A Collection of Stories About Not Choosing Motherhood

Here’s the thing: Moms, on an individual basis, may be taken for granted throughout much of the year, but motherhood itself is a status symbol. It’s a time-honored, accepted, even revered, path. Having children is, supposedly, one of the most fulfilling, important, life-affirming things a person could ever do.

So I wanted to write about women (rather, people—not everyone with a uterus identifies as a woman) choosing, actively, not to be mothers. I wanted to find joy in a countercultural narrative. And, yes, I wanted to write about this on Mother’s Day. Because it’s a day some well-meaning family member or total stranger might say, “So, when are you going to have kids?” It’s none of their business, but also, not everyone wants to have kids, and that’s totally okay. These folks have given their decisions a lot of thought—choosing not to parent at all is as big a decision as choosing to have a baby, or two, or five. It isn’t flippant, or silly, or selfish, as you’ll read in these essays and interviews.

• Author Meghan Daum has done her part in bringing childless-by-choice into the contemporary public consciousness; she edited the anthology Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have KidsThe table of contents boasts essays from Lionel Shriver, Geoff Dyer, Daum herself and a host of other authors. I enjoyed this interview with Daum at Jezebel, especially this line: “Choosing not to have kids is actually a way of showing respect for parenting (at least good parenting) and is ultimately good for kids because it creates a society in which kids are truly wanted”. Peep her own essay, “Opting Out of Motherhood,” at Harper’s. And if you’re intrigued by the anthology, I recommend Courtney Hodell’s beautiful piece on chosen childlessness at Elle. She’s a great storyteller.

• I’m in my early (mid?) twenties, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want children of my own, but it’s nice to know I should be able to waffle without judgement. At The Cut, Ann Friedman (one of my favorite writers) asks, “What If You Just Don’t Know If You Want Kids?” Good question, Ann. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. “The point, I think, is that other people’s stories actually aren’t that helpful…this sort of soul-searching seems to be the only way out.” For me, I think, I’ll keep journaling and reading other people’s stories, if only to find pieces of my own within them.

• “I Don’t Want Children–Ever” by Jessica Burnell is unflinchingly honest. The author, by her own admission, is selfish and introverted and doesn’t get along well with kids. I appreciate this. The vast majority of stories I read for this list included caveats, like, “I love kids! I’m excited to be an aunt!” And that is fine! It is fine to love kids and not want your own. But Burnell’s perspective is equally as valid. It’s important to know yourself well enough to not put other people in harm’s way or to make yourself miserable. I admire her self-awareness and her candor.

Also, Burnell makes the very important point that not all women can have children (let alone want to), and not all folks who give birth are women—there’s a whole lot of cissexism inherent in this assumption that women will have kids. She was the only writer in this list to make this observation, and I commend her for that.

• On that note, the majority of stories I’ve found about childless-by-choice are written by women. Here’s one written by a man. After they decide they don’t want to have kids together, Jason Headley and his wife, Amy, decide a vasectomy is the best choice. A whole lot of feelings follow, but in the end, they’re really happy. Headley is a great writer, and I couldn’t help but wish this story was included in Daum’s anthology.

• At The Toast, Aubrey Hirsch presents “Loco Parentis: You Pretty Much Get It.” She’s a mom, and she’s here to let you in on a secret: “My being a mother doesn’t make me any better at or more capable of love than any other feeling… the love you’re experiencing as a childfree person is real and significant and big. I hope you won’t let any of those rogue, self-righteous parents drag you into competing in the love Olympics.”

• “5 New York Women on Why They Don’t Want Children” is an insufferable headline, but this series of interviews is delightful. All of these women are hardworking and successful and articulate, and all of them dig the children in their lives. They destroy a lot of stereotypes about childless women—their decisions aren’t impacted by economics or geography, for instance, and most have great mothers themselves. So it isn’t for wont of money or prestige or fulfilling relationships that they’re forgoing children of their own. They talk about the reactions of their families and friends, as well as the stigma they’ve encountered in their decision.

• Full circle: Longreads published Sabine Heinlein’s essay, “The Answer is Never,” in April. My favorite part of this essay is her meditation on the small intimacies between mothers and children. It is well worth your time.