lifestyle

OPINION: "Why are we so afraid of women who don't want children?"

Ricki Lee anorexic Instagram
Ricki-Lee Coulter

Someone’s trying to stir up a fight.

In one corner, there’s a confident woman in her 20s, telling the world that she has no desire to be a mother.

In the other is a blisteringly honest woman of 40ish, frankly sharing her experience of infertility and regret.

This is the storm that’s circling from a newspaper column that the wonderful and witty Bianca Dye wrote this weekend, in response to comments from kick-arse singer Ricki-Lee Coulter. Ricki declared that she didn’t want kids, but if she changed her mind, “I might turn 40 and go, ‘come on let’s pop one out’.”

Bianca wrote in the Daily Telegraph:

I’ve been through a number of failed IVF rounds and I’m still going…

I’ve had two miscarriages and put on 12kg from the hormones they’ve pumped into me. I’m begging Ricki-Lee — I wish I had of thought about this more at her age.

My advice?

Freeze your eggs now Ricki-Lee, while you can.

Bianca Dye has spoken opely about her struggle with IVF
Bianca Dye has spoken openly about her struggles with IVF.
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Neither of these excellent women is spoiling for a fight. They are simply speaking, publicly and honestly, from two opposite ends of the fertility spectrum of the most central of human issues – parenthood.

But Ricki-Lee has spoken about – and not for the first time – a lifestyle choice that mainstream society does not respect – the desire to NOT have children. And Bianca’s position, rightly or wrongly, is being painted as the default response that we level at any woman who challenges the idea of motherhood as all.

“OF COURSE you want children. You just don’t know it yet.”

Young women like Ricki Lee – bold enough to discount that one thing that is supposed to define their femininity above all else – have always been viewed with suspicion.

“She’ll change her mind,” Is probably one of the least insulting things she’s heard on this topic. If she’s anything like my  child-free friends, she will have been labelled selfish and shallow for good measure.

Because not wanting children is truly the final taboo. Even in 2014. Women can be anything they want, as long as they put ‘mother’ on the list, along with Prime Minister, brain surgeon and domestic goddess.

And who can blame young women of not daring to admit that it’s not their plan? It seems we literally do not know what do with women who don’t want to become mothers. When you don’t follow the marriage-and-baby script, you are viewed with suspicion. Think of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, for example, who spoke of the dilemma of a childfree woman who seeks public office: “If you don’t have children then [you’re seen] as being incapable of understanding the struggles of the vast amount of Australians who do, and if you do have children, it’s ‘Oh, who’s looking after the children?’.”

But  on the flip-side, ambitious young women like Ricki see their older counterparts struggling daily with “having it all”, of juggling two worlds and never quite feeling like either is a perfect fit.

Young women see that, once a woman has had a child, she is often viewed as less desirable, less focused, less committed. And who wants that?

Each of these women have been interrogated about their choices.
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So if they are brave enough to admit that they could get more done and live a life defined by choice rather than duty if they don’t become mothers, all power to them.

I’m not in the least bit surprised that Ricki-Lee, who has bucketloads of gumption and a less-than-perfect childhood of her own behind her, isn’t interested in motherhood.

Let’s hope, that if that’s how she feels, she stands strong in her belief.

Because there’s something much worse than regretting not having children – having children that you should never have had.

Becoming a parent is too important to do it because it is expected of you. Becoming a parent is too difficult and demanding to do because everyone else is doing it.

If you are ambivalent about having children – don’t have them. Do a Ricki-Lee and be brave enough to declare that your dream is different.

Because there are too many unwanted children in the world, and too many parents who cannot, for many, varied and complex reasons, put their children first and give them the love and support that they need.

Bianca has a point – we all change as we get older, and our perspective and desires change as we do. But we have to respect a young woman’s opinion on this just as we would her decisions on anything else – whether she wants to work or travel, make a startling career choice, not marry the first guy who turns her head.

Only someone with the wisdom of age, and experience of the the slowly-crushing grief of infertility can offer the advice to Ricki-Lee that Bianca did in that newspaper column: Don’t regret.

But we can’t assume that all women’s lives follow the same script, we can’t assume that women are ‘wrong’ because their choice bucks the norm. And there is no reason to fear the woman who doesn’t want kids – in many ways, she’s doing the world a great favour.

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Do you think you can decide you don’t want kids in your 20s? 

You can follow Holly on Facebook, here. On on Twitter, at @WainwrightHolly. 

Check out our gallery of kick-ass women who are leaving ‘mother’ off their resume.

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