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6 Women on Not Having Children

3 months ago by

Whether by choice or unfulfilled expectations, single ladies entering middle age are on the rise. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women 40-44 years old who never married jumped from 11.8% in 2000 to 16.1% in 2018. At the same time, new research from UK behavioral scientist, Paul Dolan, finds women who remain unmarried and childless are the happiest subgroup of people and are most likely to live the longest. Could stepping away from the traditional norms of a spouse and kids be a key ingredient to living your best life?

The answer, say the six women I’ve interviewed, sheds light on a more complex narrative than what a statistic may reveal. Most didn’t choose to be a family of one—it’s just how their lives played out. A miscarriage at 40, two divorces, a broken engagement and seven marriage proposals are the fabric of their combined personal history.

Some mourned—others did not— the children and husbands that were never meant to be, made peace as their biological clocks wound down, and then moved on, embracing the independence of a single lifestyle. “There is no question, once I opened the door into my 50’s, I did feel free of the grief,” says Melanie Notkin, a leading expert on this growing demographic she calls PANK (Professional Aunts No Kids). Maternal love is showered on nieces, nephews, friends’ children and pets who provide unbridled joy without the responsibilities that come with raising a child. Most say their greatest satisfaction is the strong bonds forged among longtime friends and family who are also their support system if help is needed. All except for one hope to fall in love again and share the rest of their life with a significant other.

No matter the path taken to get to this point, these women’s stories share a common thread: they radiate contentment and fulfillment achieved through accepting the life in front of you and creating new dreams for what lies ahead.

_____________

…on the childhood dream of a life that included marriage and children…

Sonja Lilljeberg | 43, Intuitive Healer, Massage Therapist, Reiki Master, based in Denver
Out of all of my girlfriends, I was the only one that did not include having to have a husband in my life plan. I don’t know if I ever wanted children. I got married at 29. I don’t regret getting married, but 2 ½ years later we were divorced. I loved my husband, but I wasn’t in love with him. My life was completely different than his and it wasn’t meant to be a good partnership. I would like to have a life partner. If that entails getting married, yes. If it doesn’t, that’s okay too.

Joy Williams | Gen X’er, Health & Wellness Entrepreneur, based in Harlem
When I was 16, I wanted to have my tubes tied and adopt. I never particularly wanted to be pregnant! I still think I’m going to get married, but it’s not like I have somebody lined up. So no, I didn’t really mourn it. I’ve been having a good life.

Melanie Notkin | 50, Founder & Author: Savvy Auntie & Otherhood, based in New York
When I was young, I pictured my life married with twin girls. In my early 20’s I even inquired about maternity benefits at my first job. It was an expectation… With any kind of grief, it begins to subside as the years go on and you begin to let go. And that letting go gives you the sense of freedom to look at life differently and to not look at life in the context of what you are missing, but in the context of what you can take advantage of. It’s not the life I expected, but when I began to be able to appreciate it, I realized it’s a life beyond my expectations. I wrote two books. I’ve done things with my life I have never dreamed of. The reality is magnificent.

Amanda | 53, Lawyer, based in London *(didn’t want surname disclosed)
I always wanted children. Until I hit my early ‘40’s, a last ditch attempt. I always wanted to get married. I got engaged to the guy I was dating at the time. He didn’t want children and I did. It was very hard. I thought he’d change his mind about having children. Ultimately, I thought it’s best not to go ahead with it. My boyfriend after the one that proposed didn’t want kids, but he didn’t mind if I accidentally got pregnant. I kept hoping I might. At this stage I was 45. After I broke up with him, I knew there was no chance. I never wanted to do the IVF route on my own. It became a relief. I stopped looking for the father of my children and just got on with having fun. I felt a sense of freedom once it was too late to have children. I could start living freely.

Ghana Wilson | 55, Consultant to Revolt Hip Hop Summit, President at Green Gigz, based in New York
I used to go through magazines and cut out pictures of men and put them with me. I would write a story about my life with these men that included children, the car we would have, the house we would live in and the vacations we would take. As I got older, went to college and joined the workforce, I put it off. I was dating but it became less and less of a priority for me. Around my mid-to-late thirties I started to think about children. I became hyper-focused. I ended up getting pregnant at 40. I didn’t know I had fibroids and that caused a miscarriage. I’m good at compartmentalizing. I had a miscarriage and myomectomy back to back. I grieved and realized this might not be my path. Then, embraced I can be free to deal with my niece and nephews and parent them in a way. I’m happy with that.

