ARIA Ungerer is in her mid-30s. She’s happy, successful, in a stable loving relationship, fulfilled in her life, and… avowedly childless. Or ‘child-free’ as she calls it.
Increasing numbers are joining her ranks. At a time when fertility treatments and adoption options are more plentiful than ever for those who want to have children, many people are choosing not to be parents.
Controversial research at the London School of Economics recently proposed a correlation between high female intelligence and childlessness. Satoshi Kanazawa analysed the UK’s National Child Development Study, which followed a group of people over 50 years, and found that childhood intelligence predicted childlessness in females.
Airlines are beginning to offer child-free sections on their planes for those keen to avoid noisy little ones, and Facebook now has a baby blocker app for people bored by the stream of baby photos and teething updates that can inundate their virtual mailbox, while the adults-only holiday market is also thriving. So, is choosing a child-free future becoming increasingly popular in an over-populated world?
“There is a strong assumption that as a woman you must naturally desire children,” says Ungerer, “and that there must be something wrong with you if you choose not to have any. That assumption is shifting but the social pressure to conform to certain markers such as marriage and childbirth is still enormous. I think it’s important to foster creativity — to birth something. Many people choose to channel their creativity into child rearing but I think there are lots of other ways to bring something new and exciting into the world.”
Sheena Dempsey, 31, writes and illustrates children’s books.
“Both my partner and I are very lukewarm on the idea of having children. I love children and I get so much enjoyment from being around my own nieces and nephews but I’ve never felt a biological urge to have any of my own.”
Laura Carroll, in her book The Baby Matrix, questions the very existence of that biological urge, arguing that it is largely a product of propaganda created by society to raise birthrates.
Carroll claims that “deep feelings of wanting to have a child have their roots in a learned desire from strong, long-standing social and cultural pronatal influences — not biological ones. We’ve been influenced so strongly for so long that it just feels ‘innate’”.
Shrugging off that cultural pressure can bring benefits.
“I love that I can get a full night’s sleep and that I am just responsible for myself. There is a freedom that comes from not having children though the risk is that you never get to experience the kind of unconditional love that I think only a parent can feel,” says Ungerer.
Doroteja Repic, 33, is from Slovenia but now lives in Cork. “In Ireland I don’t feel as much pressure to have children as my friends back home experience. They’re almost ostracised if they don’t have children, there’s real social pressure to live your life in neat little boxes — finish college, find a boyfriend, get married, have children and live happily ever after. People feel like there’s something wrong with them if they don’t do it that way.”
“There is enormous pressure on parents,” says Dempsey. “The moment you give birth I think you instantly become familiarised with two emotions: guilt and worry.
“Women are especially prone to having these insecurities preyed upon by advertisers who abuse their power to sell them things and, apart from ending up with more stuff than they need, I think it makes mothers feel bad about themselves, like they’re never getting it right. The digital era we live in means that stay-at-home mothers can easily be drawn into competitive message boards, which gives rise to more of these feelings of inadequacy and guilt. I think all of these things actually stunt progression towards gender equality. It keeps stay-at-home mothers in their place: pouring every ounce of time and energy into their children, wed to the impossible mission of raising the perfect child.”
“We live in such an individualistic society,” says Ungerer. “That must make parenting far more difficult both logistically and in terms of how much onus is on the individual parents to get it ‘right’. But if you go into anything feeling the pressure to measure up to some externally imposed ideal you will always find yourself lacking.”
Repic is open-minded about the future. “Motherhood is such a huge responsibility, and having the right partner is crucial. If I never have children it won’t be a tragedy. Forgoing parenthood grants other opportunities.”
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