50 Ways Not To Be A Mother…

Although many people who don’t know our story may imagine that we either actively chose not to have children or couldn’t have them due to infertility, there are many ways to end up childless without actively choosing it:

  1. Being single and unable to find a suitable relationship from your mid-thirties onwards.
  2. Being ignorant about your fertility and not realising that after 35 it’s half what it was at 25, and that by the time we’re 40 we have only a very small number of viable eggs left. The age that many women think they need to worry about is 40, when in fact it’s much younger.
  3. Not meeting a partner until we’re past our childbearing years.
  4. Never meeting a suitable partner.
  5. Thinking that we don’t want children because of our own difficult childhoods, before realising too late that we were not condemned to repeat this with our own children.
  6. Being unable to afford to have a child on our own, and being unwilling to rely on the state and therefore risk bringing a child into a life of poverty.
  7. Spending our 30s healing childhood wounds in therapy, and then finding it too late to find a healthy partner and start a family.
  8. Coming into recovery from addiction issues right at the end of our fertile years.
  9. Being with a partner who says they want children later… but the time is never right for them.
  10. Being in an emotionally abusive relationship that destroyed our confidence and so we left it too long to leave, recover and find a suitable partner with whom to have children.
  11. Not making motherhood a priority and somehow expecting it to ‘just happen’ one day.
  12. Waiting for our partner to come round to the idea of having a family, only to find out that they’ve decided they definitely don’t want children.
  13. Infertility issues of our own.
  14. Infertility issues of our partner.
  15. Infertility issues of both partners.
  16. Miscarriage and early term loss.
  17. Still birth, cot death, early infancy mortality.
  18. Being with a partner who has had a vasectomy and for whom the reversal doesn’t work.
  19. Coming out of a convent or other seclusion because we want the opportunity to have children, only to be unable to find a partner or to afford to do it on our own.
  20. Finding out that the person you’d been in a relationship with for the last few years is actually already married with children.
  21. Adopting a child and then finding that although everyone now thinks you’re ‘a mother’, you still feel ‘childless’ and guilty about it.
  22. Staying in a relationship that you don’t feel comfortable bringing children into.
  23. Trying to conceive for several years only to find out that due to a surgical error a contraceptive coil that should have been removed is still in place.
  24. Being widowed.
  25. Being born without a fully developed reproductive system.
  26. Our partner’s sexual orientation leading to relationship breakdown (or vice versa).
  27. Not feeling comfortable having IVF or other treatments.
  28. Being unable to afford fertility treatments.
  29. Not being able to afford to continue fertility treatments.
  30. Being denied fertility treatments.
  31. Our partner or ourselves being ill during our most fertile years and so waiting for one or both to regain health.
  32. Caring for a sick, elderly, disabled or vulnerable family member during our fertile years.
  33. Being a ‘mother’ to our younger siblings in our mother’s place (due to illness, absence, death, addiction, depression, etc) and so believing that we’d ‘had enough of mothering’ only to realise too late that we would like to have children of our own.
  34. Losing a key relationship because of family disapproval on religious, cultural, class, financial or other grounds, and then not meeting another partner in time to start a family.
  35. Medical conditions that make becoming a parent difficult.
  36. Working in a single-sex dominated environment thus making it difficult to meet a suitable partner.
  37. Having genetic inheritance issues of our own, or our partner’s, that make us decide not to risk having children.
  38. Needing to save enough money to buy a home and pay off college debts before we could afford to start a family, only for it to be too late.
  39. Being with a partner who already has children and doesn’t want more.
  40. Being with a partner who doesn’t want children at all (a childfree partner).
  41. Becoming a stepmother and for it to be too painful for your partner’s children to cope with you having a child.
  42. Being unable to get pregnant with the eggs you froze when you were younger.
  43. Being ambivalent about motherhood and realising too late that you really do want a family.
  44. Finding out that the man who said he wanted children was lying as he’d had a vasectomy and hadn’t told you.
  45. Having a partner with addiction or mental health issues that took up both of your lives until it was too late to have children.
  46. Being unable to adopt because of being single, having insufficient funds, being the wrong age, being the wrong gender, being the wrong ethnicity, being disabled, not being able to afford to or being rejected for a variety of bewildering box-checking reasons including not having a garden!
  47. Finding donor egg treatments something you don’t feel comfortable pursuing, thereby bringing your fertility treatments to an end.
  48. Finding surrogacy as an alternative to having your own baby something you don’t feel comfortable with, or can’t afford.
  49. Having your ovaries damaged by chemotherapy and your partner being unwilling to consider egg donation.
  50. Having your surrogate mother decide to keep your genetic child.

