Is to be childfree really a choice?
Updated: May 11, 2021
I always thought I would eventually have kids.
I have never felt maternal, but I would dismiss it with the knowledge that all women somehow arrive at a moment in life where the baby-making instincts kick in. I just needed to follow the formula: establish your career, meet the right partner, buy a house, get a dog, have a baby.
Simple. Just stick to the formula.
When I met the right man, still no clucking.
The people around me explained that this wasn’t a problem. I should just have a baby anyway (because you know, my clock was ticking), and the hiding mother in me would emerge.
Until the thought of becoming a mother became a reality to me, I never really considered the weight of it.
What else would I do with my long life if I didn’t have children? Would my partner still love me? Would I be considered a failure as a woman for not fulfilling my ‘purpose’ in life?
...The decision to try for a baby began to unravel within me.
I had a long list of places I hadn’t been to yet, I still had so many books to read, maybe write one myself. I wanted to get lost in other languages; learn Arabic and French and sink into their histories and cultures. I still had mountains to climb; breath the air on top of Mt Kilimanjaro. I wanted to have at least three or four careers in my life and burn my crazy candle at both ends in each one.
Where did having a baby fall in all those plans?
Making the choice not to have children has not been a frivolous one. Many people have made me re-examine, again and again how I feel about it.
I have considered the idea I am just a selfish person. I have faced the 'reality' that I will die alone with no one to care for me. I have confronted the notion that I may be turning my back on my only living purpose in this life.
But now I understand why.
"If we want the best health and well being outcomes for our children, and now understand that those outcomes are determined by the experiences shaped by their families and communities, why is parenting still something we only expect of women?"
IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD
Research into the first thousand days of a child’s life found that children can only develop as well as their families, communities and broader society enable them to.
“Many challenges faced by adults, such as mental health issues, obesity, heart disease, criminality, and poor literacy and numeracy, can be traced back to pathways that originated in early childhood,” says The First Thousand Days: An Evidence Paper by the Centre for Community Child Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
“To ensure positive health and wellbeing for current and future generations, we therefore need to focus on improving the environments and experiences of the earliest stages of development, including the prenatal period.”
Consider these scenarios:
A child falls ill in the middle of the day and needs to go home. Who does the school call?
A man and woman are out for drinks. Who gets asked who is with the kids?
A child is putting on weight, or not enough weight. He isn’t talking yet, or is wild and loud. She’s a fussy eater, or won’t self soothe, or sleep in her own bed through the night.
Who gets the accusatory finger in the face?
If we want the best health and well being outcomes for our children, and now understand that those outcomes are determined by the experiences shaped by their families and communities, why is parenting still something we only expect of women?
A woman is the one that shoulders the majority of the responsibility for her children’s growth and yet is punished if she does not meet our standards of success.
Meanwhile, a man is congratulated if he picks his own children up from school.
The Second Shift and Gender Pay Gap ensure that what it takes for a woman to raise her children and maintain an independent life for herself is a monumental task that if she chooses to undertake, will also result in her running the gauntlet of public scrutiny and criticism. Because when a woman becomes a mother, she crosses over this threshold of identity she can't get back from; as much as she fights otherwise, mother is now everything she is. However, for a man, being a father will only ever be a part of his identity.
WOMEN HAVE A CHOICE
Since 1950 Australia’s birth rate has been in steady decline - more and more women are choosing a childfree path.
When I facilitate workshops for Mona, I share with the women in the room that I have chosen not to have children. In the quietness and security of those moments, with the caveat of “I love my kids but…” they tell me their bodies no longer feel like they belong to them. They tell me of showers being their only self-care.
They tell me of the exhaustion and the pressure. The loneliness.
Today’s generation of women can fortunately expect more choice out of life than that of their grandmothers, however, I can’t help but think that motherhood shouldn’t be something women tread water through.
I chose not to have children because I didn’t want to be left behind. If only becoming a mother didn’t mean I would’ve been.