I recently read Dr. Ellen Walker’s new book, Complete Without Kids: An Insider’s Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance (Greenleaf Book Group, 2011). In it, she shines a spotlight on what it’s like to be childfree, based on dozens of interviews she conducted with singles and couples across the U.S. She covers the circumstances in which her interviewees became childfree – whether by choice, circumstance, or happenstance – and the effects that being childfree has had on their lives. She addresses the issues of pressure from friends, family, and society, as well the impact living childfree has on marriage, friendships, career, and the long-term future. Her research makes for a fascinating insight into the lives and choices of others.
Reading the book, it was interesting to spot traits I shared with some of Dr. Walker’s subjects and to put a clinical term to some of my own experiences of infertility and coming to terms with being childfree-not-by-choice. When Dr. Walker talks about one of Freud’s tools for coping, I could clearly identify my own path of applying logic to my own story and even convincing myself that I never really wanted the thing I couldn’t have. Freud called it rationalization; I call it “Fake it ’til you make it.” Regardless of the label, I was encouraged to learn that I wasn’t alone in the way I’d handled my own circumstances.
I was really touched and saddened by the story of Miriam, an 89-year-old woman who had dealt with infertility and admitted that, even now, she still feels deprived and has never been able to find peace with her childlessness. 43-year-old Jill attended a women’s retreat that began with a circle where everyone was asked to give her name and tell how many children and grandchildren she had!! Out of fifty women, Jill and a young Japanese exchange student were the only two who didn’t have children. Jill speculates as to how that experience influenced the younger woman’s decision to have children, so that she wouldn’t find herself the “odd duck” in the room later in life.
Fair warning to those of you who didn’t choose to be childfree. The book is definitely skewed towards people who made a clear decision to not have children. Dr. Walker, a psychologist who began this project while exploring her own choice to live childfree, points out early in the book that, although the three groups of childfree people overlap in places, she found a marked difference in attitude and experience between those who chose not to have kids and those who found themselves in that situation. While the disadvantages of a childfree life get their space in the book, the advantages take center stage. However, as someone who wanted children but couldn’t, I was able to look at the many advantages quoted by those who chose to be childfree and use them to find a silver lining in my own situation.