I could keep going but I think you get my point – behind every woman without children is a story – a different one for each of us. Your story may be here, or parts of it, or it may be number 51 or number 151…

And yes, all of the stories above are true. Many people think that the room called childlessness has just two doors: ‘didn’t want’ or ‘couldn’t have’. Those of us who are childless-not-by-choice know that it’s way more complex than that!


The above is an extract from the original self-published edition of my book, now updated and revised in a 2nd edition and published by Bluebird/PanMac in 2016 as “Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future without Children”. Find out more and download the introduction and first chapter here

51 Comments on 50 Ways Not To Be A Mother…

  1. My autoimmune disorder does not preclude fertility, but my medications are harmful to a developing fetus. How do you choose between the meds that are finally providing relief in what is a chronic condition, and going back to debilitating pain to make a baby?

  2. My husbands ex partner convinced him to have a vasectomy whilst she was cheating on him. They have two children. The reversal didn’t work.

  3. I’ve thought of another (possibly slightly less common) though it possibly ties in with 5, 7 and 10 – being an abuse survivor, and finding the idea of sex and a married relationship completely repulsive.

    Or simply being an asexual woman naturally, or with a cause. But still being maternal, who desperately wants to be a mummy, who didn’t have the resources (either physically, mentally, or financially) to go it alone with donor sperm, or who didn’t feel they could do that for religious/moral reasons.

    Or another one – chronic tokophobia. I’ve heard of women utterly crippled with fear of pregnancy & childbirth, but who love children, and want to be mothers, but whose phobia was just too severe to overcome in time.

    As you say, so many ways to end up childless. For many it’s probably been a complex and tragic mix of a few factors. Everyone has a unique story to tell.

    Sincere blessings to all grappling with this loss, whatever the cause x

    • I think I might have a version of tokophobia but due to having endometriosis and the pain that caused. Labour was never going to less painful than that and I was also fearful of it impacting on my bladder which I already have trouble with due to cervical spinal stenosis messing with the nerves. But really, it was prioritising my (bad) health that took my attention off motherhood and just not having a suitable partner.

  4. Thank you so much for this list. I am really feeling depressed about not being able to have children for several reasons above and you really made me feel better and not as alone as I see myself

    • Dear Maxine – I’m so glad you ‘see yourself’. Our stories are so complex, and so misunderstood, often by ourselves too! I’m glad this post brought you some comfort today. Hugs, Jody x

    • I have lupus. I’ve miscarried once which is normal with Lupus patients. But I’m scared to try again after 40, for the usual reasons but also because the disease can change die to hormone changes and I could have extreme case of the disease. Right now it is mild…I cannot imagine living off disability just to have a child. How could you even care for a child when you cannot care for yourself? Also, the child could be born with heart problems. It just seems too risky alongside all the other issues at this age. I just was thought I would be a mom…makes me so sad.

  5. Today is what I call my ecclipse anniversary. 19 years ago my partner and I had clips placed on my tubes. What a conscious life lived before, and since.

    • Hi Eve – yes, 50 is too short a number. I’ve update the list in the new edition of my book (out Feb 25th) to include early menopause, but not women wanting to focus on their careers until it is too late because…. I’ve never actually met one of those or heard that as part of a woman’s story… I’m not sure it actually exists in the numbers that the shaming media narrative would suggest. Most women I know have ‘jobs’ too, rather than careers, and most of them were well aware that ‘time was running out’ but without a partner or with fertility issues or any of the many other reasons, having a child was very tricky.

