Cindy's Story

Nearly a century ago, Margaret Sanger was denounced from the rooftops for distributing birth-control information to the women of New York City. At the time, the idea of a woman wanting to limit the number of children she could bear was considered more than scandalous; it was seen as downright wicked. One would like to think we have come a long way since those days, and in many ways we have; people now discuss birth-control openly, and it's not uncommon to hear a woman explaining that she has limited her family to a certain number of children.

However, there is still one aspect of female reproduction that remains vilified in the minds of most people: the woman who has chosen not to have children at all. People have a myriad of reactions to her; they fear she will miss life's greatest joy ("She'll never be a mother!"), they mistrust her motives ("What is she going to do with all that spare time, anyway?"), they instinctively deny her choice ("She only thinks she doesn't want children ... give her a few years"). This is what "nice" people have to say; there are others who show their ignorance and vindictiveness through more callous comments better left unrepeated. I know, because I am one of those women.

I hardly started off as a rabid advocate of the childfree lifestyle. Sometime during my late teens, I formed the distinct impression that parenthood wasn't something that appealed to me, but I figured that with age and maturity, it would somehow become appealing. I graduated college, started my first job, got married, and still, it hadn't transformed into something I wanted; as a matter of fact, it became increasingly clear to me that I didn't want children. Before our marriage, my husband and I had discussed the subject. He said he was very indifferent to the idea of becoming a father, and that if I didn't want children, he supported my decision. Of course, before our marriage, no one was pestering us about having children, but that changed very quickly following our wedding. When I met the first few questions with "We're not going to have children" (which I, in my innocence, thought was a perfectly respectable answer) I received a storm of criticism from friends and family alike.

I began to realize very quickly that I had given the "wrong" answer. I had only to turn on the television or walk through a shopping mall to see that every woman's dream was to have a baby. And according to the media, having a baby is a dream--it means having no worries, and a warm bundle of joy that will love you forever and take care of you when you're old and pass on your DNA. Very little is said about the dirty diapers, the exhausting nights, the tedious arguments with your spouse, the years and years of constant care and attention and worry. Parenthood gets a very "hard sell" by the media and by society; I started asking myself why something so terrific needed so much advertising.

I started doing my homework. Statistic after statistic cited that marriages without children were happier (I had always observed this, but at least now I had figures to back me up). Studies by sociologists and psychologists failed to find any mental imbalance in women who chose not to have children; in fact, they led happy, fulfilling lives, and only a very tiny percentage regretted their choices. I felt well armed and ready to face the next unfortunate who would dare suggest that I was crazy or that my marriage would suffer for my choice. Unfortunately, I hadn't done any research on the odds that the majority of people who would criticize me were completely irrational and didn't give a flip about studies and statistics. They appeared to be deaf to what I was saying--phrases like "You're making a horrendous mistake" and "You have no respect for what God wants you to do with your life" and "You're not really a woman until you have a baby" kept popping up.

I find it almost amazing, actually, that nobody asked me why I didn't want to have children. In answering that question, I could proudly say that I have spared a dangerously overburdened world a few more consumers, that I now have the time to launch an incredibly important career, that I can share my resources with many other children that are already alive, that I can have a perfect body, devoid of stretch marks and the inevitable parental gray hairs. Those sound like great reasons, but in reality, my one real reason for not wanting children is that I just don't want them. I have a fantastic marriage, a great career, a lot of interests, and I'm perfectly satisfied. I would definitely not want to have to get up in the middle of the night to feed someone. I hate mini-vans. I don't like tying someone else's shoes. I love being able to go off on vacation whenever my husband and I feel like it. In short, I am not interested in trading my freedom for a child.

Among the general population, it appears that women are the harshest critics of the childfree woman. I find this particularly sad. Childfree women are hardly the only targets--some women who have given birth by cesarean section have told me they were criticized as not being "real" women because they didn't give birth "the real way." I think the reason having a baby is so important to so many women isn't because they want someone to love and nurture or because they feel it will fulfill them--for millions of women, babies represent some ideal they want or need: the assurance that they are a "real woman," an excuse not to pursue a boring or difficult career, a way to hold on to a straying husband. Ultimately, a baby will not be any of those things--it will only be a baby, a staggering and awe-inspiring responsibility.

It is the nature of human reproduction that a baby takes more than it gives. This is as it should be, but few mothers are adequately prepared for the realities of less-than-picture-perfect motherhood. I believe this is the wellspring of the hatred for the childfree woman. I say this with confidence, because among those who support my choice, I always find mothers who are very happy being mothers--women who thought long and hard before bringing life into the world, and who accepted the rewards and the costs of their choice. Those who speak most harshly against me are mothers who are obviously unhappy in their roles; they add one more voice to the chorus that chanted them into motherhood under false pretenses. If you find this idea shocking, I invite you to recall a national poll done by Ann Landers--she asked her readers who were parents if they would make the same choice again, given the chance. An overwhelming majority responded that they would not.

Having come to the conclusion that the only person whose opinion mattered on the subject of whether or not I should have a child was mine (regardless of the fact that at last count 86 other people thought they should have a significant vote in the matter), I resolved to waste no more time in pointless discussions with those whose aim was to make me feel guilty or pathological. For the record, asking someone when or if they are going to have children exhibits shockingly bad manners, and so I began telling people who asked me that it was none of their business. I tried discussing surgical sterilization with my gynecologist over the course of two years, but she continually put me off, saying that it was a major decision and I really needed to think about it more (she didn't bother to ask me how long I had been thinking about it in the first place). I remedied this by getting a new gynecologist; during our first visit I approached him with the subject. He said it was a big step, but he was willing to perform the operation if I was sure. Shortly after my thirtieth birthday I had it done, and felt immensely relieved afterwards.

I am finding that life as a childfree woman gets better all the time. While my friends with children are treating strep throat and worrying about ear infections, I'm learning another language in my spare time. I'm volunteering my time at a local hospital while they're juggling motherhood and a career. My husband and I are going on yet another romantic getaway next month. We giggle at baby food commercials filmed through frosted camera lenses. And now when people ask me when I'm going to have children, I laugh out loud before telling them it's none of their business.

Since the dawn of time, women have been enslaved in one form or another. Our destinies have been designed by our fathers and husbands; this century alone has seen an end to that practice. Women have proven that they are worthy of education, consideration, suffrage, civil rights, and spiritual equality. The coming years will show the world's willingness (or unwillingness) to accept women who have chosen complete freedom from the burden of their reproductive capacities.

Perhaps someday society will even bless women with the choice of whether or not they wish to be mothers. Until then, we are all equally shackled by the expectations of society ... and ourselves.

December 1997

more stories -- share your story

Birth Control Comparison - alll methods Abortion Info from Feminist Women's Health CenterShare your story
Poetry and Prose - by women about their reproductive lives Teens HealthResources for Women of Color
Feminist Abortion Clinics Real Life Abortion Stories from teens Questions and Answers


Childfree Association - supporting the child free choice, offering lists of physicians who perform sterilization.