Something I struggled to find off the back of my one and only round of IVF were examples of women who were living that childfree life and full on embracing it. I felt like I was doing a disservice to not keep trying and trying. Thankfully as Maddy shows, there are so many women out there choosing to be childfree and bossing it. Empowered and inspiring, enjoy her story. As always, I’m so grateful for everyone’s commitment because it is such a personal subject to open up about. Please do read, leave a comment and share as much as you can, I’m really willing this to grow and grow so that we can help as many people as possible who may be going through something similar.
I’ve also started to build a resource list, for those of you who are either childfree by circumstance or childfree by choice. A combination of blogs, communities, individuals who are doing wonderful things in this space. Please do let me know if there are resources you use I can add.
I Am : Maddy, 37
Home Is: London
I Do: Visibility Coach
Find Me: Instagram
Hi everyone I’m Maddy Shine and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the right to choose. We’ve had that stolen from us in many ways in 2020 but I’ve been digging deeper than that. There’s nothing quite like a global pandemic to demolish all the comforts built up around us leaving us rather exposed to our own thoughts. (Making light of a crisis is my coping mechanism).
I guess I’ve long been a reflective sort of person. In the last 10 years, since I started travelling to India and began studying a meditation teaching, I have become extremely reflective. You see, I was very stuck in my ways. I knew I didn’t want what everyone else had, but I wasn’t aware I had much choice. It seemed to be the case to me that, at some point, I was supposed to find someone I wanted to be with for the rest of my life, and then I was supposed to have children (or try to) and get a mortgage (if I could afford it). But I didn’t want to do that. I felt like I was trying to jam the square peg of my existence into everyone else’s round hole of the Ideal Life. It was exhausting.
The first time I remember thinking “I don’t want to have kids” was at 10 years old. I announced to my best friend at the time that I certainly didn’t want my own children, please and thank you. In fact, at that time, I was terribly keen on adopting. No idea where I picked up such a strong idea aged 10 but there we are.
From there, it evolved over the years into simply not wanting to have children at all. It has felt very natural to make this choice and once I made it for certain (around 5 years ago at 32/33) I have felt much freer. I’ve cracked on and as you’ll see, it’s turning out just fine.
Don’t get me wrong, I quite like children
You see, I adore children. Wait, let me clarify that, I rather like some children. I’ve realised a few things in the past few years as I find myself surrounded by more children. We don’t have to like everyone, so we don’t have to spend time with everyone. That’s normal. It’s OK to be clear about that and it’s OK to spend time in your own way, doing what you want to do. Again, it’s about the right to choose how you spend your time.
I’m quite good with children. I think they like my eccentricities. In fact, one of my career paths when I was doing the UCAS process back in 2000 was that I would become an English teacher. The logic there was that I was good with children (I babysat a lot, assisted teachers with the smaller ones) and I was good at English. But meeting a group of childfree thirty-something women whilst on a PR internship here in London in 2001 put a stop to that. I switched to a business degree and thank heavens I did. I had zero idea of what I wanted to do in life and a teaching degree would have put me in a box I would have found hard to escape.
I’m an extremely proud aunt. I’ll be an aunt again in February and I can’t wait to have them over for sleepovers. But I can already see myself repeating what my grandma used to say “it’s lovely to see you come, and it’s lovely to see you go”, she was a hoot.
I love to take care of others, I love to host and have people over. One of my closest friends likes to joke that I’m the friend she’d like to be stuck in the apocalypse with because “I’d be in the back making cups of tea and offering hugs”. I like that. That sums me up well.
A Square Peg in a Round Hole
I happened to get married in 2012, and this made me climb back into the square peg / round hole status. I announced to all who would listen that my husband and I would travel for a bit and then settle in England and have kids. I knew that wasn’t going to happen because deep down, I didn’t want it to happen. But I was so full of uncertainty at the time – we were about to leave London ‘for good’ after having lived in the city for 8 years. I was going to be effectively homeless. I’m a nester, and being homeless is not for me. At the time, I didn’t deal well with uncertainty. Somehow promising myself children at the end of travelling felt like certainty. I can hear parents laughing loudly at this because I know now that having children makes you feel more uncertain than ever.
But here’s the thing. As a newly married 30 year old woman I felt the need to justify my existence. No one asked me to. In fact rarely did people even bring up the question of having children. But when people did comment the comments were so personal. I’d had a couple of procedures done after an irregular smear in my twenties so I was a little cautious about my insides anyway. I distinctly remember a colleague at work stroked my belly and said ‘That won’t come back empty’ just before I left London to go travelling again. I was shocked. I wanted to say something inflammatory that would upset her. But I bit my tongue. She was a mother and that was her choice. But I felt silenced.
