn’t want them. I was obviously devastated because I knew it meant that if I did want them I should leave him. And I that was the last thing on earth that I wanted. I knew I didn’t have to make the choice right away, but it seemed ridiculous to continue on in a relationship knowing that something this big was standing in the way of it, eventually if not now. It seemed impossible. What I did was ask him to just consider what his life could be like with kids, consider it fairly. Not, could you survive if you had to have children? But is there anyway you could see yourself being legitimately happy with children? And I promised I would do the same. And I did. A lot, I basically thought about it for a year straight and I realized that although I had assumed I would have children someday that I really didn’t feel any real desire for them. In fact I discovered that I could see a perfectly happy, great life without them. I read a lot about being “childless by choice” and I came to see it as a choice. Just like every other choice I was making and was going to make about my life. And when it came down to it, I had no desire to choose hypothetical children over my very real and very wonderful partner. It was a big deal and a big year and there was lots and lots of crying and reading and talking, and reading APW posts and comments (which ALWAYS seemed to come at the perfect time – how DOES Meg do that?) Lauren’s comments and posts on mourning the path not chosen were huge for me HUGE because I could have children (I assume) and I could be a good mom and I could have that life and it could be great but I choose not to. I choose a life without them and I needed and continue to need a chance to be able to mourn that life that I could have chosen without feeling that there is something wrong with the life I did choose. We need to continue to remind each other, that whatever you choose is valid and perfectly acceptable for you no matter what people tell you about it. For so long every time someone said “oh you’ll change your mind” with that knowing smile, it sent me into a tailspin. They had no idea the damage they were doing to the very fragile state I was in. APW has saved me in that it was the one place where I felt totally okay with my choice and made me realize that there were so many others other there like me. Only recently have I begun to realize that my desire to make sure me and my partner travel enough and that I do enough with my career comes from a feeling of guilt for not having children. I realized that I felt that because we weren’t having children we had to live this jet set lifestyle, we had to have a perfect house and important careers and travel regularly and lavishly. That somehow we had to be impressive. But you know what? If we want to have a pretty normal life, and spend most of our weekends cuddled up on our average couch in our average living room in our average house? That’s our choice and its right for us. No matter what anyone says about it.

    • Ashley

      I apologize for my long-rambling post. I tend to write the same way I speak, which is quickly and spontaneously. whoops.

    • AmErika

      May I ask you, and please feel free not to answer, how your partner ended up reacting to your decision and where you all stand? please don’t answer if its too personal or upsetting.

      • Ashley

        We’re still together and things are great.We’re pre-engaged I would say (which is a whole other post and comment – lol) We’re not planning to have children and I feel really good about the decision. I still fear the biological “urge” everyone talks about. I’m 29 so I *think* it would have kicked in now if it was going to but I know you never know. He is aware that I can’t promise that I won’t wake up one morning desperate to have a baby but he knows that as we stand now, we’re on the same page. I’d be lying if I said that he gave the decision as much thought as I did but he did try but he was one of those people who has always known and to be honest, in the 3 years since we stared having this conversations, I have discovered that I really don’t think he would make a good father. I know that sounds terrible he is a great man, a great uncle, son, brother and brother in law and the perfect partner for me, but honestly, the role of father isn’t one that I think would suit him well.

    • Carrie


      Thank you for sharing your story. It seems that most people either know or don’t know whether they want children and yours is the first story that talks about wanting children (or assuming you want children because you’ve never really thought about it otherwise) and then choosing NOT to.

      My husband and I are working through this process right now and it’s scary. I’m leaning towards wanting kids. He leans toward not. Limbo is a tough place to be. We’re older (I’m 38, he’s 40) and so time is ticking and neither one of us appreciates that kind of pressure (who does!) – especially with this kind of decision.

      We love our life right now, but as others have mentioned, what happens if we regret it? If we’d met and married 10 years ago, I firmly believe we’d be having kids. But now? There’s a lot we still want to do before kids. We’ll be 60 when they’re out of the house.

      I’ve always believed I’d have kids. But I also know I could have a wonderful, fulfilling life without them. I understand the guilt you felt for having to have a kick-ass life because you chose not to have kids… as if that’s a requirement or some kind of compensation? It’s weird, isn’t it? That we do this to ourselves?

      How did your partner do with the year of imagining kids in his life? How did you come to be at peace with your decision?

      • Ashley

        It is weird that we do that to ourselves! I didn’t even realize I was doing it until recently. Although, I do want to travel, and my career is important to me, I’m okay if I never have this totally unique life. I love the life we have, whatever else we accomplish is just bonus.

        I really struggled with the idea of going from wanting kids (or thinking I did) to not, and I really worried that I would resent him if at 50 I looked back and decided that I should have had them. So I know how you feel when you say there aren’t a lot of people talking about it from this perspective. I had a really great conversation about it once with my Dr. He and his wife don’t have kids and I was explaining my situation to him, mostly my fear that I would commit to my partner and then change my mind when this biological “urge” kicked in. He told me that some people are just on the fence, a lot of people are on one side or the other but that I was likely just one of those people that was right in the middle and that someday I was going to have to pick a side and be okay with it, knowing that I could have chosen the other one too. I did make my choice because of my partner’s feelings on the subject but I didn’t give up something I knew I wanted for him. I just let is sway me from my spot right in the middle and for me, he was worth that. That’s not the case for everyone and it took a lot of really honest, sole searching to make sure that I was sure. And the truth is, I could still change my mind but you can’t live your life afraid to regret the choices you make. At some point you just jump based on the knowledge you have. For me, choosing him over hypothetical children, I may or may not someday want, was the right choice.

        • Ashley

          I realized I didn’t really touch on my partner’s “year of imagining” but I did in my response to Amerika above.

          • Carrie

            Thank you Ashley. I love your Drs advice… one day we have to choose and I’d much rather be the one to choose than to have time make the choice for me… but I will admit I’ve also thought that it’d be such a relief to find out I couldn’t have kids. The decision would be made and we could move on. I feel terrible thinking that way, too, but I agree with your Dr… it’s not a telltale sign that you don’t want kids, but rather you want a decision made.

            I’m also afraid to think about it too much (on either side) because I don’t want to become attached to having kids and not being able to (thus devastated) or choosing not to have them and then regretting it (and dealing with what does that mean for me as a woman? Am I less feminine? Not a real woman? – Rationally, I realize these are untrue statements, but we can’t always rationalize our irrational feelings with logic. They’re just there so I need to deal with them – or at least acknowledge them.)

        • Maggie

          “I was likely just one of those people that was right in the middle and that someday I was going to have to pick a side and be okay with it, knowing that I could have chosen the other one too.”

          This is exactly where we are/were–squarely in the middle (though I think we’re inching off the fence, slowly). My partner grew up expecting to have kids, without thinking about it much; I grew up expecting to not have kids, after lots of self-analysis. Now at 29, he’s more sure that he does not want children. I mostly feel the same, though I can more clearly see myself as happy either way. Or on some days, as Lauren mentioned, mourning either choice. But at some point, we will have to pick a side (or have one picked for us, as no-choice becomes one).

          Also, the fact that we can (mostly) control this aspect of our lives, unlike in previous centuries, makes me feel both grateful… and overwhelmed.

          • Ashley

            In the same conversation, I said “sometimes I just wish I would find out I couldn’t have kids, isn’t that terrible? Doesn’t that mean I definitely don’t want children?” He said, “no that just means you want the decision made for you.” Which was true but I think when I realized that I wouldn’t be devastated with that information, I knew that I really was ambivalent and that the decision wasn’t going to just come to me, I was going to have to make it.

          • Ashley – so true! A good chunk of my ambivalence vanished when I had an early miscarriage. When the decision was made for me, so as to speak, it made me clearly realize how much I wanted to have a baby. Until then, my feelings were a lot more mixed.

    • Nicole

      Oh my goodness Ashley this is almost exactly my story!

      I have to say it took me a litlte bit longer than a year to really think it all through and to really be at peace with the decision not to have kids… and every now and again little glimmers of emotion about the decision come back to me.

      What I’ve discovered about myself is that when I do have the rare ‘wobbly’ moment it seems to be more about being different or not ‘fitting in’ – as SO many of my friends take that leap! Even now, as we mostly all approach our 40s! This has been a shock to me, the influence of the social norm of being a parent – I thought I was more of an independent thinker. But I find it to be a really powerful influence.

  • Heather

    This makes me think of, on the flip side, a high school friend who has (for religious reasons) four children (so far), and the comments she gets along the lines of , “Are they all yours?” and “Gosh, you sure have your hands full!” when she takes them all to the grocery store or some other public place. All of which insinuate the “Gosh, you sure have a lot of kids. Are you sure you want that many? Did you mean to have that many? Why do you have so many? How can you afford it? How can/do you give them each enough attention?” thoughts. And she wants to cover her oldest son’s ears to shield him from strangers’ negative thinking about their large family. It’s as though if you have more than three children, you must be nuts.