Linda Rodin | 71, Entrepreneur, based in New York
I wasn’t dreaming about it when I was young at all. It never occurred to me that was the next step. Things are pretty good the way they are.

Letting go gives you the sense of freedom to look at life differently and to not look at life in the context of what you are missing, but in the context of what you can take advantage of.

…on how society values single, childless women over 40…

Sonja: It’s less for me than it would have been in my mother’s generation. But, I will go to dinner at a restaurant and they’ll ask, ‘Table for one?’ And I’ll say, ‘yes.’ Then they’ll seat me at the bar. I don’t always want to sit at the bar. Sometimes I actually want to sit at a table. Same if you want to go to the theater and get a single ticket. Sometimes it’s harder to get a single ticket than it is to buy two. Everything is sold in pairs.

Joy: I think some people have an unconscious bias. Early on in my career, people wanted to make concessions for those who had children. When people don’t have children, you can feel the extra burden. I think we should make concessions for everybody. ‘I should be the one who stays late every time because you have kids? No, I can stay late sometimes, and you can stay late sometimes. I might not have kids, but I have something to do.’ And, when people want to talk about children, they sometimes seem apologetic. They think it’s a delicate subject, and it hasn’t been for me. Since they value having kids so much… the fact that you don’t… there must be something wrong…

Melanie: Nobody sees men making a choice between paying the rent, falling in love, getting married and having children. Somehow for women we’re still living in that early pre-second wave feminist idea that career women are outliers. It must be they are too high achieving. That must be what’s wrong with them. Today even married mothers work. The other thing is we call women who remain childless into their 30’s, the term the U.S. Census Bureau uses is “delay.” Women delay childbirth because they got an education. Women graduate college at 22. They aren’t really delaying. Men aren’t exactly standing on the street holding signs and saying, “Please marry me, I want to be a dad.” We keep forgetting that men are a part of this and they are enjoying their own independence and want to marry later.

Amanda: I do feel people look down on me. Not everybody, but a lot of people still do and it’s a real shock when it happens. London is a big city and you would think it’s perfectly normal. I always have to explain it. When I was in Dubai last month, a woman said to me, “You’re too pretty to be single.” I thought it was quite flattering, but also people think if you’re single it must be that no one wants you. I’m perfectly confident.

Ghana: It was bad about ten years ago because, at that point, people still think, “You still have time.” I was mentoring at-risk youths and some of them were 12, 13, 14 and had kids. They would say: “Well, you’re not a mother so why would I listen to anything that you’re saying?” And I’m like, ‘I’m not a mother because I made a choice. That’s a huge life altering choice that will inform everything that you do.’

Linda: I never even thought about it. I’m not oblivious to anything, but I guess I have a way of not going there. Not wanting to feel less than for things that are not there.

Since I only have to worry about myself, I can take leaps of faith. And I’ve done that several times in my career.

…on the freedom of being a family of one …

Sonja: I’m getting ready to move and I can do that without having to worry about moving my family–what does a school look like for my kids, etc. It’s just me packing up my car and going. It’s empowering. I can be selfish, that’s probably the best way to put it.

Joy: I’m not forced to do something just because someone else thinks it makes sense.

Amanda: It’s great knowing I can go anywhere at the drop of a hat (as long as I can find someone to watch the dog).

Ghana: It’s made me take more risks. I only have to worry about myself so I can take leaps of faith and I’ve done that several times in my career. If I fail, I just have to pick myself up. I recognize that I probably would not be able to explore that if I had children.

Linda: Having not had that other lifestyle, I don’t have anything to compare it to. It never occurred to me how lucky I am that I’m doing really well. I’m doing styling and if I want to do something else I’ll segue into that. I can wake up and say, ‘what am I going to do today?’ I have 150 plants in my apartment. My independence is cut off not by kids, but by plants and a dog. I am able to be generous with my family and friends, and I also donate to many causes that I feel passionate about, the less fortunate who need our help.

…and the challenges…

Sonja: Finding people who have the time that I have to go out and do things that I want to do when I want to do them. I’m a homebody and an introvert, so it’s really easy for me to spend too much time at home.

Joy: If I’m having a financial challenge, it’s 100% me. I live with my sister and niece, but we are not financially supporting one another. They pay a portion of the rent. There’s no partner to say, you can make more or I can make more. Major decisions are directed by me as opposed to deciding from a family perspective. Some days I’m like, this would be so much easier if someone else were involved.

