We’ve seen the statistics: More and more Australian households are without any children at home.
The number of couples with children has been steadily declining since 1976, dropping from 48 per cent to 37 per cent in 2016. And by 2023-2029, the Australian Bureau of Statistics expects there will be more people in a relationship living without children than families with kids.
And yet, despite these rather overwhelming figures, the voices of women who do not have children are far and few between in public discourse compared to those with youngsters at home.
Tanya Williams wants to change that. And as August 1 marks International Child-free Day, it’s as good a day as ever.
The 47-year-old Brisbane woman is someone who, out of her own volition, isn’t a mother.
She’s written a book titled Childfree Happily Ever After, which interviews women who are child-free by choice or by circumstances, as well as mums who are happy or feel regret, with the aim of helping women grapple with their own paths.
“This so-called sisterhood can be brutal and the most judgemental are often other women. Almost every facet of being a woman is open for a barrage of negativity, if as a woman, you don’t conform to the norm,” she tells Mamamia.
We’ve gathered the stories of 17 different Australian women, including Tanya, to tell us how they truly feel about not having children.
Women who are childless by circumstance
“I cry at funerals, not just because of the sadness, but I see their children, their legacy and I know I will not have that.
I hate female commentators who call us queens because we can create life, but I can’t so does that mean I’m not a queen?
I’ve never had anyone call me mum, it’s amazing how important that is.
I’ve been told I have no right to comment on parenting because I don’t know what it’s like.
I’ve created this family with my husband’s children from his first marriage, yes I love them with all heart, but it helps no one asking me why I don’t have children. I know I consciously use them to help me feel like a whole person.
I always wanted a huge family, I love children I thought I had so much to give, I wanted the angry teenager, the crazy needs and wants of children.
I get “so you never wanted kids of your own?” “Oh, they are step kids, but none of your own?” “Whose fault is you can have kids, is it you?”
I have a beautiful family that have tried to help with offers of surrogacy (we were not approved as it was deemed I hadn’t tried hard enough to have children through other means, the multiple cycles of IVF were not enough) but I felt like a failure because I was tired after more than 10 years of checking temperatures, fights with my husband, rejection of embryos and anger that my body wasn’t working.
I threatened to leave my husband as I didn’t think he was serious enough in doing this. It’s selfish I know but I truly fear for my future, that I will be left alone.”
“When I was in my late teens, I was told by a specialist that it was highly unlikely that I would ever have children. At the time it was like being hit by a ton of bricks. I mean, we’re supposed to grow up and have children… or so we’re told, by everyone! I decided to throw myself into my career and make a difference in the world that way. I think being so young when I was told just made me adjust my life choices and I haven’t longed to have children or sought out ways to have one. I am comfortable with my childlessness. People superficially think I’m selfish for not having kids. They think it’s my choice. And they throw the ‘Of course you can have a great career, you don’t have kids to stop you’.”
“I found out my egg count was very low the week my best friend was having her first child, so that brought up weird emotions. I told the GP just to email me my results as I was not desperate to have children. The results came through and I read them at work and started crying. It was so unexpected the feeling of sadness and other indescribable feelings from having it in black and white that my chances of having children was very low. I thought I had let my boyfriend down as I know he would have liked other children or the possibility of children.
It’s interesting when you tell your girlfriends you can’t have children. They all do the gasp and say how sorry they are. When really I am not sorry. I look at their Saturdays of swimming lessons and Facebook feeds of kids and think OMG I am so glad that is not me! In fact I have optimised my Facebook feed to block the oversharing friends with their non-stop Facebook posts of their kids. I get it they are proud.
I’ve been told by my male boss “to go home and get pregnant” – people sometimes say cruel things.”
Loretta Ryan, 53
"Having children and getting married is just one of the things you do as a woman. It is meant to be happen naturally. I never met the right person and the last guy I had a relationship with didn’t want kids or to get married. By that time, I was 39, I realised I wanted a family. I realised it was going to pass me by. I still feel sad to this day I didn’t have children.
People’s reactions are interesting; sometimes cruel and insensitive. People just assume every woman has children. When you get asked how many you have, and you reply none, the conversation stops. It is awkward. You can see they feel sorry for you and do not know what to say.
You have to be careful when you ask personal questions – how many children a person has, why they aren’t married or when they will have children. The times I find difficult is when I’m in a conversation and people are talking about their kids. I know it is something I will never experience - being pregnant, giving birth or raising a child. You feel like you are on the outer."
"Being a childless woman is being sentenced to a life of judgement. People are cruel and selfish, if you are one of the ones who have made the choice to pity for the ones who can’t have children. My favourite statement so far is "you will never know how it feels to be truly fulfilled as a woman". Motherhood or the lack thereof should not define us."
