I am not 100% sure when I was first aware that I had decided not to marry and to not have children. Was it a “Road to Damascus” moment? Or was it rather like osmosis?
Somehow, I reached a stage where I definitely knew I would not marry and would not have children. It was my choice, mine alone.
I do remember one landmark moment. When I was about 10 or 12 years old, there were some new flats being built in my hometown of Epsom. My best friend Lynda and I would walk past them daily, each day we would stop to stare at the progress being made. One day after a brief silent pause Lynda said, “One day when we are older and married, we will live next door to each other in these flats with our children.”
She was sure of her future, her status as a woman, a wife and a mother. I did not however share that same sense of being. I knew with perhaps not the same conviction I would not marry and would not have children.
Even the word “childfree” is a revelation as to the change in attitudes in the modern world. “Childless” means lacking something. Childfree suggest for me unchained, free, very much not lacking anything.
In the same way my choice to not have children was a slow transition to a state of awareness, so too was the realisation that I would be seen as pariah by traditional mothers.
Initially my age kept me protected from the antipathy felt towards me. The 1980s had opened new doors for young women in terms of career choices. But ultimately women were still expected at some point to put their careers on hold and have children.
I was always open about my decision to be childfree and I rather naively thought as it was my choice it didn’t affect anyone else in any shape or form. I was wrong, very wrong.
By the time I had reached my mid 30s the comments began to seep into conversations, especially at work.
“You will change your mind. There is still time.” Of course, what was really being said was. “You will soon come to your senses.”
It was odd to me that someone who was to all outward appearances a strong independent women would be perceived as not knowing my own mind.
As I got older, most of my peers were either working mums, stifled in a marriage they endured rather than enjoyed. Divorcees, juggling life as a single mum, or single mothers from the offset.
I had become like the white elephant in the room who unfortunately could not be brushed under the carpet. But to them I had nothing constructive to say and was almost superfluous to requirements.
Some of my colleagues were just downright offensive. When I first heard the words, “You are not even a proper woman. You have not had a child.” I was completely stunned. How anyone could be that nasty and be so self-righteous about their standing in society?
Inevitably when it was established that there was no biological reason why I didn’t have children, my sexuality became the topic of debate.
“You are a lesbian.” It was almost laughable if it were not so insulting. I couldn’t just be a strong independent childfree woman. There had to be something “wrong” with my sexuality.
Today people openly discuss their sexuality. Many young people tell me they are bisexual like they would say they are vegetarian. But this has not always been the case and for me in the 1990s I was just infuriated that once again something that had absolutely nothing to do with anyone was everyone’s business.
My sexuality being discussed in the context of lifestyle choices that I had made. Why did I have to justify and explain my existence?
Slowly though, more people have made the choice to be childfree. Inclusion at work is important to employees, they want people to be themselves if possible. There are forums to discuss ethnicity, sexuality, gender, religion and cultural background.
Things are definitely changing. Many people of my age group will remain with their feet and their minds rooted to past prejudices. But there are so many voices clambering for change and that is the important thing.
I chose for several reasons not to have a child and not to marry, none which I thought would be conceived as selfish or odd. However, I did not choose to be vilified, denigrated, treated as a second-class citizen or pushed in to the shadows of people’s consciousness.
Contrary to what some people hoped I have never regretted my decision. I do not envy the lives of mothers and wives. I accept they chose a different path to mine.