5 New York Women On Why They Don't Want Children

How would you describe a woman who has decided that she never wants children? Selfish? Just going through a phase? Bound to feel alone as she grows older? Our culture has a lot of labels for childless females. One word you don't often hear in reference to a woman and her personal choice not to procreate? Empowered. But, that's exactly what these five New Yorkers are.

Now more than ever, a woman's choice to maintain a happy, stable life without adding a family to the equation has been a hot topic of conversation. (The New York Post recently reported that the city's birthrate is the lowest its been since 1936.) Although we're living in one of the most socially progressive generations to date, that doesn't mean a woman's choice to live child-free is always an easy or accepted one.

To shed light on some real stories and debunk common misconceptions, we spoke to five New York women about their personal decision not to have children and what it means to them, below.
Photographed by David Cortes.
Name: Gabrielle Moss
Age: 32
Job: Associate lifestyle editor, Bustle

When did you first know you didn’t want to have children?
"I have never actively wanted kids. But, growing up in the suburbs, I legitimately did not know that people were allowed to not have kids. Everyone I knew was a parent, and I thought having kids was just a thing that everyone had to put up with, like paying taxes.

"In college, I remember picking out theoretical baby names with my then-boyfriend, and thinking to myself, These kids are not ever going to be born. That was the first time it really hit me that I might not have to become a mother."

What types of reactions did you receive from your family and friends when you told them about your choice?
"I'm 32 and partnered, so the condescending chatter about how I'll change my mind when I get older or meet the right guy has finally died down. Ironically, nowadays most of the push against my choice doesn't come from family or friends (very few of my friends have kids, I should note). It comes from strangers — people you meet at a party or are seated next to on an airplane — who start asking you invasive questions and then don't like your answers. Lots of these people ask me why I hate kids, or what I'll do to fill the hours if I don't have a child to raise: two questions I am definitely not losing sleep over."

Since you are in a relationship, is this something you and your partner decided on together?
"I've been with my boyfriend for five years, but I've known I didn't want kids for a long time before that. I presented it to him as a nonnegotiable when we got together, and while he didn't have strong opinions on kids then, he's now also sure that kids are not for him, either. I think it is a myth fed to women that not wanting kids makes you un-dateable or un-marriageable — I think most people who are emotionally on the same page (in the way that you need to be in order to have a successful relationship) also end up on the same page about children. The rare occasions when two people are in love but out of sync on the kids issue become big news stories — but I think those cases really are the exception, not the rule."

What is your relationship with your mother like has that played a role in your decision?
"Yes! My relationship with my mother is extremely terrible (we're estranged), and that is definitely a factor. My parents are divorced, and I was raised primarily by my mother, who has severe and untreated mental health issues that made her unstable and very scary to be around as a kid.

"My mother kept me clothed and fed, made sure I did well in school and all that, but the emotional work of parenting was very difficult for her, and it left me with just a lack of understanding about everything parent-related. I don't know what the mother-child bond is supposed to be like, or what unconditional support from a mother might feel like. I've never desired a child, but I also think that if I had one, I might not know what to do with it. Because I have seen first-hand that instinct does not necessarily make you a good parent.

"Funnily enough, my mother is the person who's pushed back hardest against my decision. When I was growing up, she'd always say that being a mother was the only good thing that had ever happened in her life, and I'd sit there and think, Well, that's a bummer, because you're not very good at it."

Would you consider financial pressure to be a factor as well? Or living in a city like New York?
"No way — I'd be childless even in Sweden, or another one of those cold countries that are supposed to be socialist utopias for parents."
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Photographed by David Cortes.
Do you think society has created a stigma around women who don’t want children? Would you say this notion is becoming more acceptable or common?
"I think society has definitely created a stigma — I mean, the choice to not have kids but still be a sexual woman is so new, I think society at large hasn't quite figured out how to handle it yet.