    Society seems to have taught us that we can say whatever we want to strangers, especially if we think we have advice to give, such as with little children, or when you are pregnant and some stranger just starts touching your belly. No one does that to ladies that aren’t pregnant – it’s not acceptable. It shouldn’t be acceptable to do it to pregnant women, either, but some people still think it is.

    My point is some people think they can say whatever they want to anyone, and it’s okay. It’s not okay. It is, at the very least, rude, and often hurtful.

    I really liked your parting thought, “And instead of judging someone by what you think you see, be gentle, and ask them questions. Because you just never know.” I grew up with a pretty judgmental mom, and I have worked to become more open-minded. It now surprises me when I see/hear of people saying things like your neighbor said.

    I do hope to have a child/children someday kind of soon, and I hope that I teach them to be kind and open-minded.

    • Maggie

      As someone who grew up (very happily) as the oldest of 6 kids, and who is now leaning toward not procreating, I’ve heard a wide spectrum of nosy, rude–or at the very least insensitive–comments others feel entitled to make about this very personal choice. I understand being curious (my family did stand out wherever we went) and I know I’d like to share our decision at some point (whether we are or aren’t choosing to have children often feels like an elephant in the room at big family gatherings), but yes! Kindness, gentleness, and open-mindedness are so important (and something I need to keep in mind, too… it’s easy to slip into defensiveness, before I’ve even heard the question :/).

      • Michelle

        Maggie! Yes!

        I’m one of ten kids (and yes, we’re all biologically related, and yes, holidays are crazy, and yes, my parents have a big house). I am probably the only one who won’t have at least two kids of my own. I tell people I will have plenty of nieces and nephews to spoil.

        My own family has had a harder time dealing with our decision to be child-free than anyone else. As if, since the last time we talked, I must have realized that I’ve been missing my calling all these years, and being a mother is the only way I can find true fulfillment. It wears on me, trying to come up with different ways to say, “No, we don’t plan to have children.”

  • Lindsay

    I really think I saw this post when I most needed it. Funny how that works. All of my siblings have children (several of which, my parents/in laws ended up raising which brings up a whole other issue) and I am definitely the odd one out. My in laws are the only ones firmly in my camp saying “if you don’t want them, don’t have them.” I know that everyone else in my life means well… but asking me if I have “good news” for them every time we see them? Not so much. I’m turning 31 next month (and we’ve been married for 8 years in April) and realize that I am creeping into now or never territory. I only occasionally have brief twinges of positive-leaning feelings about having a baby. Would I be a good mom? Yes. Do I really want to commit my life to that? Eh, I’m not sure. I work from home – which is something I worked so hard towards and apparently that seems to be “the perfect setup” for just stepping into motherhood. Needless to say, there are so many questions.

  • Emily Rae

    Thank you for your voice! I LOVE LOVE LOVE kids and am really good with them, professionally and not. I like being friends with kids. Do I want kids of my own? I don’t know. My husband does, but he knows my unease. If I voice this opinion to others, though, they can’t leave well enough alone. “But you’re so good with kids!” — as if somehow I’m wasting potential by not raising my own. “You’ll change your mind” — thanks Mom, but don’t tell me what I’ll do. I’m not making any decisions right now, and I don’t see how that is anyone else’s business except my partner’s. Sigh.

    • Ashley

      I work with kids too and I get that a lot. You’re so good with kids, why wouldn’t you have your own! I once read a comment, I can’t remember where from a women who was a teacher but didn’t want kids. She said she realised that she could be a good teacher or a good mothter but not both and she chose teacher. I’m not saying it’s not possible to be both, I know lots of great mothers that work with kids too but for me, it really helped. I would rather be able to give 100% to my job and know that when I go home, it’s all about me and my partner.

      • Zoe

        Absolutely. My godmother (an awesome woman) who retired a few years ago after teaching for 40 years was saying over the holidays that the children of teachers seem to fall into two camps 1. they’re so quiet and respectful you worry about them, or 2. so overly ridiculous you wonder if they get any parenting at all. She said she knew that if she’d had kids she wouldn’t have been able to give her job and her kids there the attention and knowledge they deserved. And besides, if there were kids at home there’d be no Bailey’s and a Bath every night.

  • SingColleen

    I am in the “never-having-kids” camp and I really love the validation the APW community gives myself and my husband, but here’s a conundrum:
    I am the only child of my mother and it has always been her dream to be a grandmother. Obviously, it’s not MY dream, and I have enough boundaries to realize and accept that it’s just one area she and I disagree, but she really makes it hard sometimes. The little hints she still drops every now and then make me feel bad (and yes, like maybe I’m missing out on some essential element of being a woman). And the bitterness in her voice when she refers to her “grand-dog” (our awesome 1y/o shelter rescue) breaks my heart, because I love her and I know it really hurts her deep down not to get to be a Gramma. It doesn’t change our decision, but it does make it harder.

    I know I’m avoiding it a little bit, but I feel like it would really hurt her to tell her to “just drop it.” I’m working up the courage to have a calm sit-down with her and explain to her our reasons, and end by asking her to stop dropping hints all the time.

    • Catherine

      I’m another only child in a similar situation, and have tried to handle the situation with my own hint-dropping mother by encouraging her to be an honorary grandma to the future children of my close friends / my future nieces and nephews. One of my best friends is incredibly close to her “Grandma and Grandpa Jones” – friends of her mother’s family who, while not blood-related to her, visited her frequently and functioned as grandparents to her throughout her childhood. She’s 26 now and still calls them “Grandma and Grandpa,” takes trips with them, calls them to check in – does everything a blood-related grandchild would. She even admits that she’s closer to Grandma and Grandpa Jones than she is to her blood grandparents. I’ve tried to encourage my mom to do something similar once my friends and my partner’s brothers start having kids. Children don’t care about where their grandparents fit in on their family tree – the love, playing and nurturing is the important part. Also, with the high divorce and remarriage rates hardly any kids have just two sets of grandparents anymore, so she wouldn’t stick out as an “extra” grandma.

      Do you think any of your close friends (or your husband’s siblings, if he has any) would be open to letting your mom act as an additional grandma to their kids / future kids? My mom still bugs us from time to time, but she’s a lot more accepting now that we’ve introduced her to the idea that we’re not her only shot at being a “grandma.”

    • I was going to ask if there were other only children out there, so I am glad to see this comment. We are not decided either way, but I am an only child, and I do think about how that would affect my parents (if we decided not to have a child, or couldn’t). Obviously I can’t make a choice based on my mom’s longing, but… Thankfully my husband’s 2 siblings and their partners have 4 kids between them so far, so not much pressure from his side.

    • jessie

      As someone who adopts grandparents whenever someone over 70 will let me, let me tell you that there are no shortage of people who would love your mother to fill that role! If she’s engaged in activities where she can meet young people, all the better! However, I think it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your mom where you dedicate some time to really talking about this. She clearly has hurt feelings, and may need to air those. At the same time, I imagine that these guilting hints are wearing you down, and it would be too bad for your existing relationship to be injured by this.

      This reminds me that the discussion around parenting is often frought with assumptions of what your kids will do (they will provide for you/take care of you when you’re old, relieve loneliness, bring joy to your life, have children of their own for you to spoil, etc), and how they will be (healthy, sociable, interested in you) which really isn’t fair. We can’t have kids so they will live lives that suit us, and I this was something I really had to process in my own debate over whether or not to be a parent myself.

  • fleda

    Thank you for this post! I’m in a similar position–if I’m going to have kids I need to do it within the next five years. And we don’t want kids right now, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon. I always thought that if I was in the situation I’m in now (stable, married to a guy who would be a great father, etc.), I would start to want to have kids. But the desire simply hasn’t ever shown up.

    I fear regret later on; I fear isolation, since literally all of my friends either have kids or are going to in the next few years. But really? I think that in the decades ahead there are going to be some hard times and some regret–along with some joy–no matter what. Because that’s life, right? Either choice will bring both pain and happiness. It’s still awfully overwhelming to have the choice to make though. I’m really grateful to hear all the voices here commenting about choosing not to have kids–sometimes I feel like I’m the only one. So again: thanks.

