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Why I’m not having children – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
Aug 112010
Here I am with my baby: my first published book.

I’ve debated whether or not to write this post for the last couple of years. I’ve hesitated to write this post because Kelli Goff is right: The most controversial thing for a woman (especially a married woman) to say is “I don’t want to have children.”

For some reason the idea that not all people, including plenty of women, have the desire to become parents, and more specifically, the idea that not all people who can have children, should, remain two of the most taboo things any person, particularly any woman, can say out loud. While endless media coverage has been devoted to the so-called “mommy wars” between working moms and stay at home moms and those who are pro-choice and those who are not, the real gulf, is one so controversial that the media hardly covers it at all: the gulf between those who do not wish to become parents and everyone else who thinks that by shear of virtue of being on this planet and not being a serial killer, you should.

I grew up in a secular world that assumed I would have kids because I’m a woman, and I grew up in a sacred world that assumed the same. In fact, the Evangelical/Fundamental tradition I grew up in told me my highest calling in life was to be a wife and mother. By my early 30s I wasn’t sure I wanted to be married or have children. I had spent a year in Barcelona in 1997, and I liked the freedom of being single. I loved the idea that I could pick up and leave tomorrow if that’s what Godde wanted me to do. I loved my freedom. I was not sure marriage and children were worth what it would cost me. I changed my mind about marriage (I am happily married to my best friend), but I did not change my mind about having children. We are not having children, not because we can’t, but because we don’t want to. I’m ready to go off the birth control pill and decided it was time to just fix what I consider to be a problem: the possibility (however slight) that I might get pregnant. Tuesday I am going in for a tubal ligation. I am relieved. Not only will I get off the pill, there will be no more pregnancy fears. If I was still in my former tradition I probably wouldn’t say anything about the surgery. Or if I did, the automatic response would be: “Well you can always adopt.” Not having kids–choosing not to have kids–is not a conscious option in my former circles.

Now I go to church with two other married woman who made the decision not to have children (and there is another couple who don’t have children–I don’t know if they chose that or it just happened that way). Both of them are on the other side of 50 and have no regrets that they did not have children. The church I attend is fine with our decision not to have children. They don’t treat us like errant children who aren’t getting in line to go to recess. I no longer hear, “Oh you’ll change your mind” in that voice denoting someone patting your head because you’re the silliest, little kid they ever saw. I know how lucky I am. Even in the most progressive and liberal Protestant churches the assumption is, if you’re a woman, you’ll have children.

I was reminded when Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court how taboo it was for a woman not to choose to have children. As Keri Goff points out in her article:

Why has every major profile of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the fact that they do not have children, as if it represents some boat they missed on the world tour known as life? Not to mention the veiled (and not so veiled) references about their sexuality that permeate cyberspace. As though no children = gay by default.

Could a political couple, who chose not to have children, even get elected in our country with its obsession over “family values” (whatever that is; hard to tell with all the family-values politicians committing adultery or some kind of fraud)? So with trepidation I confess that I do not want to have children, and that I am taking steps to make sure there are no future surprises. I know it’s the right thing for me and my family, and yes, my husband and I do make a family, children or no children. I grew tired of narrow definitions of family a decade ago when no one in society or church would recognize that I was part of a family, even if I wasn’t married. It didn’t seem to matter that I was a daughter, sister, aunt, and niece. What I wasn’t was all that mattered: I wasn’t a wife or mother. I still find this to be true now that I’m married. My husband and I aren’t a “real family” because we don’t want children. It’s not enough that we’re husband and wife.

I know there are those who will think I am selfish for not having children, and you’re right. I am selfish. I know how much time and energy it takes to raise kids. I know how large of an investment it is, and there is no return policy. I do not want to spend my time and energy raising kids. I want to spend my time and energy writing books. I am going to give birth and create new life: I’m just going to stick to giving birth in a metaphorical and spiritual sense.

