There have always been women for whom having children isn’t a priority or desire. However, there has been a generational shift recently. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of the women Grazia spoke to for our Life After Lockdown survey in May said they have delayed their plans to have children or been put off entirely by Covid-19. And, according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of child-free women is on the rise.
In 2019, 48% of women in England and Wales had no children by their 30th birthday, in stark contrast to the previous generation (eight out of 10 of them had at least one baby by that age). There are many reasons behind the statistics: fertility issues, delaying pregnancy for career reasons, financial implications, environmental concerns and a growing number of women who simply feel that having children isn’t for them. I am one of these women: child-free by choice, which feels like an important distinction to make.
I’m 31 and getting married next year. Both of us feel exactly the same about not having children. I don’t feel I have to give a reason when people ask why, it’s just right for me, as many people feel that having children is right for them in order to live their truest, happiest life.
I’ve known from a young age that I don’t see myself having children, at least not as a biological mother. And yet, even in 2020, I have felt pushback from society and acquaintances about this. Comments describing child-free women as ‘selfish’; telling me I’ll ‘have regrets’ and ‘never experience true love’. I’ve even been told, ‘You’ll be miserable when you’re old and grey.’
Such comments left me disappointed that the path of a child-free woman still isn’t valid to some. It prompted me to write my first novel, Olive, with a child-free-by- choice protagonist at its centre. I interviewed many women as part of my research and, although on the whole these women were unapologetic, joyful and fulfilled by their choices, they still felt unseen, and regularly judged and pitied by others.
‘I get a lot of, “Who’s going to take care of you when you’re older?”,’ says Louise, 32. ‘My answer is, “I’ll have money so I can pay someone.”’ Joli, 35, adds, ‘People have actually asked me if I’m sad because I won’t be leaving behind a legacy.’
We need more child-free role models: on screen; in the media; in books. There are lots of conversations around what it means to be a good parent but, on my 30th birthday, I found myself asking: where are the child-free women I can look to for inspiration? Who, like me, feel like they are ‘having it all’ without kids? I know they are out there.
During lockdown there have been parents enjoying extra time with their kids, people finding it wildly challenging but rewarding and many dealing with miscarriage or having fertility appointments put on hold. These stories are heartbreaking, important and brave. If there’s one thing lockdown has given us, it’s the space to confirm a lot of the things we want or don’t want. No path is better or worse – it’s just ours.
‘Olive’, published by HarperCollins in hardback, ebook and audio (read by Sian Clifford) is out 23 July