Reproductive Rights: Are Childfree Couples Selfish?

Woman's stomach

You're in the prime of your childbearing years, but you're not sure you want children. If you opt not to have them, will you forever rue being childfree by choice?

You might think so. Parenthood is in fashion, even for those who don't fit the traditional family model. Modern biotechnology allows women to get pregnant without a partner, even without sex.

Criticism over life choices

Only one reproductive choice is stigmatized: voluntary childlessness. Many protest against this cultural bias, arguing that childfree (preferred over childless) should be a respected choice, says Berkeley clinical psychologist Mardy S. Ireland, Ph.D., author of Reconceiving Women: Separating Motherhood from Female Identity (Guilford, 1993). Motherhood is the defining life experience for many women, but it's not for everyone. Being female doesn't mean your instincts, talents and needs destine you for maternity. Shape: The Best Swimsuits To Show Off Your Body

If you're unsure about motherhood, consider that recent research dispels many negative stereotypes and forebodings. In multiple studies, the childfree say they don't dislike children. Some prefer adult company and activities, but the majority delight in children and maintain intimacy with relatives' and friends' offspring. A large percentage work with kids.

A childfree choice doesn't signal that you had an un-happy childhood. The childfree are no more likely to come from dysfunctional families than those who choose parenthood, Ireland says. True, some women avoid parenthood for fear of becoming like their mothers, but many report positive mother-daughter relationships.

Those considering the childfree path are haunted by warnings that no one will be around to care for them in old age. But, Ireland cautions, children don't ensure against this fate. Elderly parents often live far from their kids, who in any case are absorbed in their own lives. Childfree couples cultivate other close relationships.

Are childfree couples selfish or selfless? Shape shares reasons why some people are childfree by choice.

The most-stinging criticism is that these types of life choices reflect immaturity and selfishness. Some women admit they prefer to "nurture the child within" or dread losing their figures. But the great majority cite life-affirming reasons, often showing greater realism about the sacrifices of good parenting than do those who want kids, Ireland says. In the studies, childfree women's motives were:

* Freedom. They wanted to pursue other dreams and possibilities, and feared children would suffer from their lifestyle.

* Preserving the quality of their marriages. "Some women fear the negative impact child-rearing can have on relationships," says Ireland. In the studies, couples with children reported the highest rates of unhappiness and marital dissatisfaction; childfree couples reported the highest rates of health, happiness and satisfaction.

* Career. Some women don't want to give up their work and can't see a way to both work and rear children well.

Whether to have children is one of the most serious of life choices, but realize you don't have to be a mother to lead a full, meaningful life.

As Ireland observes, "We have so much freedom today to control our bodies, work and relationships. We must open a legitimate space for those who choose to be childfree."

Sign up for YourTango's free newsletter!

This article was originally published at The Shape. Reprinted with permission from the author.