Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

"I don't want kids"

A couple of days ago, one of the search engine terms that someone used to get to my website was “I don’t want kids.” I found it rather plaintive, and it’s spurred me on to thinking about a project I’ve had in the back of my mind for over a year now. Well, not always so far back in my mind – I got about 90% of the way through writing an agent’s submission, but that was last March. Getting commissioned to write a Bradt guide rather put paid to it, for a while, and given that I’m in the final few weeks of that I probably shouldn’t even be thinking about other book projects, but here goes…

I want to write about women who, like me, have decided not to have children, whether for medical or relationship or career or environmental or ‘lifestyle’ (in the most non-pejorative sense of that word) reasons. There are, I’ve found, plenty of books out there arguing for the legitimacy of not having kids, or examining the reasons for not doing so, or vociferously defending this choice. Some of them are great, and I’ve found some of them terrifically valuable in working out my own motivations and desires (and since I’ve pulled together quite a long list of these, I’ll post that as a resource sometime soon). But what I’ve never found (and please, if you’re reading this and know that the book I’m talking about does exist, tell me!) is something that draws together the experiences of women who have made this choice and looks about what it means for their lives – their self-image, relationships, working lives, friendships, ageing processes… how have they told their mothers, sisters, partners, friends? What impacts has it had on their jobs, finances and life choices? I’m happy and confident in my choice, but at times it’s been difficult, and I know friends who’ve also had moments of pain and doubt about their decision; I want to acknowledge that and find out how other women got through it. That’s the book I’ve wanted for years to read, to know about the experiences and challenges faced by other women who’ve also made this choice. That’s the book I want to write.

Obviously, I can’t do that alone. I need women to talk to me about their choices and lives. I figure that I can do that in Australia until I leave here, about July 2011, and then in the UK after November, when I expect to be back. For women in places I can’t get to, I hope we can communicate by email, phone or even skype (if I can figure out how to record skype conversations). I should stress that I don’t have a publisher for this book yet, and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. But I will work hard to find one, and if I don’t get one, then there are plenty of online and other publishing options to explore (maybe, in the interests of more women being able to access the results of this, I should do that anyway?). I have a decent publishing record so far, so I hope I would be able to track something down…

If there’s anyone out there who is interested in being part of this, please drop me a line. And if you think you know more people who might, please pass this on – on Facebook, Twitter, by email. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

18 comments on “"I don't want kids"

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  2. Khayra
    January 24, 2011

    Does a strict limit of adoption and no biological children count as not having kids?

    And do it online anyway! The environment <3

    • Danisty
      January 24, 2011

      Obviously I can’t speak for Sarah, but that feels completely unfair to women who actually don’t have children. If it included stories of women who were mothers, I wouldn’t buy or read that book. Mothers of adopted children don’t have the same experiences as women who choose not to have children at all.

      • admin
        January 24, 2011

        Aaaah, now here we have an interesting definitional/philosophical point. My background (and I suspect the perspective Khayra’s coming from) is primarily an environmental one – so it’s about not adding further resource burdens to the planet, or not bringing children into the world who are going to suffer the effects of recent generations’ abuse and exploitation of it. I know many environmental/social activists who staunchly reject the idea of having their own kids and for whom that is a significant part of their identities, but believe that it’s their social duty to help care for rejected kids in society, especially older, troubled children who couples looking to adopt *babies* won’t go near. But that’s different from choosing to maintain and entirely child-free home life. More opinions welcome…

      • Danisty
        January 26, 2011

        That sounds like a reasonable perspective to take on environmentalism, but if you have children you aren’t childfree, no matter where you got them from. I’m pretty sure if you asked any adopted kid if they had a mother, they would point to the woman who adopted them. That makes her mom and there’s no way you can redefine that. If you decide to adopt, you are not deciding to be childfree. You are deciding to parent someone else’s child. What’s so bad about adopted parents considering themselves parents anyway?

