I’ve known Mel for 15 years, and in all that time we have never once discussed circumstances around our childfree lives. It’s never come up! We recently reunited with our rag-tag group of friends from what feels like another life – all women, all childfree – and it struck me that I didn’t know any of their stories.
We were all busy painting the town red long before any of us were concerned with starting families. So what happened?
Mel is Childfree by Choice, and her perspective delighted me. Sometimes the grief of infertility can overshadow the joy of freedom. My chat with Mel was a good reminder that life can be so many different things.
Hi Mel, welcome! So, what was happening in your life when you made the decision not to have children?
Making the decision not to have kids was a long road, that started early for me. I’m adopted so I felt an added – I don’t want to say pressure, because my parents never pressured me – but I felt a certain sense of guilt to give my parents grandchildren.
They’ve always been very kid-centric. My mom loves kids, and I know she always wanted grandchildren. When I was younger, in my late teens/ early 20’s I did that thing that I’m sure a lot of us do, where you fake it a little bit and pretend you totally want the white picket fence, and the beautiful kids, and the perfect marriage.
But I always knew that was not actually the case, and not something I wanted. It just never clicked.
As I got older, I began to deal with depression and anxiety. I was just barely able to take care of myself, and I knew that I was not in a place to have a small human relying on me for survival.
Eventually I learned the coping mechanisms to manage that part of my life. I’m in a really great place now at 36, but that transition didn’t magically make me want to have children.
I never had an “ah-ha” moment. I didn’t wake up one day realize that I don’t want kids. It was just something that I always sort of knew. As I grew into an adult, I was able to truly express that.
What has been your experience in sharing your decision with the people in your life?
It’s not something I go around broadcasting necessarily. It’s not a real conversation starter!
For the most part, I was worried about telling my mom, because I knew how badly she wanted grandchildren. It was really hard. She tried to be supportive, but there was a tinge of disappointment there.
I’m an only child, and the only one of my cousins that doesn’t have kids. For a lot of years she thought I would change my mind, but I had to be firm so as not to get her hopes up. I had to be clear that I didn’t see it for myself, even 10 years from now.
She eventually came around, and understands that it’s not the headspace I’m in.
With my core group of friends it was pretty easy. A lot of them don’t have kids, and don’t want kids. People weren’t shocked.
Many of my college friends are parents now, and that was a big transition. Sometimes it feels like I don’t have much to contribute to the conversation. There’s only so much I can ask about how their kids are doing in school, or how the daycare hunt is going, or is the kid sleeping at night, things like that. But I know enough to keep the conversation going.
I can’t always tell them about my latest work story, or the vacation I took last year, or how I spend all of my free time. We don’t exactly connect on the day-to-day.
Do you think that sense of camaraderie with your other childfree friends speaks to the fact that we live in a big city?
Yes, 100%. It helps to be some place that is a little more liberal, and forward thinking. Here people in general have a better understanding that there are all different types of families. There are different lifestyles, and it’s not weird.
In traditional suburbia, or middle America, that’s not always the case. There’s the expectation of man and woman/ mom and dad/ white picket fence. And we just don’t have that same expectation here.
Do you feel that your decision not to have children has impacted your relationship with your body?
You know, I don’t. Because I never felt that I was really built for motherhood, it’s not like I had a deep connection [to getting pregnant]. Last year I had an emergency fibroid surgery. I was essentially hemorrhaging, so I had to have an emergency hysterectomy. And to be honest, it was the easiest decision I’ve ever made.
The surgeon was really cautious about presenting all of my options and wanted to make sure I was totally aware of all the consequences regarding fertility.
It became almost cyclical. I kept having to reiterate that I wasn’t interested in the options for pregnancy, and I wanted to move forward with the procedure.
I was saying, “I get it. I don’t care about these options, I just want a solution!” The consequence was either literally bleeding to death, or not being able to have the kids I didn’t want to have anyway. It was a no-brainer.
That was a rough couple of months, but once it was over, I was ready to move onward and upward. Things have been so much better ever since.
What has been the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of the decision not to have kids?
The freedom has been the biggest reward. Being fully independent has always been really important to me. I’ve been in control of my life, especially more recently as my career has really taken off. I have more discretionary cash to do the things I want to do. I have responsibilities, but not the same as my friends who have to get home by a certain time, or have to pay a babysitter.
As for challenges, there really haven’t been that many. It was a decision that I was so secure in, and it wasn’t an on/off thing for me. It’s been pretty great, to be honest. Especially when I talk to my friends that do have kids, and I hear about the things that they have to deal with. The stress and the exhaustion sound awful.
Through talking to so many women who are forging this path, I have found that most of us are inherently creative beings, despite not having children. And sometimes because we don’t! What do to nurture your creative side?
My creativity comes in spurts. I have a very technical and analytical career, that I love. But I also love to draw. I love to write. I go through periods where I find myself truly inspired to do those things, and that’s what I’ll do with some of my free time. But I love diving into the technical aspect of my career, so I’m always trying to find that balance.
Do you feel that the pull some women have toward motherhood is similar to your passion for your career?
Absolutely. I’ve always been so career focused, and that’s really what I wanted for my life. The reason I’ve been able to get where I am in my career is because I have the opportunity to really put all of my energy there – possibly to the detriment of other things. I often don’t give myself the opportunity to fully disconnect as much as I’d like to.
We all need to recharge from time to time. Whether you’re a parent or you’re single, you can still get burned out.
And I understand that it goes both ways. There’s also the stigma that you’re missing something in your life if you don’t have a career. Which I don’t think is true either. I think some people were born to be parents, and some were not. Some of my friends truly blossomed when they became parents. We should celebrate whatever it is that gets you to that point.
If you could change one thing about how choosing not to have children is viewed, what would you wish to change?
I want to make it clear that if you don’t have kids, your life isn’t over, and you’re not some weird spinster. It’s not as bad as our parents’ generation, but there’s still a stigma. There’s still the “are you going to freeze your eggs just in case?” question.
I’m 36 and I’ve felt this way for my entire life. I don’t see myself doing a full 180 at any point.. It would be nice if people could respect that, rather than questioning my life choices.
I think if that signal went away, there may be less of a divide between people who have kids, and people who don’t. It would make it easier to connect, and we all wouldn’t have to fake our way through conversations.
We could all do a better job of embracing the fact that everyone has different life experiences.
How do you think that starts?
I think we need to change the conversations that compare us to one another. We all have different interests, different goals for ourselves. So we really only need to judge our lives by our own standards.
Do you think about your #childfree life a lot?
I don’t really. I don’t wrestle with the decision. I think about how grateful I am for the freedom I have. It’s just not a negative thing.
What inspires you?
Other really strong women. Whether it’s my friends and immediate support system, or other female icons. We’re in such an inspirational time, despite also being in such a terrible time. Especially in LA, people are so supportive of female empowerment, and I love being a part of that.
Also, just getting to do what I love to do is a huge inspiration. Getting my most recent job was a huge milestone for me. It’s my dream job, and I really love it.