Motherhood is not mandatory, and these two women agree. They share with us the reasons, experiences and stories behind their choice.
“Congrats on the wedding! When are you planning to have a kid?”
These are just some of the many casual statements made by relatives, friends, and even immediate family members directed to married couples, specifically women, who have voluntarily or involuntarily made the choice not to bear children.
This “cultural phenomenon” of society's obsession with motherhood, the pressure of conception burdened onto women “just because” it's what “comes next after marriage,” and the tendency of people (even strangers) to blatantly ask such a personal, sensitive question – unfortunately exists.
How does this affect women, and what to do they have to say about it? Rappler sat down with two women who have chosen not to have children — not just to shed light onto the subject, but to also tell fellow women that it's okay.
Trixie** is happily married to her husband of 5 years, whom she met back in college.
Paula** is currently the department head of an advertising agency, a self-proclaimed career woman who rose to her position through years of hard work and dedication. She is also wife to her husband of 19 years, Mike. They moved in together after a year of being a couple and co-habitated for 9 years before getting married.
Children and relationships: A deal breaker?
Naturally, as a serious, long-term relationship progresses, the prospect of marriage and having children will be discussed between both partners. To some, this is a delicate phase of any relationship, as contrasting opinions on having children in the future could possibly end a relationship – a make-or-break discussion, if you will.
“When we were boyfriend-girlfriend, we’d talk about how exciting it is to have little versions of ourselves,” Trixie said.
Paula, on the other hand, admits it was never really “talked about” between her and her partner. “To be honest, this was a topic between us that was always just left ‘hanging’. We would talk about it, but no resolution would ever be met.”
Trixie, however, said anything can change. “We started talking about the possibility of passing on serious health issues to our non-existent children.” That alone made them question if having children was really necessary.
To date, both Trixie and Paula are child-free, and have chosen to be so.
Many people who forgo parenthood have some form of ongoing connection with children anyway. /Net photos
Growing up ‘brainwashed’
Both Trixie and Paula agree that growing up, motherhood was “the goal” to achieve as a woman.
“I’ve always wanted to be a mother... or at least, I thought I did,” Paula shares.
She reveals that what she thought “completed a woman” came from the combination of her Chinese and Catholic upbringing, leading her to believe that her only role in life was to bring children into the world.
Trixie also said that societal pressure and the fear of being compared to your peers didn't help her either, seeing that everyone around her either had kids or was trying.
But life happens, and preconceived notions are challenged.
For Paula, her previous beliefs grew shaky upon realizing the instability of her personal life and her husband’s, who also had a troubled childhood. “While I grew up in a relatively messed up but still pretty intact Fil-Chi family, my husband grew up in a broken one where was emotionally, mentally, and physically abused.” This understandably led him to being unsure about parenthood.
A combination of each partner’s own internal struggles, Paula having to be the breadwinner for her nuclear family, and both of their dysfunctional family backgrounds stalled the couple's decision.
But when Paula turned 40, which was a few years ago, she decided that it was officially time for her to put an end to the uncertainty — the guessing game of whether we will still “try to get pregnant” or not.
At 40, I don’t think I wanted to subject my body to pregnancy anymore because of the complications it could bring.”
For Trixie, their choice came after the realization that the majority of their married life had passed, sans any children. Basically, it just happened. "We just realized 'hey, we don't have any kids.' I guess we just didn’t really try hard enough. We don’t have a lot of motivation to multiply,” she said.
My body, my choice, my reasons
Of course, many still ask them: “Why?”
There are reasons, of course – but more than reasons, both Trixie and Paula have their own stories to tell.
For Paula, it was a simple but hard-hitting truth: Life doesn't always turn out the way you expect it to be. That means no fairy tale endings, the perfect prince, and an easy life ahead — but instead, bills, debts, and a partner with their own baggage to deal with, you included.
“Parents get sick, parents die. Skeletons in the family closet emerge, and you have to deal with it. Your career can go haywire, despite years of hard work, passion, dedication.”
Admittedly, Paula realized she still could have tried, but upon doing the math, consulting doctors, and doing research — also realized that there were far more risks than benefits involved at this point. “Then, and until now, there really was no 100% desire to have children or not — which compelled me to really think deeply about my own motivations to have children,” she said.
Money, flaws, and a dying world
Trixie cites a few reasons — one of which is simply being happy and satisfied. “We’re perfectly satisfied with being just 2 people in the relationship,” Trixie said.
Convenience and money are also factors to consider. “Travel isn’t a hassle, planning for anything is easier and more flexible, and it is cheaper to just feed two.”
One’s personal circumstances – genetics and mental health included – are also taken into consideration by both Trixie and Paula. “Our genetic material isn’t ideal,” Trixie said. “What if our offspring suffers from defects? I’d feel super guilty.”
