If you're a woman who doesn't want to have kids, it's easy to find trend pieces analyzing your choice, or op-eds defending or condemning it. But it's a lot harder to find in-depth stories from real women who made the choice to not have kids. Though one in five American women doesn't have children by the age of 44 (an 80 percent jump from 1976, when only 10 percent of women hit their forties without kids), motherhood is still considered the default lifestyle for women, to the point that women writing about not having kids are often asked "why" they made the choice — but are rarely asked "how" their childfree life actually operates.
This makes sense from a cultural standpoint — after all, the choice to live a life without kids is only about as old as the Pill, and women who don't want children still have to fight through centuries of propaganda about how babies are every woman's only true desire. But this focus keeps a lot of younger women, who are just in the early stages of realizing they don't want kids, at a disadvantage. With few public role models, it can be easy to feel all alone or like you're a freak for not wanting kids — or, even worse, buy into the myth that this is a choice you'll inevitably regret down the road.
But luckily, there's more to women's writing about not having kids than most op-ed pages would have you believe. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids , a new anthology edited by Meghan Daum, is the most recent and high-profile addition to the developing canon of writing by childfree women on their lives — and recommended reading for anyone who wants fascinating, thrilling, and occasionally frustrating insight into the lives of the childfree.
But if you've already devoured (or at least ordered) Daum's book, check out five more below. They each address what it's like to be a woman without children from personal, practical, and historical angles — and prove that not wanting to be a mother doesn't make you an outsider.
Comedian Kirkman is best known for her stand-up work, and time writing and performing on Chelsea Lately; but she's also broken ground as one of our era's most outspoken voices on the subject of not having kids. In her bestselling memoir, Kirkman tells her own story, and puts to rest the myth that the only women who don't want kids are those who suffered through bad childhoods. She refuses to apologize for or justify her choices, and is nakedly honest about both the joy of not having kids and the pressure to conform that's often flung at childless women (but in a funny way, of course).
No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood edited by Henriette Mantel
In this anthology, more than a dozen child-free women — including Margaret Cho, actress Jennifer Coolidge, original SNL writer Merrill Markoe, and many other actors, writers, and comedians — discuss their lives, livelihoods, and occasional regrets. Though a few of the essays feel a bit thin, taken as a whole, the book spotlights not just the many different reasons that women skip motherhood, but also the many different ways that life without kids plays out.
Two Is Enough: A Couple's Guide To Living Childless By Choice by Laura S. Scott
Scott founded the Childfree By Choice Project, an in-depth survey of purposely childfree couples and individuals, in order to record and analyze their reasons for not having kids. This book is the end result of her research — with a focus on committed couples who have skirted the cultural script, and chosen not to have kids together. Scott positions her book as a corrective to the often-sensationalist literature about women who postponed children in order to pursue careers, and now have regrets; focusing on interviews with scholars and experts as well as childfree women themselves, Scott aims to help women articulate their reasons for not having kids, and plan for a future life that may look a bit different than their parents'.
Kid Me Not: An Anthology By Child-Free Women Of The '60s Now In Their '60s edited by Aralyn Hughes
Intentionally taking a pass on motherhood is new — but not that new. As this anthology shows, there were some Baby Boomer women who already knew that having kids wasn't for them back in the days when the Pill was brand-new, abortion was illegal, and not having a family was unheard of. The fifteen women whose first-person stories are included in this book aren't primarily professional writers — but that gives many of the stories a refreshing rawness, and also allows the book to include entries from all sorts of women, from a lobbyist for the ERA to the former director of one of the first abortion clinics in Texas. These women, now in their 60s and 70s, show that a happy and satisfied life is more than possible without kids (and that the things people say to women who don't want kids have barely changed since the Eisenhower administration).
Barren In The Promised Land: Childless Americans And The Pursuit of Happiness by Elaine Tyler May
Why do so many people think that what goes on in your womb is their business, anyway? In this book, May — an acclaimed writer and American Studies professor at the University of Minnesota — helps provide some cultural context about how the lives of women without kids have been viewed in America, from colonial times through the '90s. Though the book doesn't only deal with the lives of women who consciously chose not to have kids, it provides an illuminating picture of the ways that a woman's fertility has always been considered a topic fit for public discussion — and may give you a few historical bon mots to diffuse your discussion with your parents the next time they hassle you for not giving them any grandchildren ("you know who also thought that women without kids were weird, Mom? The people who started THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS!").
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