In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge 2017) author Adi Avivi wrties as follows:
“But why not? You are so good with kids!” My friend’s guest at a dinner party was incredulous upon learning that I did not want any children of my own. Years of being challenged about this lack of desire to bear or raise children had made me think about the “Why?” question in depth; still, I had not found a concrete answer. “I just don’t. I never did. I don’t have—I don’t need a reason,” I managed. “I just don’t want kids.” So there we stood, unable to communicate on the subject. The interaction seemed to cause her significant anxiety, and feeling that side of myself yet again rejected caused me anxiety as well.
Being criticized and rejected in this way was a recurring experience for me; other childfree women have similar experiences. I knew I did not want to have children from a very young age. In the childfree community, I am what would be called an “early articulator.” Most childfree women go through a longer decision-making process, but I always knew. As a young person, I did not have the words “childfree” or “early articulator” at my disposal, so I would just say that I didn’t want to have children if the topic arose. Naively, I expected it to be accepted like other things about me: I like art, I want to study psychology, I don’t want to have children.
I remember vividly the first time I realized that not wanting children meant others would question my femininity and even my well-being. I stated it, in passing, to a group of my friends in my late teens. “What is wrong with you?” asked my male best friend, alarmed. “Why must you say such unfeminine things? You present yourself as completely weird and repulsive!” I was surprised. Why would anyone think me less a woman, less desirable, or less normal, simply because I don’t want kids? It did not occur to me that I was expected to want kids. My internal experience was of not wanting them. I recognized I broke some social rule… but what rule was that?
Studying psychoanalytic and feminist theories and volunteering in a rape crisis center gave me a clue. I was threatening to others in multiple, complex ways. I was threatening patriarchy by refusing to accept my role as a female-born woman. I was threatening cultural, political and economic dogmas: in the complex Israeli society, well educated, Ashkenazi women are the “right kind of people” to have children. I found that in the U.S., women are generally expected to have children as well. And I was threatening to other women, as my child freedom implied there was a choice involved in childrearing. The paved and familiar path for womanhood was not a must. I learned that some people are uncomfortable with unusual choices. But I also learned that being outspoken moves others. Women who demand public space despite being a sore spot for the hegemony might be appreciated and even loved by some; even needed for those who are different as well but for whatever reason could not be out (yet.)
I was very lucky to have tremendous support from my family and my partner. Although my child freedom has not been necessarily celebrated, it was accepted or at least tolerated by most of my loved ones. A while ago, my mother told me that when I was a young girl, pre-teen, I stated in front of her and her friend: “I am never having kids!” The friend said, trying to comfort my mother: “Oh, she’s just a little girl. She’ll change her mind.” My mother said: “I know my daughter. She will not change her mind. She won’t have kids.”
My mother has always been exceptionally accepting of my non-conformism. A combination of an easygoing nature, her own individualism, unusual for a woman born in the ‘50s, and her general desire for her children to “do whatever they want” gave me the freedom to disregard certain social norms without feeling rejected or punished by her. Learning that she recognized child freedom as an integral part of me at such a young age was heartwarming. Being known by my mother was empowering. I believe that part of my naïve expectation that others would accept me too, stemmed from her loving attitude toward me.
I am more at peace with this aspect of my identity now that I am approaching 40 years of age than I was before. As I get older, people are less demanding that I conform. Finding a childfree partner who shares my non-desire to parent and creating our life together on our terms has been lovely. No less important, researching and writing about child freedom has been an affirming experience. It helped me understand myself better, and I hope that the insights that I gained will be helpful to other childfree women and their allies.
Women who purposely live childfree are often invalidated by others regarding their choice not to have children. Exploring one’s identity as childfree (CF) could, therefore, be challenging. In an Internet era, childfree women who are actively reading and writing about child freedom online might find like-minded others who would allow them to explore this topic more freely than “in real life.” The need to interact with accepting others was borne out in qualitative research that I will present in this chapter, revolving around the notion of child freedom as an identity and culture, its practitioners constituting a minority group. This chapter will present data showing that online communication can be a tool for interactive self-exploration and a safe haven in which the childfree identity could develop.