  • Anon

    Hi, I just wanted to speak up in favor of adoption as a possible alternative route to parenthood. I am also 31, and I have struggled recently with the fact that my very-long-term boyfriend is dragging his feet regarding marriage and kids. He understands the science, but we have made some life choices (education, careers, multiple moves and long distance) that have delayed “settling down” and getting married. We are almost there now, but for the past year or so, I was completely overwhelmed with anxiety and stress about my biological clock and my very intense desire to have children. And then a friend adopted a baby boy and all of my stress immediately melted away. I realized that I would be happy and fulfilled as an adoptive parent rather than needing to necessarily have my own biological children. This completely changed my world view on marriage and children. Now my boyfriend and I are free to let our relationship progress on our own timeline, rather than one determined by my fertility. And while this does require planning (saving money because adoption can be very expensive, and starting early because it can take years), I am so comforted to know that we have this option. He is enthusiastically on board with it, too. I just want to put this out there because talking to my partner about the possibility of adopting saved my sanity and probably my relationship. I am in a different boat than most of the people posting here, because I emphatically DO want children, but I think the possibility of adoption should be considered for those who aren’t exactly sure yet. If you are thinking about having a baby right now because you are afraid that, at 40, you may regret it if you didn’t, maybe start saving some money for adoption instead. If you decide later that you really do want kids, and it turns out that you have trouble conceiving them, you will be prepared and ready to move forward with adoption. And to all the people mentioning the overpopulation concern – adoption is a great way to experience parenthood and grow your family without contributing to overpopulation!

    • Kyley

      THANK YOU. .

  • The majority of choices we make in life are selfish. My decision to become an accountant was selfish – I liked the idea of earning a good salary, and the prestige that comes with a professional role. Having children and not having children are equally selfish choices, and it frustrates me when people try to make out like one choice is pure altruism. Even though the acts that parents may perform in order to take care of a child may be described as selfless, the inspiration to do that act is borne out of love – I will do anything for my son because the idea of him having a happy life fills *me* with joy.

    I have to confess that I don’t fully understand the choice not to have children, but then I don’t understand why some people enjoy listening to Beyoncé, or dislike Indian food, or don’t want to travel outside of their own country, or prefer cats to dogs. We are all different, we will never fully see things from each other’s point of view, but respecting that difference and that choice is what is important.

    With regard to your neighbour, I don’t feel that he was trying to say that you were less worthwhile. It’s just hard when you have children to know what to do with friends who don’t.

    The problem is that many of the more vocal couples who elect to remain child-free will say horrible things about children – that they’re smelly, pointless, demanding and money-wasting. It makes it hard to know how to progress in social situations. Even people who want children in the future have all said something along the lines of “when I have children, he/she is not going to behave like *that*”, when every child behaves antisocially at some point.

    So if, for example, my son starts to make his latest really loud, happy, squawky noises, and we are among parents, I won’t worry about it, because he’s happy, they understand that this is how a child expresses themselves, and it’s all fine. If, however, we’re around friends who do not, or do not yet have children, I am more inclined to leave the room and try to hide his happy noises, because I am scared that they will just think he’s one of those horrible children that they don’t want to know.

    I’m sure that plenty of people who remain child-free like children perfectly well, but they are not the ones we hear shouting on the tv and radio about how awful we breeders are.

    We need to see more, positive child-free role models. Nobody should be forced to be an example to the world, but the more people who represent different faiths, inherent qualities and lifestyle choices there are in the public eye, the more understanding and positive it will be.

    • Ashley

      When I first started to really consider not having children and I took to the internet to do research I found so much from people who didn’t want kids because they hated them. So much negativity about parents and children and I honestly though well since I love children and I love my sisters (both of whom have children) maybe, I should have children. Maybe I can only choose not to have children if I hate them. Which is crazy! But I was looking for a community of people like me, who love kids and other parents but don’t want it for themselves. I didn’t really find it until APW and it meant a lot when I did. I’m trying to remember this when faced with an opportunity to explain my choice, that there just might be someone listening who needs to hear my answer.

      • Canadian Amy

        Try DINK life. It’s a website that focuses more on things couples can do to enjoy their lives without children. No matter if the couple doesn’t have children YET, or if they will remain childfree.

    • Maggie

      “Having children and not having children are equally selfish choices, and it frustrates me when people try to make out like one choice is pure altruism.”

      Yes. The selfish/unselfish framework that seems to creep into these discussions never feels helpful or fully correct to me, no matter which way the words are used.

      • Umpteenth Sarah

        Completely agree with you, Maggie. Good point.

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      “We need to see more, positive child-free role models.”

      True dat. I actually feel lucky in that I have seen positive role-models from both sides, child-free and child-full, and I can see myself happy in both positions. But, I do wonder how people (silently, I hope) ask about older women why they didn’t have kids, and how AWFUL it must be to have to answer it, especially since at that point there’s not much more you can do.

      Point: Have kids, don’t have kids: don’t judge, don’t assume.

    • Dawn

      “The problem is that many of the more vocal couples who elect to remain child-free will say horrible things about children – that they’re smelly, pointless, demanding and money-wasting.”

      I wonder if some of this might be that they’ve reached the end of their rope in trying to explain/justify to people why they don’t want children. This doesn’t excuse them obviously (I cringe every time I see a childless by choice blog talking about ‘breeders’ and the like) but I think you’re completely right that we’re lacking positive child-free role models and so a lot of people who choose not to have children become almost militant about it because they seem to feel like they’re fighting against the world. Then again, some people are just straight out rude and to hell with them.

      What’s interesting to me is the statistic that historically something like 20% of women have always been child free (can’t remember the exact statistic). Granted, many of those are not child-free by choice but really that’s a pretty large percentage so it is somewhat odd to me that there aren’t more positive role models. I’m sitting here thinking about it and can’t think of a single older person I know who did not have children so even if there was an appropriate way to ask someone older how they came to the decision not to have children (if it was by choice), I wouldn’t have anyone to ask.

      • That’s a very good point about reaching the end of their tether. I’ve been tempted to tell people “because I don’t like him” when asked why I’m bottle feeding, rather than tell the long and actually quite painful story again. We all tend to get spiky when feeling attacked.

        Also, interesting about the 20%. It wasn’t until recently that I met older women without children – one through her husband’s infertility from childhood illness, and another because she was adopted for the purpose of taking care of her adoptive mother, (who had borne children already), and was therefore not free to find a partner or pursue her own interests until she was in her 30s and her mother had died. Now that’s a whole other can of worms.

  • Sorry… More to say!

    Thank you for your encouragement to gently ask questions. This is the route I would always like to follow, but it’s hard. Firstly, when reproductive health is the reason, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough tact in the world to risk that conversation. Secondly, some people do not want to talk, and get angry when questions are asked. I encountered a blogger who got particularly vitriolic about people asking her about two of the words she actually used to describe herself in her blog title. Apparently, people were morons and it was none of their business.

    Essentially, I’m just a wimp who is scared of angry people!

  • Mirabillia

    I am 33 and my man and I are heading into engagement territory. He has two children already, both under the age of 10, and over the course of our relationship I have worked so hard to fit them into my (already very full) life. Before I met him, I didn’t know whether I would ever feel that strong pull to have children. Now that we’re planning to be together forever (and, as such, for me to be with his children forever, as their stepmom – we have shared custody with their bio mom), it brings up so many questions. As a part of this family, I feel at once like I am a mother and like I am on the outside looking in. In building a relationship with these kids, I have learned both that I do have maternal instincts and feelings and skills and joys, but also that being around kids can make me feel exhausted, depleted, depressed and resentful. I wonder whether that is because I do not have a primal connection to these particular children, or because stepmotherhood has its own set of challenges that can color my feelings about kids, or because I am incapable of having a primal connection to children in general.

    From the beginning, my partner and I spoke about whether he would be open to more children, and he is, and we are now at the point of decision. And biologically, time is ticking. And I am so aware of wanting to decide based on what I truly want at my core, and to be honest with myself and accept the results of that honesty, and not to try to fulfill some societal pressure to “solidify” my place in the family or do what all my friends around me are doing.

    And so, Lauren, as so many APW posts do, your words have arrived at the perfect moment. Thank you.

  • Lauren, THANK YOU for this post. And thank you for using the word “mourning”, because you summed up what I’ve been feeling but didnt have the words for yet.

    I’m 35, my boyfriend is 45, and spurred on by the APW book (and the amazing “questions you should ask before your get engaged” section), we just had this intense discussion the other night. And I found myself crying at the idea of getting pregnant (how’s that for a clear “no”?), but then also upset at the thought that when we’re 60 and 70, maybe we will be regretful. And since I was so upset, did that mean that I really secretly WANT children?

    But, no, I think. I think I’m mourning the reality that I just don’t want to have children. I love other people’s kids, but I also love when they go home at the end of the night with their parents.

    There are so many reasons for us not to have children, but only one reason (that I can see) for us to have children, that is, to avoid potential regret. And I just don’t think that’s enough of a reason. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to get us through a really difficult job that lasts the rest of our lives.

    • Tamara Van Horn

      Renee, fantastic way of stating something I wrestle with daily:

      “There are so many reasons for us not to have children, but only one reason (that I can see) for us to have children, that is, to avoid potential regret. And I just don’t think that’s enough of a reason. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to get us through a really difficult job that lasts the rest of our lives.”

    • Allison

      “I think I’m mourning the reality that I just don’t want to have children.”

      So much this.

