Magazine

The struggle to stay child-free

Woman looking at the results of a pregnancy test Image copyright Thinkstock

In most societies, getting married and having children is considered to be the norm - so what happens when people don't conform? A Magazine story about two women who don't want children prompted readers to get in touch and share their experiences.

"We can choose to get pregnant at 16 but not to decline motherhood at 29," said Holly Brockwell in our recent story. She hasn't been able to find a doctor willing to sterilise her. "It seems our decisions are only taken seriously when they align with tradition," she wrote.

"Having a child is a burden for educated women in Iran," wrote Nina, a Tehran businesswoman, in the same story. "It means you can't concentrate on your job, your freedom is limited and if your marriage doesn't work out, your chance of finding another husband is low."

Here are five of your emails.

Anonymous, Louisiana, US

I was 24 when I first tried to get my tubes tied. I immediately ran up against doctors who refused to do the operation on the grounds that I was too young and that I didn't have children, which missed the point - I wanted the operation because I didn't want children.

I've always been very careful with contraception but about 10 years later I got pregnant twice within a year and had two abortions. It was devastating. I was raised in a very conservative family in a country that sees abortion in such a bad light. It's one of the most difficult things I have ever been through - it's physically and emotionally devastating and I was so angry to find myself in that position. I had made the decision not to have children more than a decade earlier, but nobody would let me seal the deal. If someone had just let me go ahead and get the operation done at 24, I would never have had to think about it again, but instead I was struggling against biology all that time. No matter how careful you are, contraception can fail. Even having your tubes tied is not 100% but at that point you've done everything you possibly can.

Louisiana is a very conservative state and it's not easy to find a doctor who will perform an abortion. I was incredibly lucky to find a woman who would do it and there was no judgement from her. When I had my second abortion, I knew I had to find a doctor who would perform the operation to sterilise me so I wouldn't find myself in that position again. I got it done a couple of years later. I've never, never regretted my decision. I have a life where I feel quite unencumbered and free. I can move around the country or use all my money to go on some crazy adventure and I couldn't if I had kids.

Image copyright Thinkstock

Monica, Texas

Growing up, I was the babysitter - every mother wanted to pawn off her child. "Hey, can you watch this baby for a minute and I'll be right back?" An hour later I'd still have her child with me so I saw it as a burden, like a little anchor that you need a break from. I wanted to travel and I wanted to be a journalist but I got sidetracked. You get married and you have kids. You're considered abnormal if you're just a couple. It's hard. There is that pressure to have children. My Mum was always saying, "You have to have kids," and I was like, "Why?" She said, "They take care of you." We had pressure from my husband's side too.

I have a total of four children. The oldest is 17 and the youngest is seven. I tried to get my tubes tied after the second, but I was too young and they wouldn't do it. I feel my life has been put on hold. I don't know if it's nice to say, but I kind of feel like I'm in a little jail and I'm doing time until they are 18. I guess that's bad to admit, being a parent, but that's really how I feel a lot of the time. I do love them, I love them dearly, I will do anything for them, and their happiness is all I want but I'm teaching them to be happy being independent and not needing me as much. I don't regret having them, I just regret the way my life didn't go. I was a stay-at-home mother and it is a hard job to do but I am back in school now and I'm getting my degree.

I'm honestly waiting for my freedom. I've already calculated how old I'll be when the youngest is 18. My plans are to travel once I can freely. I still want to backpack through Italy for at least six months. I still have those dreams.

Anonymous, Kent

My sister had two children and it never really appealed to me. I fell pregnant when I was 23. I wasn't planning to get pregnant, I was on the pill. I didn't tell my boyfriend for a long time because I wasn't sure whether I wanted to keep the child. One day we talked about it and he was over the moon, so what do you say? I hoped everything would fall into place.

But I developed a health syndrome that affects your kidneys and blood pressure and I had to give birth to my child at the end of the seventh month. It was either me or the child - there was never any question not to choose myself. I seemed to sail through this normal grieving period. It was quite a relief but I couldn't tell people. I don't think anyone would have understood my feelings. My boyfriend and I broke up about three years later and it was really sad because we could talk about this experience with other people but not with each other. He still goes to the cemetery where our child was buried. I never went back.

I don't want to have any children and I have been trying to get a full hysterectomy since then. I asked the doctors and they said: "You should be over 30." And I kept asking every five years or so. In the end they said: "It's an unnecessary operation." And always: "You may change your mind." I find it quite patronising. I don't think a man would be asked to explain himself if it was the other way around. The last time I spoke about it was three years ago when I had my coil changed, and I was fobbed off with: "You're not that far away from the menopause so it's not necessary any more."

Laura, Cornwall

I decided at age 10 that I didn't want to have children. When I married at 20, my husband did, and I was faced with either bowing to his desires, or divorcing. I chose the latter. We each thought we could change the other's mind, and couldn't. There were probably other issues too - we diverged in more areas than that. When we got together he already had the names of his two children all picked out. Those names were Rachel and Benjamin, and he does now have two children named Rachel and Benjamin - but they're not mine. So he got what he wanted and I got what I wanted by getting divorced. We're still friends.

When I was about 30 and it became clear to everyone that I probably was not going to be having a big family any time soon, my mother said to me: "I'm so glad you didn't have children." She knew it just wasn't me. I remarried about a year-and-a-half later but when the issue of children came up we said, "This is just not something we want to do." I don't think that happens very often because I honestly think men want children more than women do. We decided one of us would have to have their tubes tied - his were cheaper so that's what we did.

If I had become pregnant I would have raised the children and I would have loved them - I'm just very glad it didn't happen. We divorced after 16 years, and I spent 16 years single before marrying a third time to a man who had grown-up children. I did wonder if they would all eventually have children and expect me to be Grandma. They did, and I'm not. They're very cute, those little girls, but I simply refuse to be Grandma in precisely the way I chose not to be Mummy.

Gill, Midlands

When I got married at 24, I knew that I didn't want children. My husband once said that if he ever had to choose between mother and child, he would save the child. And I thought, "No way! My life is more important." I never really felt that maternal actually. He may have thought that we might have children but when I made it clear that I didn't want them, he didn't try to persuade me otherwise.

For me there has always been an issue of economic independence because my father left us when I was young. We had a nice house but afterwards we were really quite poor. We moved to a smaller house and my mother had to take a factory job. I vowed therefore that I would never be economically dependent on a man and I never have been. When I grew up, there was no way I could combine study or work with having a child - it seemed a wholly impractical thing to do. It was either a career or family - that was the position for me 35 or 40 years ago. Physically I didn't want to be pregnant either. It changes your body and I wasn't prepared to have that happen.

I have no regrets. Someone said to me once, "In your old age you'll want children to look after you." And I thought, "Why should I place that responsibility on children? It's not fair." I'm now in my 60s and I'm just about to get married again - but of course there will be no expectations of having children!


Troll vitriol

Image copyright Holly Brockwell

When Holly Brockwell spoke to the BBC about her decision not to have children, she knew she might be criticised on social media. But the attacks went far beyond what she had expected - accusations of selfishness soon turned into vitriolic abuse that made her deactivate her Twitter account.

The trouble with saying you don't want children

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