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Aug 9 2013

The Childfree Life vs. The Childfull Life

By at 9:34 am

couple on beach without kidsIt must have been amusing for people to see me reading my copy of Time Magazine’s issue in praise of the childfree life: a pregnant woman having second thoughts, perhaps? But after having read it, I think this cover story was, to a certain extent, inaccurate–and unnecessary.

The birthrate in America, it’s true, is at a record low–but that may not all be a matter of choice, despite the fact that medical technology now allows women to have children without a male partner. As Melanie Notkin correctly notes in her Huffington Post essay, “The Truth About the Childless Life,” to posit that all women not having children are doing it out of deliberate choice not only perpetuates the image of women who are not mothers as “career oriented” and “selfish,” it also belies the actual facts on the ground:

The CDC reports that of the 19% of women who remain childless between the ages of 40 and 44, half are childfree by choice. The remaining are unable to have children, by biology and by circumstance. (Note: some late-age biological infertility is a result of not finding a partner until one’s fertility is compromised by age, i.e., it is also circumstantial.) In my exclusive 2012 interview with Gladys Martinez, PhD and author of the National Health Statistics Reports entitled “Fertility of Men and Women Aged 15-44 Years in the United States: National Survey of Family Growth,” Martinez explained that while 80 percent of unmarried women are childless, 81 percent of those women plan or hope to have children one day. Only 14 percent of all childless women are voluntarily childless, i.e. ‘childfree.’ About 5 percent are unable to have children. The rest intend to become mothers one day.

This all goes to the underlying inaccuracy of an article that instead highlights certain women who “knew” they were never cut out to be mothers and women who savor their life without children (hence the appealing “childfree” appellation as opposed to the more mournful “childless.”). To highlight these women implies that what Notkin calls “circumstantial infertility”–women wanting children but wanting to have them with a partner who has yet to make himself/herself evident–doesn’t exist to the extent that it does.

Leaving that important discrepancy aside, though, the article seems to mainly exist in order to piss people off. Its cover, a couple without children smiling in loving bliss on a beach, implies a most childlike sticking-out-of-the-tongue, “nya nya nee poo poo” to parents. It’s waving a red flag in front of the parents of the world to embark on another battle of the Mommy Wars–only this time, with those who purposely don’t have children.

As a mother pregnant with her fifth child, here’s what I think about people who decide not to have children: in the words of Icona Pop, “I don’t care./I love it.”

What is the point in arguing over whether people who choose to have no kids are selfish, or narcissistic, or “cheating themselves”? There is no point. I read the articles in which women justify their choices, protesting that they do care about people other than themselves–they care for their aging parents! They have great friends! They love their dogs!–and that they knew, just knew, that they shouldn’t be parents.

Why does their choice affect me? It doesn’t. If they find meaning in spending their money on Picassos rather than preschool, or their time on going out to dinner rather than playgrounds, it doesn’t affect me. An article like this is written solely for the purpose of eliciting angry reactions and judgments.

I. Don’t. Care.

I know that for me, having children has lent my life an amazing fullness. Thanks to having kids, I’ve experienced heights of joy and pits of despair that I never would have felt otherwise.

But if someone else chooses not to go down that path, that doesn’t bother me. Is childrearing time-consuming, agonizing, frustrating, boob-depleting, aging, worrisome, and exhausting? Yes, it sure is. We knew that already.

But I don’t care; I love it.

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