      • admin
        January 26, 2011

        I don’t think anyone here’s said anything implying it’s ‘bad’ for adopters to consider themselves parents, so I’m not sure where you’ve drawn that from. I suppose what i’m most interested in is the impact on women who choose not to bear children, and by that I mainly mean the experiences they have in areas such as how parents react when they’re told they won’t get grandkids, or the effects on friendships of not sharing an experience as life-changing as pregnancy and childbirth, or the debates that happen with partners for whom it’s personally important to pass on ‘their’ DNA. I agree that adopters and completely childfree women have different experiences when it comes to having a child in one’s home, but I’d argue that we also have things in common when it comes to a lot of the socially and emotionally significant aspects of childbearing. I’d also argue that there’s a difference between people who are passionate to be ‘parents’ and who scour the world for the youngest possible baby with whom they can create the closest possible thing to a birth-family, and those who take on a troubled 10-year-old (who will probably never see them as ‘mom’ because they already have one, however difficult that relationship) because they believe there is a social purpose to doing that.
        None of this is set in stone, but I do think that perhaps there is a spectrum here where ‘Danisty’ is at one end and Khayra at the other…

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  4. TheGoddessMaria
    January 24, 2011

    I have been childfree my whole life. Tomorrow, I turn 39 with the blissful knowledge that my tubal ligation has kept me safe from being impregnated for 11 years. BEST. DECISION. EVER. My life is whole, full, and full of love, and even a few children that I love who don’t live with me. My husband and I have been happily married since 1992, and we’re happy with our surgical solutions to birth control (both of us). Need an interviewee? I’ve been in a few studies and articles, but nothing really big. Thank you in advance for your work!!!

    aka “just Maria is fine!”

  5. JJ
    January 25, 2011

    Are you including never married women in your interviews? I would like to participate!

    • admin
      January 25, 2011

      Absolutely! My single criterion at the moment is that women have chosen, freely, not to bear children (as you may have seen above, there is then a question about where adopters fit in to that), and believe that it was the right choice for them. So I’m not here to talk to women who are child*less* – ie have not had kids for medical reasons or because they would only have done so within marriage and ‘Mr Right’ never came along. I respect the pain that childless women experience, but it’s not what I’m interested in and I absolutely can’t relate to it. So if you, or anyone else, fits into that, I’m very happy to hear from you.

  6. PM
    January 28, 2011

    Dear admin,
    I don’t necessarily agree that child'”less” & child-“free” are two mutually exclusive categories. Most decisions in life are a combination of choice & circumstance. Several women (including me) who have chosen not to have children made these choices after a battle with infertility. These women have consciously chosen to not pursue other “options” like adoption, meds, surrogacy, etc, but instead have turned their “weakenesses” to strengths by construbuting in meaningful ways to the world & shirking the societal expectation that they must become mothers to feel whole. Ultimately, the decision to remain child-free is still a conscious one, the reasons may be different, that’s all. I think leaving these women out of the equation would represent a big lacuna in your pool of “childfree” women. I though the point of your book was to explore the child-free choice from multiple angles & perspectives….

    • admin
      January 28, 2011

      Hi PM,
      thanks for raising this point. I guess my sentence above should have had the word ‘only’ in there somewhere. I guess my point is that I’m seeking women who have made a positive decision not to bear children because it’s the right choice for them. If having fertility issues is part of that but you’ve stood back from them, looked at the broader picture and decided that medical processes such as IVF, egg donation etc aren’t for you and that a woman can have just as meaningful a life without biological parenting, then for sure. What I was trying to say is that I want this book to be about women have *chosen* in whatever way to remain child-free, and for whom that was the right choice (without pretending that it’s always the easiest), rather than those who have been forced into it by circumstances and for whom it is primarily a matter of pain and regret. I think that’s the difference I’d draw between child*free* and child*less* – between people who’ve ultimately chosen, through whatever route, to not have children, and for whom it was a positive choice, and those who – for social or medical reasons – have a child-shaped gap in their lives that makes them feel that they’ve missed out on being a mother and that that is first and foremost a bad thing and a matter for regret.