"For basically all of time until the '60s, being a woman culturally meant that you were either a mother, infertile, celibate, or gay. So, the idea of this new option — a heterosexual woman who purposely takes herself out of the motherhood game — is so new and such a shot in the face of tradition, I think a lot of people are still struggling to understand it, even as a concept.

"I feel like that's a motivating factor behind a lot of the nastiness aimed at child-free women — sheer confusion from people who are really attached to the traditional idea of 'mother' as a woman's primary identity, who believe that motherhood has an almost ritualistic power to transform a girl into a woman and give your life meaning."

What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?
"I've been vocal about not wanting kids for the better part of a decade, so I've basically heard it all. The most striking thing about the comments is how boring they all are. They're all the same old bullshit about how you'll die alone, or regret it on your deathbed, or you're selfish. No one has come up with any new ways to insult child-free women in the past 40 years. It's kind of sad, actually. If you want to insult me about my life choices, at least come up with something new."

What is one thing people get wrong about women who don't want children?
"I don't hate kids! Everyone thinks choosing not to procreate means that you loathe children. But, there's a big difference between raising a child for 18-plus years, and sitting around kids for a few hours at a birthday party. I can handle your kid's second birthday party, trust me!"

Why do you think more women than ever are opting out of having children?
"I think for a long time, women who didn't want to have kids, or wanted them for the wrong reasons, had them anyway. And, we're finally backing away from that model a bit as a society — childbearing is now not something compulsory, nor something you do because everyone has convinced you that it'll make your life complete, but something you do because you want to do it.

"My mother, for instance, never liked children, but had me because she thought becoming a mother would give her unconditional love and make her feel whole. She had a disappointing time with it, because motherhood doesn't automatically do any of those things. And, I think that kind of thinking is on its way out."

Are there any women with or without children you particularly admire?
"Gloria Steinem was the first grown woman without children that I ever heard about as a kid, and while I am obviously grateful to her for everything she's done, I'm most grateful to her for planting the seed that helped me realize that I could do the things I wanted to do with my life, instead of just doing what other people wanted me to do."

Do you think there is anything that would ever change your mind?
"Nope! My womb has basically always been the ice planet Hoth (hopefully with fewer tauntauns in it). I know no sure things about my future except that my own kids will not be a part of it."
Photographed by David Cortes.
Name: Alison Turkos
Age: 27
Job: Abortion counselor and co-chair, New York Abortion Access Fund

When did you first know you didn’t want to have children?
"I never had a 'click' moment regarding parenting like I did with feminism. From a very early age, I knew I never desired to parent."

What types of reactions did you receive from your family and friends when you told them about your choice?
"I have an incredibly supportive community of family and friends who honor and respect my decision not to be a parent. Because it's something I've never wanted to do, it wasn’t a surprise to them when I would mention it in conversation."

What is your relationship with your mother like — has that played a role in your decision?
"My mom and I have a very beautiful relationship. For as long as I can remember, we've always been open and honest with each other. I value my relationship with my mother deeply, but that relationship has in no way played a part in my decision whether or not to parent."

Would you consider financial pressure to be a factor as well? Or living in a city like New York?
"Children are most certainly expensive. But, even if I became a billionaire overnight, that wouldn't suddenly make me want to parent."
Photographed by David Cortes.
Since you're single, do you worry this decision could affect any future relationships you may have?
"No. It hasn't affected my past relationships. I have been, and always will be, honest with any potential partners about my decision to not parent."

Do you think society has created a stigma around women who don’t want children? Would you say this notion is becoming more acceptable or common?
"Yes, I believe there is a stigma around people who do not want children. It's similar to abortion stigma, in that when people take charge over their own reproductive freedoms, it can often make others uncomfortable. We are seeing more people openly share their stories and experiences in regards to pregnancy and parenting. I believe this helps to create a safer and supportive space for others to honestly discuss their thoughts, feelings, and decisions around parenting."

What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?
"Strangers or casual acquaintances will say, 'Oh, don't say that, you'll change your mind,' 'Never say never,' 'Just wait till you're older and married, then come talk to me,' 'But you love kids, you babysit all the time,' or, a personal favorite of mine, 'What legacy will you leave on this world if you don't have children?'"