“Coupled with my own life circumstances, I know I am not emotionally and mentally equipped to raise a child, when I barely even have the time to take care of myself,” Paula also added.
Another strong factor? The world we live in – chaos, poverty, war, climate change, and its inevitable disintegration.
Paula feels very strongly about how the world is now divided in terms of values, while Trixie also agrees on the “dying” state of our planet – environmental, economic, and political issues included.
“It doesn’t feel right to bring a child into a world in shambles,” Paula says, while Trixie says that knowing her child would witness the world fall apart isn't very “enticing.”
On this point, Paula brings up the all-too-common mistake of parents conceiving many children, some of which they didn’t even plan to have, or even worse, want. “These parents end up abusing and depriving these children of having a good, fulfilling life. This is just despicable.”
For Trixie, Paula, and many other women out there – judgment day isn’t just one day — judgment happens on many days.
What are some of the “worst” tactless, insensitive experiences they remember? “My mother-in-law told me it would make my mother happy if I gave them an apo (grandchild),” Trixie said. “It is not my responsibility to provide for the amusement of the older generation.”
Paula, however, shared that it was her husband who experienced the judgment. “He was told by this friend that he was ‘wondering why you and your wife aren’t trying to have a baby.'"
Her husband was taken aback.
But like Trixie, Paula’s husband kept cool and collected, saying nothing at the time, but later on, decided to just minimize contact with that friend.
Culture, convention, beliefs
Trixie and Paula said they understand where these people may be coming from — and that we can't solely blame the familiar judgmental titos and titas for their “lack of tact.” There are many factors at play, such as cultural and religious beliefs.
“The Philippines is matriarchal,” Trixie explains. “Filipinos do value the patriarch’s opinion but the person who makes decisions and controls the household is usually the matriarch."
Aside from the prized mother figure in many Filipino’s lives, the family is also a highly-valued facet of our culture – and so is keeping it alive.
“There is a need for offspring if we want our families to continue existing in the future. The future generation becomes their legacy,” Trixie says. “Having kids doesn’t have to be your greatest contribution to society. You don’t have to feel incomplete,” she adds.
Paula agrees and includes religion in the mix. “It is our Catholic beliefs and upbringing that has prompted many of us to grow up thinking and behaving this way.”
The result: Anxiety, rage, and apathy
For Trixie, the constant pressure to conceive brought a lot of anxiety and rage in her life for a while. “It took a week before I stopped regurgitating that scene in my head," she said.
The constant anxiety stemmed both from external and internal pressures until Trixie just learned to let go.
As for Paula, who is lucky enough to not be bombarded by such messages, this is so because she is the type of person who is careful with who she lets get too close in her life.
But for the few who do judge? Paula responds with strength in apathy.
“It doesn’t matter to me what they think. They don’t know me, and they don’t know the circumstances of my life, and what I’ve been through. They can judge me all the way want.”
If they could shout into a megaphone and address the whole world, what would their message be? “There shouldn’t even be a distinction between the roles of men and women in this world,” Paula said. She also shares that choosing a child-free life in no way means that a woman can't contribute fully and beautifully to society.
“A woman's role is to live up to her full potential, use her talents and skills to help make this world a better place, in whatever way or form she can.”
Anyone can be a mother
The role of “mother” isn’t restricted by your biological capacity to conceive children from your own womb. Loving mother figures are everywhere — a role anyone can adopt and seamlessly thrive in.
“I think people need something to nurture,” Psychologist Today shares. “You can find that in your life: your students, patients, and families, your writing. It doesn’t have to be a baby.”
Trixie and Paula 100% agree. “I am a mother to my sisters, my husband, my pamangkins,” Trixie shares. “Some of my friends even call me Mama. I was the mother goose of my circle of friends."
Aside from family and friends, Trixie cheekily shares that she is also a very loving mother to her research. “I consider my thesis as my baby. I need to give it the love and attention that it needs so that it could one day be part of the pool of knowledge that may one day be the answer to future problems.”
Paula wholeheartedly chimes in, citing her own “children figures.”
“I would say my own offspring are the people at work I am privileged enough to mentor and to care for.”
'You don't owe the world anything'
But what if you do want to tell the world? “Go ahead and scream it loud. We'll scream with you,” Trixie says with determination. “And don't let the negativity get to you.”
“You don't have to tell the world. It is your decision. You don't owe the world anything,” Trixie adds.
Trixie and Paula believe that it is very important to speak up — not just for themselves, but for the many other women still trying to find their voice in this world. “You deserve the freedom to choose the kind of life you want to live – a life free from societal expectations, constraints, and stereotypes,” Paula says.
“We all just have one life to live – and it shouldn't be lived as someone we're not.”
Because child-free women need not fear – there is the strength to be found in numbers, hope in finding fellow women who understand, and love in the support received from family, friends, the world, and each other.
**The names of the women have been changed upon their request**
The article was first published by Rappler.