Did you know that over a third of Brits surveyed by YouGov said they never wanted to have kids?*
Considering it’s an increasingly popular life choice, why do some people still view ‘voluntary childlessness’ as a taboo?
It can feel like women and people with uteruses are expected to raise children, and should have that as their priority above all else. For obvious reasons, not everyone agrees with that. When communicating their lack of desire to fit into the moulds society has set for them, lots of people who don’t want kids are told that they are missing out, or indeed that one day they will change their mind.
Hana® reached out to some people who have decided not to have children, to ask them about their experience.
Anyone with the capability to get pregnant knows this all too well: there seems to be an unspoken assumption that we should get pregnant and raise a future generation as our ‘job’ in society.
Kelly is 27 and has been with her partner since they were both 19. “Society promotes the idea that if you don’t want kids, you’re not a ‘real’ woman,” said Kelly. “We are taught that it is some kind of biological urge and we should want to care for our potential offspring full-time. Not only is this likely unaffordable for a huge percentage of people, but at the same time we are also encouraged and expected to have a career and not let either expectation affect the other. It’s exhausting!”
Beth, who is about to turn 30, said: “If you don’t fit into this expectation, people are often shocked and assume that your decision not to have kids is through physical difficulties rather than personal preference. I’m so bored of people telling me that I’ll change my mind and that I’ll never feel fulfilled without being a mum. I started taking the pill as soon as I started having sex to help keep me protected from unwanted pregnancies, and I haven’t looked back since.”
Your rationale for not having kids might not be the same as anyone else’s, and we know there are a whole host of reasons, ranging from personal choice to medical conditions, with many other factors in between. We believe that your reason, whatever it may be, should be met with respect and without judgement – because you and you alone get to decide what to do with your life and what happens to your body.
Rachel, who is 24 and has a passion for property development, said: “I want to be selfish. I want to have the career of my dreams and my partner all to myself. We don’t want anything tying us down. I grew up wanting to be a mum as that’s what I was told I should want, but I just don’t have that drive to raise and look after another human. It seems so tiring. I am strict when it comes to taking my contraceptive pill, and thankfully if I ever did change my mind, I could stop taking it easily enough.”
“I enjoy my life as it is now. I love being able to sleep in at the weekend and to go out if and when I want to. I’m actually a nursery teacher so I spend a lot of time around kids, I just don’t have any strong desire for my own. I don’t want to lose my identity to become ‘someone’s mum’” Beth adds.
Cultural and economic factors might come into play when you’re questioning whether or not kids are on the cards for you, which is only natural given the current state of the world and climate. Whilst a lot of the future remains unknown, the risk seems too great for some people.
Claire recently turned 31 and lives in Scotland with her husband. She told us: “I don’t want to bring a child into such an unstable world, environmentally or otherwise. I worry about not being responsible enough to take care of someone who would completely depend on me. I also don’t want to inflict that kind of permanent change to my body, which has taken me long enough to love.”
Hannah, who is 33 and single, said: “In my 20s I thought kids would be on the cards, but the older I get and the more I learn about this world as a feminist, the more my mind is made up on not bringing another person into such a selfish world.”
Being respectful and treading gently around subjects like childbearing is important. It’s rude and presumptive to ask people when they will be having kids and it’s important to consider the many reasons someone may not be having children. Whilst many people choose this for themselves, others may find it tricky or impossible to physically have children. Around 1 in 7 couples may have trouble conceiving**, but it’s not just reproductive challenges that stand in the way when it comes to health.
LJ, a 27 year old Project Manager, said “I have a rare autoimmune condition that affects my muscles, joints, lungs and skin and I’m not yet sure if it’s genetic and could be passed on. We took the facts that it’s still unknown how my body would react to pregnancy and that my husband has never been too keen on the idea of being parents, as the sign for us that kids were not in our future.”
Hannah also suffers with a condition that would make pregnancy complicated. “I have a congenital heart disease which gives me around a 40% chance of surviving pregnancy, and would leave me completely exhausted if I did survive,” she told us.