Why do you think more women than ever are opting out of having children?
"I think we are seeing more individuals opting out of parenting for many reasons, like greater access to more effective contraception methods (for instance, I have an IUD). I also believe we are seeing more folks who feel that their primary role in the world is not to have children."

Are there any women — with or without children — you particularly admire?
"My life is filled with phenomenal women who I admire on a daily basis. Some are parents, some currently pregnant, some who will seek pregnancy in a few years, and some, like myself, who don't desire to be parents. I admire these women because they’re strong, bold, compassionate people. It's important to remember each individual is making this decision for different reasons, and regardless of those reasons, we need to respect and support them."
Photographed by David Cortes.
Name: Jasmine
Age: 23
Job: Advertising assistant

When did you first know you didn’t want to have children?
"I’ve always sort of joked about it. A lot of other women my age agree that there is no way we would take care of another being at this stage in our lives; I’m still learning how to take care of myself! About a year ago, though, is when I first thought about my decision more seriously and decided that if I never had children, it would not take away from full fulfillment in my life. I say that because I’ve often heard other women say they feel as though they’d be 'missing out' on something if they never went through the experience of having kids. I know I don’t feel that way."

What types of reactions did you receive from your family and friends when you told them about your choice?
"I think the most common reaction from friends and older women is mostly, 'You’ll change your mind. You’re still so young,' so you could describe the reactions as dismissive.

"My family is supportive and kind of just laughs it off. I know my mom is secretly wishing I’ll change my mind at some point — although she’d never say that!"

What is your relationship with your mother like — has that played a role in your decision?
"I have a very good relationship with my mother. She was a working mom and such an inspiration, because she showed me that it was possible to have it all — a career and a family. However, I also watched my mom make huge sacrifices in her career and other areas of her life so my siblings and I could have the best life possible.

"Recently, I asked her what her dream was, or had always been. Interestingly enough, I had never really asked her about her dreams; it had always been about pursuing my own. She said that she had always dreamed of having children and doing whatever possible to make sure they could live out their dreams. So, I guess in a sense, her dreams are being fulfilled.

"I do think watching my mom be completely selfless throughout her life — with being a mother and a wife always at the center — does make the pressure of motherhood seem like a tall order that I take very seriously. I’m the type of person that if I do something, I always want to be the best. I just don’t think it would be the responsible choice to have children, knowing how much I want to accomplish for myself and my career."

Would you consider financial pressure to be a factor as well? Or living in a city like New York?
"I don’t think my anxiety would allow me to raise a child in NYC!"
Photographed by David Cortes.
Since you're single, do you worry this decision could affect any future relationships you may have?
"In past relationships, it’s never quite been a problem, though it's probably because of my age. Most early-twentysomething men aren’t jumping for joy at the idea of having children anytime soon. So, at least for the moment, we are on the same page. I do imagine it will be a larger tension point in my future relationships as I get older, and the person I’m with starts seriously discussing the potential of having a family."

Do you think society has created a stigma around women who don’t want children? Would you say this notion is becoming more acceptable or common?
"To a certain extent, yes. There is a stigma that if you are a woman and 'capable,' why wouldn’t you choose to have children? It’s stigmatized as 'selfish,' as if society has partial ownership over your biological function of childbearing. I think it is more common for women to question whether they want children or not, but it still throws people off a little when she claims to be absolutely certain in her decision."

What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?
"Definitely people telling me, 'It’s just a phase.' However, I think the more interesting reactions come from those who are not surprised at all when I tell them. And then, ironically, sometimes I am offended by their lack of surprise!"

Why do you think more women than ever are opting out of having children?
"I think the simple fact that society now labels it more often as a choice, rather than an assumption, makes it a bit more liberating. But, honestly, it’s an extremely personal decision, and it’s hard to say why women — as one large group — are opting out. I don’t think any woman decides not to have children based on one isolated reason."

