20/11/2016 09:31 SAST | Updated 21/11/2016 10:12 SAST

Not Having Kids Doesn't Mean There's Something Wrong With Me

We've come a long way, baby... but people still frown.

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Right up there with the admission that, yes, you eat carbs and, gasp, you enjoy them too, it is the confession that still raises eyebrows. And just as much as the contents of your dinner plate has nothing to do with anyone else, the same rules apply to your uterus -- or so you would think.

We all know that patriarchy is the root of the mind-boggling evil of telling women what to do with their bodies, but how much longer do we have to explain why we make certain decisions? Nevertheless, here are some stats that might (or probably won't) convince you that this decision is increasingly a common choice.

In 2014, the US Census Bureau's Current Population Survey showed that nearly half of American women between the ages of 15 and 44 did not have children -- a figure that has increased since the Census Bureau started measuring it in 1976. And, according to the Pew Research Centre, the number of women in America who never give birth to children of their own doubled from 10% to 20% from 1970 to 2010. The reasons for this range from the cost of living to not being ready for children. But overwhelmingly it is about choice, and exercising that choice is something South African women are starting to do more of too, according to research by Primrose Bimha and Dr Rachelle Chadwick at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Bimha and Chadwick's study explored why women decided not to have children. These women defy the social expectations of procreation's assumed intrinsic value and face the stigma of not being full or fulfilled women as a result thereof. And I have heard all iterations of the judgement that childfree women face: "It's a phase"; "You'll get over it"; "That's really selfish"; "What if you change your mind later?"

Firstly, no, it is not a phase – it is a decision. It is not something to "get over", and it is not an illness. Yes, it is selfish –- that is OK. And maybe some women will change their minds. But most importantly, the decision does not make these women defective, incomplete, or any less of a woman.

Much like their international counterparts, South African women are choosing not to have children in favour of personal advancement or wanting to pursue their careers. But other factors, both economic (children are expensive to take care of) and practical (the lack of suitable parenting partners), play a part in the decision-making process. Some even mentioned having been given the responsibility to care for children and simply not liking the experience. There is often a negative framing of motherhood as "burdensome" and "demanding" – and I fail to see how opting out of that, how choosing a life free of what some find burdensome or demanding, is a problem.

For women in Bimha and Chadwick's study, cultural influences were a silencing factor for women who choose a childfree life, especially in the face of cultural beliefs that often frame motherhood as the sole purpose of womanhood.

The social and economic impact of having children spreads further for many young mothers in areas they wouldn't generally think of. Coming up against gender wage gaps is difficult enough, but the situation becomes even more arduous for working mothers – with the gap between mothers and non-mothers bigger than that between men and women.

Perhaps the growing movement of young women choosing a childfree life is as a result of more women stopping to consider their options instead of defaulting to the supposed next step in their lives. We are taking on bigger professional challenges and questioning just how much we are willing and able to give to every aspect of our lives. We saw the double shifts of home and professional life that our working mothers had to balance, and we are acutely aware that our male peers are not facing the same pressures. We understand how far our salaries can take us and that maybe there isn't room to stretch it much more - or maybe we simply do not want to allocate any of it to nappies, formula or school fees.

And there is no fault in that.