"One blocked tube, low egg count plus not healthy eggs. When I share the fact that my partner and I are childless not by choice I tend to get the following:
- Have you tried…..
- We did IVF …..
- Why did you give up so quickly?
- You should just adopt!
When people assume I have kids and I gently correct them, their face expressions vary from pity to something that indicates I’m not a proper woman as I haven’t given birth. If I don’t tell them the back story I get the "you’re selfish" comment. It’s like I have to tell my whole story just to shut them up when sometimes I simply don’t want to explain it again (and again and again).
"I have no clue about parenting because I’ve never been one.” It’s like I’m treated as though I'm not capable of empathy or understanding love for a child.
I try to think some are well meaning comments/questions like, “Don’t you feel like you’re missing something?” or “It must be hard to know you haven’t fulfilled one of your main purposes in life”, but they really aren’t that comforting or well thought through."
"I always wanted a family and after six years of marriage my husband denied us. I struggled with staying for another year and then two years later I ended up needing a hysterectomy. My choice was ultimately completely taken. I’ve had women high five me for being childless by choice and a male call me selfish for choosing not to. Neither were correct. I’m now divorced and that was the only regret I threw at him as we separated."
"I got told I have 0.00001 per cent chance of getting pregnant. When I’m cutting a little boy’s hair and the mother asks, ‘how old are your children?’ the assumption is always there. When I politely respond I don’t have any, I see the eyebrow go up and the judgements coming. It’s normally followed up with an awkward ‘oh your time will come’ or ‘you dodged a bullet there’. With co-workers, it’s assumed I don’t have a life because I don’t have children. I’m expected to be 100 per cent work, work, work, work. There are a lot of ignorant people that assume I don’t want to be a mum."
Women who are child-free by choice
Tanya Williams, 47
"I always knew I didn't want children. I was adamant from an early age that it wasn't for me in any way, shape or form. So when I met my husband and we spoke about getting married, we had that conversation. I said to him that if he wanted children, I'm not the one for him. He's always been amazingly supportive and believes it should be a woman's choice, as it's her body.
"I've checked in with him over the years and we both love our lifestyle. I'm always very supportive of my friends and what they want to do. I'll support them as long as they are happy. And likewise I only surround myself with friends who will support my decision.
"There’s so much judgement around women not having children. Child-free women experience dire warnings about a loveless barren future and living a life of regret. Women are expected to have kids or at least want to have kids. If you don’t have kids, you experience criticism, judgement for your choices, and a barrage of pity from mums who think nothing of saying you are not a real woman, you don’t know what real love is unless you have a child, you’ll change your mind, and you are missing out.
“When you tell people you choose not to have children, you’re met with a stunned silence and shock. Choosing to have a child is a big responsibility. The impact of not having one affects the woman and her partner. Having a child just because it is expected impacts the child and has a ripple effect on society.”
"I have always been around kids, lots of my friends have kids, but it was just something I never wanted for me personally. That decision has partly been due to my own upbringing and trauma I have experienced.
My life is great, my husband and I have our own business, we have a great relationship. We have lots of flexibility, we go on holidays when we want, we go out whenever we like and make last minute decisions. We have a sponsor child in Cambodia and put our energy into helping others. There are plenty of children that need help and we try to give back in other forms.
I have been told 'you’re a female, it’s your duty to have a baby. It’s the best thing that will ever happen to you, who will look after you when your old. They bring so much joy. You will change your mind.'
Being told it’s my duty makes me really angry, no one has the right to tell me what my duty is. It is awful being judged. Whether you have no kids or six kids someone is going to judge you. I have learnt as I have gotten older not to not care what others think. People really need to be respectful of other people’s choices."
"I made a decision not to have children as I married someone with children and to be honest it put me off! My mother tells me it will be the biggest regret of my life and some of my friends just can't comprehend why I wouldn't do it. In my mind I had to decide if it was about having a family unit or giving birth. The boys were 6 and 8 when I met my husband. They are now 18 and 21, and we have our lives back. Had I had my own we would probably have a 9 or 10-year-old. There are no regrets for me and I treated those boys like my own. The funniest thing I hear is "Who will look after you when you are old?" Really not the right reason to have children I wouldn't have thought! It’s a massive commitment bringing children up and I took that responsibility seriously. Whether I gave birth made no difference other than I don't have rose coloured glasses and understand the true meaning of conditional versus unconditional love! I stay angry, a parent forgives faster."