Are there any women — with or without children — you particularly admire?
"There is not a particular woman I admire simply due to her status of being a mother or not. However, for some reason, I still remember reading an article that came out at the end of last year regarding Cameron Diaz’s decision on motherhood. I feel like she captured the choice well in saying, 'Not having a baby might really make things easier, but that doesn't make it an easy decision. I like protecting people, but I was never drawn to being a mother.' That quote resonated with my own personal decision.

"People assume that choosing not to be a mother is a careless decision, when really, it requires some serious self-reflection and honesty about who you are and what you want out of life. I love protecting others, and family is extremely important to me. I just don’t think having children is the only way to have a family and loved ones in your life. I very much look forward to the moments when close friends and family members will begin having kids. I’ll definitely be the 'cool aunt' who spoils them...and then drops them back off to their parents!"

Do you think there is anything that would ever change your mind?
"If the right person came along, I would maybe consider it — but a lot of things would have to be aligned. If I’m inching towards marriage, then I would obviously have to have the 'kids' talk with the man I’m dating. If I know for sure that he is okay being 'Mr. Mom,' and taking on a lot of the duties that some men may not be as fond of, I would maybe change my mind. He would have to be fully committed to the idea of raising children and the idea that I would not slow down my career. Ultimately, a true 50/50 partnership in raising a family would have to be on the table, before I would consider having children. But, it’s so hard to say, because I definitely haven’t met Prince Charming yet...and he’d have to be really charming to sway a decision like that."
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Photographed by David Cortes.
Name: Michele Filgate
Age: 31
Job: Essayist, critic, and freelance writer

When did you first know you didn’t want children?
"That's a good question. I think as a kid I assumed that I'd have babies because that's what I observed in the world around me, both in pop culture and in real life. But, deep down, I never really wanted them. So, I guess I've sort of known for most of my life. But, for a long time, I felt like something was wrong with me because I lacked a maternal instinct."

What types of reactions have you received from your family and friends when you told them about your choice?
"Some friends and family members (who are parents themselves) have been incredibly supportive of me. A lot of the parents I know understand that there are people who don't want to have kids, and tell me you should only have them if you truly want them. Others have doubted my decision, saying I'll change my mind when I get older or I meet the right man. The worst is when people question my decision or act like they can't believe someone wouldn't want to procreate."

Would you consider financial pressure to be a factor as well? Or living in a city like New York?
"No. My desire to stay childless comes from the knowledge that I don't have what it takes to be a mother. There's nothing financial or geographical about my decision."

Is this something you and your partner decided on together?
"I made this decision on my own years ago, and I only feel stronger about it as I get older. In my mid-to-late 20s, I lived with a guy who really, really wanted to have babies. His mother even tried to convince me — and at one point, in a desperate moment, I told him that maybe I could change my mind. I'll never forget how awful I felt about that decision. I was going against my own nature. Our relationship didn't work out, and I think it was mostly because we wanted different things out of life. I no longer worry about the decision I've made, because I feel comfortable with being who I want to be — and that includes not having kids."
Photographed by David Cortes.
What is the most interesting or offensive reaction you’ve received?
"The most frustrating question that several people have asked me is, 'But who will take care of you when you're old?' I always want to say to that person, 'How do you know your kids will take care of you when you’re old?''"

Do you think society has created a stigma around women who don’t want children? Would you say this notion is becoming more acceptable or common?
"Absolutely, and it infuriates me. So much so that I recently wrote an article for Salon about childless characters in pop culture. We're told over and over again in the stories we consume that the only way you can grow up is to have kids of your own. That's just not true. And, judging from the feedback I've received on that piece, there are many people who don't have kids — whether because they don't want to or can't — and people are finally talking about it in a nuanced way. There are still a bunch of judgmental idiots out there, though. There always will be."

