About a year ago, Natalie Ramtahal was sitting outside with family, as her partner was nearby washing the car. She was soon approached by a neighbour, a curious stranger who seemed to be interested in her relationship.
The nosy neighbour began asking the 38-year-old how long the two had been together and if they had plans on getting married.
But it was the next question that rankled Ramtahal the most: “Are you going to have kids?”
“In all honesty, I was livid,” she tells Global News. “It felt invasive, rude and critical. I did my best to not be rude, but it took everything in me to not lose my s–t.”
Ramtahal, like other men and women, has decided not to have kids, a decision she says she made for herself.
“Just as there are some women who know absolutely that they do want to have them … I just knew I never wanted to have kids.”
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Tackling the ‘norm’
Couples or single people who decide to go childfree have been labelled everything from selfish to anti-child, while women, in particular, are shamed for not wanting to go through with labour or raising and nurturing a child.
“Reproduction and parenting are a very essential and important part of our world, but it is just one part and it’s not necessary that everyone has to participate in this particular area,” says early childhood consultant Julie Romanowski.
“We have a choice as to how we want to participate in this world and how we want to live our lives. Most people contribute to humanity in other ways that are just as important.”
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And although the make-up of Canadian households is changing (there are more single dads, couples without kids and fewer younger families), Romanowski adds going childfree is still not seen as the “norm” and anyone who does it will continue facing judgment.
“This also ties in with if you are an adult, you must get married, you must buy a house, you must settle down etc. Our world is changing and standards, as they used to be, are being shattered by those who just want freedom within themselves to be themselves.”
Making the decision
Ramtahal, who is a master’s student and food blogger in Toronto, says although she is firm on her decision to not have children, it doesn’t mean she never questioned it in the past.
“We live in a society that thinks women aren’t complete if they aren’t married or, don’t have children. I spent a lot of time in my early 30s really thinking about why I didn’t want them and whether I would regret this choice,” she said.
“There has never been a day where I’ve regretted my decision. Most of the time, I celebrate the choice,” she says.
For Sarah T. (who has decided to only share her first name) of Toronto, she made the decision to not have kids at 18. “For me, there are many reasons why … including my absolute hate for needles and hospitals,” she tells Global News.
“However, I believe at the root of it all, I just don’t want to be a mother, I don’t have the want or the desire to hold that title.”
Sarah, 23, said her family and boyfriend of six years have embraced the decision, even though it took a long time for her grandparents to come around.
“I honestly don’t mention to a lot of people that I’m going to remain childfree because every conversation where I have mentioned it, the conversation has always turned negative.”
Going childfree has even been labelled a trend by some experts in 2014, and according to Ellen Walker for Psychology Today, there are several reasons for this shift.
“Young adults frequently tell me that their concern about the state of the world is huge and they hesitate to bring a child into an overpopulated, environmentally challenged future,” she wrote.
She adds others believe children will interfere with career advancements, while some find more fulfillment nurturing animals like dogs.
For Letitia Chan and Stefan Lamy of Toronto, the decision to not have children was made four years into their relationship.
“I think we both grew up assuming we were going to have kids and never truly thought about the fact that we have the choice not to,” Chan told Global News. “Children are a huge commitment. If you want children, you have to both want them 110 per cent, or else it can deeply affect your relationship. We really cherish each other and value our happiness between the two of us.”
And although all of these people have accepted their decision, it’s the people around them that continue to make them feel guilty about it.
Letitia Chan and Stefan Lamy
Chan says someone recently asked her twice why her boyfriend didn’t want to have kids, and over the years, she says it becomes frustrating.
“Nevermind that it’s my body that will have to go through the changes,” she continues, adding one of the rudest comments is the idea that she will change her mind down the road.
“It’s rude to insist that ‘we’ll change our minds.’ I don’t say that to someone who wants children. Think of how insulting it is to say to someone, ‘Oh you want children? You’ll change your mind once you have them.'”
Ramtahal says over the years, intrusive questions and comments included everything from, “Why wouldn’t you want to have kids?” to “Don’t all women want to have kids?”
“These questions are deeply personal and for anyone thinking about asking them, don’t. No one chooses to not have kids without giving some thought to the decision. There are some people who can’t have kids. There are some people who aren’t ready. There are some who are still struggling with the question.”
Pressures on women in particular
And for women, being childfree can somehow be interpreted as not fulfilling their role as a woman. Chan says in her experience, not having a child is deemed “incomplete.”
“We’re pressured because up until recently, women have been taught that we’re only good at being mothers and that our only task in this world should be mothering. The only way to measure success as a female in the past is to produce children, which is equally devastating for women who want children but are unable to get pregnant.”
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Romanowski adds it is anatomical as well, there is still a thought (and this can go back to religious and cultural upbringings), that the vagina was only meant to reproduce.
And for anyone who still feels they need to question why someone doesn’t have children, Romanowski says you should avoid passing judgment in any way.
“There are a variety of reasons why a woman does not have children. It could be a medical, physical, financial, emotional, psychological issue or reason and it’s no one else’s business otherwise,” she says. “I would consider this an intimate question that one should tread carefully and respectfully around just as private as one’s sexual life, finances or health for example.”
And if you’re childfree and someone does ask you a personal question, always respond with honesty and expand on why their question is inappropriate. Romanowski says in reality, people just have to accept the fact other people don’t want children.
“There is no law that says a woman must have a child. We live in a country that allows the freedom to choose and with that an acceptance of other people’s choices.”
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.