A comment on my column last week challenged my claim that I had once been "childfree". The reader wrote: "Get it right. You were Childless, not Childfree. Being childfree is a conscious, permanent choice not to have children for a multitude of reasons." Another reader responded: "YOU get it right. I was also childFREE until I made the conscious, permanent choice to have a child. What's it to you what terminology people use to describe their own situation?"
I guess that raises the idea that, once a childfree person has a child, she or he should then refer to their previous state as one of childlessness. I'm not buying this argument. For a long time, I made a deliberate decision to not have children which, in my book at least, made me childfree. Here are some of the reasons that fuelled this choice.
1. A fear of childbirth
I was terrified by the prospect of childbirth. I had one copy of an Australian magazine that contained lengthy first-person accounts of labour. Just a few minutes spent perusing this magazine, and reading all the intimate and appalling details ensured I remained childfree for at least another couple of years. The stories were just horrific. I've subsequently discovered that only gory births must make it to publication. My story - "Arrived at hospital, had epidural followed by C-section and experienced no pain whatsoever" - was as short as it was lacking in drama.
2. An aversion to creating life
Making my own people never really appealed to me. Creating life is the stuff of science fiction. It's also what one deity is said to have done when he created mankind in his own image. As for humans, surely you'd have to possess narcissistic tendencies to want to create a "mini me". It would take a supremely confident and self-satisfied person to muse: "One of me is fantastic. Many more would be amazing." That could be interpreted as arrogance.
3. An if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it mentality
I quite liked my old life. I liked the people in it. I liked my job. I liked my routines, adventures and activities. I did not have the sense that something was missing. I didn't think that having a baby was necessary in order to feel fulfilled and useful.
4. It's kind of quaint and traditional
People have been having children for ages now. Isn't it time we thought of a more original way of celebrating our love for each other - a fresh way of squandering our time, money and patience? It just doesn't feel very contemporary, very of the moment. In a world of instant gratification, waiting nine months for an outcome seems very old-fashioned. And signing up for guaranteed mess and mayhem is at odds with our convenience-driven society.
5. It's bad for the environment
I once read that one of the most environmentally unfriendly things you can do is have a child. Evidently, the carbon footprint of a baby is larger than its actual bootee size. Creating another mouth to feed and stretching the planet's resources is not a tree-hugger-approved activity - all of which sounds like bad news for the Green party since its most devoted members must be failing to replace themselves.
6. It's betraying the feminist cause
Having a baby is surely letting the feminists down. Biology dictates that it is women who must physically bear the children but, once the baby is born, theoretically either parent can assume the role of primary caregiver. Logic and fairness suggests, then, that in about half of families the father would shoulder this responsibility yet that is not the case. For some reason, at least 95 per cent of the time it's the woman who bears the brunt of the childcare drudgery. She spoons mushy food in one end and changes nappies at the other end, sometimes quitting her paid employment in the process. Until men start taking their fair share of family-driven career breaks the gender pay gap will remain.
So, then why? Why did I/we decide to have a child after spending ten years of married life footloose and childfree. It's a very good question but one that needs no answering. In this society we don't need to explain our decision to have children. But it seems you need some compelling reasons for not having them. There's a double standard at play here for sure.
As I wrote previously: "In 2003 I became a mother, effectively ending a 20-year campaign to remain childfree. Even now I'm struck by the fact that - provided, of course, you're not struggling with infertility - it requires more consistency and dedication to remain childfree ... than it does to actually become a parent. In a sense not having a child is more difficult to accomplish than having one. Go figure."
Debate on this article is now closed.