For years, society has accepted the fact that women will marry, have children, and raise up their families. For many thousands of years, this was the only path in life that women were allowed to follow. Even in our “modern” times, women who flout this convention and choose not to marry, not to have children, are labeled as feminists, lesbians, and ball-busters. Is it so unacceptable for a woman to go it alone…for life?
It seems to me that every girl I run into that I went to High School with is now: a) married, b) has at least one child, or c) all of the above. These are young girls we’re talking about here, at least they still seem young to me. And every one I run into with a shining, happy face and shining, gold-coloured ring absolutely makes me want to cringe. Married…before thirty?! But why?
I think about what I would actually do if I were married and had children, and I mean right now. Not how I would behave five, ten years from now, but what I would do if I left work this afternoon and had two or three children (including a husband) to attend to. It is one of the scariest thoughts I have ever imagined. I know that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. It isn’t something that I think I can’t do or think I might get stressed out over, I mean this is something that I know for a fact I absolutely could not handle. I would end up being one of those people who goes to the store for a pack of cigarettes and just never comes back – I really think I might do that. I would be one of those horror stories you hear about, and then twenty years from now my offspring would be sitting somewhere crying about how Mommy left to go to the store and never, ever was heard from again. Why, I wonder, would I want to put myself and everyone else through something like that?
To be perfectly blunt, I’m not sure I ever want to be married. I know that I don’t ever, ever want to have children. Yet it seems like at least once a month I run into a girl that I know is my age, and she’s married, or engaged, or expecting, or celebrating her child’s birthday – something. The women I know all want to marry and have children. The thought of such a life is actually repulsive to me. Does it make me a freak that I don’t want to marry and have children?
Is there…something wrong with me?
When all the world seems ready to settle down and start a family and you aren’t, it can seem that way. The looks I’ve gotten from people when I say “I don’t want kids” would make you think I just said “I’m a terrorist.” There is even more pressure for married women to start having children, as if you are not allowed to marry without the intention of procreating. It seems a lonely road to walk to not have children when everyone from your parents to your friends to the whole blasted society is hounding you to do just the opposite. But how much of a minority are we, really?
A Boston news program made the statement that doctors say that women, no matter their age, who do give birth have less chance of getting breast cancer in their lives than women who remain childless. This is exactly the sort of terrifying statistic that will have women running to fertility clinics all around the globe. According to WebMD, one in eight women will get breast cancer regardless – that is a 13% chance that a woman will have breast cancer at some point in
her life. High risk factors named by WebMD include genetics, high alcohol intake, the presence of other cancers in the family, being overweight, and starting menstruation at an early age (12 years old or before). Women at a lower risk for the cancer include those who have given birth before the age of 18, and those who have had their ovaries removed before the age of 37. Non-related factors include abortion, multiple pregnancies, coffee and caffeine-drinking, and breast implants. Try as I might, I could not find any evidence to support the claim that women who never, ever give birth are somehow at a higher risk for the cancer than those who do.
The “childbearing age” according to the US Census Bureau is 15-44, but in 2000 less than half a percent (0.4) of women aged 15-19 were married, or had ever been. In fact, in the year 2000, the Census reported that 5.2 million and change of the population were couples living together as unmarried partners. Of 105.4 million households, only 68.1% are considered “family” homes – meaning any dwelling that is not comprised of a single person living alone or a home shared between unrelated (and unmarried) persons. The percentage of males living alone? It’s 11.2, and for women the number was actually higher at 14.6% – and how’s that for independence? Of those 105.4 million households in 2000, 25.8% were one-person households, and 32.6% were two-person households. The average household size? In 2000 it was 2.59, and the average family size was 3.14. Families in 2000 numbered up to 71.7 million only, 48.2% that had their own children under the age of 18 living with them, and that’s less than half. Married couple families numbered even lower, at 54.4 million and only 45.6% of these had their own children under the age of 18. Female households with no husband present came in at 12.9 million, and a whopping 58.6% of these had children under the age of 18 within the home.
The National Center of Health Statistics states that childless women are on the rise, comparing rates of 2.4% in 1982 to an increase of 4.3% in 1990. In 1995, the percentage went up to 6.6 – that’s 4.1 million women of child-bearing age who do not have children. According to the Census, 26.7 million women of the right age group were childless in 2002. It is, by all accounts, a trend that is very much on the rise.
Doing research for this article, I discovered several websites that are dedicated to single women and married women alike who choose not to have children. Now we have tangible proof that we are not as freakish as our parents want us to think! One very popular site is www.childfree.net, where I found some of the most interesting stats of all. More and more these days, the news is filled with older celebrities who are having children (Demi Moore and Julia Roberts are two examples), but there is a bevy of well-known celebrities who have never have children and obviously don’t intend to. George Clooney, Stockard Channing, Linda Evans, Jay Leno, Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton, Steve Martin, the late Katherine Hepburn, and Oprah are all on the list of child-free celebs. And surprisingly, one famous person who can claim no heirs is none other than Dr. Suess himself – who has had a hand in raising every child in America through his storytelling for the past several decades.
Not only is there nothing wrong with me, but there are more than two million other women out there like me. So even if every single girl from my graduating class decides to wed and produce as many babies as possible, it doesn’t mean I have to join them – and neither do you. It is hard enough just to be a woman, and believe me when I say that not having children does not make you less of one…no matter how anyone else tries to make you feel.
About the Author
K. C. Morgan is a novelist and freelance writer living in Louisville, KY.