There’s no shame not playing the baby game

Fran Winston is childfree and happy - so why do others insist on trying to convince her otherwise?

Almost from the moment women are born the world is obsessed with their reproductive organs.

Whether it’s trying to sell us some new period product, the latest developments in contraception, reminding us to have smear tests or telling us horror stories about menopause, women’s wombs and fertility garner far more interest than the male equivalent.

There is an assumption that women having children is a foregone conclusion and therefore we must be constantly bombarded with reminders that we have the necessary accoutrements to bear offspring. Perhaps this constant exposure to female fertility in some form or another is why people seem so shocked that you don’t intend to bring children into the world. Not now. Not ever.

I simply have never felt the desire to reproduce. However, the world seems to take huge umbrage at this decision. As if they get a say in it. I have often felt that if they could make me do a walk of shame a la Cersei in Game of Thrones they would.

“How can you be sure you don’t want children?” they ask.

“You simply haven’t met the right person,” they state, as if it’s a given that this is also something I aspire to (I don’t).

“But children are what life is all about,” they exclaim.

I’ve been called arrogant, shallow and crazy simply because I have no desire to have a mini me running me ragged for 18 years until they leave home (or probably around 35 years given the spiralling rents and house prices that are keeping people living with their parents longer than should be legally allowed!).

In one particularly unpleasant encounter a woman said I was ungrateful for the gifts I’d been given and that people like me don’t deserve to have working wombs when there are others who would make proper use of them! She also threw in some religious diatribe just for good measure.

I’ve been on long term contraception since I was legally allowed to be, and I have no intention of going off it anytime soon. A side effect of this is that I also haven’t had a period in decades which is incredibly liberating. My doctor has taken no issue with this and has never questioned my decision not to have children. He is one of the few.

I would love to say I had some very worthy reason for not wanting children. That I am worried about climate change and the effect it would have on a child. That I am conscious of the world’s overpopulation. That I don’t want to find myself tethered to someone for life after a relationship breakdown. And indeed, there probably are elements of all these things embedded somewhere in my decision. But the reality is that I have simply never felt the urge to reproduce. I have never felt my biological clock ticking. I have never felt my womb ache because it is desperate to carry a baby. I have never looked at mothers playing with their children and envied them. To be honest, I feel relief that I don’t have to spend my days at the beck and call of a child.

I’m not alone. Birth rates have been steadily dropping for quite some time. From January to March 2021 there were 146,574 live births in the UK and Wales. This is a decrease of 3.9 per cent for the same period in 2019 and 2020.

Falling fertility rates mean nearly every country could have shrinking populations by the end of the century. And 23 nations – including Spain and Japan – are expected to see their populations halve by 2100.

Of course, this leads to debate about the economy. Less babies mean less taxpayers. This then leads to people decrying me as selfish for not having children. As if my only life purpose is to keep the government money machine ticking over. Fuelling the economy is not a good enough reason for me to change my mind.

Personally, I think it is more selfish to have children than not. I’ve had to cover many people’s work on top of my own over the years (for no extra pay) when they went off to have their babies or when their children were ill. I’ve been forced to relinquish days off so someone could see their little darling run in the school sports day, and I have been dictated to as to when I can take holidays because those with children get priority. Even if I needed that time off for a particular occasion like a wedding. When I protest, the general excuse given is that I’ll understand when I have children. In my experience those with children always feel that their needs should be put first. And what is that if not selfish?

But this isn’t a piece about how thoughtless some parents can be to anyone outside of their family bubble. I merely mention this as an example of how childless women are treated and shamed in the workplace. Because this is considered acceptable and there are no repercussions, unlike if they singled out an employee because of race or gender.

I had thought that as I got older the incredulity and shaming over my decision to live a childfree life might have lessened. However, if anything, it has got worse. People now seem obsessed by my biological clock and keep pointing out that time is ticking on and I don’t have a big window to change my mind now. This is usually followed by a speech about how much I’ll regret it if I don’t have a child.

Quite frankly the only thing that makes me regret not having a child is other people’s reactions. I am sick of having to defend a decision that I made about my body and life to people who can’t handle anyone who doesn’t tick all their life goal boxes.

It is worth noting that it never crosses their mind that I may have struggled with fertility issues. Their focus is purely on convincing me to reproduce by shaming for choosing not to. While there is no medical reason why I can’t have a child, I can only imagine the distress that this probing must cause to those who do. But the zealots don’t seem to care – their only interest is in ensuring that we all do our bit to populate the world.

It is 2021. Women have autonomy and can make our own decisions. We no longer have to get married or be answerable to a husband. We can enjoy careers and relish in spending our own money. Yet it seems we are still expected to be a martyr to our womb.

It is time to stop probing us about our fertility choices and shaming us for them if you don’t agree. It is exhausting listening to people bleating on about it. Childlessness should not be looked upon as a travesty and used as a stick to beat us with. Please just accept that it is possible to be childfree and happy and leave it at that.

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