  • melissa

    I love this post! I am am 30 unmarried and don’t have children. While I am in a serious relationship with a great man we haven’t discussed these things in length yet. Sure I probably want to have kids at some point but it’s not something that will ruin my life if it doesn’t happen. It infuriates me that when the subject is brought up in certain circles that I first get the pity look and then get reassured that I will soon find a husband and have many children. It happens at work, with family and in public and it drives my insane. So much so that when these things are said to me i immediately say that I want nothing to do with kids or a husband just to be combative. How dare they assume my life is lacking something because I’m not a mother. I know this post is specifically about children but as a woman i think both are equally expected from us from most of society and after a certain point many people begin to look at you like there is something wrong with you because you haven’t gotten on the same boat as everyone else.

  • Martha

    I really really appreciate this post. My husband and I are close to having children – I’m 30, so yes, it will be within the next few years. But it’s been a long discussion – we’ve talked about it for years now. Having both started from a somewhat ambivalent place, I’m now 80% sure that I want them, and he swears that he’s happy either way, but has a slight preference towards children.

    But I’m mourning our other future – the one without children, where I am an awesome aunt to my adorable nieces and nephews and just get the fun parts. The one where we are a double-income, no kids couple (DINKs!), and can afford to take amazing vacations and indulge our hobbies, etc etc. Not that some women can’t do all of those things in addition to children, but I know myself, and the importance of these things will diminish in favor of other priorities (schools, pets, etc). Yes, I am okay with this. But I’m definitely still in mourning for that other couple, while getting excited about the parents that we’ll become.

    • Oh, the amount of grieving I have done during my pregnancy for the lost of that other life! I love our DINK life. I love our vacations and hobbies and disposable income and sleeping till noon on weekends. I want this baby that’s currently headbutting my bladder, very much, but man, it’s been hard to say goodbye to how awesome our life is. Yes, things will still be awesome, he assures me, but they’ll be DIFFERENT. And that scares me and makes me sad. No more 3 week romps to Europe! No all day naps! No random concerts! Or at least, none of these for a while, or with the same ease we have now…

  • Lauren, thanks for this. I read the story about dinner with friends and your conversation with their daughter on your blog previously, and when I tried to comment I got some weird error message. So, here’s my chance!

    “…I was able to offer not having kids as a valid option for a little girl who might someday remember that.” Although I’m a bit older, right now I *am* that little girl. You’ve legitimized options that I was scared to be secretly considering, and given words to the rumblings of my young process with these questions. It’s empowering to know that strong, wise women like you are living full lives without following the past of least resistance. I, too, hope to grab the often-unwieldy reins of life to take control of these choices and own what I want.

  • “Sometimes when I drive down the highway, I am flabbergasted by the thought of every single car containing a different person, with different hopes and dreams and fears and thoughts weighing on their minds. Imagine! So many people. So many lives. So many choices. And often, we will never, ever know the story behind them.”

    So beautiful.

    I desperately want kids, but I 100% agree with you about that being a totally personal DECISION that women make and that should not be imposed upon them as if it’s a given. On the other side, I’m in a lesbian relationship, and people always assume that because I’m the more feminine of the two of us, I’ll be having the kids. And the truth is, my partner and I BOTH want to carry children. But people are always completely shocked by that and sometimes kind of rude about it. As if the fact that she presents as sort of tomboy takes aways her ability or desire to bear a child. Ugh.

  • Ashley B-M

    I wish there was one gigantic “exactly!” button because going through and “exactly”-ing all the comments is starting to take too long…

    To add to the horrifying things people say to couples not or not yet having children, I provide the example of my own mother. While in treatment for breast cancer (she’s 100% in remission now, yay!) she announced that the ONLY REASON she was going through chemo a second time (she had lymphoma about 13 years ago) was so that she could hold her grandchildren someday. Yikes. I’m an only-child but took this as the opportunity to tell her that I’d recently gotten an IUD and she shouldn’t hold her breath for the next 9-10 years (Paragard FTW). She took this opportunity to cry and leave me in the car. I frantically texted my now-husband an “SOS.”

    Sure, a) I probably didn’t need to respond by saying that the only thing going into my womb was a little piece of copper wire (I refer to it/him as “Spike”) and b) that she was emotional and all hopped up on cancer drugs. At the same time, maybe… just maybe, making medical choices around fictional future grandchildren and then not mentioning that to anyone isn’t the best course of action…

    My mom and I have a fine relationship and I’m still pretty confident that I wont be popping out a baby… She hasn’t mentioned it again explicitly, although she does keep asking me what to do with all the baby quilts she’s made (for her fictional, future grandhild). My husband has suggested that if his mom wants to hold a baby that badly, she could volunteer in the local hospital nursery or NICU.

    We are not delicate, but it does tend to shut people up.

    • Oh my gosh. And I thought the pressures from my family were bad. Within the first twenty minutes of meeting my fiance, my mom asked him, totally seriously, when he was going to give her a grandchild.

      We just spent Christmas with his family, and as his parents were dropping us off at the train station, apropos of nothing, my future mother-in-law said wistfully, “Well, one day, not today but not too long from now, I’d really like a little grandchild.”

      I’m not sure which one was more awkward. We do want to have a kid someday, but all I could think of in these moments was, what if I didn’t? It would feel like my mother/mother-in-law were obligating me to have a child. It’s terrible to do that to someone. Why don’t they realize that?

  • Nicole

    I am 33 and this year was the 10-year anniversary of my tubal ligation. I’ve never wanted kids, and my fiance is 100% on board with this decision.

    When I was a little younger I would get more of the “you’ll change your mind!” or “WHEN you start having babies…” sort of comments. Now that I’m a little longer in the tooth and marrying a guy 10 years older than me these comments have slowed down quite a bit.

    I’m also beginning to care less and less about what people think of my choice. When people start to get pushy with me now, I just say, “Well, I got my tubes tied at age 23 because I couldn’t bear the thought of having kids. It’s really not an option.” This tends to horrify people, but it also shuts them up. I have actually lost friends over this simple statement. I’d rather not have people that judgmental in my life anyhow, though. I’m happy with my life the way it is, I would be devastated if I had to suddenly care for a child.

    • wow.
      You’ve lost friends because you had an operation to stop you having kids you didnt want?
      And you managed to get a TL at 23??! Even privately funded here they wouldnt look at you until you were 30-ish, and even then only if you had had a couple of kids!
      I admire your bravery

      • KEA1

        Yeah, raging jealous here too–I actually had a doc pressure me into an IUD instead of TL when I was OVER 30, and she wouldn’t even let me *start* explaining the reasons why I want to be child-free. =( So glad that you were able to get what you actually wanted!

    • Michelle

      I have wanted to do permanent BC, but the “what if you change your mind?” questions in my own head have stopped me. I think in the next couple of years I’ll be ready for that.

  • Thank you so much for this wonderful post. At 32 years old & coming up on my 2nd wedding anniversary, there couldn’t be a more relevant topic to me personally. My husband & I agreed during our engagement that we’d likely not opt to add children to our family, but we didn’t close the door on the matter either. We left it at “if one of us starts getting The Urge” we’ll revisit. So far, neither of us has had it, but recently, due to some potential Big Decisions regarding career/living situations, I started thinking, “Oh. If we’re going to do XYZ, we definitely won’t be having kids.” And I didn’t feel bad about it, but I also didn’t feel great about it. So yeah, I guess we’ll be revisiting the discussion…

    Regarding the overpopulation/social responsibility reason for not having kids, funny enough, I kind of have the opposite response to that. I feel like we can all agree that there are a lot of non-practical parents…I sometimes feel that it’s necessary for there to be more sane people having kids to provide a counterbalance!

    And as for all the haters who ask awkward questions… I feel like an inappropriate question deserves an inappropriate reply. So when someone asks me when we’re going to have kids, I look at my watch, and say “Hmmm… how long does it take those little suckers to swim upstream? Because we had a wild and crazy sexfest this morning… so any minute now? In fact, it was so good, it might be twins!” That usually shuts them up. :)

    • PS – I only give that reply if someone asks in a wildly inappropriate way or asks after having already been made aware of our choice. I don’t get all militant in casual settings. :)

    • Hahaha, best answer EVER!

  • I love this post. My husband and I are on the “no kids” boat. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re wonderful, and I can see the importance of having children – it’s just not for us. I love our life as is. We have lots of friends with children and I’m always so happy to go home at the end of the day to my children free life.

    I’ve considered the fact that I may get older and I may change my mind or worse, it will be too late to have my own biological child. But, that’s not enough of a reason to go out and have children now.

  • Andrell

    My husband and I want to do big, great things with our lives. We have a goal to use children’s minds and their ability to see things better than adults to solve world problems we cannot. Our solution: an educational tool with almost unlimited power for the children most left out of education systems. By educating the young, they can turn around and solve problems neither my husband nor I can. We love the potential each child represents.

