It may come as a shock, but not all women want children. A crazy concept, right?
There are tons of women who don't want children for a whole wealth of totally justified reasons that, contrary to popular belief, don't need to be justified. Some feel that they lack a maternal instinct, and they fear that they wouldn't make adequate parents. Others value their independence and free will too much to give it up for a family. Some women are so career-oriented, they don't want to have children that could distract them from their career goals. Meanwhile, some women are primarily concerned with the impact that bringing more people into this world has on the environment and, ultimately, our planet. And, for others, the idea of having children is just simply unappealing.
Whatever the case, it doesn't matter. Women are not put on the planet as mere baby incubators. Rather they're human beings with choice — and that choice includes whether or not they want to have children.
Still, a whole wealth of sociological studies find that voluntary childlessness induces disdain and "moral outrage" in others, even from complete strangers.
That's why the childfree movement — or the childfree by choice movement, as it's sometimes called — has emerged.
The childfree movement is a movement to unite and support the people who've chosen not to have children. It brings together the people who've rejected the status quo and encourages others to truly think about whether or not they want children (or whether or not they are actually equipped to have them), instead of just going with the flow of societal expectations.
Going childfree isn't easy. One childless woman explains how challenging childlessness by choice can be in a first-person piece for the Guardian:
Some people find it so hard to believe I don’t want a child that they insist on referring to my dog as a fur baby (not the people I know; they’re just slightly impressed I can keep something alive besides succulents). But those people who don’t know me so well like to think that the furball is a replacement baby. He’s not. I love that dog but he’s a dog. Sure, I tickle his tummy and of course I get him vaccinated – but he’s still a dog. I mean, I had him castrated, leave him alone all day and feed him liver treats. He’s a dog, not a replacement baby. The subtext of 'you’ll change your mind' goes back to the idea of motherhood being the natural position and anything else being deviant. That in turn means that the childless must be locked in battle against the mythical biological clock. That hormones will eventually ensure the right instinct kicks in. That a proper woman will at some point gasp and realise she is destined for children.
And she's not alone. There are countless women dealing with people's unsolicited opinions on their childfree choices. But the childfree movement gives them support.
Today, the childfree movement is so large, there are innumerable online discussion boards and support groups to bring childless adults together. These include the Reddit Childfree page, as well as organizations such as No Kidding! and Non Parents, which help childless adults to fight the stigmas associated with choosing not to have children.
In fact, the childfree movement has become so widespread, those involved even have their own International Childfree Day. On this day, winners of the Childfree Person of the Year and Childfree Group of the Year are announced.
It's important to note, however, that the childfree movement is for adults who choose to not have children — not those who cannot have children for reasons like health complications, though, of course, the support groups can be resourceful for these childless adults, as well.
After all, it isn't easy to identify who is childfree by choice and who is childfree because they physically can't have children. Infertility affects about 10 percent of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15 to 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And those who postpone having children, but ultimately want them, may end up waiting too long.
Currently, 10 to 20% of women reach the age of 45 without having children in the United States and Europe, according to Väestöliiton research. They do so for a variety of reasons. But those who are simply just vehemently against having children, whether they can or can't, make up as little as 1% of the population, according to Research Gate.
And, contrary to popular belief, voluntarily childlessness rarely regret their choice, according to The New York Times interviews.
"I’m a 66-year-old woman who chose not to have children and I’ve never regretted it for a minute," childless woman Carson Drew told The New York Times, for example. "Friends, lovers, professional colleagues, siblings, nieces and nephews, neighbors and other people can be “constants” in a person’s life, too."
Tons of women like Drew choose to forgo children, and they never think twice about it.
The childfree movement has become ever more popular in recent years with the advent of social media. But activists have been fighting stigmas surrounding childlessness for years.
"Activists have been challenging the taboo of childfreedom since the early 1970s, when second-wave feminism (which focused on family-centric issues such as reproductive rights, workplace equality and marital rape) collided with the overpopulation and overconsumption worries of the environmental movement," writes Wired contributor, Emma Grey Ellis. "In 1972, journalist Ellen Peck founded the National Organization for Non-Parents with a simple goal: making more people aware that parenthood was a choice, not an obligatory life chapter.
International Childfree Day, however, has only been around since 2013.
The childfree movement is ever more relevant today, as fewer people have children. In fact, according to 2016 population data fro the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of births fell one percent from the year prior, bringing the general fertility rate to 62 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44.
Researchers suggest that the trend is driven by a decline in birthrates for teens and 20-somethings, but childless women of all ages contribute to the trend.
Women have been going childless for years, and it's about time society recognizes and respects their decisions.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.