Ghana: Figuring out how to do everything for yourself. It’s the little things–like my showerhead needs to be changed and it has needed to be changed for two months. If I had someone, that would be on their honey-to-do-list. I’ve missed three dentist appointments. Not having someone to remind you and to help prioritize is one of the biggest challenges. When I’m in a relationship, I’ve noticed, my partner takes some of that off my hands. Also wanting to cuddle with somebody, wanting to share some of my experiences, and have someone to travel with…

Linda: To support oneself. I’ve never had a rich father or a rich husband. I’ve been supporting myself since I was 17.

It’s up to us to make choices that will make us happy. Those choices can even be our attitude in the moment–how we choose to move on from expectations that didn’t manifest and keep going.

…and advice …

Sonja: Don’t get married just because you feel like you should get married. You’re going to regret that way more than if you stay single.

Joy: You can have a great life in any situation. You have to be thankful in it, whatever is happening. Taking the right attitude on how you can enjoy the life that you have, and what you can do to live the life that you want. Also, live a life outside of yourself where you’re in service to others.

Melanie: Happiness is a choice and it’s up to us to make choices that will make ourselves happy. Those choices can be our attitude in the moment, how we choose to move on from expectations that didn’t manifest and keep going. Keep in motion.

Amanda: Don’t get a complex about it. It’s quite easy to. Get over that. Don’t feel you should have to justify it. Keep confident. Keep your friends. That’s the most important thing in the world. Choose them wisely. Before I was 30, I thought, ‘If I’m not married by the time I’m 30, my life will be over.’ I wasn’t married at 30. Wasn’t married at 40. I would say to my young self that the worst has happened. But, it’s actually pretty great.

Ghana: You have to be comfortable with being alone. Being alone and being lonely are two different things. Being alone is a physical state and being lonely is an emotional state. I have been lonely, and I know loneliness can lead to despair. When I find myself getting lonely, I will pour myself into something that gives me purpose and helps someone else. I find that the loneliness goes away because I feel enriched.

Linda: Follow your own passions. Follow what you find interesting. Get a dog. Read. And stay curious.

22 comments

Add yours
  • Lisa Saffer July, 12 2019, 9:49 / Reply

    Linda Rodin is THE BOMB. Yes to everything she said.

    I never really wanted children and had an intense career involving lots of travel and distance from partners. I don’t have children and I’m fine with it. I think the thing is to make your choices and take responsibility for them, to others and to yourself. If you regret it, do not let that take over your life: figure out a way to understand your choice, deal with it, and move on. Life is filled with wonderful and interesting things…..

  • Cristina Amaral July, 12 2019, 11:13 / Reply

    The title speaks about not wanting to have children and the introduction talks about single women. One thig doesn’t have to do with the other, right? One can be married and not wanting children. That’s my case. :)

  • Lorena July, 12 2019, 9:49

    I’m in this camp as well!!! Would love to hear about this perspective :)

  • And you can have a child and be single at the same time.

  • I agree.
    That‘s also my case!

  • This was an interesting post and I thank you for some thought provoking ideas. I see a parallel with someone who is newly widowed (whether there were children or not). Many of the same freedoms and challenges exist for women at this next stage of life. Changing times, changing perspectives, changing routines-it’s a lot for some of us to handle. I sincerely hope that every woman potrayed here is blessed with health and happiness as they define it.

  • Rosalinda July, 12 2019, 1:09 / Reply

    Is this illustration by Garance? The colours are so good!

    P.S. I am a 48 year old, childless woman with a long-term partner (and a divorce under my belt). I was always ambivalent about children. I have such a full, rich and good life – and I have no regrets about not having had children. I wonder sometimes and briefly, what it would have been like, but it doesn’t consume me.

  • There is a lot of hostility towards women who choose not to have children. I had a women try to beat me up a a party just because I have chosen not to have children! Her anger was so great she had to be physically restrained and remove from the house. It was explained to me that her entire world revolved around her children so I was basically saying all her life choices have been bad ones. I had never thought of it that way. When you have children your life focus is them. It helps me when I am meet with similar negative responses from friends and family.

  • This article touched me very much. Being 43, in a very happy relationship, yet no child. I had an abortion in the past, and I will always mourn the unborn child. Then, at 34, I met the man of my dreams, who is not very fertile due to a certain condition. I am very happy to be the best friend of my nephew. This, and my man, fulfills me.

