Moth­er­hood is widely held up as be­ing the defin­ing fea­ture of fem­i­nin­ity – so is there a stigma at­tached to mod­ern women who choose to skip this rite of pas­sage? Here, Ruth Tier­ney ex­plains her own decision to re­main child­less

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - BODY & SOUL -

them. Luck­ily my friends re­spect my choice, as I do theirs. And as Follini says, women like me make the best aunts as we are so in­volved in the lives of our neph­ews, nieces and friends’ kids. ‘These women are a gift to par­ents be­cause they have so much time and en­ergy to give.’

But not all friend­ships run so smoothly. ‘I’ve been with my hus­band three years, and we are happy in our decision to be child-free,’ says Rachel, a 32-year-old HR man­ager. ‘But friends seem to have dif­fi­culty be­liev­ing me. I take an in­ter­est in their chil­dren but cer­tain friends have stopped re­turn­ing that in­ter­est in my life. I’ve changed my so­cial life to fit in around other peo­ple’s lit­tle ones, which would be fine if only they were sup­port­ive of my choice too.’ Grace, a 41-year-old writer, has faced her share of hos­til­ity. ‘A for­mer col­league once said it was tragic that my hus­band and I didn’t want ba­bies, be­fore telling us we were ab­nor­mal. She seemed mor­tally of­fended by our choice.’

An­other irk­some as­sump­tion is that child­free women don’t want a baby be­cause they haven’t met the right man. A friend once said, ‘I never used to want kids ei­ther. Then I met my hus­band, and I wanted his ba­bies. I was too in love not to take our re­la­tion­ship that step fur­ther.’ I found this pa­tro­n­is­ing about my own mar­riage. One of the rea­sons my hus­band and I don’t want chil­dren is that we don’t want to share each other. A study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Per­son­al­ity and So­cial Psy­chol­ogy backs this up, with 90 per cent of cou­ples ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in mar­i­tal happi- ness in the year af­ter the birth of their first child. A friend once con­fessed that moth­er­hood had tested her mar­riage. ‘Your hus­band isn’t your main fo­cus any more — your child is. Your re­la­tion­ship has to be so strong to weather this.’

So why are vol­un­tar­ily child­less women so mis­un­der­stood? ‘It’s be­cause they chal­lenge an­other per­son’s world view,’ says so­ci­ol­o­gist Dr Cather­ine Hakim. ‘The spec­tre of a child­less woman can be dis­turb­ing and per­plex­ing for some par­ents be­cause it forces them to ques­tion the path they’ve taken.’

Cop­ing with the ques­tion­ing isn’t easy, but Follini has sug­gested a stock re­sponse to me. ‘Much as I love kids, I don’t want any my­self. And I’m happy with my decision.’ There’s no ar­gu­ing with that.

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