      • Yes that is very true! I’ve never met or heard any woman with that kind of story…I guess I just assumed that they must be out there! (again media brainwashing) As for having jobs, I honestly believe that that should also be a reason for childless by circumstance, because simply having to work full-time drains you of the time and energy needed to even find a partner and be able to give fully in the relationship! Or at least that’s how it feels for me….no time or energy left at the end of the day or week to even socialise and have the opportunity to meet people (and if I do manage to get out, I have a tired and drained look on my face, not exactly inviting!), nor to even trawl the Internet dating sites…which is a part-time job in itself…:-/

        • Hi Evie – I guess what I meant to say is that most ‘media’ refers to as ‘careers’ are in fact ‘jobs’, and just as flipping exhausting! J x

        • That’ll be the same media that never admits that many women who avoid cervical smears find it too painful.

    • I think #11 would cover focusing on careers. However, I cringe when I hear women say this. It implies that If a women pursues a career and she ends up childless, the career pursuit caused the childlessness and that is simply not always true. Pursuing a career does not automatically lead to childlessness.

  6. I too am a combination of the list. I just turned 33 and have had a lot of time to come to terms with not having kids. My main thought on it is….”Maybe in another life to come.” “Maybe I had many kids in past lives and I am now experiencing the flip side of the coin” Not everyone is meant to have kids, if we were we would all pop one out at a certain age and no one would have any say, it would just happen. My uncle never had kids, but he was the best father to me anyone could ask for.

  7. I’m 29, jobless and childless, and freaking out. I aborted at 16, I was too young, and again at 23, because the guy was mean to animals and emotionally abusive, it scared me. Met my husband at 25, miscarried at 28. He’s been unemployed so long that we are literally too broke to have kids. He also has a kid from a previous marriage he has to pay for.

    • I understand what you are going through. I am 9 and 12. I am 43yo now, was 39 when my world fell apart, when he told me he didn’t want to have children. We went together to a therapist and separatly (one on one). We are still together but it is very difficult at times, I haven’t forgiven him and I don’t know if I ever will. It isn’t easy to leave a relationship of16 years, because there have been good and happy times to.
      I hope you will find the ansver that is the right one for you.♡

  8. The reason why my doctors told me not to get pregnant, is not the reason why I am not working, and am not in a relationship now. I realised trying to write about what happened, was creating so much anger and frustration, it is better for me to put the whole thing to bed again. That reason, because of medication for bipolar disorder, in itself caused an enormous amount of distress, still creates bigoted opinions, and may have contributed to the lack of appropriate treatment for a completely different condition. In social groups, I often find that it is easier to talk to men rather than women. I tell myself, that this is because I did sciences at school and then trained in architecture, (my decision not to continue my training, in which I was struggling, was made in a Victorian Lunartic Assylum).
    I am used to men, my closest friends are an ex partner and an ex boyfriend. Neither are involved in the social circles created through the internet networks through which I have had a face to face social life. My physical difficulties now (biomechanical, not biochemical), have more than once not been believed by people who knew I used to be bipolar. Yet I am thankful, I have a roof over my head, a lovely view, generally nice neighbours, and feel safe walking home at night.
    I am able to share with other people the wonderful heritage, green space, waterside walks, architecture and free art events in the city I live in, with friends and aquaintences, who may at one day become friends.

    I had some fantastic discounts on some art courses a few years back, a free education until I had to retake my degree year, and some free retraining in IT, administration and adult teaching.

    The person who directed me to this website does not know it. I don’t know if she was at the event I saw her name against. There were so many of us an I was able to catch up with people I had not seen for a while. Yet I opted out of joining a social group for 40+, an suggested being taken to one event as a guest. The other woman I met that was also offered a lift, drove me potty. Partly it was her style of conversation and partly its content, we think very differently. She was the kind of woman who believes it is ok to ask very direct questions, “what job do I do”, “Do you have children” etc. I later told the driver, that one of the reasons I did not want to join 40+ group, was that it included a lot of female divorcees with children now growing up enough to enable the mum to have a social life. Having mainly done voluntary work with older people, I am enjoying the company of younger women in a group that is not aged defined.

    For me the barriers to a better social life than I have, were physical disability, and money. I have no idea how many people in the group have children. Some will volunteer the information. We basically join events where we think we might enjoy it, and thus find people who enjoy the same things.

