Susan can remember the exact moment the pregnancy test she had taken turned positive.
‘I was not married, had never planned on getting married and definitely had no interest in having a child,’ she said. ‘I still felt like a child myself, I couldn’t even cook for myself, how would I ever look after a kid? I was really in a panic cause I remember being so happy with the life I had .. then I thought how hard could it be?’
Susan ended up having the baby and married the father of her daughter with whom she had nothing in common with even though he pressured her to abort the child.
‘I married someone I didn’t love, who definitely never loved me and whose parents hated me, believing it was the right thing to do,’ she shared. This fateful decision she believes led to her enduring years of unhappiness that affected her health and self confidence.
Susan ended up staying with her husband until she yet again unexpectedly fell pregnant. However this time she made the decision to divorce him.
‘I divorced him when I was seven months pregnant with my son, he continually lied about everything and I felt myself falling into a deep pit that I feared I could never crawl out of. Although I was drained and always sick from being in a relationship that was so unhealthy for the sake of my child, I knew I needed to get out or I never would, pregnant or not.’ she said.
Susan says that as her son was being born her soon to be ex-husband was watching a tennis match and it was her young daughter who helped her breathe through the contractions.
The mother-of-two makes it clear that she does love her children, but says it was not the way she had foreseen her life citing the time, energy and money it takes in raising children. Susan admits that she did not think hard enough about how having children would affect her life and had she realized the implications she wouldn’t have had them.’
‘Sometimes whatever I do, it never seems enough,’ Susan said. ‘Everybody else’s needs and wants seem to come first. I feel as if the mantra is ‘if everybody is happy, then I am happy,’ which after years of effort for others starts to gall.’
Susan is not alone on the ‘taboo’ subject of mothers who regret having children.
A 2016 German survey by YouGov found that out of 1,200 participants, 8% regretted being parents.
A recent Gallup poll in the United States reported that 7% of parents would choose not to have children if they could do things over. Eighty-six percent of Americans over the age of 45 have children so 7% is a considerable minority
Israeli Sociologist, Orna Donath, caused a stir in 2015 when she thrust the subject of parental regret over having children into the spotlight with her aptly named book Regretting Motherhood.
Part of Donath’s study entailed interviewing 23 women aged from their mid-20’s to mid-70’s – all of whom regretted their choice to have children. Although most of the mothers claimed that they loved their children they simultaneously said that they hated the “maternal experience.”
For the majority of women in Donath’s research the regret was linked to loss – the loss of self, freedom and time. And although many could identify positive aspects of motherhood, the majority of interviewed mothers claimed that “the disadvantages outweighed the benefits.”
Donath writes that women who express regret are deemed selfish, unnatural, abusive “bad moms” or believed to “exemplify the whining culture we allegedly live in.” Donath has been crucified by many on her research with one critic suggesting she should be burned alive.
The Myth of Mothering by Joy Fischer, the mother of a young daughter, paints an unstinting portrait that obliterates the portrayed bliss of being a mother; “The reality of motherhood is incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfillment,” she wrote.
On the forum “Stay At Home Mum” parents discuss the challenges of bringing up kids and their regrets. Many admit that while they don’t regret having children, they do dream about a child-free life.
‘I don’t regret (my kids), but I do daydream about what my life may have been without them,’ said one mum.
Facebook has its own community forum called “Regret Having Children” with over 10,000 members.
“This page is here to let all the mothers and fathers know that regretting having a kid(s) is not abnormal and shouldn’t be a taboo subject,” it states.
Anything shared on the page is done so anonymously so the participants feel free to post how they are truly feeling without worrying about retribution for their views.
A young mum shared that while her baby daughter was planned that she “hates every single second of looking after her.”
“I’ve never been a kid or baby person but everyone always said you will feel differently about your own,” she wrote. “THEY WERE WRONG!!! I thought if other people are having kids it must be great. NO!!! It’s like parents don’t tell you how s..t being a mother is because they want to trap others in the s….y parent world with them. I do love my daughter. It’s not her fault that my hormones and society tricked me into thinking children complete your life.”
It is not just mothers who can regret and resent having children. Some fathers also express regret, resentment and even bitterness in having children. Professors Julia Moore and Jenna Abetz of the University of Utah and College of Charleston conducted a study on the online forum Reddit on what parents regret about having children and what they wished they could redo or undo. As well as posting questions about parental regret on the site they also searched for existing threads on the topic. One of the fathers responses stated:
‘I never wanted kids, ever, and was very clear about this with my (now ex) from the day we met… Sometime later, my wife unexpectedly fell pregnant. She’s always sad it was a surprise, and that it was the one in a million chance of our birth control failing. I’m not convinced, but I’ve never been able to prove anything…I tried to stick at it for just under four years, but it was awful. I felt nothing for the child. It was like an object for me…I couldn’t take it anymore and filed for divorce. I happily granted full custody to my wife, and moved away to seek employment elsewhere. that was six years ago and I haven’t seen her or the child since.’
One reason that seems to come up frequently with the regret some women feel over having a child or children is that when a relationship breaks down a woman is usually left with the arduous work of bringing up the offspring.
Having children has been proven to add stress to a relationship or marriage and leads to higher levels of separation. Studies frequently show that relationship satisfaction is higher before children enter the equation and again peaks (if the couple remains together) after the children leave home.
Twelve percent of divorced women cite their child as the cause for the divorce, with 67% of couples reporting an increase in arguments in the year after their first child is born.
