“We need more stories of childfree women”
Emma Gannon, author, on why she has never envisioned a life with children
Deep down I have always known that having children of my own is not the path for me. Whenever I would think about it, lying in the bath trying to imagine myself with a bump, or imagining kids running around my home, it would always play out in my head like a warped cartoon. I could fantasise about a parallel life, but in reality, I knew it would never work.
As much I tried to imagine it for myself, perhaps so I could feel ‘normal’ and in the same boat as my friends, it just never felt right. Sometimes I would doubt myself, wonder if my ‘parts’ were working properly. Maybe I’m infertile? Maybe I lack the ‘right’ hormones? Nope, I just simply don’t want kids. I like my life precisely as it is.
My family and friends are understanding of my choices. It’s peripheral friends, strangers or acquaintances who often remind me in conversation that I’m going against the grain. For example, when my husband and I first went round to look at the house we were going to buy, the estate agent showed me the spare room and said: “this could be the baby’s room!” I promptly explained that it would in fact be my office.
My financial advisor, after congratulating me on my marriage, said: “Well, we should probably start planning your finances for your inevitable year off!” I had never mentioned once that I wanted to have a baby. (Also, from speaking to parent friends, it doesn’t exactly sound like time ‘off’.)
I was in a taxi the other day and the driver asked me politely if I had kids, as he was talking about his. When I said I probably wouldn’t have any, he turned around at the traffic lights, with sadness in his eyes, telling me I was missing out on the greatest thing a human being can ever do. Without kids, he said, life would feel meaningless.
People don’t mean any harm, but the comments can feel tone deaf. Most of the time it’s just polite small-talk but it also feels like a constant frequent reminder that you are pushing against the ‘norm’ of what is expected of you, as a woman. What intrigues me the most, is when people look sad or sympathetic, even when it’s absolutely a choice that I’m very happy with.
I wanted to write a book with a child-free protagonist at its heart to show that a child-free life can be a really happy one. Not just happy: fulfilled, meaningful, content, empowering and exciting. When I did research into the topic by interviewing over 50 other child-free women, the main theme that came through was that these women do not feel seen, by friends, strangers, the media or popular culture. We need more child-free stories showing a complete, happy, life.
“Once I made peace with my decision, everyone else did too”
Laura Maya, coach and writer
When David and I got married, we had no burning desire to become parents but we didn’t rule it out right away. He’s French, I’m Australian, we met in Peru, and we spent our twenties working and wandering through dozens of countries with no real plan.
In our early thirties, we both knew we didn’t want children. From a purely practical perspective, the life we’ve created together is not kid-friendly at all. We’ve spent much of the last decade travelling; in that time, we’ve managed a private, off-grid island in Tonga and run a non-profit organisation in Nepal. During Covid, we’ve been wandering NSW in a converted school bus and, in a normal year, we bounce between Australia and France to spend time with both our families. We’re happy and we love our unconventional life, but there’s no guarantee any child we brought into the world would feel the same.
For a while I struggled with my decision. What kind of woman am I if I never become a mother? I didn’t know many older childfree women and I was worried I’d have regrets later in life.
Eventually, I worked with a kinesiologist who helped me dismantle my social conditioning around what a ‘good woman’ should and shouldn’t do. I also drew up an old fashioned pros and cons list … and realised the few ‘pros’ I listed were not the right reasons to have children. Like, “I’d love for my sister to experience the joy of being an aunty” or “It would be nice to have someone to look after me when I’m old”. That felt like a lot of pressure to put on my imaginary unborn child.
Once I made peace with my decision to not have kids, it felt like everyone else did, too. In my twenties, when someone asked about children, I’d say “Not yet! Maybe one day!” and often people would immediately try to convince me that having kids was the single greatest thing I could do with my life. Since I started saying, “No, we’ve decided not to have children,” with confidence, most people shrug and say “Fair enough!” In fact, this often opens a space where people feel safe to discuss their own struggles with parenthood. It’s not uncommon for people to confide in me that, if they had their time again, they might make a different choice.
I’m 41 now and happy with my decision. We run a thriving business but my work isn’t my primary focus either. I think a lot of people expect that if a woman doesn’t have kids then she must be heavily invested in her career, but I’d rather pour that energy into my relationships, travel, writing, exploring and my recent obsession with learning Kung Fu. I have lots of children in my life and can’t imagine loving my nieces and nephews more if they were my own. Although I don’t have kids, I still have the instinct and drive to love and take care of people. I just channel it in different ways
“He wanted children. I didn’t”
Tory Shepherd, journalist
(As told to Naomi Chrisoulakis)
People say you’re either born with a maternal instinct, or there’s a magic moment when you wake up and think, “Oh, there it is! My long-lost desire to have a kid.” But for me, that just never happened.
I think we’re all brought up to think that, as women, the natural outcome of our lives is that we’ll have children. But growing up I never daydreamed about a life with kids in it. It’s not that I don’t like kids, I do. My nieces are a big part of my life. But I don’t miss having my own children. And I don’t think I ever will.
When I met my husband-to-be, we talked about not having children, and we were on the same page. But he hadn’t thought it through to the extent that I had, and after a while, he changed his mind. We tried for a while. Every time I got my period I would be delighted. I had friends trying at the same time, who would be devastated that they’d gone another cycle without conceiving. That real-time parallel made me realise that it wasn’t anything to do with my career, or feminism – I just didn’t want children.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t struggle with that sense of certainty. Rationally, I could think, well, it’s my choice and there are a zillion reasons why it’s okay. But I felt like a bit of a weirdo, like I was different to most other people. Even so, once I realised for sure that I didn’t want children, my brain kept finding more reasons to reinforce that decision – climate change and what we’re doing to the environment was one factor. Every now and then I’d wonder whether turning on the heater would be bad for carbon emissions, and then I’d think, well, I’m not having kids: I have some credit in the bank.
If it was hard on me, though, it was even harder on my marriage. “Dealbreaker” was bandied about. We ended up getting divorced, and some of my guilt around our marriage ending lies around whether or not I gave him false hope. But, actually, I think it’s more about the gender gap that exists in how men and women think about these things. Most men don’t have to consider the realities of a biological clock, birthing a baby, the impact on their career… I know guys who at 25 feel happy about a future without kids, only for that to change at 35. They don’t have to weigh it up like we do, and they don’t have the same deadline.
Honestly, though, ending the marriage and having any prospect of children off the table felt like a relief. I’m lucky – luckier than women who aren’t 100 per cent sure and don’t have a partner and wonder if they should go it alone or live to regret it. I had a chance to put it to the test.