I am 32 years old (I’ll be 33 on December 14th), married for three and a half years and child free by choice.

Just like anything else in life (including having children) being child free is not easy, especially during the holidays.  One of the first questions I am asked when people meet me is whether I have children.  When I answer in the negative, the next question is usually whether we want children or whether we are trying.  These questions only get worse during the holiday season when well meaning friends, family and acquaintances pry as to exactly why we don’t want children and make the “but you’d make such a good mother argument” or suggest that “things will change” or that we “would understand if only [we] had children.”

Since getting married I have struggled with how to answer these questions.

There’s the sarcastic (and very me) answer of “I’d also make a good dominatrix but you’re not encouraging me to enter the sex industry.”

There’s the non-commital answer of “we’re just not ready yet” but this is usually met by persistent follow up questions of when we will be ready or the apparently equally ambiguous “we don’t want children” answer, which is followed up by repeated “why nots.”

There’s Shaun’s suggested (and untruthful) answer “we’ve tried but we have fertility problems.”

There’s the self righteous and defensive “I love children but I chose to be where I am and I don’t view it as a failure.”

And finally there’s the more long form, “right now I am not emotionally and physically able to be a primary care giver for a child and so have decided not to have children.”

None of these answers are complete and none seem to appease the questioner.

Our decision to be child free and not trying to get pregnant is personal and private (yes, I’m now writing about this decision in a blog but for me the issue has invaded every aspect of my life and I need to be honest with others about it).  I understand that the process of having children is one that generally unites people, it gives strangers something to talk about and its something most people can relate too.  However, any issues relating to procreation should not be up for general discussion.  Just as its not appropriate to ask the couple who is pregnant with their fourth, or even first child, whether they have considered the financial and physical burdens (yet another) child will impose on their already strapped family, its not appropriate to tell us that if we don’t have children we’ll grow to regret it.  Every person and every couple have their reasons for making what is a deeply personal decision.  The judgments of others do not make these decisions any easier.  I admit that I am guilty of judging others’ choices but I am trying to be less judgmental as I understand how hurtful comments about our decision are to me.  There is nothing “wrong” with any of these decisions, they are simply decisions.

Second, I understand the drawbacks of our decision.  I know that my 42 year old self may hate my 32 year old self for deciding not to have children now.  Ten years from now I may desperately want to have a child and may not be able to do so (I also understand that if I tried, I may very well be confronted with fertility issues now.  32 years old is not young).  I have looked into freezing my eggs “just in case” but its an expensive and invasive process.  I know that I may change my mind in one, two or ten years.  I also understand that not having children makes me a biological failure (this is my term).  Shaun hates when I make this argument but our most primitive purpose in life is to reproduce and pass on our genetic information.  Not having children thwarts this purpose.  It bothers me that I’m not passing on a genetic legacy to another generation (and yes I over think everything and spend way too much time in my own head).

So with that understanding why don’t we want children now?

Life is hard.  Don’t get me wrong life is hard for everyone whether you are single or married, have no children or have a dozen.  In many, many ways Shaun and I are very lucky.  We both have good jobs, we have a home, we are able to do lots of things we enjoy, we have a very sweet dog and cat (and another mean cat), we are able to go through life without worrying about financial insecurity and we love each other very much.  We are lucky that our problems are first world problems, but they are still problems.  For the past few years Shaun has struggled with depression and anxiety.  He’s doing much better now than he was a year ago but its still a struggle.  I deal with my own anxiety, including disordered eating and body image issues.  Some days are really tough for both of us.  I know that we feel overwhelmed on many occasions and I also know that having a baby does not make things easier.  My brother was born when I was thirteen years old.  He had colic, severe asthma and he spent a lot of his first year screaming and turning blue.  Because I know exactly how difficult a baby can be, I know that we are not in the position to provide the emotional and physical support a baby needs.

Even when I give this response, I often get that “things will change” if I have a baby.  I think lots of people have something inside themselves that tells them that they really want to be a mother or a father.  A feeling like when you know you’re in love or know you want to get married.  I don’t have that feeling (Shaun doesn’t have that feeling either), that switch is not flipped in us.  I recognize things may change but this is where we are now.  Berating us for our decision does not flip that switch.

Having said all of this, one nagging feeling remains.  When someone announces they are pregnant there is excitement, congratulations and celebration.  When someone says “we’ve decided not to have children” the statement often met with silence, concern or confusion.  Its as if the decision not to have children means that we’ve reached the terminal stage and are off the ride that is life.  Every single person is important, whether they have children or not and every individual deserves to be celebrated by the people they care about most even if the word “we’re expecting” never come out of their mouths.  As the Eleventh Doctor said “[y]ou know that in nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important before.”  I’d like if we can all treat each other as important no matter what are decisions relating to children are.

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Kelly Burns Gallagher

mccarter english employment litigator / oiselle team runner / coeur sports triathlete / sonic endurance coach & race director / witsup.com writer / dartmouth '02 / emorylaw '05

5 Comments

Jocelyn Bergeron · December 9, 2013 at 2:48 pm

I so appreciate this post. While my husband and I plan on having children eventually, we’ve made the united decision that now is just not the time. I have aspirations of becoming an Ironman, he has career aspirations and we both now that neither of us will reach our dreams if we decide to have children now. I’m so tired of being made to feel like we’re making a selfish decision to put our dreams first, especially because the way we see it we’re being less selfish because we don’t want to resent our potential future children. I’m also so tired of family members making me feel like we in some way owe them a baby. We don’t owe anyone anything and I’m so tired of being made to feel guilty because I haven’t given my mother grandchildren. I not only respect your decision to childless, but I’m excited and happy for you. Being honest about something so personal is awesome. I’m happy to have found your little corner of the internet.

jilly2run · December 9, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Thank you so much for this post. I am 43..single and childless (both by choice) and I struggle with how to answer the frequent inquiries into why. I always feel uncomfortable and like I am somehow lacking because I do not have a husband or a child like everyone else I know. I thought at one point in my youth that was what I wanted, but then realized I only wanted it because everyone else was doing it. Once I gave it some thought..I decided that I didn’t really want the ‘American Ideal’.

Jessica @ runyourmuttoff · December 9, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Thank you. I really enjoyed reading this and know it’s not easy to share about such a deeply personal topic. As someone who enjoys being child-free, I find that the hardest part about the holiday season is that other people assume since we don’t have kids, we can accommodate their family plans and holiday expectations. It’s like we’re are valued in a lesser way. But just because I don’t have kids doesn’t mean that I don’t have a family; I really wish more people would understand that.
(Sorry for the comment issues; i thought it double posted, deleted it, and then both were gone)

Ambre · December 9, 2013 at 8:30 pm

As someone CNBC, I’m actually surprised to see how many struggles we share when our positions couldn’t be more opposite. Love you, Kel.

Jennifer · December 23, 2013 at 11:11 am

I love kids, and they bring me joy (and heartache) at levels I’ve never experienced outside of motherhood. Especially young children, I feel like their accomplishments are my own only I don’t have to feel narcissistic about celebrating them. But then their failures and sadness are also mine, only magnified. I think far too many people have children just because it’s the next item to check off the list and I admire you for thinking about what motherhood really means. All decisions around motherhood are difficult and it doesn’t change once you have a child, the questions just become different ones (are you going to have another baby? Are you going to try again for a boy? Do you want to have your kids close together? Does holding that baby make you want another?…)

Also, I love that Dr. Who quote! I just recently watched that episode.

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