When it comes to embarking on the journey of parenthood, lots of millennials are saying, “Meh. No, thanks.” According to data from the Urban Institute, birth rates among 20-something women declined 15% between 2007 and 2012. Additional research from the Pew Research Center reflects a longer-term trend of women eschewing parenthood as the number of U.S. women who choose to forego motherhood altogether has doubled since 1970… In an effort to find out why so many young people are really deciding against parenthood, we solicited dozens of responses from our audience… (Source: 11 Brutally Honest Reasons Why Millennials Dont Want Kids)
I just enjoyed a quick reflection by Melissa Myer called “Childfree: is it really a choice?” that struck a familiar chord. Myer harkens back to her younger years, transporting us to the sort of awkward conversations puberty so often catalyzes. She relates an unsettling quip from her friend Sandy who was baffled by her disinterest in becoming a mother.
Marriage equals procreation. And since I had no interest in having kids, I had no interest in marriage.
“If you get married, you have to have kids.” ~ Melissa Myer (Source: The Unwitting Raconteur)
It’s an unsettling but not altogether unfamiliar perspective. Marriage equals procreation.
I admit that much of my own disinterest in marriage in early adulthood hinged upon my perspective that marriage equals procreation. And since I had no interest in having kids, I had no interest in marriage. Simple. Obvious.
It took my now-wife’s mostly patient, painstaking tutelage to gradually amplify my understanding of marriage.
You Have to Have Kids?
Children were simply the next step after marriage. Period.
But just as I didn’t fully grok this in my teens and twenties, I know that many others still lump marriage and procreating together. And many simply take for granted that growing up means inevitably transitioning from school to career to marriage to having kids.
My own father recently conceded that he’d never really stopped to question (or even consider) alternative to marrying and parenting. Children were simply the next step after marriage. Period.
I Was Born This Way
Myer’s post resonated with me mostly because of this important uncoupling of marriage and procreating. But she also teases out another intriguing idea, that of childfree choice. She challenges the notion that childfree adults choose to be childfree. Certainly we’re all familiar with unintentionally childless adults and couples. Pregnancy was impossible. Or fate intervened.
But Myer is actually talking about something else. Rather than a reasoned choice not to have children, she was born a “NotMom”. Growing up simply helped her accept that she was not destined to be a parent.
“I never needed reasons, and those of you who ‘chose’ to be childfree don’t need them either. What thankfully isn’t artificial, and what will never be, is that I am who I am — a NotMom since I was nascent. Childfree by a choice I never actually made. I was born this way.” (Source: The Unwitting Raconteur)
I’ve written in the past about not having a burning urge to procreate, no need to have a child or be a father. I think that this is basically what Myer means. I was born a “NonDad” by virtue of the fact that I didn’t ever want or try to have a kid. I’m not sure that my own experience warrants this conclusion, as if I were predestined not to become a father, but it’s an interesting twist. Some of us are born to reproduce; others are not. Nulliparity as hardwired…
At 29, female and happily married, there is one question I despise more than all others. Its the dreaded, “When are you going to have kids?” People always throw it in there casually, too. Usually between such innocuous questions as, “Hows your mother?” or, “Wheres the bathroom?” Just as Im getting comfortable in a conversation, someone drops in wondering if my ovaries are firing at full capacity and how often Im banging my man. And while theyre at it, whats my current condom bill? Because really, thats what asking about family planning boils down to. (Source: The Most Invasive Question I Get Asked Daily, by Julie Zack Yaste)
As a children’s author I once wrote a post about Dr. Suess and other famous kiddie-lit authors that didn’t have kids.
You can read it here.
Here is a list of other famous female writers, authors and journalists who made their mark on the world with their words and not their offspring. It’s quite an impressive club:
Marie Colvin – Award-winning American journalist for the British newspaper The Sunday Times
Dorothy Parker – American poet, short story writer, critic and satirist
Anaïs Nin – Author
Melanie Notkin – Founder of SavvyAuntie.com, Author of “Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids” (Morrow/HarperCollins 2011)
Rachel Carson – Conservationist and author of “Silent Spring”
Anita Brookner – British novelist and art historian
Amy Tan – American writer best known for her book “The Joy Luck Club”
Harper Lee – Author, “To Kill a Mockingbird”
Marian Keyes – Author
Maeve Binchy – Novelist
Virginia Woolf – Author
Hilary Mantel – Novelist
Simone de Beauvoir – Author, “The Second Sex”
Charlotte Bronte – Author, “Jane Eyre”
Edith Wharton – Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist
Jane Austen – Author, “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility”
Isek Dineson – (pen name Karen Blixen) author of “Out of Africa”
Gloria Steinem – American feminist, journalist and political activist
WNKies do you know any other women that should be added to this list?
