Childfree Reflections

With Marcia Drut-Davis
August 14th, 2018


Emma Palmer won the 2018 International Childfree Woman Of The Year title. I reached out to her and asked her if she would look back and share what she’s learned to inspire you.

I loved reading this piece and thank her for sharing.

I’ve always said, “Be loud and proud” of your choice… as any parent may be.

Looking back, looking forwards and going beyond labels…


On 1st August this year I was greatly honored to be named Childfree Person of the Year 2018 on International Childfree Day. In the past week Marcia and I have had a lovely email chat after she contacted me to say I should keep a look out for her book ‘Confessions of a Childfree Woman: A Life Spent Swimming Against the Mainstream’, one of the gifts coming my way after winning this title. I’m looking forward to reading it. As we chatted Marcia invited me to write a piece for her website. ‘What theme?’ I asked. ‘Looking back. Lessons learned’ she replied. ‘Okey doke’ I said, challenge accepted.


That theme has got me reflecting deeply this past week. A few responses have come strongly to mind. On the one hand I wish I had made my noise over the years about the reasons why I am without child – important note to self: there’s still time to make more noise. On the other, what’s also re-surfaced, to my surprise, is the part of me that has in the past been reluctant about not having children. I hadn’t expected that at all, and it’s been moving to re-visit that old part of myself.

A bit of back story might help here; a potted history of my childfreedom. It was only when I was 27 that I realized it wasn’t compulsory to have children. This came as a bit of a shock, and I still feel a bit embarrassed admitting it given that I was an independent woman doing all sorts of interesting things. I had always said I would have children ‘by the time I’m 30’. So I decided to imagine not having children, just for a year, to ‘try it on for size’, given the extent of my pro-natal brainwashing.


I started researching and getting fascinated by the increasing trend of childlessness – as it was then called – and talked to parents and non-parents alike, understanding the parenthood or childfree decision in as much depth as I could. I was increasingly horrified by the stereotyping of those of us without child and the invasive questions in my 20s about my own reproduction choices. This decision-making took some time for me, and I’ve sometimes felt envious of those who knew at the age of 18 that they definitely didn’t want children… Because I had always assumed I would be a mum, because I love the company of children, it wasn’t an overnight decision for me. Having said that, what I also experienced at that time was a new found sense of liberation when I realized that having children was a choice rather than an inevitability – I could create rather than procreate!


Long long long story short, I ended up writing my second book ‘Other than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind’ which was published by Earth Books in 2016. It had become increasingly clear to me that I wouldn’t be having children, partly because I was so engaged in my life and work (I’m a psychotherapist, trainer, author) and partly because it didn’t make sense with the planet in mind and the harm we’re causing it – that harm getting more and more visible by the day, with fires raging and temperatures rising. I’m a long time social scientist, Buddhist practitioner and ecopsychologist (someone exploring the relationship between humans and the natural world) and for a long time now it’s seemed very clear to me that the world’s population could definitely do without me adding to its number, not to mention the knock-on effects of the carbon emissions of another being, and all the beings they may go on to produce in the future.


The writing of ‘Other than Mother’ clarified and helped me to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be having children. In the latter stages of writing the book I asked myself ‘can I definitely publish this – what if I change my mind?’ So I guess I was then still reluctantly childfree. That time has passed now and it’s a huge relief to be in the phase of life beyond the parenthood decision, approaching midlife with greater clarity. In ‘Other than Mother’ I talk about the importance of ‘baby-sized projects’ for the childfree, in the place of human babies. For me these projects have become the books I write. I cherish the greater freedom of a childfree life with time to write, time to teach, time to travel, time to do all sorts of things I mightn’t have so much time to do with a growing family. And I can’t deny that this week, contacting the part of me that once wanted to be a mother, there’s been pathos there occasionally – albeit very fleeting. Being a therapist and author can be lonely at times and my life isn’t as people-filled as I’d once imagined. And, at the same time, I could never imagine giving up book writing… I count myself as very lucky to be an aunt and enjoy times with my nephew and nieces enormously. It’s a mystery to me when I hear people say ‘I don’t like children’. I don’t get it, it sounds like saying ‘I don’t like adults’. I want to ask, well, which children? Where? When? Etc. Everyone seems pretty unique to me, whether adult, child, horse or dog (I’m an animal lover, too).


That kinds of brings me back to the first response I had to Marcia’s question – I wish I had made my noise about the reasons why I am without child. I saw this great production called ‘Make More Noise’ at our local theatre last week, celebrating the suffragettes and the marking of the centenary this year when many women were given the vote for the first time. The production also pointed out how/why we need to protest more for women’s equality to be realized – I was heartened that they included the situations of the childfree and childless. It was so moving seeing these actresses, many of them in their 20s, making a noise, dressed as themselves, as Frida Kahlo, as suffragettes – many other characters – as they made their point. They were way more vocal than I was at that point in my life.


It’s inspiring me to make more noise in my work. I guess I’m already doing that, in particular, this year, co-editing a book for counsellors and psychotherapists in the wake of last autumn’s #metoo movement. There are still quite a few things I rarely talk about; the more taboo things. One example is the fact that I haven’t flown for the past 15 years for environmental/ecological reasons. I love travelling and I used to love flying and I wanted to commit to something which got me to actively think about the consequences of my actions and my carbon footprint. But it feels too edgy, too controversial to talk about and I’ve received ‘how sad’ looks when I’ve said that I don’t fly in response to ‘you should go to x, you’d love it’ Talking about not flying reminds me a bit of the conversations about not having children I used to have 20 years ago, back in my 20s. Strange looks, awkward silences, raised eyebrows.


The thing is, unless we start having these dialogues about how we live, until we look at our hungry consumption habits, what’s the end game going to be? Theresa May and Donald Trump aren’t taking climate change seriously, to say the least, so now’s the time for leadership from the bottom up, strengthening our social movements if we’re to safeguard life on earth for our children and grandchildren – whether we personally produced them or not – not to mention ceasing or lessening the harm we’re already causing the planet, with species going extinct every minute of the day. Bringing in more stewardship for the earth and the other species.


There, I made more noise! As a final response to Marcia’s excellent theme of ‘looking back and lessons learned’ although I’m childfree I increasingly realize that I’m not fond of labels. Very occasionally I use the term ‘childless’ – even though I know this term is used for and by people who are childless by circumstance, happenstance, or loss – as a political point, given that in a different life I might have had children in very different world circumstances. I still sometimes feel the ‘less’ of ‘childless’ given the societal stigma of being without child for whatever reason. These names, labels and divisions can feel limiting and polarizing. Because I once thought I would be a mother, I feel increasingly passionate about bridging between the childless and childfree. The more united we are, the more critical mass we have in challenging how we’re stereotyped and still treated with suspicion. Ultimately, I long for the day when I/we are not defined in relationship to my/our reproductive choices – please leave our wombs out of this! In conclusion, I’m under no illusion that my little life is going to make a huge difference in the great scheme of things. But we need to do what we can, don’t we? In the spirit of making more noise I’d love us to revive the old adage ‘think global, act local.’ Let’s get on with it…