There will be no COVID baby boom in the United States. In fact, a decrease in childbirth is expected, with existential fear prevailing over hormones and boredom. Similar downward trends occurred during the 2008 recession and the 1918 Spanish flu. Now experiencing their second economic crash, 15% of millennials are less interested in having children due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, others made the decision long before the pandemic. On this edition of the Embodied series, host Anita Rao talks with three women about their reasons for living child-free.
Rao’s guests are:
- Uriah Rex, a jet mechanic at Raleigh-Durham International Airport
- Samhita Mukhopadhyay, the executive editor of Teen Vogue and co-editor of “Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America”
- Sarah Deavitt, a certified holistic nutritionist
Many women are medically unable to bear children. Trans men and nonbinary people face systemic medical discrimination and oftentimes experience gender dysphoria during pregnancy. Others forgo procreation to avoid passing on genetic risks.
For this conversation, we chose to focus on the experiences of cis women without socially acceptable justifications for opting out of childbirth. In addition, these particular women have chosen not to adopt or foster children, though many of them nurture and care for others’ children as well as aging family members. Their experiences inform a feminist philosophy that emphasizes humanity regardless of reproductive status and desire.
Mukhopadhyay on the accusation of selfish women:
I am always hesitant to judge other people's decision making and calling somebody selfish or not selfish. I think there are so many reasons why people want to have children. … [But] you're facing a pandemic. You’re facing a hunger crisis, a housing crisis. Where do we stand as individual global citizens? And what is our role in ensuring that the children that exist on the planet right now are being fed and that we are building a sustainable culture and society?
I think that it is ironic to me that you got all these responses that women feel this tremendous pressure and this guilt when there is a very strong argument to be made … [that] it may not be the most selfish decision in the world, right? If anything, there is quite a bit of social and cultural sacrifice that women make when they don't have children. … So I do think that’s one of the things we're seeing in the last year. This is a bit of a tipping point where people are really starting to question this assumption that it is selfish. Is it the thing that all families should do? [This is] an opportunity to really consider how we build communities and how we take care of children — is the two-parent family really working?
Rex describes her reasons for sterilization:
There's a whole slew of side effects that can come with birth control, no matter what you take. And it was exhausting. … I wanted that peace of mind knowing that it would be 100% impossible for me to become pregnant and have kids, not by just a statistic — Oh, this is a 99.9% sure thing. No, it is biologically impossible for me now. I had what's called a bilateral salpingectomy, and so both of my fallopian tubes have been removed. I wanted it to be permanent because now I never have to worry about birth control. I never have to worry about having restricted access to abortion. And that particular procedure also reduces the risk of ovarian cancer. So, yay!
Deavitt talks about her online community of child-free women:
Rachel Cargle started the group Rich Auntie Supreme on Instagram as a space for childfree women to celebrate — to just share our stories, and to share how we clap back when we get the: Don't you want somebody to take care of you? Or all the other things — “I'm waiting for grandkids.” That was one of the things that I got a lot. I finally said: I'm taking care of your father. So there's my gift to you. You’re not getting grandkids, but I'm taking care of grandpa. Being able to share those experiences in that community ... just hearing people's stories and being able to share articles and just laugh and celebrate and talk about the ways that we are enjoying childfree life.