    We are both only children from our parents, though I do have a half brother on each side. My husband is the last in two very long lines. We know that if we have kids, they will be loved, cherished and brought up well and educated, caring about the world and their fellow human. With resources on the planet straining already, we would only have 1 or 2 kids ourselves, but that is still 1 or 2 more… Why is it that the educated caring people think of these things and make decisions that are good for the world, when- if they had kids- they would raise the children to be better people by their beliefs alone, not to mention usually have decent means to support the children?

    If we have kids, we will lose part of our dream- our lives would become about them, not the other children of the world. Traveling for the goal would become difficult/improbable or the child(ren) would have to be left behind- always behind. We love the idea of having a kid that has a bit of each of us in them. We love the idea of all the fun things we can build, do together, strive for. We’d love the chance to be ‘big kids’ again.

    What dream do we follow? We are not opposed to adopting later in life- preferably an open adoption if possible- and still raising a good person, but I know our parents will be sad to see the bloodline end.

    • MDBethann

      And why couldn’t you raise an awesomely compassionate, globe-trotting kid or two? It might mean you drag some extra luggage with you on the plane, but how AWESOME of a childhood would your kid have, going around the world, interacting with other kids, and seeing what other cultures are like first-hand? Most of us just have to read about them in books or learn about them on National Geographic Channel.

      • Andrell

        While that sounds great- its not so practical. I get sick when I travel- very sick sometimes (antibiotics every time, sometimes IVs). This would leave my husband, the brains and sweat of the ‘operation’ solely in charge of children and me. While I put up with the traveler’s disease, I cannot do much more than barely contain any pain. Not to mention the extra money (bags, tickets, food, etc). It is a BIG consideration as our money would be put towards as many of these tools as possible.

        However, I love your point about seeing first hand other cultures and countries. A very good and strong point I did not previously consider. Thank you.

      • Andrell

        My husband had a good point: its also about the time being diverted away from the project in order to properly care for and love a child. Its a project that is not a job that puts food on the table- its a side passion and life goal. 40+hours at a paying job, travel, and children… where would this tool find the time in our lives to get developed?

  • Susie

    Thanks to Lauren and all of you wonderful APW-ers for being so honest in the original post and in all the replies. Its comforting to realise that I’m not the only one to be approaching the soon-or-never point still unsure of whether they want children enough to make the huge lifestyle change it requires. Being able to listen to an informed, intelligent, non-judgemental conversation about this subject is a complete breath of fresh air. Exactly! to every single one of you.

  • The part that makes me rage-y isn’t that I don’t feel valued because we’re not having kids (although sometimes it makes me sad). It’s the part where people don’t seem to BELIEVE me/us when we say, “No, we’re not having children.” My mom and relatives don’t believe me (although I cut them some slack because I’m sure that’s partially denial). Our friends don’t believe us. Strangers don’t believe us.

    It’s always the same parade of comments, “Oh you’ll see.” “You guys will change your mind.” “Ih but you HAVE to have kids, you’d be such good parents!” And the #1 rage inducer (for me): “Kids just happen. You’ll see.”

    For me, it’s okay to ask if we’re having kids. It’s the social paradigm that a couple will probably have kids just like they’ll probably get married. But when I tell you we’re not, don’t tell me I’m wrong about my feelings. (Especially because we present a really united front in public on this…there’s no rift between us to exploit.)

    RAGE I tell you. I’ll toast your bourbon with my gin, Lauren, and keep standing up for not having kids in the hope that people will learn to be more sensitive that that choosing not to have children is a valid choice.

    • Martha

      Yes! I’ve been somewhat ambivalent about children, so when asked about our hypothetical future babies, I would tend to reply ambivalently. And every. single. time I got this response – “Well, just wait until you hit 30, then the baby urge will hit!” Yeah. So all women hit a wall precisely at 30 that flips a “baby switch”? This drives me crazy, and actually has caused me to deny ever wanting children just to be contrary. Of course after saying that, I do want children, but that’s a decision that we’ve come to, and not because my “baby switch” magically turned on.

  • This is awesome. I actually have a post coming up on Offbeat Mama TOMORROW about the choice to not have kids. Though mine is way more flippant and snarky. But ultimately, it’s this message. Thanks for raising awareness about not assuming that people either want or will eventually have kids. Rock on!

  • Lauren, I just wanted to say thank you very much for wanting to have this conversation, and for the thoughtful and enlightening way in which you go about stimulating it.

  • Tamara Van Horn

    This…THIS is why I keep coming back. Smart women saying smart things from the heart about HARD stuff to think, talk, or write about. I usually read all the comments first so I’m not repeating others, but today I had to say, thank you so much for this post. It helps me contextualize my thinking, and it’s wonderfully written. APW!!!

  • Chanel

    Thank you so much for this conversation. I personally always assumed I would have children. I adore children. The complication comes in the fact that my husband has 3 children of his own already (we do not have custody), and he feels like having any more children would be extremely irresponsible.

    Added to this is the fact that I have recently been diagnosed with PCOS, which makes the likelihood of having a normal, easy pregnancy very slim. To top it all off, I really do enjoy our slightly-bohemian life, and would greatly miss it if we were to have a child.

    Rationally, I know that I would be very happy to never bear a child of my own. But there is a tiny, irrational part of me that still goes nuts every time I see a baby. On the other hand, there is an equally irrational part of me that goes into a blind rage every time one of my co-workers confuses indigestion with potential pregnancy.

    My husband has agreed that when we are financially stable enough for a child, if I still want one desperately he is willing to reconsider, so our relationship isn’t in any jeopardy over the issue. My family occasionally makes remarks about “my turn”, but there are other brothers/cousins having kids, so there isn’t the extreme pressure that others have reported.

    My biggest struggle over the issue is actually with the uncertainty of the situation. What if I really don’t want kids after all, but I end up pregnant anyway? An increasingly bigger part of me is wishing I could just get a tubal ligation done and put an end to the question… that I could with certainty tell the busy-bodies that I never intend to have children and would you please stop asking.

  • Anon

    Hi, I just wanted to add that I think it is incredibly important that we are all completely honest with our partners about whether we want children, and that we listen (really listen) to our partners on this topic, too. I know three couples whose marraiges ultimately ended because one partner did not want children but went ahead and gave in in order to please the other partner. Having and raising a child is such a huge task, and not really something you can do as a favor or an act of love “for” someone else (in my opinion). These friends of mine were willing to have the baby in order to appease their spouse, but when it comes down to the unbelievably hard work of actually parenting, they weren’t really there. Honestly, I’ve learned that when my friends utter the words “he was the one who wanted this baby in the first place,” it usually spells the end of that relationship. I know it has been said before (maybe even in these comments, I just didn’t see it), but having a baby is liking getting a tattoo on your face: you really want to be damn sure about it. So, just my two cents (from someone who unequivocally does want children), I am in awe of the strength and integrity of the women on this blog who are being honest and up front with their partners about not wanting children. It may be the hardest thing you ever do, because it may mean losing your partner if having children is a non-negotiable for him. But in my humble opinion, it is a better decision than having a baby in order to make someone else happy.

    • two days into our honeymoon, I gave DH an out. I offered him an annulment, because issues had come up in the three weeks immediately before the wedding that had made me “realise” I didnt want kids.
      It was the hardest few minutes of my life. And we have spent the last year and a bit talking through those issues, and keep having to re-make our decisions because I keep second-guessing myself.

    • Allison

      “I’ve learned that when my friends utter the words “he was the one who wanted this baby in the first place,” it usually spells the end of that relationship.”

      Yep. I’ve seen this more than once.

      And let me tell you how fun it is for the parent who didn’t want to be a parent in the first place trying to rebuild their life when they’re stuck with co-parenting forever.

  • Marie

    This conversation is awesome. I want children, and my fiance is half hearted about it. We usually joke back and forth about it, but maybe I need to take his feelings into consideration more seriously. I’ve always drawn the line on the issue–he’s known where I stand from day one, and I guess I’ve felt like him marrying me is him agreeing that we will have children someday. I have a feeling that I have not listened to and respected his reservations the way I should…

    • Allison

      “I’ve felt like him marrying me is him agreeing that we will have children someday.”

      I will just say, from having seen friends go through some heartbreak over this assumption – do talk about it, in detail, now.

  • Amber

    I sometimes feel bad about the reasons I have for not having/wanting kids, as if they’re not good enough. Though fortunately I don’t have to get into it with people.:
    * My mom wasn’t a good mom and I know I’ll be like her (How mean!)
    * I have other plans for the next 18 years of my life
    * Childbirth? No thanks.
    * Not knowing how my body would react/change during pregnancy? Bleh, I have enough issues with my body as is.
    * I don’t even make good decisions for myself most days, I should hardly be in charge of someone else.
    * Cats are annoying enough, and I’m not raising them to be catizens of the world or anything.
    * I just don’t want to. It’s something I don’t desire at all.
    * Having kids is just plain wrong for me. Even if all those negatives somehow disappeared, I still don’t want kids. Even if having a kid was a cake-walk, I wouldn’t want to have a kid.

