A lot has been written lately about the growing trend of childfree households. I have read article after article about how an increasing number of women and couples are choosing this lifestyle. The articles also detail the implications of this choice on society and the research conducted around the trend. But despite this growing trend, I’ve found that the articles miss one very important facet of the conversation — what does it actually look and feel like to be a childfree women in society today?
To a point, I’ve always known. While all my friends were playing dolls growing up, I wanted to play classroom and be the teacher, or dress up my Barbies in all the best fashions to be the most powerful women ever.
At the age of 24 I began to ask my doctors if I could be sterilized. Year after year at my annual exam I would state my case — each year unchanged from the previous year. At each visit my physician told me that I was too young, what if I changed my mind? But the reality was that I didn’t change my mind. In fact, my desire to not have children grew and grew with each passing visit.
This wasn’t an inclination that had manifested itself overnight; I had been outspoken on the subject of my disinterest for procreation since high school. That’s when I received the first patronizing “you’ll change your mind” comments, and from my closest girlfriends, nonetheless. It was as if my opinions somehow weren’t important because they didn’t align with the lives women were supposed to want.
Fast forward to college. My boyfriend would talk incessantly about his anticipated place in life as a dad. When I brought up wanting a career and a life over having a family his response was as all the others before him, “You’ll change your mind.” I would question him incessantly about whether he wanted to bet his future happiness on the possible, but highly unlikely, chance that I would change my mind.
Also in college I watched from the periphery as my sorority sisters gathered in our basement, discussing the names of their future children. I was invited to join in on the conversation once, but my eccentric opinions quickly excluded me from any future conversations. One girl, whose father was a fertility specialist, didn’t hold back with her judgements, “Women are supposed to have children. Do you know how many women would die to be in your position?” The looks of the other girls in the circle read, “There is clearly something wrong with her.”
Dating in my late 20s provided even more opportunity for others to question my beliefs. Bringing up the topic on the first few dates seemed a bit premature, but at the same time it wasn’t fair to hide my opinions. I found that men were no less judgmental than my female peers. I received comments from, “That’s messed up,” to, “What about carrying on your family blood line?” to “What kind of woman wants that for their life?” to “It must be because your childhood was traumatic.” On one hand the constant projection of their beliefs made me want to hide my desire for a child free life. Yet on the other, it became a great filter and quickly weeded out guys that weren’t right for me anyway.
A month before my annual exam in 2012, I stopped taking my birth control pills. Just one year away from the 30-year benchmark, I again presented my case during my appointment. My naturopath’s response was like a broken record, “Not until you’re 30.”
I was livid. I had asked for a procedure for six straight years with no break in my desires, opinions, or beliefs. Why did the medical community continue to deny me of my personal right to sterilization? I attempted to argue with her, citing examples of several men who were allowed vasectomies at the age of 21, but she wouldn’t budge. My anger was fueled by such blatant sexism. What is the difference from an adult man deciding he doesn’t want to procreate and an adult woman making the same choice? Why can’t I be the one to decide what’s best for my life? And why, with the advancements in healthcare and women’s rights issues, were women still being forced into conforming to the societal definition of how women should conduct their lives? Society has begun to recognize how the stereotypical nuclear family ideals are outdated, yet at the same time these ideals are perpetually imposed — harming those who choose to live outside of this box.
A week later I side-stepped my physician and researched my options online. It was time to go straight to the source. I scheduled a consultation appointment with a gynecologist who could perform the procedure. I spent the car ride psyching myself up and preparing my argument and anticipating every question that she could possibly ask. I had researched adoption options, the statistics on orphans in the world (153,000,000 worldwide), the satisfaction and regret figures for female sterilization (76-98 percent satisfaction and 7-17 percent regret worldwide), and also armed myself with my journal from the past several years.
The consultation was brief. I voiced the research I had done on the options, my views on adoption if I were to change my mind, and the history behind my decision. Thankfully, despite my nervous and emotional presentation, I was able to communicate my passionate stance well enough that I was granted my wish. The appointment was set for six weeks later. I will never forget the feeling of relief that I felt after the procedure. Even in my drug-induced state I made a point to express my gratitude to the entirely female staff that supported my decision to empower myself.
It’s been two years since my procedure. Even with the increasing number of women who are living a childfree existence, I still regularly fend off questions and judgments from people that barely know me (and clearly don’t understand me). It’s time that society stop lumping non-nuclear women into statistics, and begin to understand more than anything that we are women too. There is nothing wrong our decision to live a child free life, and there is nothing wrong with us as human beings. The decision to not have children does not make us less than women who choose to be mothers. Yes, we are all born with the biology to give birth, but we’re not all meant to be mothers. Becoming a mother is a personal decision that all women have the right to decide for themselves without external influence or societal pressure.