I keep thinking that, of all places this should be OK is within the church. After all, Jesus redefined “family” in his teachings. For him family was not your biological kin but those who obeyed Godde: “But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'” (Matthew 12:48-50). It should be fine for a Christian woman not have to have kids to fully follow the calling Jesus placed on her life, but it isn’t. It’s assumed that all other callings will be subsumed under The Call to Motherhood. My only response is no. My highest calling is not to be a mother. My highest calling is to be a writer. I can’t even say that my calling to be a wife beats out my call to write. I’ve been a writer ever since I could write (a good 34 or 35 years now), and I was making up stores before I could write them down. I’ve only been a wife for four years. This idea that I should suppress who I really am–a writer–to be something I am not and have no desire to be–a mother–is just un-Christlike considering what Jesus thought of biological families and how he treated women, especially single women.

I am glad that I found a church that does not believe every woman’s highest calling is to be a mother. I’m glad I’m in a place that recognizes my gifts and talents and encourages me to use them to build Godde’s kingdom in our world. Because there are plenty of Godde’s children that need our love and care who are not part of any other family. I’m hoping that my writing reaches a few of these people and draws them closer to Godde.

Did you know there are only eight verses in the Bible that discourage women from speaking and holding leadership positions in the church? Did you know there are thousands of verses in the Bible that tell the stories of women who were leaders in their homes, towns, and religious circles? Meet the women in the Bible who were religious & civic leaders, business women, & women who challenged both Jesus and Moses in What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School. What else didn’t you learn in Sunday School? Find out when you buy What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down from Wipf and Stock Publishers or Amazon.com today.

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  50 Responses to “Why I’m not having children”

  1. I admire women who decide not to have children. It is not an occupation to be entered into lightly. Children are not accessories. And being a good mom is one of the most taxing, exhausting, and poorly paid careers out there. I feel there are parents that should have taken the decision more seriously. And they are more deserving of criticism than those who choose not to have any.
    Bravo for you!

    • Thank you for stopping by Andrea and your understanding. I was so scared my first comment would be a horrible flaming one. I’m so glad it’s yours!

      I’ll stop by your blog later today. SAHMs not only work: they never stop working!

  2. I’m so proud of you for speaking out in spite of your fear. I don’t understand why people are so judgmental about this issue. Frankly, having children seems to me to be one of the most selfish things one can do, when you look at the way things are going in the world — economically, environmentally, etc. Why would anyone want to bring a child into such a future? I worry all the time about what will become of my now-grown kids, who thankfully decided not to have kids of their own. Good for you.

    • I understand that argument, however children ARE our future. (Thank you Whitney) They have to be born (of parents who want children, of course) to do that.

      I am a glass-half-full type of person. I think the world overall is pretty awesome and that most people have a good heart; there just so happen to be some terrible things going on too.

  3. A very interesting read and I commend you on your guts for posting it. The “child” question is certainly one of the most controversial in my own life; made even more heartbreaking by the women in my family acting like it would be a personal affront if I didn’t have children.

    • That’s one nice thing about my family: they don’t anything. The know I don’t want kids and are fine with it. I hope your family comes around too.

  4. Bravery is being afraid but doing it anyway. It’s just a little sad that your position is treated as something requiring justification and explanation.

    Oh, wait, make that our position 😉 I’m child-free by choice (because I AM selfish of my time, my projects, my tiny, small things waiting to come into being) and, yes, feel that gulf quite a bit.

    And after 2 marriages (both begun in church, both ended rather disastrously) I’ve also decided that marriage isn’t necessarily for me, either. I have a great man in my life who gets that and understands that it’s more important to me that I wake up every day knowing that I am with him by choice, by love, and not the bounds of a legal contract.

    I’m glad you found a supportive community where you do not have to constantly explain yourself.

  5. Thank you for writing, and posting, this, Shawna. Much appreciated.

  6. What an excellent post! Thank you for sharing it. It’s awful that society (and church especially!) look down on married women who do not have children or assume they cannot. I also find it disturbing that people think child-free couples hate kids.

