We recently received an email from Ellis’s cousin Shelly. After visiting this web site she wasn’t clear about why we use the term childfree instead of childless. It’s because, in general, our cultural does not define individuals’ traits by what they are not, unless they are markedly different from the norm. Let’s illustrate. Because the vast majority of people live in homes of one sort or another, those who do not possess some sort of personal shelter are regularly referred to as “homeless.”
Many people, especially city dwellers, choose not to have cars. But we don’t call them “carless.” It would not define a vital characteristic of their lifestyles. The same could apply to “petless,” “gunless,” or “televisonless.” However, if someone desired to have children, but was, for any variety of reasons, not capable of having them, the term childless might apply.
But what of those who don’t desire to have kids? If they don’t have them and don’t want them, calling them childless would carry unintended implications. Hence, the term frequently used is “childfree.”
Let’s put this into some context. In November of 2007, The Mail Online – part of the U.K.’s Daily Mail newspaper group – posted an article by writers Natasha Courtenay-Smith and Morag Turner, entitled “Meet the women who won’t have babies because they’re not eco friendly.”
One of the subjects is Toni Vernelli. When she was 21, Toni had been on birth control pills for five years. She did not want to stay on hormone-based contraception indefinitely, so she asked her general practitioner – a primary care physician in Britain’s National Healthcare Service – about sterilization. “’She wouldn’t even consider the idea. She said I was far too young and that I could absolutely not be sterilised, and that I was bound to change my mind one day.”’
Instead, Toni and her 25-year-old husband decided that he would have a vasectomy. The GP had no trouble with that decision.
“I found it insulting that she thought that just because I was a woman, I’d reach a point where the urge to breed would overcome all rational thought.” Toni and her husband divorced a few years later. But at the age of 25 she became pregnant by her boyfriend when the pill failed her. She went to see her new GP. She was able to get an abortion, but again was denied sterilization.
Toni is a hardcore environmentalist. She believes that having a child is selfish. “’It’s about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet . . . (It) uses more food, more water, more land, more fossil fuels, more trees, and produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases and adds to the problem of over-population.’”
When Toni eventually moved to a different city she found a GP who was more “forward thinking.” As she awaited her sterilization date, Toni met her soon-to-be husband, Ed. After the procedure, he gave her a congratulatory greeting card.
Tony has a career in environmental activism. She and Ed are not what we would define as “childless.”
Sarah Irving knew early in life that she, too, wanted to help the environment. Even as a teen she was concerned with climate change, animal species extinction and wilderness destruction. “’I realized then that a baby would pollute the planet – and that never having a child was the most environmentally friendly thing I could do.”
Sarah found that she had to break up with several boyfriends along the way because they wanted children. She eventually went to work for Ethical Consumer magazine. She is now in a committed relationship with Mark Hudson, a healthcare worker.
“’Sarah and I don’t need children to feel complete. What makes us happy is knowing that we are doing our bit to save our precious planet,’” says Mark, who had a vasectomy two years after he and Sarah started dating.
True, some people just don’t like children. But in case you are toying with the idea that these couples don’t like kids, you would be more wrong than a left turn at a red light (unless you are in Britain where that would be a right turn . . . Never mind). They each have nephews and nieces whom they love and enjoy.
Sarah says that she never would think about preaching to others about having kids. “’It’s a personal choice. What I like to do is make people aware of the facts. When I see a mother with a large family, I don’t resent her, but I do hope she’s thought through the implications’”
And this, my dear cousin Shel, is the answer to your quandary. We who eschew having children are not “less” anything. In fact, we are leaving more for your Grandkids and their progeny. We just wish that more folks would realize that we need to think twice in a world where there is more than Enough of Us.