- On Being Childless, Childfree, and True (gloriabowman.com)
Almost nine months ago I attempted to define nulliparity in the context of childfree couples, (“Nulliparity Definition“), and I asked readers to consider stretching the definition at least, at least rhetorically, to include both males and females in nulliparous relationships.
Derived from Latin… a usable nulliparity definition would be the condition of not bearing offspring (normally applied to a human woman). (Nulliparity Definition – Why No Kids?)
A medical term used to refer to a condition or state in which a woman has never given birth to a child, or has never carried a pregnancy. (biology online)
At the time, my endeavor was mostly academic. Educate myself. Educate Why No Kids? readers. Move on. Instead, I’ve stumbled upon worrisome nulliparity health risks.
Is Nulliparity Bad?
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m drawn to dialogue inspired by (and surrounding) childfree by choice couples. I’m not a strident advocate for childfreedom, nor am I categorically opposed to bearing children. In fact, at times, my conviction is admittedly blurry, but I am always intrigued by the conversations and debate provoked by the parent/childfree divide. It’s a healthy and often entertaining topic, and — though I’m still not prepared to hypothesize exactly why — it’s a debate that provokes ample emotional and intellectual opinioneering.
That said, I’ve never given much credence to claims that choosing not to bear children is ethically wrong, biologically bad or — this is real, folks — a religious sin. Such binary reasoning strikes me as naive, not infrequently hateful and always intolerant. My world is not painted in primary colors, and it’s certainly not black and white. I believe that the parent/childfree divide hinges upon subjective opinions and preferences.
But my previous nulliparity post has catalyzed some new questions and concerns for me including the potential for some troubling nulliparity health risks. Ever since publishing the post, we’ve experienced a dramatic uptick in traffic from visitors looking for information about nulliparity. Sure, that’s logical enough. But I was surprised and I remain surprised at the volume of people trying to learn more about nulliparity. Certainly they’re not all “childfree curious”…
Google Insights shows that the trend is global, and that it’s been about seven years since people began looking for more information about nulliparity. A little data mining reveals these top three search queries:
- nulliparity definition
- nulliparity define
- nulliparity breast cancer
The first two are effectively the same search for a definition of the term nulliparity, and their popularity explains the popularity of my first attempt to define nulliparity. But the third most popular search offers a hint at why there’s been growing interest in nulliparity globally. Fear.
Is nulliparity dangerous? Are there conclusive indications of nulliparity health risks? A quick glimpse at some recent articles suggest that nulliparity may indeed be dangerous.
Changes in decade of first birth and nulliparity do not explain the changes in breast cancer incidence… [but] breast cancer incidence has increased in the same cohorts. (National Institute of Health, NCBI)
A higher incidence of SPM [second primary malignancy] of the breast is observed in women treated for papillary thyroid cancer. Additionally, this risk is increased by nulliparity… (WJSO)
Catholic nuns… pay a terrible price for their chastity because they have a greatly increased risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers: the hazards of their nulliparity. (The Lancet)
Nulliparous women had a 44% increased risk of hip fractures independent of hip bone mineral density… childbearing reduces hip fracture risk by means that may be independent of hip bone mineral density. (National Institute of Health, NCBI)
Incidentally, this eerie, late night film plot resurfaces in “Why nuns might be stoking cancer in quest to stay chaste“. Spooky, right? Looks like more research is in order.
Nulliparity’s Silver Lining
Fortunately not all nulliparity news is bad news.
In a linear regression model… it was found that nulliparous women and women who went through menopause later in life had significantly less cognitive decline. (National Institute of Health, NCBI)
So where does this leave us? It’s clear that many people all around the world are concerned about a possibly causal relationship between nulliparity and breast cancer and about nulliparity health risks in general. But from my standpoint, not much else is clear.
Does Nulliparity Increase Health Risks?
I’m hoping that one of our readers will know more about this and share their insights. Does (or should) the definition of nulliparity include increased health risks?
Are there additional nulliparity health risks that I’ve overlooked?