parent opinion

'Only selfish people are selfish.' 6 things I learnt from long-term childlessness.

Mother’s Day is looming, and while it’s a joyous occasion for many, for others it can be a dark and difficult day. Whether women without children want to be mothers or not, the lead-up can be a time full of unwelcome reminders and increased anxiety. 

Here are six things I learned about the stigma of not having children, based on my 12 years on the 'other side' during over a decade of IVF and before I became a 'geriatric mother'.

1. There are different types of childlessness, and it's different for everyone.

There are two main groups: The childless (involuntary) and the childfree (voluntary) and other than the absence of children, they don’t have as much in common as you might think.

Childlessness isn’t confined to couples. There are many single people without children who are yearning, whereas their childfree single counterparts might be living their best lives. People with children can experience some of the grief and yearning associated with childlessness when trying to have additional children, and their associated pain isn’t ‘less’. 

What the groups have in common is that no two stories, individuals or days are the same. How people feel about being childless/child-free evolves depending on their circumstances. For me, it wasn't constant, and while the longing never disappeared, it was dormant sometimes. There were PLENTY of times I felt childfree rather than childless, and I'm grateful for the years I had as both. People can move between the groups (and subgroups) across their lifetime.

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2. The childless ‘solutions’ are s**t and limited.

Fertility treatment can be costly, time-consuming and traumatic – most people who go through it say it's the worst experience of their lives. The success rates are lower than most people realise, with approximately half not having a baby by the end.

Surrogacy is complex in Australia, partly because of a relative lack of legal maturity and the birth rates are low (about 100 a year locally). Donor egg/sperm births are slightly more common, but still reasonably rare and complicated to facilitate.

Adoption is practically a furphy. There were only approximately 250 adoptions in Australia last year (local AND international). Intercountry Adoption Australia claims there are currently 13 partner countries, they are broken down as follows:

  • Five stipulate a limited number of children available
  • Two aren’t accepting new applicants
  • Two haven’t ever matched a child with Australian applicants
  • One only partners with two states
  • One has a nine-year wait list.
  • Two have children available at ages older than some states will grant adoption orders.

3. Life can be hard… for everyone.

Being childless is hard. There are long-term feelings of shame, pain, and confusion. It’s not all parties, brunches, and holidays (though those things are, admittedly, pretty great).

In my own experience, people made plenty of assumptions about our reasons for not having children, our fertility treatment and even pregnancy. Most of them were wrong (even if they were right at another point in time) and they were all hurtful.


It also has to be said, that the carefree time parents remember before having kids isn’t the same as someone else in their thirties, forties or fifties who has endured half a lifetime of potential challenges. Age, social constructs, and life circumstances are all totally different.

Assumptions are also made about parents, and I’ve been guilty of making them in the past. Parents don’t love or care about other people less when they have children, but we do become less reliable and available. It once took me nine weeks to return a call and thankfully the recipient, a fellow mama, laughed. It’s really not personal. We’re trying to keep ourselves, and our little people alive, and sometimes there’s only time for that priority (yes, really). 

Being a parent is a lifetime of worry, and when you have no worries for one second, your brain will conjure some imaginary ones up for you. Nothing prepared me for it, not even 12 years! I'm not saying one’s harder than the other, but there are factors that make both tough.

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4. People without children are families, and they know real love.

The childless/childfree still belong to families and are families in their own right. Too often we’ve heard; ‘What a shame you don’t have a family’ or, ‘Now you’re finally a family’. We were already a family of two and came from families of our own. Was it the same before children as now? Of course not… but family dynamics and members change all the time.


People without children are still someone else’s children and grandchildren. They are aunts and uncles, cousins, and siblings. Family is family and children aren’t mutually exclusive to the term.

‘Real love’ exists in all families and shouldn’t be confused with ‘parental love’. I get it now. When they put my son on my chest, I recognised him. Nothing ever made more sense to me in my entire life, than seeing his face. The love you feel for your child is euphoric, consuming, and overwhelming, but it in no way relates to how someone else loves anyone else. My love for my son only relates to how I love him.

Even if that message was more concisely articulated, telling someone without a child they don't know what it's like to love a child is about as relevant and relatable as telling someone who's not an astronaut they don't know how it feels to be an astronaut. It's. Just. So. Unnecessary.

I’ll never tell anyone that the scale of my love for my son somehow diminishes their love or makes it 'less than'. There’s nothing wrong with talking about your love, but you simply cannot measure it against someone else’s.

5. Only selfish people are selfish, and everyone is busy.

Parents aren’t all selfless because we look after our children. They are an extension of ourselves and become our self-interest (which we put ahead of others). My son is my priority and sometimes I’ll be selfish in the pursuit of his happiness and wellbeing. Parents putting children first is more common than it is remarkable. It’s our job – and last I checked – we don’t win any awards for it.


People without children aren’t selfish by virtue of not having children (despite how parents view them). Their perspectives and priorities are simply different. In fact, they usually make concessions and adjustments for parents, probably use fewer resources and often (even indirectly) support us somehow. It's not 'selfish' in an overpopulated world to not procreate. I know plenty of selfish people with children and without them. Your parental status doesn’t dictate your selfishness. Your selfishness does. 

Parents may prioritise our children, but we aren’t necessarily busier than non-parents. We might be busy at kids sports on Saturday mornings, the childfree might be having brunch and the childless might be trying to make a baby. But no matter how much we all want (or don’t) to be doing what the others are doing, it doesn't change the fullness of calendars. People without children don’t have 28 hours in the day, but they do have more of one key luxury – choice!.

6. There’s grief and regret across all groups, but women are judged more harshly.

Around a quarter of Australians surveyed by Perth University in 2015, said they regretted the choice not to have children. Surveys from other parts of the world have shown close to the same number of parents (one in five) who had children, regretted it (though these responses vary greatly).

As a childless person, you don’t just grieve not being a parent – you grieve not being a grandparent, not giving your parents grandchildren, not giving your siblings, 'niblings', not seeing your partner become a parent. You’re sad for your sentimental heirlooms having nowhere to go, your recipes not being passed down, and some of your potential being unfulfilled. You feel guilty, left out and sad… I dreaded one day, being nobody’s parent, and nobody’s child.


Women, especially the child-free ones cop the brunt of the stigma. No matter how evolved we pretend to be, the reality is that women endure harsher attitudes and behaviours when it comes to familial relationships, and most of the blame and expectation still ultimately lies at their feet.

 Here are phrases my husband never heard:

  • Why don’t you want children?
  • We thought you had a problem with children.
  • Did you have a baby to keep your wife happy?
  • But I thought you chose career over family.
  • You’ll regret not having children one day!

Childlessness overall is on the rise but that doesn’t mean we should stop celebrating parents, it means we should start understanding more about childlessness. Organisations starting to allow women to ‘opt out’ of mum-marketing is a small but positive step in the right direction. How we all respond (in homes and workplaces) to the decision or inability of women to have children needs to change on Mother’s Day and on every other day of the year.

Casey Kaminskyj is a geriatric mother, water-lover, mistake-maker, IVF-veteran, laugh-monger, gin-drinker and occasional-writer. Casey lives in Geelong with her family (where she’s outnumbered), and you can read more about her long journey here.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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