The birth rate in many countries is lowering with many women now making the choice to stay childless oblivious of how society depicts them.
One woman has written about how her choice to not have children has been judged; ‘I’ve been judged harshly by those who don’t know me for choosing not to have children. I love kids and am so lucky to get to play a part in the lives of my friends children. Motherhood is just not for me. And I have and I know I will not suffer any regrets for my choice.’
And another; ‘I never want to feel the pressure to stay in a bad relationship or in a location for too long. Key for me is to prioritize yourself, your dreams and not anothers.’
There are other reasons why women make the decision to remain childless.
1. Concern for the environment
For those who are concerned about overpopulation of the planet and the ever increasing concerns regarding climate change, choosing not to have children is seen as an ethical decision. The entitled study “The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations with the most effective individual actions,” disclosed that having one less child could make more impact in reducing carbon emissions in comparison to 684 teenagers who recycled their whole lives. Another staggering statistic is that there are currently around 321 million babies aged under two and a half on the globe. If each of them wore disposable nappies than more than four tonnes would need to be disposed of every minute. In the United Kingdom alone more than seven million nappies are thrown away each day – an incredible three billion a year which adds to the never ending waste humans create. In order to offset the emissions resulting from bringing just one child into the world, a total of 1,073 trees need to be planted. Many activists cite the decision to not have children as an act of helping out our planet that is already overburdened by people.
Having a child can be detrimental to a woman’s health. Some adults choose to protect their well-being instead of having children. Some potential parents also acknowledge that their own health is not up to the energy levels required to raise a child. In addition, if they already suffer from a chronic health issue they don’t want to risk bringing a child into the world and then put it through the tragedy of losing a parent or coping with one that is always sick.
3. Financial restraints
Kids are expensive! Not only in time and energy but in terms of monetary cost. Raising a child from birth to adulthood will cost approximately $250,000 plus. This means that the average couple works two years to fund each offspring – statistics also show that couples with children are twice as likely to file for bankruptcy as those without.
4. Less sex
Having a baby can dampen your libido. Studies show that in the 12 months after a child is born, sexual activity among average couples drops by more then 40%, with 25% of couples indulging only once a month. No wonder when women with babies who work full time sleep for an average of only 6 hours per night. Even among non-working mothers 74% report that they ‘rarely get enough sleep and generally feel exhausted.’ Also body dissatisfaction by women after giving birth can hit an all time high with 96% of women saying they are ‘less pleased’ with their vaginas a year after giving birth.
5. Even more inequality in the work force
Having a child generally equates to earning less. Women without children earn on average 95% of what men do in comparison to women with children who earn 75% of what their male counterparts earn.
6. Traveling can turn into the trip from hell
Traveling with children, especially when they are young can be so difficult that some parents make the decision to stay put. As well as everything taking a lot longer, putting up with the derision of other passengers on a plane while your child chucks a tantrum can be a challenge that many parents don’t wish to partake in. Traveling with kids is also more expensive with childless people saving an average of 37% as they are able to travel outside school holidays when prices sky rocket.
7. Less friendships and leisure time
Over 60% of women report that having children gives them less time to spend on nurturing friendships while all their energy goes on the needs of the child. Childless couples also have much more time to pursue leisure activities and also spend 101% more on dining out than those with children. It is also harder with children to make spontaneous decisions and many woman feel they lose a great deal of freedom when they have children. Sometimes even going to a yoga class or any previously simple outing can be hard to arrange when children are young.
Despite the fact that some women regret having children, not everyone shares this view. Some women are 100% happy with their choice to have them or seem to be with the vast majority of mothers satisfaction rate varying between the two extreme degrees of regret and elation.
The contented mother playing with her children and lovingly rocking her baby after a night of little sleep are the images we are fed to instill in us that motherhood is an amazing even sacred experience that we should all indulge in. The image of a mother who regrets her choice to have children is one that is mostly frowned upon and generally not voiced openly.
Donath predicts discussion of maternal regret will remain polarized – “between rage and denying its existence, and acknowledging its significance and its social meanings” She believes that; “There’s no catharsis, no happy ending, of the sort expected from women.”
“Mothers are the owners of their bodies, thoughts, emotions, imagination and memories and are capable of acknowledging whether all of this was worthwhile or not” she says.
Feelings of regret are generally used to describe women who want kids but can’t either due to the wrong timing of not finding a suitable mate or due to infertility issues or a number of other issues that prevented them from having a child.
Thomas Gilovich a Cornell University psychologist believes that people are far more likely to regret things they haven’t done than things they have.
Perhaps the women that regret having children have had the luxury of choice and now the luxury of regret. Perhaps the women unable to have children would also have suffered regret if they had had a child. Perhaps not.
Regret is related to a perceived opportunity but maybe that regret could also have been linked with making the different choice on hand at the time.
To have or not to have children is a choice that most women have. To regret either choice made is essentially pointless as we can’t change what we have done nor the children that were conceived and borne from that choice or the ones that weren’t.
All women should be able to make their own choices without being ostracized. The best way to support women who make the decision to remain childless by choice is not to ask women without kids why they don’t have them or when they will. It’s no one’s business but their own. Be compassionate and accept them for who they are and the choices they have made without judgement.
And the parents that have had children and harbor regrets deserve not vilification but the same understanding, compassion and support that women who were not able to have children but wanted them receive.