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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC London chapter.


You don’t want, or don’t know if you want children? – That’s okay! We must stop saying “when you have children”, and instead say “if you have children”.

I’m stunned by the number of times I’ve heard the phrase “when you have children” spoken to me out of the blue by parents but also by young people my own age. This doesn’t leave room for choice, for the freedom of choosing what future you want. Every time I hear those words, anxiety rises within me. Many do not understand that not everyone likes to imagine or fantasise about weddings and having children. On the contrary, thinking about such matters makes me feel pressured into following a particular path that doesn’t necessarily appeal to me. Thinking about such things can bring anxiety to those who don’t feel like they fit into the typical moulds of living and of growing old. Even though society dictates otherwise, I don’t know if I will get married or have children or if I even want these things. That is only normal. I don’t know what the future holds and that is the beauty of life. 

Family units and compositions are changing, so why can’t the way we grow up and live our lives change as well? Being an only child, my friends have become like family- like siblings. Family means so many different things nowadays and conventional family structures are changing as time ticks away. I do not dream of a house in the countryside with a husband and two children and that. IS. OK. I do not think about these things with delight and you shouldn’t feel like you have to either. 

Society pressures women, and to a certain degree, men as well, to have children and it is especially more stressful when you are a woman as it is up to you to give birth before you’re too old. There are many issues that we need to address regarding these matters. Pope Francis, at the beginning of 2022 for example, suggested that couples who wish to not have children are being selfish. This is highly problematic. Indeed, according to a study by Harvard Medical School Mental Health Letter, the pressure on women who “suffer from infertility feel as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer or hypertension, or those recovering from heart attacks”. 

A psychological study by Sherryl Jeffries and Candace Konnert “examines regret and psychological well-being among 72 middle-aged and older women who are either voluntarily childless, involuntarily childless, or mothers. Group comparisons indicate that, when compared to involuntarily childless women, voluntarily childless women show higher levels of overall well-being, rate themselves as more autonomous with greater environmental mastery, and are less likely to have a child-related regret”. 

In her article ‘A Brief History of Bullying Women to Have Babies’, Therese Shechter stresses the weight of societal expectations on women: “IF YOU’RE IN POSSESSION of a uterus, at some point in your life you’ve likely gotten the message that having children isn’t a choice—it’s your duty”. Pushing women to have children when they aren’t able to take care of them or who simply don’t want children makes no sense. Pregnancy, giving birth and raising a child is a big deal. 

Yet, when you tell people you don’t want children, it provokes disbelief and ends up with the other person saying that you will change your mind in a few years. What if my mind doesn’t change? What is so wrong with that, as long as I’m happy? If I’m 35, unmarried, childless but happy, that is more than okay. These things should not matter and most of all, it is nobody’s business but my own. 

Again comes the question of why people still care so much and why does society always need to control everything? It is still so antiquated in this regard and makes women feel heartless and cruel for not wanting children. Women should be able to do exactly what they want with their bodies. If you choose to have children as a young professional while studying at university, or not at all, it shouldn’t matter. Each individual should be able to procreate or not, whenever it is right for them, regardless of what society thinks or judges is best for them. Having a baby is intrinsically linked to being a woman and outdated gender and femininity standards. We need to push for the destruction of societal, gender expectations, biases and pressures. 

Jennifer is a final year student in Comparative Literature with a Year Abroad at UCL who loves to write and aspires to become a journalist after her studies. She is particularly passionate about feminist journalism and issues relating to gender identity and inequality.