    My husband and I were child-free for five years. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted kids, but in the end we went off birth control and let nature take its course. It was the right decision of us, but it would be presumptuous for me to decide that it was the right choice for every woman!

    Curious though – why are you going in for a tubal litigation and not have your husband get a c-section? I know they can do tubals via laparoscopy now instead of slicing you open, but isn’t it still a less serious procedure for men?

    • I’m doing the tubal ligation because there’s a history on My Hubby’s side of things growing back together. I’m not taking any chances.

      • I see! I hope you recover easily from it! Will it be done with laparoscopy / minimally invasive surgery?

        • It’s minimally invasive/laparoscopy and an outpatient procedure. I’ll be home the same day then have 2 follow up appointments.

  7. Shawna,

    I absolutely am ok with people who decide not to have children. I don’t fully understand it, but when I see all of the bad parents out there I start to understand more and more. It is a big commitment and it will change your life forever.

    On the other hand, I have to disagree with LaVonne who mentioned above that it is “one of the most selfish things one can do”. I completely and utterly disagree with this statement for a multitude of reasons. Children are not “yours” that children are ultimately God’s and he DOES NOT make mistakes. He does want to bless us and to see us prosper. Raising children to love God is utterly unselfish and one of the greatest ways to show God how much you love Him and are thankful for the blessings he has entrusted you with.

    I’m off my soapbox now.

    Mrs. O

  8. Beautiful post. I find many people (parents included – I am one) who would be very supportive of your view. Whenever a woman makes a decision that doesn’t fit the mold of what a woman “should” be, there will always be noes out of joint. Ah well.

    Also, I would freely admit that my decision to have a child was quite “selfish”. After all, it was *me* who wanted a child. I question anyone who claims it is selfish to not have children.

  9. Good decision. You’ve clearly given this a lot of thought. I hope the surgery goes well and you recover quickly.

  10. Thank you for all the comments, and I appreciate each of you being so honest. I’ll be by later to visit your blogs, but now a headache is telling me to lay down for a bit.

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank YOU, Shawna!

    I admit there was a time I didn’t understand your position. But as the mother of an “only” who discovered after the trauma of childbirth and the challenges of being a working mother, that I didn’t want another. And oh…the judgment.

    So, I totally understand your position. And respect it. And admire you for taking the steps to make sure it doesn’t happen. And applaud you for the courage it took to write this for the world to see.

    As for a woman’s highest calling? It’s living HER damn truth.

    Thanks for being a shining example of that, Shawna.

    • I have friends who stopped at one for financial reasons and people always guilt trip them into trying to have more: but won’t the only one grow up lonely? In my niece’s case: no. The kid never met a stranger and has more friends than she know what to do with. Being an only child has not seemed to negatively affect her at all.

      Good for you for knowing your limits.

  12. This is such a beautiful post. It chonicles the fact that woman’s choices are beyond biological — and that a woman making her own choices for her life and her family are the best thing she can do for herself and the world at large. I absolutely loved this post. Maybe now I can conquer my own fears about posting on the subject!

    • They are really scary waters to wade into. If you do come in, let me know, I’ll be there publicly cheering you on!

  13. Hoo the freak Rah! I don’t remember ever wanting to be a mother – for similar reasons as you listed. And yes, I feel like I’m a freak sometimes. Luckily I live in a part of the country where motherhood isn’t as sacred as Apple Pie — at least among my wise, progressive friends. I’d always believed that I was called to create community and inspiration (and yes, write) and that there multitudinous ways to mother without having children of my own.

    Imagine my surprise when I fell madly in love with a man who had 3 children and he shares joint-custody with their mom. 🙂 Godde, the Universe has lessons and opportunities in all our travels…and I can say that this has been one of the biggest learning opportunities I’ve encountered. Yet, I’m very glad of my decision…for many many reasons.
    Hurrah my friend.

    • This is too funny: I think we were separated at birth. I always figured if I ever had children it would be through marriage. But then I married someone who hadn’t been married before and with no kids, so no.