  • Dawn

    I seriously love my mom so much right now.

    She has never once, even when I was a child made any assumptions about my life, or the sorts of choices I would make. She has never assumed that I would get married (it was always an “if”) and she’s never assumed that I would have children. (She did however assume that my sister would, but that’s because my sister has wanted to be a mom since she was in junior kindergarten…)

    I know plenty of women who don’t want, and didn’t have kids. I had no idea they had to deal with so many presumptuous and insensitive comments. I also know two women who always assumed they would have kids at some point “in the future” but for one reason or another never did. One partnered with a man who didn’t want any more children. The other, after marrying in her late thirties, decided that they were perfectly happy being DINKs. :)

  • Good grief, I’m always late to the good parties.

    My husband and I are of the “childless and that’s just fine, thanks” category. I’ve got many reasons. But after spending a week of my vacation with my sister-in-law’s new baby, well, let’s just say that the qualities of babies are incredibly unattractive to some one as “selfish” as me.

    Let me say that I’m fine with being called selfish for not wanting to have children. I like myself. I like my marriage. I don’t want to change a bit of it… so if that’s selfish, then it is by far the most positive selfish I’ve ever been. However, I was not okay with my other sister-in-law’s girlfriend informing me that it’s “OK to be selfish. And I can understand why you wouldn’t want to have a baby when you aren’t happy with yourself.”

    I didn’t have anything to say for about ten seconds, except to stare at her in absolute disbelief. And then I firmly corrected her that I’m actually quite happy, thanks for caring.

    I seem to be saying this a lot recently: I would be most happy when opinions, politics, etc. stopped fighting battles on and over the female reproductive tract. To each their own, and my best wishes to those who wait, who won’t, who can’t and who try.

    • Wow, that girl was rude. Mental b*tch-slap across the face, right there.

  • Hi Meg,

    Absolutely love your blog and your writing style! Truly inspirational!
    I just recently posted a blog topic about this myself. You can read it here: http://www.cureendometriosis.com/pregnancy-and-endometriosis/
    I have had endometriosis for a number of years and have recently found a way to dramatically improve my health with it. It has suddenly opened the door, that I could actually have children even though doctors told me for years that it was near impossible! It got me thinking too and I am very much on the same page as you on this one. I just don’t feel like I desperately want them.
    A part of me feels bad for not wanting them more, like perhaps I am not a loving person for not wanting my own child. Part of me does feel like I am selfish because I would rather travel and enjoy my Fiancée!
    Surely, if it was something we wanted, we would ache for it, wish for it everyday and not question as much as we do?
    Well, this is my argument anyway!

    Thanks so much for sharing and articulating what I am sure so many of us women are feeling!

    • I’m due for an exploratory laproscopy sometime in the next couple of months to confirm if I have endo, and how bad it might be.
      To be honest, a part of me hopes I’m going to be told its bad enough I likely wont get pregnant naturally, as it would be an easy way to put a fullstop on this conversation.

  • What an awesome conversation, its stuff like this that makes me so appreciative for this community!

    Another element here I don’t hear talked about too much is the element of mixed raced couples and how others handle the topic of us having children. I am “white” (actually, like most Americans I’m a mix of a lot of wonderfulness) and my husband is Indian, although he’s from South India so many people either don’t know “what” he is or identify him as black. I have known people, including those of our generation, who I know haven’t spoken with me about children and parenthood in the same way they’ve discussed it with friends and coworkers in same-race couples. It doesn’t occur to me that there’s a difference between my decision about having kids that will be mixed and that of a woman whose child would be of the same race. But it does for others. I’ve had people nod understandingly when I say I’m not sure I want to have kids, then allude to the fact that my children would be “mixed” and how much more difficult that might be for both myself and my potential children. It frustrates me perhaps more than anything else in this world, but I would be lying if I said the hurt that I hear in my friend’s voices when they describe how strangers mistake them for their children’s nannies hasn’t weighed on me more than a little. My way of both deflecting this issue while also sort of taking it on is to reply to anyone who asks me if I want to have kids “Well sure, if nothing else to see what they look like!” And if they look horrified, well that’s fine, because I’m sort of horrified to be asked such a personal question so casually. This is probably a whole other level of discussion, but I wanted to put it out there.

    • KH_Tas

      Late to the party, I know, but and solidarity to you.

      I am in a similar situation to you, except my guy is the result of mixed-race relationships. I interpret the attitude that you shouldn’t have children across racial boundaries because they’ll get picked on is saying that rascism is acceptable/normal. I get that that’s not what a lot of them mean, but sometimes people should think through the ramifications of what they’re saying before they speak.

  • Audrey

    Thank you for writing about your decision not to have children. My husband and I have been together 4 years (married 2yrs). I recently turned 31 and my husband is 39. I can relate so well to this post. I’ve always had doubts about having children. I thought (maybe naively) that as I got older the feeling of “want” would eventually come to me. I thought I had time… I’d cross that bridge when I came to it. I thought I’d eventually feel “ready”. Well, the time to decide is fast approaching. I still don’t feel “ready” and it’s scary.
    All of our friends have children. Many of them are on their 2nd or 3rd.. From this I’ve learned(contrary to popular belief) that seeing friends with their children does not make me broody. On the contrary!… it only ADDS to my DOUBT about having them. The big dilemma: My husband really wants children. Where he hears about the joys of children from the other husbands, I hear about the difficulties from the wives. If I were to compare it to a stage production, my husband sees the fun part of the show with make-up, lights, and props coming together for a night of fun entertainment. I, on the other hand, think about all the blood, sweat, and tears that go on behind the scenes to make the show happen. Not to mention the MONEY!
    All said, it may seem like I’ve made up my mind… but I haven’t. And the irony is, if a doctor were to tell me today that I’m unable to have children, I’d probably be upset. As difficult as this decision is, I’m glad I have the choice. I understand that there are women out there who really want children and can’t have them. We have several friends who have gone through many difficult years (and a lot of money) in order to have children. To these people, I don’t want to seem trite.
    If I have children I know there will be a lot of love to go around. However, I really like our life right now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect, but the freedom of not worrying about a baby is nice. I like going out for drinks whenever we feel like it. My husband and I love to travel. I like to get 8 hours of sleep on the weekends.
    I think about whether or not I want children everyday. I’m glad to know I’m not alone whatever my decision may be.
    31 and counting…

    • Audrey, are you actually my subconscious, writing in my sleep?
      Apart from the fact DH and I are both 29, turning 30 this year, this is totally me.

    • p.

      Thank you for writing about being unsure about whether or not to have kids. I’m also unsure if I want kids and like you, I’ve found that being around other people and their kids hasn’t really helped me make a decision.

  • Meredith

    I feel like I’ve heard the same things over and over about choosing not to have children, even in my own head. However, I am 32, married and pregnant with my first child. I was extremely on the fence about having kids; never had the overwhelming desire to be a mom or the love of babies that so many women have. I kept waiting for a maternal instinct to start up, or at least one that extended farther than our cat. It never came. My husband and I love fancy dinners, traveling, doing things on a whim. We drink, we smoke pot, we laze about on the weekends. I left my job I hated and went design school, and was thinking up business ideas to get me away from the idiot 19 year olds I was having to interact with. Not exactly the perfect candidate for motherhood.

    My husband, in concept, wanted kids, but there was no timeline other than “I don’t want to be old” (he’s only a year older than me). It wasn’t until one night, while stoned, he said “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and realize that I didn’t do a fundamental part of living it”, that it all clicked for me. Maybe it was the pot, maybe it was my usual big thinking (so not a details person, yet another reason why I was on the motherhood fence), but I finally had my reason. We are animals, and we have to procreate to continue the species, and I think that’s where a lot of the assumption to have children comes from. That was about a year ago, and here I am halfway through my pregnancy, still not feeling like this was some great overwhelming desire to have a child, but totally at ease with what’s to come. Some of it will be awesome, some of it will suck, but that’s life. Kids or no kids, it would be the same highs and lows, just different ones.

    I think the one thing about getting to your early 30s is that the realities of the world are so much more apparent than ever before. As a kid through my teens, my parents were friends with people with children because that’s where they were in their life (the only childless couple i can think of from that time is my aunt and uncle), and obviously, my friends at that age had parents, so it was my reality. In my 20s it was all about avoiding pregnancy because it just wasn’t the time yet (for those that want kids and those that didn’t). I certainly met more people who had not had children at that time, but they were much older, and their decision never came up. It is only now that I see the actual choice, and how many people consciously and unconsciously make that choice (a close friend is getting a divorce and may not be in a place to have a child with a committed partner while her reproductive years are available. Others seem to simply be choosing to not have children). It’s been a total paradigm shift for me, because the choice wasn’t as apparent before as it is now.

    My closing thought, and it’s not meant to be sanctimonious, but don’t close yourself off to any possibility (not just having children). While you may feel so certain right now, it may creep in or come in as a stoned epiphany. The desire may just look different than what you expect.

