“I didn’t want to inflict the emotional torture of depression on another human being.”

Judy, 70, USA

Somewhere in the back of my head, I think I always knew I didn’t want to have children. By the time I was in my early teens, I was certain of it. While many of my high school friends were talking about getting married and having kids, I felt no urge whatsoever to become a mother.

In the late 60s and early 70s in the U.S., I could see that the girls and women I knew who had children, whether accidentally or, more rarely, by conscious design, were the ones who got stuck with the major (if not sole) responsibility of raising those kids if their relationships with the fathers went south. Since I could barely support myself before I was in my mid-30s, I knew there was no way I could take on the extra financial burden of a child. Besides, who would care for the kid(s) while I was at work?

Then I read a book called The Population Bomb by Stanford University Professor Paul Ehrlich and his wife, Ann Ehrlich. In the book, the Ehrlichs discussed the effects of overpopulation on the environment. Although some of the theories they presented at the time (1968) have since been disproven, the overall impact the book had on me cannot be overstated. I knew I didn’t want to add another human to the already overburdened world population.

There was also the issue of my history of depression, first officially diagnosed when I was 19, though, in retrospect, I know it had been a problem for me for several years before that. My mother had suffered from it, as had her father before her. Without question, I didn’t want to inflict the emotional torture of depression on another human being. And what if I became depressed after having a child? How would I care for the kid when I could barely manage on my own without frequent thoughts of ending the relentless misery of the Black Dog of depression?

Finally – or maybe this was the initial reason I didn’t want children – was because of my oldest sister. Joan was the first-born child in the family; I was the last. Thirteen years separated us, so just as I was reaching puberty, she and her husband were having their fourth and fifth children. Her husband was an abusive alcoholic who took out his anger on not only my sister, but on their kids as well, particularly the eldest. Although I was too young at the time to be fully aware of what was going on in my sister’s family, I knew at some level that she was very unhappy. One more item on a growing list of reasons I didn’t want that to be my fate, too.