Each woman has a different story about her decision to have children or not. For some, the decision was made for her due to physical circumstances; but for those that have the experience of making an intentional choice, the process can be emotionally, psychologically, and interpersonally challenging. In my work with women who are deciding if they want to enter motherhood or not, I have heard many stories of a path paved with experiences of isolation, judgment, and self-doubt.
a changing landscape
A recent report published by the Pew Research Center reveals that women are more likely to have children today than they were ten years ago. The report states that the median age of women having their first child is 26 years old and that more and more women are becoming mothers into their 40’s.
The timeframe associated with pregnancy and motherhood has slowly expanded. When women navigate this period, much of the social connection shifts focus to experiences associated with becoming a mother. For women considering a path that does not include childbearing, this is often a time of gradual isolation. While mom friends deepen their relationships through shared experiences, a woman who may not wish to have children has little to share in conversation. Even when it is not the intention of her friends, she can leave social interactions feeling misunderstood, outcast, and lonely.
As women move through their process of deciding if motherhood is right for them, they often transition from an internal exploration to a time when they begin to share their consideration with close friends and family. This is a period when women are seeking support and acceptance. Unfortunately, it is frequently met with subtle and overt responses of judgment. Although statements such as, “you’ll change your mind when…” and “you’ll never feel ready, you just go for it,” may be offered with good intentions, they convey a deep misunderstanding of the childfree woman’s choice. This type of response can leave childfree women wondering if something is wrong with them.
From isolation and judgment comes self-doubt. Women who are navigating this incredibly important decision can begin to doubt themselves each time they are faced with misunderstanding and judgment. Unsupportive messages from partners and friends, doctors and experts can slowly erode a woman’s quiet curiosity about what her life might look like if she decides not to become a mother.
The choice to have a child or not is deeply personal. Women who are considering this path may confront many obstacles along the way to their decision. Because being a childfree woman is still an exception to the norm, it’s important for women who have decided to be childfree or who are in the process of choosing to connect with other women who have made the choice not to have children. Connection and reflection are essential to feeling understood and valued. Without examples of what it can look like to be a woman without children, the path of the childfree woman is unexplored and potentially scary.