  • Allison

    I needed to read this, and I’m so glad it was here. Sometimes, the choice is one that life makes for us.

    I’m 32, and my partner is 41. He has a young daughter from a previous marriage, and does not want any more children. While we won’t exactly be childless (he has half custody of his daughter), the fact is that I’m not going to be anyone’s biological mother.

    At a certain point in my life, I was okay with the idea of having kids, but when I fell in love with him, I knew I was falling in love with a man who didn’t want to have any more children. I had to ask myself whether it was more important for me to be with that man, or to be a parent.

    I chose him. My commitment to him is more important to me than any hypothetical child that might or might not be born. The worst case scenario I could envision would be to leave him to pursue someone who wanted to have kids, then to come up infertile and unable to afford adoption (both very real possibilities).

    This isn’t the right answer for everyone, and if I had been hell-bent on having children, I couldn’t have stayed in this relationship. But I wasn’t hell-bent on it. It seemed entirely optional to me, and I have yet to lose much sleep over the idea of not having a child. It was a non-issue for me, so my decision to marry this wonderful man has made the decision about kids a settled one for me – it’s not happening.

    Nobody really talks about people who aren’t committed to either having or not having kids. Some of us would be fine either way, so it’s just a matter of how the dice fall.

    • K.C to K.E.

      My fiancee has two children from a previous relationship, and he has full custody of both. Their mother is not currently in the picture and isn’t likely to join the scene any time soon (or ever). Basically, WE have two kids now. He has no desire to have any more children, but says he would entertain the possibility if it would make me happy. He’s such a keeper! But I have a fear that this would lead to resentment and strain on our relationship down the road.
      This family, my new family, have accepted me into their lives and we work so well together: it feels whole and complete.

      I was one who ALWAYS wanted kids. I wanted to grow up and be a mom. Now, I’m 35 and 95% certain that I don’t want any biological kids. I have had a few years of being fearful of being alone in my old age, with no one to take care of me when I could no longer do it. What a horrid thing that is. Not the fear itself, but deciding to have my own children for that sole purpose. THAT is undeniably selfish.

      I have recently learned that I am inherently selfish. I want to be able to travel, to go to nice, quiet dinners alone with my FH and to drop everything for a spontaneous weekend trip. None of those things are options with kids. I don’t want to risk the medical complications, either for myself or a future child. I’m getting older, and it gets much more complicated. I feel that if I’m on the fence and not certain, then NOT doing it and regretting it is something that “I” will have to live with for the rest of my life, however HAVING children and then regretting it is something that WE ALL will have to live with forever. The damage and destruction caused to some innocent small person’s psyche by my selfishness is not something I could live with.

  • Krysti

    I love this post. Thank you for sharing and starting this awesome conversation.

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  • B

    I realize that this is a bit of a ramble from the original post – which was wonderful, thank you! But after reading all of the comments (all 275!) I really want to voice my own story.

    I’m 29 and on the fence. I’d been vehemently against (my own) having children since I was a teenager, originally because I was an ardent environmentalist concerned with overpopulation. Over time, it evolved to be because I don’t really like kids or babies, I’m terrified of the physical process of pregnancy and birth, and because I’m also terrified of making such a huge investment and having it come out badly.

    I always thought I would love to be an aunt and be very involved in the lives of my nieces and nephews. However, my sister has recently found out she cannot have children and doesn’t want to adopt. My boyfriend is an only child. So if there are going to be children in either of our families, it’s up to me. I’ve also started to reconsider having kids after meeting my boyfriend’s mother, who is a wonderful woman and college professor who doesn’t like kids but loved her own. I think I could fall into that category.

    So, I’m starting to think that I might enjoy having a healthy, intelligent child. However, one nagging fear remains – I am utterly horrified at the idea of having a mentally deficient child. My intense admiration to parents of children who are mentally and/or physically challenged, but I am completely terrified of having one myself. I don’t need my kid to be a superhero – I just need them to not be severely autistic or have Down syndrome or some other condition that renders them not able to care for themselves as they grow up. I can abort a Down syndrome baby, but what about autism? I have no idea what I would do.
    I sincerely apologize to anyone who finds that offensive, but I really am aching to voice this somewhere.

    • Hand on heart, I join you in this seemingly irrational fear.
      Its the thing that is driving us to make this decision soon – because waiting any longer increases the risk of defects, and I dont know that I could cope with that, given how much effort it will have been to get me to decide to have kids anyway.

    • tiarala

      The only child I believe I could handle in my life is the “perfect” child. With a “perfect” child I could maybe keep elements of my life as I know it, but then I see the senior parent walking their mentally challenged 30-year-old around the grocery store, like they do every single week and have for the last 30 years, and my heart breaks. I couldn’t be that person. I don’t have it in me, and that’s one of the main reasons I choose to remain childfree.

      But try telling that to the in-laws. :: sigh ::

    • Elle_dee_em

      Wow…are we the same person!? I’m 29 and feel exactly the same way about EVERYTHING you said. I share the same fears you have, especially the fear of a handicapped chid (which I feel guilty about too). Also, I’m mostly afraid of not enjoying the whole process, that I won’t enjoy being a parent. I felt really “meh” about getting married (I wasn’t excited, I found the planning process stressful – thank GOD for this website!), and had to convince myself being married would be okay (luckily my husband is super supportive of my neurotic tendencies). I can’t imagine how those feelings would translate into parenthood. I can’t bring a child into the world that I don’t want 100%, so I can’t have a kid just to see if I like it. My husband is on the fence too, even though I know he’d be a wonderful father, and says the decision is ultimately mine, and he’s fine with whatever I choose. But that only makes it harder!
      Since you wrote this 2 years ago, has anything changed? I’m curious to know!
      Also, thank you, APW, for articles like this. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone!

  • tiarala

    As childfree women we’re not allowed to say we’re jealous of some of the things we see. We’re not allowed to say that we’d love for just a moment to feel how it feels when your own child smiles at you, or the moment you realize she has your eyes or your husband’s ears and you say “I made that.”

    When we do say it out loud we get it from all sides. The hopeful new parents in our lives who are proud of themselves for inspiring a change of heart. The childfree friends who are supposed to get it but then lash out like you’re a traitor; the ones who make you hate using that term, “childfree” to describe yourself because there’s so much negativity online.

    But it happens. We sometimes look at the baby bumps, the list of baby names with more crossed out than remain standing, the smiling baby that is the spitting image of Mom or Dad, and we wish we wanted it. We get it. We understand the drive and we still make the decision that it’s not for us.

    There aren’t many out there who are willing to speak out when it gets hard. I keep my own blog private because I’ve had so many friends freak the eff out that I had to start peppering it with disclaimers … no, of course I’m not talking about you/your child/your husband/dog/mother, and even so I’ve had the CF community online jump down my throat for not *really* being childfree because I get a little jealous sometimes of the life my parent friends have.

    Thanks for writing this. I know how much joy I get on my blog when people tell me I’m not alone, so know it. I’m currently going through *exactly* the same thing.


    Because you just said everything I’ve ever wanted to scream to the world. Not everyone wants children and I’m in that category…and I own every bit of my decision. Most people say that I will one day but a co-worker once told me that was the most selfless thing she has ever heard.

    What you said hear, “But what if we could learn the story behind important and difficult life events? If we could expect people to treat us with kindness, would we be more willing to talk? And if we were kinder and more willing to listen, how much less alone would we feel?

    So let’s be honest with each other. Have conversations. Share our hopes and dreams and fears. And instead of judging someone by what you think you see, be gentle, and ask them questions. Because you just never know.”

    JUST COULDN’T HAVE BEEN SAID any better than that.

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  • Steph

    I just want to say thank you SO MUCH for writing this post. I found it by searching google for “choosing not to have kids”. My search for “married and not a mom” came up with nothing that was helpful.

    I am 28, so is my husband, and we’ve been married for a year. Neither of us have ever been thrilled or sold on the kids idea. Before I met him I was completely against the idea for my future, period.

    Now pretty much everyone with a vagina that we know is having/ just had/ is pregnant again/ or is planning their pregnancy. A tiny part of me feels a little jealous. But I think a bigger part of me is scared. That I’ll never be in the “mommy club”, or as you so PERFECTLY put it, I won’t be able to meet the criteria needed to “clearly … fit in?”

    We are already haggled by his family every time someone even THINKS the word “baby” or “grandbaby”. We are the only siblings out of all ours combined that don’t have kids. Everyone just assumes that it’s coming. One of the most annoying, aggravating, REGULAR comments I get is “well it’s good, you guys have time, you can have a few years to enjoy your selves and then get started” – like, WHAT? First of all, how do you know we have time? Secondly, are you implying that IF we had kids we would instantly stop enjoying ourselves and enter a life of honored misery? and lastly – no matter what we do in our life, we don’t need your permission!