  7. Aurynne
    January 31, 2011

    Hi! I am childfree, I never want to have my own children (in fact I am getting sterilised next month). However, I have been an egg donor, so I don’t know if I fit into your “environmental” viewpoint, as my eggs have actually resulted in children (for parents who can’t have their own). If I am still “valid” for your study, I’d love to participate.



  8. Anonymouse
    January 31, 2011

    Where in Oz are you? Are you writing a guide on Oz? (I am writing from Melbourne).

    Do you have a statement of ethics re how you will conduct interviews and use any data? I guess that writers are not used to this (in the same way that researchers like myself are) but I heave heard too many stories over the years of CFers being ‘burned’ to agree to participate without such a statement. Put it this way – if someone were writing a book about mothers then I am sure there would be women beating your door down because (i) most mothers like to blather on about their kids and (ii) it is not ‘dangerous’ to talk about motherhood or being a mother (unless one is revealing anything about a ‘dark’ side). Motherhood is lauded, applauded, protected and valued. Being CF on the other hand often means pathologisation, being subject to stigma and being treated negatively in other ways – condescended to, ridiculed, pitied. I’m not saying that you will do any of these things, but I am saying that there is a large body of (anecdotal) evidence to suggest that these are common experiences of CFers who do give interviews… So as well as assurances about your own cred I’d be looking for something a little more substantial – i.e. a synopsis and statement of ethics.

    This sounds awfully negative and it is not meant to be – it is more about saying that I think you will catch more fish with this bait because the experiences of cfers have frequently been negative re interviews.

    • admin
      January 31, 2011

      Many thanks for this comment. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘am I writing a guide to Oz’ (no), and in response to your question – I’m currently in Adelaide because the main purpose of my extended visit here is for my husband to spend time with his parents, but we will be travelling elsewhere.
      On your comments regarding interviews, ethics etc:
      – I am well aware of the fact that CFers are often ‘burned’ by interviewers – it’s happened to me and I know just what it feels like. More on that here and here
      – I will be compiling full ethical statements, release forms etc which I will be asking interviewees to examine and complete before they return any questionnaires to me or undertake any face-to-face or telephone interview;
      – I very much agree (see above) with your comments on the way that CFers are treated by the media etc, but don’t forget that there are also some very positive portrayals and some pretty good books out there on aspects of choosing to be childfree, some of them interview-based; I’d particularly flag up Madelaine Cain’s;
      – in terms of ‘catching more fish,’ as you put it, most prospective interviewees have emailed me, as requested in the original post, and to be honest I’ve been overwhelmed by how many responses I’ve had and their diversity (of geography, age, experience). I certainly don’t think that’s going to be a problem. I guess harking back to my original degree in anthropology I’d see this as participant observation, since I’m very much planning to write this book as a member of the CF community, with all the positives and negatives that has meant for me and for others CFErs.

  9. Laara
    January 31, 2011

    I’d be happy to talk to you about my ‘choice’ to be child-free. Still not sure it was a choice but regardless I’d be happy to discuss it and share with you my experience and the world’s reaction to me not being a parent.

  10. Cardiffborn71
    February 5, 2011

    I’ve never had children, never wanted them. Furry babies yes love them, pet-ternal instinct is for me. I’m not married never have been. 40 and free the way I like to be.

  11. Leah
    February 27, 2011

    A devoted follower of the Child Free movement, persistently getting my request to be sterilised recorded with my GP every year around my birthday from the age of 18…finally sterilised at the age of 35, proof that this one ‘didn’t change her mind when she was older’! Single,totally independent,carved my own non-conformist route and never regretted a minute, or even gave it that much thought…just simply never saw the point of having kids, when I had MY whole life to live for ME :)

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