“I love children, but I don’t want a whole one.”
Journalist and television presenter Shelly Horton stepped up to the podium at the Family Planning: The Next Generation Conference at Sheraton on the Park in Sydney yesterday.
“I’m 43 years old and child-free by choice,” she continued.
Horton was giving a talk on ‘Choosing not to have children’. She explained how being “child-free” is completely different to being “childless”.
Childless women, Horton says, are the women who would love to have children, are desperate to have children, but who are not in a position to do so. Maybe because of relationship issues or fertility problems. Being childless is very different to being child-free.
Being child-free is to have an “intentionally barren uterus”, as Horton put it. It’s about making the decision not to have children because, quite simply, you don’t want them.
It’s a choice that women should be free to make. A choice that is just as valid as the choice to have children. But it’s a choice, Horton says, that is too often met with judgement or suspicion or pity.
“When people ask me ‘Why don’t you have kids?’ I often turn it back on them and say ‘Well why do you have kids?’,” Horton said. “They often explain it was ‘just something they always knew they wanted to do’. I say the exact same thing: ‘Having kids was something I always knew I didn’t want to do’.”
Horton never felt maternal. She's not 'clucky', has never much enjoyed holding babies. She's known for a long time that she doesn't want kids, but confidence in this decision is something she's had to work hard to find. It did not come easily.
"I was convinced there was something wrong with me," Horton said. "I went to a counsellor asking 'Have I been sexually abused?' 'Do I have repressed memories that are stopping me wanting children?' He just looked at me, he was straight down the line, and said 'No, there is nothing wrong with you. You had an idyllic childhood. You don't have any repressed memories. You are fine'."
And that, right there, is the issue.
Choosing to live child-free is not a decision that is easily accepted. It's met with raised eyebrows from mothers in the park or long pauses from men around a dinner table. The pauses are there, waiting to be filled with an explanation, a reason. Because "there has to be a reason, right? You can't just not want children?"
"Before I 'came out' and told people I didn't want kids, I used to say 'I've got fertility issues'," Horton said. "It's easier because it makes everyone else feel better, more comfortable. It would lead to further questions though, and it just ended up being stressful."