  14. Beautifully said. I’m with Lisa – a woman’s highest calling is living her truth. Period. As it happens, I always wanted children and I’m lucky to have been blessed with two beautiful daughters. But being a mother is only one part of who I am. It doesn’t define me. Just as not wanting to have children shouldn’t define you. Thank you for being brave enough to share your truth.

  15. I am married and my husband and I have decided not to have children. I’m now 41 and have wrestled with the guilt not only about not having children but about not wanting to have children. For a long time, I so wanted to want to have them. I finally just came to peace with the fact it is not going to happen. I think that it is selfish to have children just because you think it’s what you are supposed to do. That is not fair to anyone, most importantly the child.
    Thanks for writing this.

  16. I’m glad I found your blog, I think I will enjoy reading it. 🙂
    While I was reading your article I was wondering why people would feel hostility toward women who choose not to have children, and when you mentioned spending your energy writing books, I felt a twinge of envy because, yes, I have sacrificed a lot of my wants and dreams to raise my children. I don’t regret it, but I do sometimes wonder how life might be different without children. So maybe the hostility is born of envy? “I have had to sacrifice so much, why should YOU get to do whatever you want?” Maybe some are hostile because they are not completely at peace with their decision to have children, or maybe they felt they had no choice. Good for you for following your own path and owning your decisions!

  17. Thanks Jen and Gen for stopping by and for being so honest. Thank you also for you support. Gen, I hope you like what you find on my blog. 🙂

  18. Gorgeous post! So beautifully and thoughtfully written. I commend you and admire you and hope that someday we’re all free to be just who we are without thought of what might be “expected” of us! We’re all on this journey together and it would be so lovely if we could stop imposing our ideas of what “should be” on other people and enjoy each others’ ideas and thoughts.

  19. “Oh you’ll change your mind” in that voice denoting someone patting your head because you’re the silliest, little kid they ever saw.”

    I heard this line from the time I was 16 until I was 30 – then people seemed to give up. And, frustratingly, no doctor would give me a tubal ligation until I was 35 because of that mythical biological clock. (I got a TL right before I turned 36 and it was one of the best decisions of my life.)

    This is the best, most balanced post (or anything written on the subject for that matter) I’ve ever seen. You’ve covered both the secular and non-secular aspects in a convincing and very-human way. Kudos on an excellent post!

    • My sister was miffed about having to wait until she was 35 too. She had one child and knew she didn’t want anymore, but the doctors just said come back when you’re 35. They lost money: she decided to go with Mirena when it came out and loves it. I didn’t have to worry about it until I married four years ago. I was celibate before marriage, so it just wasn’t a big deal. Fortunately I’m 40, so I’m “old enough” to make my own decisions (I know men with no children who had vasectomies in their 20s, so the same rule doesn’t apply to men).

      Thank you for your comments. I tried to be fair and balanced because I have many friends who love being mothers, and I also have friends with fertility problems. I didn’t want those friends to feel any worse by reading this. I’m glad I succeeded.

  20. […] you everyone for the wonderful comments you left on why I’m not having children. You are an incredible bunch of women, and I’m so happy you found your way here. Thank you […]

  21. Hi Shawna,
    I just checked in on your blog and saw this post. Thank you for sharing your experience about choosing not to have children. I never felt called to have children. My husband and I have been married for 18 years, and he is my family. I have friends who knew they wanted kids from very early on, and that drive baffled me, but I did recognize that it was their passion, their vision of life. My passion is mosaics. I feel I am called to be an artist. I hope your surgery goes well–I’ll be thinking of you.

  22. Your post is awesome. You are correct, your highest calling is to be a writer and with your writing God is pleased. Through your writing you empower women, of all ages and ethnicity, to be all that God has called them to be. Is that not what mothers are called to do. You are mothering with excellence. Love and peace Reshorna

    • Thank you Reshorna. It’s always nice to get reassurance that the choices I’ve made are Godly and exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. Thank you for letting me know you find me.

