The Childless Revolution: What it Means to be Childless Today by Madelyn Cain; published 2001 by Perseus Publishing
One thing I’ve always been sure of is that I want to have kids. Yes, the timing of it keeps getting pushed farther and farther back, and there are many aspects of pregnancy that scare me. I fear losing control over my body. I fear complications. I fear my children limiting my career, and I fear my career limiting my relationship with my children. But nevertheless, I’ve always wanted to have kids—and not just have them, but bear them.
It wasn’t until I saw this book that I considered what it would be like to not bear children someday. The Childless Revolution was written when Madelyn Cain realized that being childless is a complicated, deeply personal matter, but one that comes with a heavy social stigma—and nobody likes to talk about it. Laws are favourable toward families. Churches are all about the family. Being family-friendly is a positive attribute for films and literature. It’s not that people without kids are intentionally disadvantaged…they’re just kind of ignored.
So Cain decided to interview over 100 childless women, and this book is a summary of what she found. It is mostly presented in the retelling of these women’s stories, divided into sections by the reason for their childlessness. Cain defines three ways that women generally become childless: by choice, chance, or happenstance.
Childlessness by choice is the result of a woman choosing, for one reason or another, to not have kids. And these reasons include (but are not limited to): personal preference, religious conviction, and environmental conviction. A lot of women admit to simply not liking children, or not wanting them for reasons like what I mentioned above. Many like to say that women have a natural maternal instinct, but for many of these women, they feel awkward around children or they are simply ambivalent toward them. They’re not deficient as women; they just have a different personal preference. Other women, like nuns for example, choose to remain celibate and childfree so that they can dedicate their lives to a greater service. And others believe that there are too many people in the world already; they fear the depletion of the earth’s resources and the unfair imbalance of poverty.
Childlessness by choice is something that I have a hard time relating to; I’ve always wanted children. But what I can relate to is the frustration with not having your decisions honored and respected. The women whom Cain interviewed and who do not want children told of the difficult time they had convincing others that they were serious. They were patronizingly told that they would change their minds later. One woman who wanted to be sterilized was repeatedly rejected by doctors who told her she was too young; “I am too young to know what I want, if what I want is not to be a mother. It would be different if I wanted to be a mother. I would not be too young then,” she said. How incredibly insulting.
Childlessness by chance can happen with women who are infertile or are diagnosed with a medical condition that makes bearing children difficult or impossible. It can also happen with women who marry a man who already has kids or who does not want to have kids. It is heartbreaking to read about the infertility and medical issues that cause childlessness, and shocking to hear about the great financial costs of infertility treatments. Those women often get told to “just adopt,” as if adoption was such an easy process, or could make up for years of pain. My husband and I want to adopt, but it’s not an easy choice. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not an answer to the complicated issue of unwanted childlessness.
Happenstance is another source of childlessness. In this case, childlessness just happens for any number of reasons: a woman doesn’t meet the man she wants to have kids with until she’s older and the chance or desire of having kids has decreased, a couple decides to keep putting their careers first and finds that they are fulfilled, or a person just finds him or herself fulfilled by the relationships they already have. Parenthood is not at all a need—for anyone.
The information presented in this book is certainly interesting; the writing, however, was lacking. The presentation of the stories was disjointed and the transitions were awkward. The book was also written in 2001, which makes the “research” somewhat outdated. But the good part was definitely the content. I was challenged further in my perception of childlessness. I had already resolved to never ask a couple if they have children, but while before reading this book I refrained from asking because of the chance it could bring up a painful issue, now I refrain from asking because the question itself assumes a desire to have children which may or may not even be there.
If you’re interested in this subject, I do recommend giving this book a quick read. It won’t take long, and you might find your understanding of childlessness challenged and broadened.