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For Many Couples, Pitter-patter of Little Feet Isn't Desired

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Chicago Tribune


LOS ANGELES - When Tina Roggenkamp and her husband, Mark, decided to keep their marriage free of children they took a lot of things into account.

They considered their mutual desire for greater freedom, something that enabled her to get a graduate degree and start a small consulting business. There was also their enjoyment of what she called "smaller things" like being able to sleep late when they wanted and dine out whenever the mood struck them.

But there were larger issues as well, such as environmental concerns and worries about an already overcrowded planet.

"We worry about global warming," said the 25-year-old who lives in Charlotte, N.C. "We worry about what the world will be like in the future. There's so much uncertainty and I can't see bringing a life into such a world."

Growing numbers of couples around the country are electing to have what they call "child-free" relationships.

The latest Census Bureau figures show that about 18 percent of women between the ages of 40 and 44 say they have never conceived a child. The percentage has grown steadily since 1976 when the bureau found that just 10 percent of American woman reported never conceiving a child.

There are many reasons why a woman might not conceive, but the conscious decision to avoid children appears to be playing a larger role these days.

While accurate numbers tracking child-free couples can be hard to come by, many groups have formed that seek to connect these couples around the country.

No Kidding! and The Childfree Ring are among the most active. Some offer bumper stickers. One reads: "If I want to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, I'll put shoes on my cat."

Some childless couples report that not everyone is comfortable with this trend. Jennifer Shawne, 32, author of "Baby Not on Board: A Celebration of Life Without Kids," said she has even been accused of being un-American for making the choice not to opt for motherhood.

"There is this assumption that all women have a biological clock that one day is going to start ringing, and we're going to become baby maniacs who have to give birth no matter what," Shawne added. "But that's just not true."

A lot of young women today, Shawne said, are realizing that the feminist ideal that you can have it all - kids and a successful career - is not feasible.

Emily Connolly and her husband hadn't even cut the cake at their wedding reception before friends and family started asking: When are the babies coming?

"Um, they're not," Connolly wanted to say.

Instead she deflected the questions and wondered for about the millionth time why many people assume that all couples want kids.

Connolly, a 24-year-old Chicago retail saleswoman, and her husband, Jimmy, have no plans to have children.

"Babies have just never interested me," she said. "My husband and I didn't get married to have children. We got married for us."

This is hardly the first generation of people making such a decision. Over history changes in society, technological breakthroughs and economic hard times have made it possible, and for some desirable, to refrain from producing offspring.

"Childlessness is not new," said Philip Morgan, a professor of sociology at Duke University.

"However, childlessness in the past was more closely connected with non-marriage than now. But even in 1910 (in the) U.S. some women were voluntarily childless within marriage," he said.

During the Depression, he added, many Americans also chose not to have children because they could not afford them. "Childlessness levels now are not higher than those in the 1930s," he said. Even so, the rapid growth of the population since would suggest that more American couples than ever are choosing to stay child-free.

There are many factors involved in such decisions today, said Morgan and others. These include breakthroughs in fertility treatments that allow women to postpone child bearing until much later in life by which time their lifestyles and other factors may make them decide not to have children after all.

Some even see this issue as a defining one for modern American society, as a line in the sand in the nation's so-called culture wars, a place where science and beliefs clash.

One such person is Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He sees a decision by a married couple to refrain from having children as a violation of God's will.

"I am trying to look at this from a perspective that begins with God's creation," Mohler said in a phone interview. "God's purpose in creation is being trumped by modern practices.

"I would argue that it (not having children) ought to be falling short of the glory of God. Deliberate childlessness defies God's will," he said.

Mohler, who uses the same basic argument in his opposition to same-sex marriage, said that rather than being concerned about over-population he was concerned about under-population.

"We are barely replenishing ourselves," he said. "That is going to cause huge social problems in the future," a reference to demographic shifts that might occur.

But not all Christians, even Evangelicals, agree with Mohler's views.

Amy Showalter, 44, and her husband, Randy Boyer, 45, decided not to have children and consider themselves devout and conservative Christians.

They attend weekly services at the Crossroads Community Church in their hometown of Cincinnati.

"Nobody has ever told us this is a sin," she said. "It just does not come up."

Showalter, a consultant, said after 11 years of marriage she and her husband had concluded that they would make terrible parents.

"We didn't feel we would be qualified," she said. "It was not that we wanted to be rich or anything like that."

Nicki Defago is a Britain-based author who recently wrote a book titled "Childfree and Loving It." She said that for her and many others like her, the decision not to have children was the result of many factors.

"In short it's because there is so much more opportunity for women these days," she said in an e-mail exchange. "You don't need kids to fill your life. You can do many things."

Defago also said that society was becoming more accepting of people who elect not to have children.

"Now we see women my (middle) age trying to do everything and ending up exhausted," she said. "You simply can't do everything in this life. You end up being stretched in all directions. I wouldn't want to live with that conflict between work and child care."

Like Roggenkamp, Defago observed that not having to raise children had given her and her husband a great many material advantages as well.

"We have a wonderful life," she said. "We have a home in London and a home in Spain. We work hard over the summer and take the winter off to travel. We are not tied into school timetables."

Nonetheless she said that in researching her book she found that financial considerations were not determining factors for most people who decided that children were not an option for them.

Carole Matthews is a novelist and child-free as well, in her case because of illness.

"It was when I was researching my latest novel, `With or Without You,' that it really brought it home to me that kids in the Western world really have become a lifestyle choice," she said in an e-mail exchange.

"Go out to any country in the developing world and children are still very much an integral part of society - not just a desirable `bolt-on,'" she said. "They need children to work the fields, look after siblings and to provide for the parents in their old age - they simply can't manage without them on a very basic level. It isn't a choice whether you have kids or not."

One common misperception is that being child free is about disliking kids and their parents, according to Rachel Pildis, 39, of Oak Park, Ill.

Pildis has been a member of the Chicago chapter of the international child-free network called No Kidding! since 1999. She says plenty of people without kids enjoy being around children. They're just happy to send the kids home with their parents at the end of the day, she said.

Pildis joined No Kidding! - with about 200 members in the area who enjoy activities such as book clubs, hikes and dinners - because she and her husband wanted to meet other child-free people who shared their lifestyle.

Roggenkamp, who has decided not to have kids, and her husband are young - he is 27 - and so have not totally ruled out a change of heart, but think that is unlikely.

"My husband and I have talked about the very slight chance of changing our minds and we have decided either he will have a vasectomy, or I will have a tubal ligation by 2008," she said.

"In the meantime, I take birth control pills religiously. If I were to get pregnant, I would have an abortion.

"The chance of us changing our minds is infinitesimal. Neither of us has ever had a desire to take care of children and I don't suspect that will happen in the future."


(Maegan Carberry contributed to this report.)


(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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