  • I really enjoyed reading this. Though the title is somewhat misleading as there are also married women who don’t want children. I wanted children, started trying to late (I guess) and ended up miscarrying at 39 and then failing to get pregnant again. I have now accepted this fact and am happily single and childless though I wouldn’t mind having a partner (but not at any cost). As I live in Africa, the pressure is even stronger (though I am a white woman, so it is slightly easier, as we are considered to be ”different/strange”), so for annoying people who say Why don’t you have children- I have a reply: It was God’s will (works like a charm :-)). My only complaint is a single supplement in most safari lodges :-(

  • The study by Dolan that you refer to is plain wrong, due to heavy misunderstandings on data reading on his part, you can e.g. read more on this here: https://ifstudies.org/blog/are-married-people-still-happier

    Please consider the harmful impact of reproducing research results without looking into the validity of these.

    Love for the entire DORÉ community

  • Very interesting article! I still haven’t given up on trying to have kids, it’s something I always wanted as I’m very much a maternal type….but I don’t think that having kids is something that defines me as a person or something that everyone needs to do. If I never have kids, I’ll accept that it wasn’t meant to be, maybe grieve a bit and move on.

  • I am 40 with no kids, I always knew I never wanted children and also never wanted to be someone’s wife. I could not imagine myself being pregnant and having a child growing inside of me. Also having a commitment of looking after a child forever. I am happy to being the Auntie for nephews and nieces. But always wanted a long term relationship. I have been in a relationship for almost 19ys and he wanted to get married but was not keen on kids. I have turndown his proposal 3 times in the 19yrs.

    I am live in Africa, so having kids and getting married is seen as success. It took my parents a few year to accept my choice. My mother had to suffer a bit of embarrassment of family gathering and neighbors as her oldest daughter is deemed to be barren.
    For the last 10yrs she has been the most difficult to deal with as she still had hope. I have been labeled every name you can imagine but that never bothered me much. I easily own my choice in any public gathering. I had gotten stronger in my responses over the last 15yrs.

    I will make this choice all over again if I had to. I love my life and the freedom I have. We had two dogs for the last 12yrs and they passed away beginning of this year and we wont replace them

  • Tu t’interroges beaucoup sur le fait de ne pas avoir d’enfant.
    Je te propose une autre option, faire un enfant seule en choisissant un donneur.
    C’est mon cas, j’ai été en couple pendant 10ans et mon compagnon m’a quittée du jour au lendemain à 40 ans pendant que nous faisions des fiv.
    Le fait de m’accrocher à mon rêve à été la meilleure décision de ma vie.
    J’ai un garçon de 4 ans extrêmement heureux qui sait parfaitement comment il a été conçu.
    Et je suis très très heureuse également , j’ai une vie de femme qui n’est plus polluée par l’horloge biologique, une carrière.
    Tu devrais y penser, ne renonce pas à la maternité, tu peux tout avoir.

  • Thank you so much for talking about this! I read anything I can find about getting to a ‘certain age’ and not having had children. Dealing with two taboo subjects at once – Menopause and Child-free-ness can get pretty daunting at times. Some people do seem threatened by our decision to not have kids. I am not single – I agree with some of the other comments ‘being single’ and ‘not having kids’ are two different subjects these days. I really believe that if society allowed for more choice in the narratives for our lives, the world would be in a much better place.

  • Christelle July, 15 2019, 3:03 / Reply

    article au top, merci !

  • Marion July, 17 2019, 6:08 / Reply

    J’ai 36 ans, envie d’un enfant et tout simplement en train de me demander si c’est une bonne idée que de mettre un petit être dans ce monde, dirigé par des gens qui n’ont absolument pas conscience que les urgences planétaires ont dépassé les enjeux économiques.

    Cela peut paraître extrêmement pessimiste.

    Beaucoup ne comprennent pas mon questionnement ou l’assimilent à l’étude parue en 2017 dans la très sérieuse revue Environmental Research Letters qui comparait les différents moyens de réduire son empreinte carbone à l’échelle individuelle. Les chercheurs relevaient qu’« avoir un enfant en moins » était la façon la plus efficace de réduire ses émissions de CO2, à raison de 60 tonnes de gaz à effet de serre par an. En seconde position, « abandonner la voiture à essence » !

    Ce n’est absolument pas le même questionnement que j’ai actuellement.

