Childless by choice Book: In a society where most women want babies, the number of those who don't is rising. An author clears up some misconceptions.

November 22, 1998|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff

They have been chastised as cold, selfish, child-hating or workaholic. Sometimes, complete strangers will question their sexual orientation, their normalcy, even their fertility.

Do the women interviewed by free-lance journalist Terri Casey deserve such societal scorn? Their only offense was this: They elected not to have children.

"What I see out there is a great deal of bewilderment about women who make this choice," said Casey. "People want to look for a pathology and find out what went wrong."

A Seattle resident, Casey has more than a passing knowledge of the decision-making process. The 44-year-old former newspaper reporter and editor decided long ago not to have a child of her own.

(For the record: She is married, happily, for 12 years, healthy, enjoying her life and has a perfectly amicable relationship with her mother).

The choice was relatively easy for Casey, and she never got much grief about it. Still, she had little in the way of role models - rarely are childless women depicted in the media in any positive manner, nor is the subject commonly discussed.

Yet here are the facts: Their ranks are growing. One in five U.S women between the ages of 40 and 44 were without a child in 1995, up 10 percent from 1975, without a significant increase in infertility.

While census questions never delve into the women's motivations, Casey speculates that perhaps 2 million to 5 million women are childless by choice.

That fact inspired her to write "Pride and Joy," a book about "The Lives and Passions of Women Without Children." It is a collection of 25 profiles gleaned from interviews with 50 women who have chosen not to raise a family.

At a recent appearance at the Bibelot bookstore in Timonium, Casey said she hoped her book would help repudiate the misconceptions people have about childless women. She'd also like to give some validation to the women who make that choice.

"I never set out to do this book because I felt I needed to be affirmed, but I left these interviews feeling almost high about it," she said. "It was their energy, the openness of these women, how they felt they were being true to themselves and their inner voices."

Casey's women run the gamut - from age 25 to 84, from various social classes and parts of the country. None say they regret their decision.

One of the youngest, a 26-year-old inner-city elementary school teacher, feels like a mother with her class and "can't imagine how women come home after a day of teaching and do the same thing with their own kids."

Indeed, most of her subjects see motherhood as a sacrifice that would overwhelm primary interests like friends, career and spouse. The women often describe themselves as loving children, but lack a desire to have one themselves.

Conversely, they are often critical of women who don't carefully consider the consequences of childbirth - at least not as seriously as they do.

"It's pretty clear from everything we see around us that people who probably shouldn't be having children are," says Monica Harrington in the book's opening chapter. "Some people are rTC temperamentally not suited to parenthood, but because childlessness isn't encouraged as a viable choice, they don't get to explore it."

Contacted at her home in Carnation, Wash., Harrington, 38, a software executive, said she's happy with her contribution to the book and fascinated by how people react to it. At a book signing near her home, she said she found people were more interested in talking about childless women as an issue than examining the lives chronicled by Casey.

"People are looking for advice and insight more than anything," she said.

Harrington said she's prepared to hear criticism of her choice. Conflict between women who have children and those who don't is almost inevitable, she said, because it "calls into question your choices."

"Think of all the famous women in any walk of life. How many were willing to step forward and say they made a conscious choice not to have children?" Harrington said. "Some obviously made that choice. But it's a choice that invites so much criticism."

Casey, who just wrapped up a 22-city national tour to promote the book, said her book has been greeted with a warm reception most everywhere she has gone, although bookstore customers often prefer a private chat with her to speaking out at a signing.

Not all the women in her book claim to be certain about the wisdom of their choice. Some openly wonder what will happen when they get older and describe how their decision upset their own mothers. Will there be regrets later in life? Who will take care of them if they become infirm?

"I guess this is motivation for staying on good terms with my relatives!" offers Princess Jackson-Smith, a 53-year-old grants writer.

But what readers will learn most often from Casey's women is how much they love their child-free lives. They talk of exhilarating careers, romantic vacations with their husbands, devout friendships, even their close ties with pets.

"This book isn't intended to discourage anyone from having children. Its intent is to enlarge the discussion about motherhood," Casey said. "You can have children or not. Both are valid choices. Both can be wonderful options."

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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