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Childless at 60 With No Regrets

My husband and dogs are my family. And it's wonderful

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photo collage of a married couple with dogs, life without children
David Weissberg
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It was my first ultrasound, and I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that they used sound waves to see inside you, and it allowed pregnant women a first look at their babies in utero. But I wasn’t looking for life in my belly. I was looking for stones in my gallbladder. 

The technician lifted my shirt, squirted gel onto my stomach, and picked up a wand. I craned my head toward the screen and watched as my abdominal cavity was illuminated. I wondered what it would be like to see the foggy silhouette of a baby appear, a living, breathing being, pulsating in my quietly gurgling cave.       

But the image wouldn’t come.

The year was 2004, and I was 43. While the thought of having children was unimaginable to me, I didn’t have a lot of company. That year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 66 births per 1,000 to women in the United States, the highest birth rate since 1990. In 2021, that number figure was just 56 births per 1,000 women. Nevertheless, the number of women choosing to remain childless is growing in our country, according to a Pew Research Center survey published in November 2021.

According to the survey, 44% percent of 18- to -49-year-olds said they were unlikely to have children, an increase of seven 7 percentage points from the 37% percent who said the same in 2018. The reasons for remaining childless are as individual as the women themselves.

Fifty-one-year-old travel writer Robin Catalano of Upstate New York simply never had the urge to pursue motherhood. While she occasionally felt left out when her friends became parents, that sentiment shifted to knowing she made the right decision — , this partly coming from “… watching them struggle during the pandemic with homeschooling, the lack of private time, and budget fears.”

Lillian Ann Slugocki was the oldest of six children and saw the toll it took on her mother. “I didn't want to spend my entire life responsible for the happiness of others,” she says. Now 65 and in New York City, she says she has no regrets.

Arkansas resident Kerri Fivecoat Campbell, 58, and her husband decided not to have children in the interest of ending what she calls generational family dysfunction. “The only second I ever regretted [not having children] was the day my husband died, and I realized all of him was truly gone from this earth, [(and]) there was no one carrying his blood,” Campbell says.

And seventy-three-year-old New Yorker Kate Walter says that when she came out in the 1970s, “. . . lesbians were not having children unless they had them from a previous marriage.”

While Walter says she might have had kids if her partner had wanted them, instead she put her energy into writing and teaching.

Other reasons for not having children include medical concerns, career ambitions and a desire for personal freedom.

“Wanting kids is sold to us as something fundamental, something essential about what it means to be a woman,” says Bella DePaulo, a psychologist in Summerland, California. “It was just what was supposed to happen. That’s changing now.” 

It isn’t like children never crossed my mind.

Early in my relationship with a man I will call Fisher, I lived in a dilapidated house in the rural backwoods of the Georgia mountains. I was 24, and the discomforts of our lodging sent a kind of shivering poetic grace to the time we spent huddled in bed, tracing potential children’s names on each other’s skin with our fingers.       

And, early in my relationship with my husband, Daryl, we also talked about children. An only child, he always thought he’d have kids. We never named them, but the fact that I discussed them at all makes me think it was pure romance rearing its head again, delivering me into the perilous territory of the desire to make a gift of a child to the person I adored, even though I didn’t actually want that child myself.      

In truth, there was never a moment, either in writing the name “Salem” on Fisher’s back, or wishing the ideal of fatherhood on my husband, that it occurred to me to actually have a baby. It was always a mindless, mostly unexplored fantasy, like how “moving to the country” or “getting off the grid” is to other people.

My idea of having a baby was always a simplistic one, involving ear-splitting sex, followed by images of a baby shower. But I could never see myself pregnant or get to the part where I had to care for a real, live baby.  

By the time Daryl and I married at 40, he conceded that if he’d really wanted children, he’d have left me. That released us to move happily into the next phase of our lives.

Why, when friends and siblings were getting pregnant, was I not similarly compelled, as happens with many women? Does a miserable parent — in my case, my mother, who counted childrearing as one of her life’s most unpleasant tasks — pass on a gene that warns against replicating itself? If so, then within my family I am the sole recipient of that gene: among my two siblings, there are six adored children.

Research shows that sociological and environmental factors play a larger role than genetics. My mother was unhappy with her life, and I, the youngest and last to leave home, got the brunt of her ire. I understood that when you had kids, you became part of a circle, the seamlessness of which made a cage around you. My husband and I are 60 now, and neither of us can imagine our lives as parents. In fact, we have trouble imagining ourselves as anything other than what we’ve become: an artist and a writer, the two of us, with our dogs, the keepers of our quiet wooded plot of land.

We are alone — but not. What we have birthed between us is our own small family circle, the seamlessness of which, somehow, delivers us.

Who else is childless with no regrets? Let us know in the comments below.

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