Childfree, Not Childless

I am never having children. I will always be a childfree woman.

Using the correct word matters, too. “Childless” implies I’m missing something. It’s associated with having less than I want but can’t have due to issues beyond my control, such as reproductive challenges, lack of a partner, finances, etc. “Childfree”, on the other hand, means I am satisfied with my situation.

And I am. I have sleepless nights because of college assignments due the next day, not a crying infant. The stain on my shirt is Starbucks, not spit up or poop. I can do whatever I want without considering a helpless, needy person in my plans. I am free of parental responsibilities. Like actress Helen Mirren said, “Motherhood holds no interest for me.”

I’ve been told I am selfish for not wanting the responsibilities of children. I am, but selfishness in this context is not a black mark on my character. Being selfish about my reproductive choices doesn’t make me a bad person. It means I know what I want and what’s best for my life. I trust my judgement and I’m willing to pursue my choice despite the social stigma.

Other people’s reasons for having children have never swayed my stance. I’ve been told I should have children to spread my “good genes”, their argument being that characteristics that I have are automatically passed down and it would benefit the future to populate the earth with people like me. That to me sounds selfish, as if I think I’m so great the world needs about three more Lorraines. Actually, most reasons I’ve heard for having children seem selfish or irrational. “Carrying on the family name” sounds like nothing more than a patriarchal yearning for supremacy mixed with misplaced love of sons over daughters. “Children add meaning to life” sounds like perpetuating a cycle of belief in the meaningless of life without children – what is the next generation going to do to find meaning? I think life is meaningful in other ways, and children aren’t the only option for women.

Judgment and shame surrounds women without children. It’s especially stigmatizing to embrace being childfree rather than being labeled childless. A woman’s lack of desire to have kids is seen as more subversive than not having a kid because of outside circumstances. Women who don’t want children because that’s their personal choice are considered cold-hearted, as if thinking a baby’s not a bundle of joy is a clear sign there is no happiness left in their souls.

This is why being a childfree woman will always be part of my identity. The world expects women to be mothers first and anything else second. I am supposed to structure my education and career around my biological clock. Self-labeling as a woman who will never have children is a radical social and political act. The GOP platform still uses “rearing children” to rationalize why Obergefell v. Hodges should be reversed, excluding same sex couples from the right to marriage. Having children defines women in society and societal contracts such as marriage, and uprooting that central idea forces people to redefine womanhood and basic concepts about family.

Reconsidering core concepts always makes people uncomfortable. By claiming the title “childfree”, I hope to normalize the decision. My declaration shouldn’t be accompanied by a splutter of surprise or raised eyebrows. I don’t think it’s funny, clever or insightful when I’m told I’ll grow out of it or change my mind, as if I just haven’t given enough thought about opting into one of the most permanent and sacrificial human experiences.

I wrote this article because I’ve often found myself explaining my very personal choice in words tinged with self defense. The absurdity of those conversations stuck out in my mind. There are few other situations where a random person directly tells me I am living a meaningless life and ruining the future of earth through the things I do with my private parts, and I have to wrestle with pretty words in my response. Believe me when I tell you I will always be a childfree woman. And then drop it, because it has nothing to do with you.

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