"I have many memories of walking through shopping centres and running into women I went to school with and having them look at me with pity because I did not have children. They’d look at me as if to say “I’m sorry”. They didn’t realise I choose not to have children. Women who do not have children buck the system. Many women who have think there is something wrong with you if you haven’t done what we were all groomed to do. People do not know how to handle it when you tell them you do not have children. I think it makes people question their choices.
For my husband and I, we just got too busy. When it came time to think about starting a family, we asked each other if that was what we really wanted to do, and it wasn’t."
"My husband and I are happily child-free by choice. Most people are incredibly supportive when we tell them (some people even look jealous). Although sadly, there are still some people (mainly women) who try to tell me that I don’t know what I’m missing out on and I better “have one while I can” in case I do regret it. My husband and I didn’t meet and marry until well into our thirties, and we just felt that our life was perfect as it was – we didn’t feel the need for children to “complete us” (although we do have a gorgeous little Burmese “fur-baby” called Champers).
Being child-free has allowed my husband and I to live a very simple, but also quite exciting life. We can travel when and where we like. We can enjoy our quiet relaxing weekends. We can indulge in nights out with friends to amazing restaurants. We don’t spend our evenings and weekends running here there and everywhere for kids’ sports. I also enjoy playing the role of “Aunty Nik” for the gorgeous children of some of my nearest and dearest friends, and this more than satisfies any maternal urge in me."
"For me being child-free was never a choice, it was something I always knew I would be. I never made a conscious decision about it, I just knew it and I vividly remember in Year 6 (at 11 years old) saying quite matter-of-factly to my classmate, when they spoke about having babies one day, I don’t like babies and I would never have children. I was a child myself at the time and I “couldn’t stand” kids.
Growing up I have never ever felt maternal, I have never felt the draw to have kids, I have never looked at a child and thought “yes I want one of those”. Personally, the truth is, I don’t enjoy children, I don’t find them cute, I don’t find them entertaining, I find them annoying. It’s not very nice to say out loud I guess but that’s me, I simply don’t have the patience.
When I was younger I was always, without fail, met with “oh you’ll change your mind as you get older” or "your body clock will kick in” or another version of that. It used to drive me mad because I KNEW in my heart and soul, for a fact, that was never going to happen and the one nice thing about the ageing process is being able to now say “TOLD YOU SO!”.
The pressure on women to want to have kids by default is ridiculous. It also feels like you're not allowed to voice that you don’t or that your questioning. You are looked at like you’re crazy, pitied for “obviously” having had a bad childhood to make you feel that way (even offensively implying abuse on my parent’s part), told you’re selfish or told you’ll “come round” every single time you voice your mind.
Moving on from those reactions, you're then being told you will never know true or meaningful love or your life is meaning less without kids, which is beyond offensive."
"I do not have a maternal bone in my body. All my friends have children, I am an auntie but even holding them, nothing stirs for me. I can’t tell you how many times my family has said, when handing a newborn over to me, maybe this will make you want one. No. It doesn’t and didn’t. I love my life. I live for my career and love to travel. These are things I have focused on. Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I HAVE to have children. Why is that not okay? It doesn’t make me selfish or shallow. I just know what I want. There is nothing more horrible than people making judgements about my life, they have no right. I am not hurting anyone."
"My family is my husband and my two dogs. You would think today, we could expand our definition of what family means beyond the couple and two and a half kids. Times have changed. I never wanted children. I still don’t. I do not wistfully look at babies in prams and crave one, even though so many people tell me that I will. We are all different. We all want different things. We are told that is okay if it fits with society’s norms. As soon as you step out from that, people can be horrible. I have been ripped apart by people who think they know better. I have been told I am making a big mistake, I am not giving back to society and I am materialistic. Just because I don’t have kids doesn’t mean I am emotionless or have more time that those who do. I just live my life differently. I give back to my community by volunteering. I work hard in my business, employing people and paying my taxes."
"I started my career in shoes when I was 14. It is all I wanted to do. I left school and got into the family business. Then I started my own retail store at 24. One day I woke up, I was older and had not thought about having children and it got too late. I decided I love what I do, I was set in my ways and thought I was okay with what I have.
The biggest judgement is when people feel sorry for you; it is an instantaneous sorrow as if you have missed out on something amazing. Maybe I have but I am okay with the choice I made. I can’t believe how much judgement I copped through my younger days – like I was being selfish. "You will really regret for the rest of your life." "I do not understand how you could possibly make that choice." People presume a lot. I am a strong personality and didn't let it get to me. People need to learn to be subtle."
To purchase a copy of 'Childfree Happily Ever After' by Tanya Williams ($39.95) or for more information on the book, click here.
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