(CNN) – Dyanna Volek was never someone who dreamed of being a mother.
Since she was little, she knew deep down that she did not want to have children. Perhaps it was due to watching her mother sacrifice her dream of becoming a flight attendant and working three jobs to raise two children on her own. Or maybe it was that other ventures interested him more.
“I’m always looking forward to what’s next,” said Volek, who works for local government in San Francisco. “Being a mother was never one of them.”
Still, the idea of not having children seemed taboo, so she didn’t stop to think much about it. It wasn’t until a few years ago when she began a serious relationship with her partner that she truly acknowledged her feelings. When she and her husband were married last November, they had come to a conclusion: they did not want children.
Volek is now 37 years old and doesn’t see herself changing her mind.
Not having children gives you a sense of freedom that your parenting friends don’t have. Now that they are vaccinated, she and her husband have been able to eat at restaurants, attend concerts and travel without worrying about putting their children’s safety at risk.
They can work toward an early retirement, a goal that would otherwise be unattainable in a city as expensive as theirs. And in their daily life, they have a lot of time to themselves.
Volek is one of a growing number of women in the United States choosing not to have children, part of a trend that has been underway for more than a decade.
Since 2007, the nation’s birth rate has dropped about 2% each year on average. Despite early speculation about a pandemic baby boom, the coronavirus crisis further accelerated the decline, with births falling 4% last year.
It was the largest annual decrease in the number of births since 1973, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC).
Demographers point to a number of factors driving this phenomenon: economic insecurity, political uncertainty, changing gender norms, and decreased stigma around choosing not to have children. Although the pandemic highlighted the limited support that American families receive from the government when it comes to childcare and other obligations, some women had made a decision before.
These are some of the reasons why some women choose not to have children.
They don’t want the responsibility
Cecilia Sanders, a 32-year-old project manager in Chicago, had long been sure that she didn’t want to have children. She felt motherhood as too great a responsibility and the idea of pregnancy frightened her.
Still, she says she felt pressured by feeling different, as if disappointing others if she decided not to have children. For about a year, she tried to force herself to change her mind, talking to friends who were parents about her experiences and how they made time for themselves.
Turns out, her friends often didn’t have time for themselves. Their children, they said, came first.
Sanders realized that sacrificing her own needs to fulfill her duty as a mother would be especially exhausting for her. She deals with anxiety and depression, and when those conditions flare up, even taking care of herself becomes a challenge.
The idea of raising children without neglecting their mental health seemed almost impossible.
“After a year of really thinking about it, I thought, ‘No. If I do this, I’m lying to myself,'” he said.
They fear a lack of support
For some, the way the United States treats mothers is reason enough not to have children.
Amy Blackstone, a sociologist at the University of Maine and author of “Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family and Creating a New Age of Independence,” says the lack of family-friendly policies in the US is one explanation for the decline in the birth rate in recent years, something that the pandemic made even clearer.
Over the past year, parents have had to keep working, often without daycare or while helping their children learn remotely. The situation has left people stressed and exhausted, and perhaps more likely to delay or reconsider having more children.
“The pandemic has really revealed to us how poorly we support parents in America,” Blackstone said. “We have come to see the truth that we always knew, but never spoke out loud, which is that parenting is really difficult. And we don’t really support parents in that role.”
That was certainly a consideration for Yana Grant, a 24-year-old from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who last year decided not to have children. United States does not offer a national paid parental leave program. Child care can be expensive or hard to come by. And women are more likely to carry most of the parental responsibilities and the homework.
“As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, you have to be a mother first and then a woman,” Grant said. “Men become men and then a father, it seems.”
As a black woman, Grant also has to worry about other things. Black women are more likely than women of any other race to die from pregnancy-related problems. It is also more likely to be dismiss your worries, let your pain not be treated So what their experiences are not believed.
For Grant, those concerns are rooted in reality. A few years ago, she felt her heart beat fast and her throat swell, and she went to see a medical professional. She says the doctor told her to stay hydrated and sent her home without checking her thyroid. When he saw another doctor for the same symptoms about a year later, he was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that leads to an overactive thyroid gland.
If she gets pregnant and something goes wrong, Grant fears her symptoms and complaints could be similarly dismissed.
“I feel like as a black woman, you don’t have much that is yours,” she said. “So keeping that part of me is the only thing I know I have control over. [Puedo] To say that I made that conscious decision to save myself because most likely no one else will. “
They like their life just the way it is
As Jordan Levey focused on law school and building his career, he assumed that a “motherly instinct” would eventually kick in. Once she found a mate, she thought, they would settle down and maybe decide to have children.
Now that she is 35 years old and has been married for four years, Levey says that she and her husband have realized that they prefer their current lifestyle. They own a condo and are loving parents to their dog. And although they both make a comfortable living, they prefer to spend their money on the things they love.
“We are very happy with our life. We love to travel, we love to cook, we both really value our time alone and that personal care,” she said. “I think we would be perfect parents, but I don’t think we will enjoy it.”
For Sanders, not having children allows him to dedicate time to all his interests: writing, playing the guitar, hiking, traveling and rescuing animals. It also means that she can focus more on her career, which is “the most important thing” to her.
“I definitely feel like I probably wouldn’t be as far away in my career as I am right now and I wouldn’t be able to live my normal life and pursue my hobbies and passions,” Sanders said. “I wouldn’t be living my life to the fullest.”
That women like Levey and Sanders feel empowered to choose a childless lifestyle is significant, Blackstone notes.
In the past, women who might have been inclined to remain child-free could have given birth anyway because that’s what society expected of them. However, in recent decades these norms and attitudes have changed.
“We have more conversations about the reality that parenting is an option, not something that everyone has to do,” he said.
But they are still judged by their choice
It is perhaps more socially acceptable than ever for women not to have children. Still, women who choose not to have children say they still feel they have to constantly explain your choices to others.
They have called selfish, they have accused of hating children and they have been told that they will regret their decision later in life when they are alone.
Volek says she feels that childless people like her are judged as superficial or that they haven’t understood the enormity of the decision they are making, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“People who choose not to have children think about it a lot; I would say even more than people who have children,” he added.
The assumption that childless women don’t care about children is also not true, some say. Volek loves to play with his friends’ children. Levey enjoys spending time with his niece and nephew.
Grant is in a relationship with a man who has a son and is perfectly happy to hang out with the young man.
“I’ll ask you if you want to go see ‘Boss Baby 2’. I’ll take you to some of the [museos] Smithsonians, “said the Oklahoma resident, who plans to move to Washington City with her partner.” But that’s all I’m going to get. “
Blackstone, who has interviewed countless people about their decision not to have children, says the people she has spoken to acknowledge that they may one day regret making the decision they did.
But he said they would rather not have children and repent later than have children and repent.
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