    Another really great point you made is that, nobody talks about this. I feel exactly the pulls that you are talking about. But I don’t think my fear of being the odd one out is a good enough reason to start breeding.

    I can’t thank you enough for writing this :)

  • I am so grateful to have found this website, and especially your post. I am a fairly young, recently engaged woman who has decided not to have children and was almost at my wit’s end in dealing with confrontation with people (family, actually) who felt the need to tell me that my decision is wrong and that I can’t possibly mean what I say. I am so happy to have found a place where I can feel connected to people who have made similar choices for any variety of reasons. I really was starting to feel alone and like maybe I was confused or there was something wrong with me but I’M NOT and THERE ISN’T! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  • Brooke

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. My husband and I have been “trying” to have a baby for almost 2 years now. We’ve had all kinds of tests and I’ve been taking fertility drugs to try and help, but nothing is working. But the strange thing is, that we sat down and had a heart-to-heart this past week and ultimately, neither of us is really ready or sure that we DO want children. But we both feel so pressured by society, family, and friends that this is what we are SUPPOSED to want that we’ve been putting ourselves through the paces of infertility treatment that neither one of us really wants to do. Why do we do these things?! I am frustrated and angry with my friends who pity me for not having a baby. I am sick of hearing them say to me “It will happen, it just takes time”. How can they even say that when they got pregnant in 2 months and I’ve been trying for 2 years?! What kind of “time” did it take them? And underneath all of that, I feel guilty because I don’t want their life- I don’t want to be all-consumed by children. I teach 3rd grade so I feel like I get my kid-fix on a daily basis and the truth is, I don’t want to have my career working with kids and then come home and have to deal with more kids. But why is it “bad” for me to feel like that? Why do people look down on those of us who don’t want children?

    Sorry for the rant. Had to get that off my chest to women who DO understand my plight. Thank you for listening.

  • Ellen OJ

    I love your candor. I love that you got mad. I love that I am not the only one that gets “fade to black” angry when someone presumes that my married life is unfulfilled because I don’t want to have children. I have always been a staunch…”no kids, no way” girl/teenager/woman. I love being an aunt…because I can take my nephew home! I love being the cool ‘like family’ member…because I can have the candid talks that Mom and Dad can’t have. I can offer advice and be the ear to the street for the young one and the parent. I have always said ‘no’ to the notion of me having kids. I don’t have the patience. I am too selfish. I just don’t think I’d be a good mom…but being ‘Aunt’/’Auntie’/’Big Sis’…I can do that with all confidence all day. All of my life I have had external folks…meaning not my family say…”oh, don’t say that!” Or “oh, you don’t mean that!” Um why not? And, yes I do! Don’t minimize my feelings because you disagree or it makes you uncomfortable.

    When my hubby and I were dating…and that was for 16 years (that is another story…I also didn’t think I would ever get married. I was open to it, but doubted I would go through with it.) I told him flat out “I don’t want to have kids.” So he knew this way in advance. I told him, if you want kids…then we should break up because I don’t want ’em. We got married last year. And then all of the questions started…when are you having kids? Me: Um, I’m not. Them: But doesn’t The Hubz want to have kids? Me: He has a daughter. Them: But doesn’t he want a child with you? Me: Well, it would have to be a pretty convincing argument to get me to have kids. Like DIVINE INTERVENTION kind of convincing. They see that I am getting annoyed and the conversation usually ends there. I actually had this guy from work tell me (mind you we are not best friends, nor are we that kind of chummy-chummy), he said that having a child would be the best gift I could give my husband. What?! At the time, I responded, that my hand in marriage was the gift! Then I thought about it later when I recounted the situation in my head, you want to talk about pissed?! I could not believe that this guy, practically a stranger, felt that he too had a say in my reproductive organs! He never even met my husband. Are you serious dude? The audacity of folks. The thing is I have never once had this pressure from my mom. Most of my friends get it from their Moms pretty rough. Me? Not at all. And I love my Mom for that. When it has come up, and I don’t quite know how or why it does…my Mom tells them with certainty, “oh she doesn’t want kids.”

    At around 27 I wanted a dog. No, I did not substitute my desire for a child with a dog…I genuinely wanted and still want a dog. We both do. But there is no money, nor space for a dog. At 33 I began to think…hmm, I am getting older…time is running out. Eh…no, I don’t wanna. My mom had me at 38, so for me that is the cut off point. I turned 37 this year. It dawned on me that my mom got pregnant with me in her 37th year. She turned 38 the day before she delivered me. Wow… ::crickets:: Hmm… Yes the gravity of it all does hit me, but I also look at the many women in my family that birthed children in their 40’s. So I figure I still have time to change my mind.

    The thing is…I am not compelled to have children. Isn’t that a big..scratch that…huge part of the equation? I mean we can all be good at something, but that does not mean we want to do that something for the rest of our lives. Sure I can wrap a gift like no one’s business, but do I want to do that for the rest of my life? No. The same principle applies to my logic with kids. Just because you can, does not mean that you should. The Hubz and I have had a very rocky several years and I cannot imagine being so selfish to bring another human being into this world and not be able to provide it with the basics. I just feel that is the ultimate show of irresponsibility.

    So to my pesky cube neighbor that insists that The Hubz and I will have kids…I will continue to keep my cool and respond calmly with “no, I don’t think so.” When he says it again…I will ask him to kindly stay out of the business of my reproductive organs. Right now I am sticking to my guns…no kids for me. I rep “Auntie 4 Life”.

  • Heather

    Thank you for your insightful post. I have never heard it is OK to mourn for the child you will never have, and it really means a lot to me you put those words and thoughts into print. It is SO confusing! I was like, “Why am I SO sad when deep down, I don’t think I want them…?” I am 36 (almost 37) and for a variety of reasons, never had kids. I always thought I might want to have them, but I never did, and now my desire to have kids has waned with time. It’s just become less important to me over time. I guess officially, I’d say I’m still “undecided.” But now, I have begun a relationship with a man who might be “the one.” He has said under no circumstances does he want children, and in fact, has already had a vasectomy. So, if I continue this relationship, my fate is sealed on the question of having children. And that kind of scares me a bit. It is SO FINAL. But I want to be with him. I’ve waited a long time to meet someone I wanted to marry…and who wanted to marry me, and have a happy, healthy relationship with. (I want to be clear, even before I met him I was questioning it – I was never 100% sold on the idea of having kids, and I believe you should want a kid 100% before doing it. Plus, while I still “have time,” I don’t really have any desire to be 40 and chasing a toddler around). But, the idea of it still scares me a bit. Something was holding me back from making that final decision…but now knowing it would be fully reasonable to mourn the end of my child rearing possibilities, has helped. I am still not certain what I will do, but you gave me a different view to look at this problem with. Thank you! As a side note, I read another article that had something interesting to say. It rings true with your statement about people assuming you will have children eventually. She said, “People are still expected to provide reasons not to have children, but no reasons are required to have them. It’s assumed that if individuals do not have children it is because they are infertile, too selfish or have just not yet gotten around to it. In any case, they owe their interlocutor an explanation. On the other hand, no one says to the proud parents of a newborn, Why did you choose to have that child? What are your reasons? The choice to procreate is not regarded as needing any thought or justification.”

  • Chasing Bunnies

    I completely relate to your “train of thought” section. Just yesterday I found myself in a similar situation. I never felt the urge to have kids. When friends would post photos of their babies, I would think “that’s nice, but I’d rather have a kitten or puppy” – in other words, no maternal urges whatsoever. My husband and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary this year and early on in our marriage, we were in the “we don’t want kids right now, but maybe later” camp. Then over the years we got used to our life without kids and this never was an issue.

    However, two big things have changed recently. First, my sister had her first child. For the first time EVER in my life I now see pictures of babies and I don’t immediately think a kitten would be nicer. Instead I feel a hole in my life. It is freaking me out because it is making me second guess my choice and this has NEVER been how I react to kids. I can’t tell if I really want kids now or if it’s just that I can finally relate to how it feels to want kids and I feel this hole because I am missing this desire.

    Second, a friend of mine started IVF. In the country we live in now, IVF is actually covered by the national health care. So, I’m thinking “cool – could this be the universe telling me something?” Well, yes, but it’s not the message I thought it was. Looking into the details of what the national health care covers I found that legislature dictates that egg harvesting is only covered up to a woman’s 43rd birthday and implantation is only covered up to age 45. I turn 43 in three weeks. I finally realize how much sand in that biological hourglass has actually slipped by while I wasn’t paying attention. Soon this “choice” is no longer mine to make.

    I felt like someone had kicked me in the gut. I realized that while we had decided not to have kids, I always in the back of my mind was OK with this because it wasn’t an irreversible decision. Now I’m realizing that safety net is about to disappear. Now I’m struggling with not feeling entitled to mourn this decision. Thank you for making me see that I am not alone in this and that it is OK to grieve for what you have chosen not to have. That feeling that sense of loss does not necessarily mean your decision was the wrong one.