I’ve never thought of baby names, or imagined what I would look like pregnant. But don’t feel sad for me. I don’t feel anything is missing.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 24 per cent of Australian woman will never have children. Couples without children are predicted to be the fastest growing household type, overtaking the numbers of households with children by 2031, (a result of the increase in child free families, coupled with our ageing population.) Despite the changing landscape of Australian families, societal pressures still push parenthood as the assumed path.
Soon after we married, the questions started. Friends, relatives (and sometimes strangers) asked when we were going to procreate. We’d hardly had a chance to contemplate the question. Voicing my indecision was often followed up with statements like, “who will look after you when you’re old?” or, “don’t you like children?”, implying that something was wrong. For a while, I agreed. On I went, ticking all the boxes that I believed would ‘ready’ me for motherhood. I obtained a job that paid maternity leave, told my sister to keep her baby clothes, and waited for the feeling to arrive.
We decided to drop the conversation, until one of us has the ‘urge’. If never, then that’s okay.
It never did. With my mid-thirties looming like a time bomb, conversations with my partner about ‘when we should start trying’ brought anxiety rather than excitement. I dreamed instead, as I always have, of a life of creativity, flexibility and travel. So we decided to drop the conversation, until one of us has the ‘urge’. If never, then that’s okay.
People don’t have children for numbers of reasons. Some make a choice. Some can’t fall pregnant. Some don’t have a partner, and won’t embark on the journey alone. Some have partners, who don’t want children. Our reasons are far, varied and equally valid. Assumptions can’t be made about the child free as a whole. As there are differences in reasons, there are differences across cultures. Census statistics show that of Australian residents born overseas, higher rates of childlessness exist among women from the United States, the Philippines and Malaysia. Lower rates of childlessness are found among women who were born in Greece, Croatia and Italy. A lower proportion of Indigenous women do not have children compared to non-Indigenous women.
Dr Bronwyn Harman, a senior lecturer at Edith Cowan University, studies contemporary issues affecting families, parenthood, and more recently, the child free. “People were not able to say in the past that they didn’t want children, it wasn’t socially accepted. I think women in particular are working out that they can have it all, but they don’t have to choose it all,” she says.
Harman found in her initial survey that people are voluntarily childless for a number of reasons. Of the voluntarily childless participants the most common reasons were; they might have children later (29.6 per cent); they were not maternal/paternal (27.6 per cent); and they thought children would ruin their lifestyle (16 per cent). Harman, noted in her discussion that, “womanhood and motherhood are so inextricably entwined that childless women in particular are viewed negatively by society. Those who are voluntarily childless report open denouncement and constant defence of their choice.”
People don’t have children for numbers of reasons. Some make a choice. Some can’t fall pregnant. Some don’t have a partner, and won’t embark on the journey alone.
Stories of more than 500 people without children have been collected to date, by Haman, who is now onto the second phase of her study, which looks at the wellbeing of the child free, people who don’t have children as a choice, and those who are childless by circumstance or biology. In answer to that age-old question “will I regret the decision not to have children when I’m older?”, the statistics are murky, with little academic literature available in Australia. Harman’s early findings (with the full analysis due for release later this year), indicate that some groups of women, particularly those over 50, without a partner, report higher experiences of regret.
The largest study in answer to this question was undertaken in Norway by Thomas Hansen, Britt Slagsvold and Torbjørn Moum in 2012. The team from the Norwegian Social Research Institute examined data from over 5,000 participants aged between 40 and 80, examining wellbeing in older age across a range of factors, including childlessness. They concluded that there was no difference in wellbeing between parents and the childless. The discussion concluded, “the results reviewed and those presented do not support the old myth that children make people substantially happier or that not having children jeopardises wellbeing in later life. Although infertile persons may go through a phase of finding life empty and unfulfilling there is little to suggest that involuntary childlessness may cause a continuing sense of loss.”
For us, the possibility of impending regret does not alone make a good enough case to have children.
In getting old?
There are no guarantees. I have no reason to think that my family and network of friends will abandon me. “We need to consider that offspring do not always look after us. The responsibility is for us all to make sure we have each other to rely on, child free or not”, Harman says.
Something tells me I will be just fine.
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