In fact, six months later I came back to England not only not pregnant but without a husband too. I was living in my parents’ attic, whilst I recuperated from my heart break. I extensively Googled, searching for women who were happy after divorcing early in life. I wanted to find women who were childfree and single and living their best lives.
Where were all the strong women?
They must exist I thought. I was devastated to find out they didn’t exist according to the internet. Zero coverage. I couldn’t believe it. Looking back on it now, I see that I made a decision that summer.
If I was going to do this, I was going to do it properly. I was going to start making some clear decisions about what my business was going to look like. I had been freelance copywriting for some time and before travelling I had been a marketing manager. So I had experience. I started pitching more to businesses and started earning a name for myself to help small businesses get visible online.
It was then I knew that I would put all my energy into building my business, supporting women to be more visible and to find their voices.
I wanted to help women. I wanted to help women find the confidence and clarity that I had desperately wanted. I have spent the years since exploring this. That’s what gets me out of bed in the mornings.
Discovering My Mission
I realised over time that this would be my mission. I felt terribly arrogant declaring this so I edged in sideways. Again, wanting that confidence + clarity. But this is the thing, we need to see what we want to be. Otherwise we won’t recognise that it is possible.
I want to see more happy fulfilled women, with the right to choose. I know that generations of women have fought for that right before us. They are still fighting for those rights around us. The least we can do is take up that privilege they fought for. The right to choose.
And that’s no judgement whatsoever on women who become mothers. That’s awesome. But women who feel pressured into a life they don’t think they want? That’s where my heart breaks. And that’s why I’m delighted to share my story.
I was having brunch sitting outside a bar in Soho a couple of years ago with a male friend of mine. He was expressing his wish to find a wife and have kids. When I made it clear that I didn’t want kids, he was stumped. “What are you going to do instead?” he asked. “Everything-f-else” I replied.
One of the brilliant things about social media in 2020 is that you can seek out like-minded people easily. I’ve been really ramping up making connections with and following people who talk about finding fulfilment in other ways.
Again, this is not a judgement on those who want and have children, but to understand that we have a choice in how we use our bodies, our uteruses, our minds, our lives, that is what I am interested in.
I’ve been lucky to find quite a few women along the way who are childfree by choice and guess what? It isn’t the main topic of conversation as perhaps more traditionally minded people think it might be.
I’m not going to sit here and write out the pros and cons of having / not having children because in truth I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it like that. When I sat down to write this article I thought maybe that would be useful but then I realised two things:
- no one ever had to list / justify the reasons why they do want children
- I know from experience that any of the cons can be smashed by the fact that you’ve brought life into the world and it’s a love like no other, and all of that, but it’s just not for me
We need to get over the idea that we must procreate to be real women, to feel whole. I push myself to explore other ways of being fulfilled. I am extremely fulfilled by my life that I have created. I have great relationships with my family, my friends, but most importantly with myself. It certainly wasn’t always like that. I used to hate being on my own. I thought loneliness should be avoided at all costs as I took it as a sign that I had failed at life.
Because of my mission to support others to live their best lives by running successful businesses, I consider my business my baby and in many ways, maybe my clients and course students. One of my clients does call me “Mummy” as a joke and we laugh.
I do think that a lot of women feel pressured into having kids. I think we aren’t shown enough examples of women who are enjoying life wholeheartedly without having kids. It’s the whole thing of you can’t be what you can’t see.
I am only the 3rd generation in my family to have a job as a woman. I am the second generation to not have to quit my job when I get married and I am the first generation to fund my life entirely from my own work. Perhaps I am part of the first generation to have a real and tangible, judgment-free choice about being childfree.
People want kids to make sure they have a legacy, they help to build a future. I want to now discover how to create a different sort of legacy. I want to support women to figure out our own legacy whether that is having children or not: that is our choice.
That is our right to choose.
Thank you for reading,
Thank you so so much to Maddy for sharing her honest story as a guest poster and sharing her thoughts and views in this piece. As I’ve stressed from the very beginning, this is a warm, empathic platform for people to share their stories, hopes, dreams, fears. Please do read Maddy’s story and leave a comment if you’d like to and share this series if you know anyone it could help. Together we are making changes.