    I am avoiding talking about the detail, of how I came to be childless, because 26 years on it is still painful to remember, the day I realised that dream was just that. When I was 18, I imagined by 28 I would be a successful architect, married to an architect, starting a family. I thought my biggest decision would be a) do I give up my career for the children, B) do I send my children to public school, since I felt that the comprehensive education system did not encourage bright children.

    As it happened, I was flailing about between inappropriate relationships and brief relationships that with people who freaked out at a whiff of what my medication was for, fighting to maintain my sanity, fighting for a permanent position in what was meant to be a permanent job.

    When eventually it was agreed, that it was safe for me to come of medication that was initially intended to be for life, I was 40 and in a sexless relationship. There was an assumption by some I came off it to start a family. Apart from the lack of intimacy I would have wished for, I was in a loving relationship, which did not unravel until two other disabilities came into play.

    It was a blessing when I hit the menopause early, and it was not a difficult one. If I was not on the pill, my periods were getting increasingly debilitating, and I had a 24 to 25 day cycle. I no longer had to think of those wasted eggs, and not being able to function that well for a quarter of my life.

    I have other things to feel distressed about now, and other things to feel angry about. In the main stream, things are getting better, I have had the medical treatment, currently available, I should have had 10 years ago. I do not have a degenerative disease. Though my prospects for employment now are more slim than my employment advisors at the job centre like to believe, I am not without opportunity to be useful, and some people in my life are generous, I still have a little bit of inheritance left, so it blunts the edge of living off £71 a week, potentially until I hit pension age, unless I can get my act together for self employment.

    What I have found, is that to an extent, being fulfilled, is a luxury in terms of externals. Valuing what we have, and making the most of our resources and opportunities, is far more important. Where we can’t, we have imagination, and information, and entertainment. In the first world at least we have access to so much, that others are deprived of.

    I am not denying the overwhelming sense of grief, inadequacy, and most abhorrent, envy, I felt as a young woman, knowing I would remain childless, and that I would have to tell every new partner, that an accident would result in an abortion, (it didn’t happen).

    What I have found hardest, is that social situations that were once made for adults, are now “family friendly”. It would seem, that most affluent parents, who had a good quality of life before starting a family, want to carry on with all the grown up stuff. The idea of creating a child focussed social life, and doing stuff with children for children seems to have gone out of the window. So does keeping your kids under control!

    Then there are the many 16-25 year olds with no job and no prospects, the young graduates in debt working in a bar or a shop, with no prospects for a career they thought they would have. These people who are a victim of our over ambition, individually, nationally, globally, are the product of the loins of my contemporaries.

    I don’t have to worry about them, they are not my sons and daughters.

  9. Brilliant, thanks Jody, am going to print several copies of this list off and keep in my bag, so when ‘the question’ is asked I can just hand the person this list, so tired of people’s heartlessness and ignorance. So glad to have found GW. Oh an idea just popped in my head, might just get all this reasons printed on a t-shirt front and back, wear it and try and educate some people!

  10. Here’s another reason: going into hospital in your early 30s to have an ovarian cyst removed under general anesthetic. Waking up from the anaesthetic to find that the surgeon removed both ovaries because they were both covered in cysts and scarred. This happened to me. Ironically before that I never met men who wanted children, but nearly every man I have met since asks me do I want children because they do. It breaks my heart to tell them about the surgery as not being able to have children is a deal breaker for most men, even those in their 40s, ESPECIALLY those in their 40s. Younger guys want to date casually which is fine for now but I will probably end up alone when I get older because it is harder for women in their 40s up to meet men. Single and childless was never my plan!

    If I think I have it bad a cousin had to get chemotherapy in her 20s. Part of this process meant she had to go through an artificial menopause. It was hell for her and she never recovered her fertility enough to conceive a child with her husband. They are going through a lengthy adoption process at the moment and it looks like it will be successful. She was lucky to have a boyfriend who stood by her throughout the chemotherapy and was happy to take the risk of not being able to have children of their own and marry her. If she had been single when she had the chemotherapy it is likely she would never have found a partner.