  23. I hate the phrase “start a family” used in place of “have a baby.” My wife and I have been married 3 years — we became a family the day we married. We have a dog and a cat that we love very much, and don’t feel the need to have tiny humans running around. There are things we want to do with our lives that would be made much more difficult if children were involved.

    We could theoretically change our minds — we originally wanted 2 or 3 kids — so we’re not taking permanent steps yet, but we just don’t feel that pull.

    That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes think having kids would be awesome. I occasionally catch myself daydreaming about scaring the crap out of some kid who wants to date my daughter, for example. However, I also daydream about riding dragons or piloting starships. I guarantee I would suck at both those things.

    • Same here on the daydreaming. I might occasionally daydream about kiddos, but I also daydream about being a powerful mage and an elf. 🙂 “Starting a family” has always been one of my pet peeves.

  24. I’m so glad to have found this page. It’s nice to hear that so many others feel how I have felt for so long. I’m 35 now, and my biological clock has been on snooze for as long as I can remember. However, I am married to my best friend, and now I’m seriously confused. I think I want kids now, maybe. It’s terribly confusing because I have never felt remotely interested in having kids ever, but now I sort of feel like I should. It’s funny because I almost feel like either decision I might regret down the road. In my mind I can fully see both possible futures liking and disliking them equally. Still deciding without much time left.

    • Melanie, it’s a hard decision. I’ll be praying for you. I do go to church with two women who married but never had children and don’t regret it. Don’t know if that helps. It’s such a personal decision. But I will be praying for you.

    • Hi Melanie,
      I’d like to point out that I believe you’ve answered your own question: You state that “now I sort of feel like I should (have children)”. When someone says they are doing something because they feel they “should” do it, I caution that person to think things through very carefully before they proceed. This is especially true when considering something irrevocable, such as having kids. Please give careful consideration to why you think you “should” have children. If it’s to please (or appease) family, friends, society, or if its for any other reason than that you truly WANT children, I hope you will reconsider. I, too, am praying that your decision is based on your true desires, whatever they might be. God bless you.

  25. I respect your decision, Shawna. Women should be free to choose whether or not they want to be a mother. I, too, consider myself a feminist. However, I have always wanted children. Thankfully I have been blessed with two.

  26. I think this is the first time that I’ve read a childfree post that wasn’t completely secular (and I have read a LOT of childfree posts). Almost every person who’s given me a hard time about not wanting to have children has mentioned religion in their arguments, so reading this was very enlightening to me. My husband and I have been a family of two for six years now, and I wouldn’t trade the life we have for anything.

    Hoping your recovery is quick and easy. Thanks for pointing me toward this post.

    • Also, Shawna and anyone else who isn’t a parent, you might find this helpful:


      Just let Schmutzie know that you’re child-free and she will add you to it. I’ve met many people through that list, and some days it’s just a nice break.

    • Kim, I find it odd in Christianity that there is no argument for being child-free since Jesus never had children and Paul wasn’t all that hot on marriage and children.

      We’ve been a family of 2 + The Cat for five years. I say we’re married with cat. 🙂

      My recovery went very well, and I’m very happy that I no longer have to worry about accidents. Thank you so much for dropping by!

  27. […] also wrote a post a few years ago on my reluctance to write about my choice not to have children. I admitted I was selfish, but not because I want to spend my free time brunching it […]

  28. I honestly cannot understand why anyone, especially a woman, would ever want to birth children. Other than the human population dying out I see no good reason to have children in the biological way. I am definitely the minority in this and find myself feigning happiness whenever my friends or someone i know gets pregnant but inside I feel a sinking feeling in my stomach. I don’t know why I feel this way and will definately be talking it over with my therapist. I’m glad we get a choice whether or not to have kids because choices are important. I just wish I could be at peace with choices that don’t line up with mine.

    • I thought for a long time I’d be a mother then realized in my 30s, no I won’t: that’s just what I was always told I wanted, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I’m part of group called The NotMoms for women who are childfree by choice and by chance. You can find us at thenotmom.com and we also have a Facebook page and Twitter account if you want to hang out with other women who feel the way you do.

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