JAMILA: Why the world thinks these women are cold and selfish.

Jamila Rizvi


The idea of having a baby downright terrifies me.

Biology tells me that this is my time for breeding. Television and advertising tells me that a white dress and a bundle of joy are all that is standing between me and perfect contentment. And society tells me that buying a house, settling down and having 2.1 kids should be top of my To Do list at this age.

But it wasn’t until this weekend – when my closest girlfriends brought the issue up – that it actually became front of mind.

There are six of us and we’ve been friends since forever. We became friends in our teens, when being the same age, going to the same school and living nearby, meant we had enough in common to form a solid bond.

10 years later and we’re all at completely different stages of life and while we love each other to bits, the sneaky creep of expectation is now upon us. And that expectation is that we’ll all have kids.

Our conversations about pregnancy or babies or child rearing are framed in the ‘when’ and not the ‘if’.

Two of the girls are married and solidly on the ‘let’s have a baby’ bandwagon and two others are fast heading in that same direction. But the remaining two? Well, we’re… not.

And it matters. It’s not like the other differences between us all – differences in jobs, or homes, or incomes, or relationships. This one is a whopper.

There is this absolute expectation that we’re all planning to have a family at some point in ‘the future’ and all of a sudden that ‘the future’ is, well… now. And that expectation is starting to grate.


My other child-skeptic friend and I engage in Kevin-Rudd-esque denials of our likelihood to have children before we’re thirty. “I’d be more likely to win the Boston Marathon”, “I’d be more likely to fly to the moon with Richard Branson”, “I’d be more likely to marry Colin Firth”.

We keep these conversations just between the two of us; worried that we’ll be seen as selfish or overly ambitious or unloving by our peers. This is entirely ridiculous as our friends are about as non-judgmental as they come. But the pressure to procreate and to procreate on time is immense.

The underlying message the world gives us is that it’s selfish to be a woman who doesn’t want children.

Mean, cold and selfish.

Take the most prominent childless woman in the public eye today: the Prime Minister.

Julia Gillard during a press confrence yesterday.

When Senator Bill Heffernan labelled Julia Gillard as ‘deliberately barren’ in 2007, the implication was that she’d done something wrong. That something about her was missing, devoid, unnatural.


She had thrown away her chances to give the world more red headed children in favour of (cue Darth Vader theme music) her career… and she did it deliberately.

In 2011, Mark Latham said when asked about Gillard’s childless status that “having children is the greatest loving experience of a life-time. And, by definition, you haven’t got as much love in your life if you make that particular choice.”

Uhuh. Well, that’s clearly a man who is full to the brim with love.

Most of us define ourselves in a positive way: we define ourselves by what we are, by our actions, by our achievements, by the people in our lives. But when it comes to motherhood, the societal expectation is clear: women are made to be mothers. Having a baby is the default position for women and by failing to take that particular course of action, the world defines you by your omission.

My dear friend, who I spoke about above, has confided in me that children are probably a no-go for her in the future. For whatever reasons, having babies is just not something she wants to do. She explains it this way:

I often wonder if I’m a cruel, selfish individual because I don’t seem to have that maternal ‘gene’ – that desire to have a family and to spend the rest of my life raising children and worrying about whether they’re reading enough books and eating vast quantities of vegetable gruel.

Right now, I would resent having kids and that’s a feeling that may never change. Perhaps it’s completely irrational, but if I’m not willing to make sacrifices in every aspect of my life then I’m not prepared to have a child.

Having a child is not something I will completely rule out. But I am yet to feel like it’s something missing from my life. Friends always say they completely respect my decision, but I’m not so sure. I guess it all depends how much my relationship with them changes when introduce me to their more adorable half!

I ask you this: Can you think of anything less selfish?

As Brittany Shoot explains in her article ‘Why is it ‘selfish’ to be child-free’ choosing not to have children because you honestly believe you’re not equipped or your lifestyle wouldn’t be suited to being a mother is utterly unselfish.

To assume that women are ditching maternal impulses to go pound on the glass ceiling is kind of silly. It implies that we’re all biologically hardwired to want the same things, or that feminism has only given us two options: labor and, well, labor. And though it may be hard to remember with all the messages about how those two choices are the ultimate goals for women, it’s myopic and reductionist to think that gender equity is only about making money and making babies.

Now, I would like to have children one day. I really would.

While I find babies rather nerve-wracking, I really enjoy being around little children. This is mainly because little children are an excellent excuse to do fun stuff that I love but should apparently have ‘grown out of’ by now, (water slides, board games, jumping on the bed, totem tennis, smiling with pieces of orange peel stuck in front of your teeth…) So I figure I could just outsource the baby bit to (a) the father or (b) one of the many women in the Mamamia office who go a bit nutty when they see a baby.

But it’s not something I want to do right now, or at any time in the immediate future. I wouldn’t be a good mother right now, my lifestyle couldn’t accommodate a baby – hell, I’d probably leave it on the train by accident.

And my ‘not now’ decision, and the ‘probably never’ decision of my friend – well, that’s our prerogative, our right, our choice.

And that doesn’t make us selfish. It’s makes us sensible.

Do you have children? Have you always wanted to have children?

Check out our gallery of famous childless women. 

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