  11. So many ring true for me but and now grateful for the night of despair the lead to the Google search that found you on the other side of the planet. Gateway Women have given me the extra strength that I need to face each day afresh.

  12. Thanks for sharing Jody. Sometimes when I think of my own childlessness I only recall 3-4 of these & reading this brings to mind many other reasons that I had failed to remember let alone take into account. If we really take on board the diverse, complex reasons for our childlessness then we would be far more forgiving & kinder to ourselves, & less ashamed. Jx

  13. Jody, thank you for this fabulous list. I will definitely link to it from my Childless by Marriage site and keep it handy as a reference. And you’re right, you could probably list 50 more reasons.

  14. I am # 35 (and past 35 now!), and I almost never see it in reference to not having children. Even among my own chronic illness circles where most of the talk is at most about infertility related to the illness. We have not tried because of the myriad of my health problems. I am able to work full time, but even then, I just don’t have the energy a child needs, and don’t feel I could be reliably there and present for a child. Even if I didn’t work. Interestingly, if I didn’t work in education, that might never have crossed my mind as being a problem. I see too many children whose parents aren’t present and the damage it does. It just isn’t fair to them. Luckily, I am rarely asked about the issue beyond, “do you have children?” if people don’t know me. I ask that question when I am getting to know someone so it actually doesn’t bother me. I have no problem explaining my reason and most know by now, so maybe that helps. It can still hurt at times though, and it sure makes for a different life than most have.

  15. I’m afraid I will soon be a 4, though it looked there for a while I might be a 39. Since last week it’s back to 4 again. Thanks for 36; I can see how working in a more mixed-sex environment, especially one that brought me into contact with the general public, would be a bonus.

  16. Oh wow, so many unhappy reasons. I feel bad for all those women.

    But for many of us, not having children is liberating. Whether it comes by choice (“didn’t want them”) or accident (“partner was infertile but he turned out to be a monster so thank god we didn’t have children together”) or whatever other circumstance, there are many of us living wonderful, fulfilled, happy lives without having given birth.

    • “partner was infertile but he turned out to be a monster so thank god we didn’t have children together”

      deep in take of breadth on reading that BUT yesterday i had a little moment where i was able to see just how far i’ve come.

      i was with a friend who has a beautiful 6 month old and is very happy being a mum – whilst i was having a cuddle with the little one i told her about my summer and the opportunities that are presenting themselves at the moment, opportunities i’m now emotionally ready to act on post some grieving. she was of course really happy for me but, to my surprise, more than a little envious!!!

      a year ago i couldn’t imagine anyone ever being remotely envious of me or my life. things change…..

  17. I have a couple more – you’re a same sex couple and surrogacy or adoption doesn’t work for (for any of the reasons you’ve already mentioned); your partner is transgender and is still trying to figure out their own identity.

    And in our case the primary reasons are my fibro and my partner’s anxiety. I feel unable to look after a child and my partner is scared of passing on anxiety through learned behaviour.

  18. Well done… I think I’m some combination of 4, 5, 6, 22, 27, 35, 38, 43, and 45. In other words, “it’s complicated.” People should remember that when they ask the childless why they don’t have children.

    • @ rantywoman, I can totally relate!!!
      I am a combination of 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 10, 11, 14, 22 and 39 (depending on which year we’re talking about and which relationship I was in at the time). Wow, makes me feel like a walking disaster area, haha!! Life is complicated and boy, have I lived on complicated (but fun and exciting and rewarding) life 🙂 Thanks Jody!!

  19. Thanks Jody
    am looking forward to your book. Think i’ll leave copies in places for ‘other people’ to find them…they really need to understand more

  20. 1, 18, 46, 47, 48 Jody, you are fearless and brave, and you are getting this stuff out there that people so need to know. Thank you.

  21. I really like the list of reasons why women don’t have children. I fit into a couple of these categories. I’m keen to order your book from Amazon when it comes out.

  22. I am 1&18.very inspiring and so true. Can’t wait to read your book. You are trailblazing a way for so many of us xxx

  23. 3, 5 and 33 🙂

    Best of luck on the home straight for your book.

    Looking forward to it. Clare

    On Sat, Sep 7, 2013 at 6:35 AM, Gateway Women

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