If you were born female, chances are you've been asked—probably many times—how many children you want to have. The concepts of womanhood and motherhood are so fused in the collective human psyche that a woman choosing not to have children continues to elicit responses that range from perplexed and suspicious to incredulous and sometimes even hostile.
According to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, as of 2014, 15 percent of American women ages 40 to 44 had not given birth to any children. Included in this group are women who adopted and women who wanted children but for some reason ended up not having any.
But often overlooked or caricatured are the women who've made a conscious decision to live their lives childfree. The notion that a woman might have dreams, fears, and interests that don't align with motherhood still confounds many, but its reality is nothing new.
Hearing these perspectives is important, not only for the sake of girls and women whose desires don't align with the pervasive "women should have babies" narrative (and the men who remain inclined to view women's humanity as directly proportionate to their maternal functions) but also, at least insofar as women's worth continues to be measured by their participation in biological motherhood, for the sake of humanity.
Read on for accounts of women ages 40 and over who have chosen not to have children.
"Workplaces are increasingly inflexible and are not allowing people to be humans and care for their families."
Alixandra Foisy is a Virginia-based licensed clinical social worker and registered yoga teacher. "I chose not to have children because I know that one must completely devote themselves to their children in order to do it well," she says.
While she admires those who are doing just that, she says she chose to be childfree based on how she prefers to spend her time and energy and her understanding of the economy and workplaces policies.
"I care for others through the work I do as a clinical social worker and did not want to come home and not have enough left over for my kids," says Foisy. Once home, she enjoys the freedom to focus on spending time with her spouse. "I love my husband and am so happy and grateful that we found each other."
Having a child is also expensive. "Wages have been stagnant and low for a long time and it is nearly impossible to save for my own life, let alone financially care for another life," says Foisy.
Further incentive to skip having kids is the fact that the United States is still way behind much of the rest of the world when it comes to policies that protect people's rights to care properly for children and sick loved ones.
"My spouse and I live far away from family and it truly does take more than just the parents to care for children," she says. "Workplaces are increasingly inflexible and are not allowing people to be humans and care for their families. I don't want that to be an added stress in my life."
"I've never woken up one day in my life wishing I had kids."
"I am 52 and never wanted children," says Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of the marketing consulting firm Mavens and Moguls.
"I've been married 25 years and have never woken up one day in my life wishing I had kids," she reflects.
"I love my nieces, nephews, and godkids (three of each, nine in all) and have been involved in all of their lives, but always love sending them home too!"
"As an idealist, the reality of what and who we are has fallen far short of my expectations."
Brandy Stark, PhD, a 42-year-old professor of religions and humanities at St. Petersburg College in Florida, says her choice not to have children was "a major decision."
"I am the only child descended from two other generations of only children. This means that I am, quite literally, the end of the family line on my father's side," she says. "I have no siblings, have yet to marry, and my only living relative is my mother."
Stark knew early on that this was her path. "I believe that it was a good decision. I see the turbulence of today's world, its instability and tensions," she says. "I'm not sure I'd want to bring a child up in this world. As an idealist, the reality of what and who we are has fallen far short of my expectations."
She's enjoyed the freedom this decision has granted her to do what she wants with her time. Not having children has allowed her to focus full-force on her career and education.
Her career has allowed her to make her mark on the world. "I work with young adults on a daily basis," she says, "so I am still shaping the future generations."
"My sole purpose in life isn't to just bear children."
Ki "Tini" Jones is a 40-year-old personal trainer based in Maryland. As a girl, she wanted to get married and have children—"two boys and a girl to be exact"—and the pressure to procreate was intensified by the fact that she was the only daughter and niece in a large family of boys.
But, moving through her early 20s changed her perspective. "I quickly realized that I was just getting to know the 'adult' me," she says. "I wanted to focus on career, travel, and experienc[ing] things."
Meanwhile, she observed the changes that children brought and became more certain of her decision. "People around me were having children and dynamics of friendships were changing," she says.
"Most of the people that had kids said they undoubtedly loved their kids but often complained like they were being saddled down. I began to enjoy not having the responsibility and it allowed me to focus on myself."
Though she did marry, she says her now ex-husband got a vasectomy before they even dated.
Jones' decision has not always been received without pushback. "My mom would often drop baby hints and even once said I was selfish not to have kids," she recalls. "I told her I thought it would be selfish to have kids and not be the best mother I could be to them."
Her concern that she might feel burdened by—and thus neglect—her own children is no indication of her feelings toward children generally. "People think because I chose not to have children I don't like them and that's the furthest from the truth," she says.
"I love their curiosity and energy!" She often volunteers with organizations like Living Classrooms, which allows her to work with children.
Jones says she doesn't allow anyone to make her feel "less than" as a woman for her decision not to have kids. "There are many facets to 'mothering' that don't involve carrying a child. I'm a nurturer, a caregiver, a lover, a friend, a mentor, and an influencer," she says.
"There is so much more to womanhood than bearing children. My sole purpose in life isn't to just bear children."
Her life's purpose, she says, is "far greater than my womb."
"I saw kids and all the things they need as clutter."
Dating and relationship transformation expert Lisa Concepcion is a 46-year-old entrepreneur who helps people shape their love lives. She says determining at age 31 not to have children was the best decision of her life.
"I was married when I made this decision," she says. "I felt that society pressures us into checking off the common to do list of life, which says: married by 30 (check), homeowner shortly after (check), six-figure income (check), kids and nannies in the 'burbs (enter screech sound of brakes)."
"I was raised by very controlling parents so I saw marriage as a badge of adulthood," she says.
"I lived at home after college until I was 26 and moved out six months before my wedding. Reveling in my freedom and a deep desire for my own space, the last thing I wanted was clutter, and I saw kids and all the things they need (strollers, baby seat, childproofed home, bottles, food, diapers and on and on) as clutter."
Through her practice, LoveQuest Coaching, Concepcion has seen that, along with chores and schedules, parenting is one of the top contributors to relationship stress. "They feel their lives revolve around kids," she says.
"This was something I saw when my own friends started to have kids when we were in our early thirties. The interesting [thing] to note is that despite my then-husband's dual income, no kids, [and] freedom to do what we wanted, we were still confined to the cookie-cutter mindset of 9 to 6 slavery and long commutes to and from jobs that never spoke to our passions."
"This misalignment sadly led to realizing we were out of connection with ourselves." After 17 years of marriage, they divorced.
She tells this story to point out that "childfreedom doesn't make a couple divorce proof."
She teaches that without proper self-love, an undue burden is often placed on one or both spouses to make the other happy. "Thank GOD I didn't have kids," she says.
"Unlike a spouse, I wouldn't be able to divorce my kids."
She now describes herself as "blissfully childfree" and in a relationship with a 52-year-old who is also childfree. The couple lives in the South Beach area of Miami, Florida.
"We enjoy ourselves and live what we call a vacay-life while most people our age are stressing out over their kids' college exams and tuition," she says.
"My boyfriend and I are thinking about where we're going for happy hour and how I can create coaching programs I can teach from my chaise lounge on my terrace."