CHOOSING TO BE CHILDLESS

I saw a patient of mine yesterday named Shannon.  I have been her doctor ever since I started my practice more than 12 years ago and I look forward to our annual catch-up sessions.  When we met she was a nervous high-school senior, and I have watched her grow into a confident businesswoman.  She met the love of her life when she was 25 and married him last year.  This was her first appointment since the wedding, and I was excited to see how she was enjoying the honeymoon phase.

Shannon told me she had some news to tell me.  Immediately, I assumed she was pregnant.  But her news was something I wasn’t expecting.  She said that she and her husband had decided that they didn’t want to have children and she wanted to know if I would be willing to tie her tubes.  I was surprised to say the least, especially because I knew Shannon came from a very traditional family and already had five nieces and nephews who she raved about.

But Shannon said she has never felt the draw to motherhood about which so many of her friends talked.  She loves children, but feels so happy and fulfilled with her current life that she doesn’t want to change anything.  Ever.  She assured me that her husband feels the same way.  In fact, she said that is one of the reasons she married him.

According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey from 2010, 20 percent of women age 40 to 44 are childless.  This number has doubled since 1980 when only 10 percent had no children.  Of women with graduate degrees 27 percent are childless, while only 15 percent of those with high-school diplomas haven’t had children.  It appears that attitudes about childless couples are changing as well.  In 1998, a Pew Research Center Survey showed that 65 percent of people thought that children are important to the success of a marriage.  In 2007, that number had decreased to 41 percent.

For women like Shannon, the pressure to have children is high.  She explained that her family, especially her mother, was extremely disappointed and holds out hope that Shannon will change her mind.  Friends and even work colleagues assume a baby is the next step now that she’s married.  Shannon confessed that she has always felt this way and the hardest part has been admitting it to her family.  She feels guilty for letting her mom down, but knows she must be true to herself.

I encourage women who have chosen to be childless to let go of their guilt.  Not everyone is meant to be a mother and it certainly doesn’t make you any less of a woman.  Other women may not understand your decision.  They may call you selfish or think your life is unfulfilled.  But friends and family who know you best will trust your judgment and ultimately support your decision.

– Dr. Hill

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