The Motherhood Maze

Women with and without Kids

Most women raise children. And some don’t. Those of us who don’t set sail for a different kind of life. Is the journey a chosen one or not? Are you a woman if you don’t have kids?

For Denise Carlson not having children was something that just happened. She traveled, focused on her career, was involved in theatre for a long time. In Los Angeles, she currently develops movies for the Disney Channel. Her 20s and 30s whizzed by.

“I’ve had a great time,” Denise says. “I got to have an extended youth. I didn’t have to take care of anyone but myself.”

Saying she’s a late bloomer, the mother question now tugs at her. After a friend adopted, she started thinking about it, even as a single person.

“I’m more open to kids’ needs and wants and personhood. I think I’m strong enough now to do the discipline thing when I need to,” she says. “I don’t feel desperate to have a child, but it’s something I’m thinking more and more I’d like to do.”

For Virginia Coto, changing careers at age 30 and going back to law school meant delaying kids. Since then, the Washington, D.C., resident has traveled extensively for her job. It’s never been the right time.

But as she approached 39, Virginia’s perspective changed. Friends were having kids in their 40s.

“They really just love it. It’s such a joy,” she says. “It’s not the same as having nieces and nephews. I want to experience that too.”

But Virginia realized she couldn’t postpone having children until she found a marriage partner. “I can’t wait. I have to make a decision. I am running scared and trying to adopt.” Some agencies, she found out, cut people off at age 40. Her twin sister is trying artificial insemination.

Virginia had to convince her Cuban family to back her. They now do. As a would-be single mom, she plans to move to Miami where parenting can be an extended family experience.

As for me, I’m 37 and still remember when, in my early 20s, an older woman told me that becoming a mother was a choice. I felt an enormous sense of relief. Having been raised as a Latina Catholic female, it was just assumed and expected that I would one day have my own kids.

But how interesting to think about a life in which I could write, travel, volunteer, work for several non-profits, build community, be involved in the lives of my dear nieces and nephews, and still get a good night’s sleep nearly every night.

A once difficult marriage also influenced my decision to not bring children into a troublesome situation.

So I did choose to chart a different course. It wasn’t a very conscious choice. Not one I could verbalize without people challenging me or giving me sad looks. “But you’re great with kids,” they say. It’s true. I am. “It’s a selfish, empty life,” says another. But anyone who knows me for real would hardly call me selfish. “You’ll regret it,” says a third. Faith tells me I won’t.

Not all of us are called to parent 24 hours a day. It’s rewarding work. It can be grueling too. Adequate maternity leave, child care, family wages, and health insurance are scarce for too many of us. Society treats parenting like a hobby you do after putting in a full day’s work in the office. We know things need to be different.

But few of us who don’t have our own children are completely at peace with our decisions. Aside from nuns, we’re part of the first few generations of women to have this option. We may choose to be childless in one decade and make a different decision in the next. Along the way we keep re-defining for our own selves what it means to be female.