Stop Asking Women Why They Don’t Have Kids

What is so horrifying about the ‘childless female’, asks columnist Lucy Vine

childless woman autumn walking

by Lucy Vine |
Published on

Last week, I turned 32. Which is fine. I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s leave this conversation now OK? Just shut up about it!

I am officially in the awkward-comments-about-time-running-out-to-have-a-baby period of my life. And it is becoming increasingly boring hearing that fact from every corner. As women, we are constantly given the once over by society – and usually found wanting – and this is no more apparent than when it comes to babies.

This week, a book extract revealed Nicola Sturgeon had a miscarriage at the age of 40. The way it was presented in headlines drew widespread condemnation; billed as Sturgeon’s ‘tantalising secret’, and accompanied by a box of other ‘childless politicians’ featuring an all-female line-up of Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Angela Eagle, Ruth Davidson and other women who need to have their wombs immediately set on fire for daring to challenge their true nature.

It is so WEIRD how often we feel the need to point out women without children and ask them to explain themselves. We patronise them, disregard their voice, and treat them like aberrant, broken machines. Being a non-parent in a society that fetishises having children means being met with constant questions and suspicion. We’re told that our only job as a woman is to have kids – that is the most important role we will ever play – that nothing else will matter once we’ve done it. And that we won’t know true, real love until we’ve had a baby. Wanting to have a child is seen as the default setting for women, and when we’re faced with someone who doesn’t want to follow the rules, we seem to find it totally bewildering.

Personally, I say fairly often (mostly to upset my mum) that I don’t want children. But the truth is that I don’t completely know if I do. I very much like my nieces, but do I want to wipe their bottoms? No I do not. I love my family and friends, but do I want to spend every minute of every day with them and have them aggressively wake me up at 5am every day and demand to be fed? No I do not. I don’t want the constant guilt, the constant need, and the constant poorness that a child would bring. So right now, I’m coming down on the side of not doing it. And I am regularly astonished at how casually strangers and loved ones alike totally dismiss that decision – informing me that I will definitely change my mind.

And maybe I will. I’m only human after all, and prone to changing my mind, so I imagine if everyone suddenly stopped telling me to have kids, I’d probably immediately make it a priority (I’m such a treat). And that is my right. But it should also be my right not to be constantly questioned about it and patronisingly told I don’t know what I’m saying.

It’s also a pretty dreadful subject to challenge women so openly about, given the many behind-the-scenes possibilities; the struggles with fertility that people face; the IVF and the miscarriages they might’ve suffered from. Would you, Stranger With Boundary Issues, like to hear about all of that?

And even if it is as simple and apparently horrifying as a woman just preferring her sleep to babies (BURN HER LEST HER ABERRANCE BE CONTAGIOUS), what is so terrible about that? You hear the selfish line wheeled out so much, but guys, what is this angry disapproval for living a life that’s just for you? Men are allowed to do it? For some reason, women are expected to aspire to selflessness, to always be the caretaker, and it is simply not palatable to hear that we want to make our own life a priority.

But we’re all going to have to get used to it, because increasingly, women are making that choice. 20 per cent of women aged 45 currently have no children, and that figure will soon be 25 per cent. By 2030, more than a million people aged 65-74 won’t have children – which means the reality we’re facing is ‘Generation Childless’. Society is changing, and attitudes need to stop lagging behind. And ultimately, we all need to remind ourselves, whether childless by choice, circumstance or endless indecision, it’s really nobody’s business.

SEE MORE: Why did Nicola Sturgeon's miscarriage story become about 'childless politicians'?

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