There’s no denying it – children are expensive. Alongside the most basic of needs (food, clothes, shelter etc), you’ve got to factor in everything a baby or child might need – a car seat, formula, toys, nappies, prams, cots, blankets; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! And then there’s all the things that you’ll need on your journey from pregnancy to motherhood – stuff like maternity clothes and bras, breast pads and pumps. The list goes on and on.
Jazzy is a 29 year old lawyer who loves cats. She said: “Thankfully my partner has never wanted kids, either. He actually opened my eyes to how expensive having children is – it is another enormous expense that we just couldn’t justify. We are both super excited for a future focused solely on just the two of us”.
“The cost of living has risen astronomically since I was a child, but wages have not,” said Claire. “I don’t think I’d be able to offer my child the kind of life I would want to give it. I want my future to be financially stable and with a steady, fulfilling career.”
Regardless of what your take on children is, most women and people with uteruses have experienced the social pressures around parenting. For a lot of us, sex education is very lax when it comes to contraception, focusing instead on what happens to the body during pregnancy and childbirth. Our first toys are often babies and dolls and we are encouraged to play ‘mummies and daddies’ with our friends growing up.
LJ told us about her recent wedding: “It felt like the moment we had walked back down the aisle we were bombarded with questions and comments about having kids as our next step. Every time we see my husband’s parents, they make some kind of comment. I’m not sure why everyone just assumed we’d have kids – they know about my medical condition, too, and are still putting the pressure on!”
“Sometimes I feel guilty about my decision not to have kids,” said Jazzy. “But then I realise I only feel guilty because people are guilt-tripping me. I know some people who want kids but can’t have them, and that makes me feel uneasy when I speak out about not wanting any of my own. But that’s crazy – I know I don’t want kids and I’m not about to change my mind to appease other people and inevitably end up resenting them”.
Chances are, if you don’t want to have kids, you’re probably going to be quite strict when it comes to contraception.
Jazzy takes the contraceptive pill. She said: “I love the pill because I feel completely in control. Whilst kids are definitely not in my plans at the moment, I know that I might still change my mind and I like the idea of being able to start and stop taking the pill whenever I am ready.”
“My husband is getting a vasectomy so I don’t have to be quite so vigilant when it comes to contraception,” said Claire. “I’ve actually looked into selling my eggs, too, but it seems a bit complicated for me to be able to commit to that at the moment. I’m still not opposed to it, though! For now, I’ll keep taking my contraceptive pill – at least it’s easy enough to stop taking when that time comes and I won’t have to visit the doctor to have anything removed, like the coil.”
“Contraception scares me,” said Hannah. “I don’t feel like I know enough about it to commit to anything long term. This being said, I am very strict with using condoms, which can take the enjoyment out of sex. It is my absolute dream to be sterilised. I have horrendous periods and know I won’t change my mind on having kids, but I’ve been so discouraged by my doctors.”
LJ had a similar experience when enquiring about sterilisation: “My medication makes contraceptives less effective, so I have asked about being sterilised at every medical appointment since I was diagnosed with my condition 3 years ago. Every time they tell me I’m too young to make a decision so permanent. I always leave feeling frustrated.”
A child-free future
Lots of us might find making the decision of whether or not to have kids more burdening than living with the decision itself. Once your mind is made up, there are endless opportunities for you with theoretically nothing tying you down.
Some fill their future with career aspirations, some with travel and some simply enjoy all the freedom and benefits of a life without children.
“My dream career is in some field of psychology, and travelling is something I’ve always lusted after,” said Rachel. “I also want to buy a house and make it my own. I’m happy supporting my friends and family with their children, but being the fun aunt who does whatever she wants!”
Hannah said: “I hope the future holds equal responsibility for men and women when it comes to contraception, better sex education and less shame around female pleasure. It’s high time the world realised that we are so much more than baby making machines, and can actually have sex for more reasons than just to make a baby!”
“I feel like you should only have kids if you are 100% sure,” said Kelly. “Anything less than a resounding yes is a no, in my opinion. Otherwise it’s one huge commitment that you aren’t all that committed to. At risk of sounding self-indulgent, I see a future full of cats – not kids!”
If you ask us, putting yourself and your happiness first is responsible and never self-indulgent. This is your life and you should be free to do whatever you want.