Why do you think more women than ever are opting out of having children?
"I think a lot of women are pressured into having children because of societal norms and religious beliefs, but there are many women who are rejecting those notions. Some people think it's a better choice for the environment. Some people don't want to have to take care of another human being. Some people are pouring all of their energy into their careers and can’t imagine having the time to be a good mom. I love what bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert said in an interview for the L.A. Times: 'I feel like there are women who are genuinely born to be mothers, and women who are born to be aunties, and women who really probably should not be allowed near children.' I’m a proud aunt and I love my niece and nephew. Knowing that you’re better off as an aunt than a mother means that you’re aware of who you are. A woman should never be forced to have a baby."

Are there any women — with or without children — you particularly admire?
"Absolutely! As far as childless women are concerned, I really respect Elizabeth Gilbert, Helen Mirren, Gloria Steinem, Meghan Daum, Kate Christensen, Elliott Holt, and many other incredible ladies. There are many moms I admire, but I have to give a special shoutout to my grandmothers, who are two of the strongest people I know."

Do you think there is anything that would ever change your mind?

"No. But, I absolutely reserve the right to change my mind and not be judged for it. (I don’t think I’ll change my mind.)"
Photographed by David Cortes.
Name: Maddy Gabryel
Age: 24
Job: Graphic/textile designer, Gymboree

When did you first know you didn’t want to have children?
"For as long as I can remember, I've never wanted children! I don't think there was ever an 'epiphany' moment, but I've just never felt like I wanted to be a mom."

What types of reactions have you received from your family and friends when you told them about your choice?
"Friends who know that I don't want children are like, 'Cool! you'll be an awesome aunt!' I think my mom is most adamant that I'll grow out of this idea and eventually want children, because she wants to be a grandma. I know she will love all my future dogs very much as her grandpuppies!"

What is your relationship with your mother like — has that played a role in your decision?
"My mother and I have a unique relationship, we get along much better now than when I was younger. She is a wonderful, quirky, open-minded person, and I know ultimately she will be happy for me and my child-free decisions. I'm not really concerned about making a decision to make someone else happy...the decision is purely mine, and no one else should really pressure me to do something I'm not happy to do."

Would you consider financial pressure to be a factor as well? Or living in a city like New York?
"Not really, but I do understand how expensive children are. I am looking forward to not having to face those financial responsibilities in the future."

Since you are in a relationship, is this something you and your partner decided on together?
"I've been dating my boyfriend for three years, but we did not decide together to not have children. I made the decision that I personally do not want kids, and luckily, he agreed and was on the same page."
Photographed by David Cortes.
What is one thing people get wrong about women who don't want children?
"I think a lot of people are pretty surprised when I tell them I don't want children, because I'm very open about really loving kids! I love being around them, love playing with and taking care of them, and think they can be pretty awesome. I've heard a lot of 'It's just a phase,' or 'Oh, just wait, you will change your mind.' I don't think everyone is wrong, knowing that some people do grow out of 'not wanting a kid.' But, I truly feel like I have so much to do with my life, and having children is not a priority on my list!"

Do you think society has created a stigma around women who don’t want children? Would you say this notion is becoming more acceptable or common?
"I think among my group of friends, it's definitely acceptable. But, being friends with a lot of open-minded twentysomethings, I think we are more accepting than other generations and people. I do believe it is not the social norm to not want children, and people are definitely taken aback when they hear that."

Why do you think more women than ever are opting out of having children?
"I believe that people are realizing that while it is important to have children, that path may not be for everyone. Some people may be more interested in focusing on their careers, traveling, or volunteering — and while all that IS possible while also being a mother, people's priorities may be shifting to realize you can also have a fulfilling life without raising a family."

Are there any women — with or without children — you particularly admire?
"Oprah doesn't have any children, and she is pretty amazing! I admire all the women in my family who have had, are having, and do not have children. I think they are all wonderful women and are truly inspiring to look up to!"

Do you think there is anything that would ever change your mind?
"I don't think anything could change my mind about not having children. I am, of course, happy and excited to watch my friends and family members' future children, and spoil them like crazy!"




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