    J’envisage de renoncer à mon désir d’enfant ne comprenant déjà pas moi même le monde dans lequel nous évoluons, tout comme le dit aussi si bien Greta Thunberg : « On ne sait pas ce qui va se passer, tout est possible ». Le pire comme le meilleur serait possible, si la conscience générale changeait. J’avoue avoir du mal à y croire. J’évolue dans un microcosme de gens qui essaient de faire bouger les lignes, mais dès que je regarde hors de ce cadre, je me rend bien compte que la majorité de la population se contrefout de ces questions : “après moi le déluge”…. oui mais si c’était la prochaine génération qui subissait ce déluge, avons nous envie, en conscience d’y mettre nos enfants ?…

    Je me sent assez perdue quand à cette question.
    L’angle de votre article est assez différent. Les choix de la vie qui conduisent à avoir où pas un enfant, sans que celui ci soit le seul possible accomplissement d’une possible vie heureuse.

    Je pose ça là.

    Si quelqu’un me lit, ou comprend mon cheminement, je serai heureuse de pouvoir échanger à ce sujet sur lequel je me sent très seule pour le moment….

    M
    ( mmdesville (at) gmail.com )

  • I met my partner (now husband) when I was 27 and he was pretty clear that didn’t want to have children. I had always seen myself as a mother, and it was hard to decide what to do… I didn’t want to wait around and hope he’d change his mind. So I did some counseling, and seriously considered leaving him, but in the end I chose him. We were very honest about the whole thing from the start, and we still talk about it a lot. So far I have no regrets. I’m 37 now, and the pressure from friends and family has decreased.But it hurts my feelings when people say that my partner is immature, or that I should just trick him into it. I respect his choice and his reasons. My life would have been so much easier without people projecting their expectations onto me.

  • Lisa Walker August, 5 2019, 11:02 / Reply

    Yep. That’s me!

    As a young girl I was certainly a romantic and because of that sensed I was an “artist”. Not that I could understand that, but I knew that it was a certain freedom to be different. I never envisioned babies of my own, never felt the urge to give birth, even with the biggest loves of my life. But I always wondered if it would happen to me, and as I approached 30 I knew it would not happen to me and I was relieved. As each decade closed I only felt more in love with my life, my friends, my family (niece and nephew I adore!) and my life as a chef. And I must say, I feel lucky to be a Californian, where the lifestyle of freedom is more accepted here than other places, I am sure.

    On occasion a younger woman with kids will assume I am her age (not having children is freedom to live young) and still waiting for mr. right, wanting to introduce me to someone, I must want a family, after all! And, I’m like– hell no. I imagine they are so curious about my life– what would it be like… Some of them want me around, some of them don’t.

    I have loved BIG in my life, broken hearted and exhausted too, lol, and the men I loved I do not miss. You learn so much about yourself and a powerful sense of self projects your life forward and you wonder what love is, really… I believe, it is finding that familiar care taker, that family member. And sometimes they are just damn cute… When it is worth it– if he is a true friend– then I am hopeful for romantic love. But otherwise, the contentment and freedom is more valuable.

    Turning 50 this past may was the best time of my life. I celebrated with my dearest family and friends and created a super fun event for a campaign to help the homeless (Everyone In) using my 25 years of cooking experience and activism… What more could anyone ask for?

    So, 50 to me is complete freedom to be myself. The sky is the limit!

    Thanks, Garance for the space to work it all out in words and share with other badass women…

    XO,
    Lisa

  • I am comfortable being childless – though I find that women with children are not comfortable with me!

    My mother had many admirable talents, but mothering was not one of them. She had three of us in 33 months, and expressed regularly how miserable she was, how we ruined her life, etc. Yes, really. And she was not fond of being married except for the financial aspects, which naturally created her intense resentment towards my father.

    I never disliked her for her attitude, but I was terrified I would end up like her. I decided very early on that marriage and children were not going to be part of my plan. I do not regret that decision (yet) because my life is pretty darned good (I am 65), and I expect (hope) it to continue this way until I depart this earth. I travel to Europe frequently, I continue to have nice long-distance relationships with loving, fascinating men, and my independence has rarely been jeopardized. I have a career in the nonprofit world and that is gratifying.

    My best to everyone in the DORÉ family.

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  • I echo the fact that almost every article I read is about women who are single, not just child-free. One of my main reasons for not wanting children is that I want to enjoy my partner as much as possible. I don’t want the needs of another human being getting in between our closeness and connection. I don’t want to have a kid invading my space and sleeping in my bed. I want to build and create things with him, and that doesn’t include a human being.

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