“I never had any children. I used to want kids…for like five seconds. And I’m so glad I never did it,” says Samantha Osborne, an activist and comedian, in a recent TikTok. “I love my nieces, I love my nephew, I love kids, I really do. But I don’t want to be a mother.”

Osbourne goes on to say that her choice is “OK”, just as the choice to have children is OK. She is one of the many women who have turned to TikTok to voice their decision to be voluntarily childfree. Some do hilarious impressions of being the carefree, single aunt (a classic trope). Some take viewers through the many unsolicited questions and comments they get from nosy bystanders (“who will take care of you when you’re older?”). Others, like Osbourne, merge both into a larger conversation about societal pressures and expectations placed onto women to reproduce.

Hashtags like #childfreetok, #childfreebychoice, and #nothavingkids have been around on TikTok for a while, but have gained far more popularity and traction in the past year. All of these subcategories fall under #childfree, a snowballing TikTok genre that has over 162 million views.

@danahbananaa

This is ONLY for the weirdos that shame women for choosing not to have children. 😇

♬ original sound – DanahBananaa

The term “childfree” is a welcome substitute for the traditionally-used “childless”, which inadvertently implies something that is lacking or a loss. “Childless” aligns with a well-worn expectation of society: that a woman is made to have children, a prescribed gender norm that prioritizes duty over desire. Feminist Adrienne Rich’s idea of compulsory heterosexuality or “comphet” comes into play here. Comphet has found fuel through virtual queer and gendered spaces; the term refers to how heterosexuality is not a natural desire in women but is, instead, learned. According to Rich, this gives way to women fulfilling gender roles that have them serving men, whether sexually, domestically, or emotionally. This concept can be applied to gender today, where roles have been decided years ago and therefore must continue to be fulfilled. For example, in some cultures, there is an embedded notion that motherhood will occur and this assumption can be hard to fight.

This brings us to a fundamental point: women choosing not to have children is a layered subject in itself. This differs from the decision to single-parent by choice or to have children through IVF or surrogates. As TikTokers have pointed out, many of them are currently in relationships but simply don’t want to have children. The reasons are incredibly personal and oftentimes complicated.

Some say that the coronavirus pandemic egged on the childfree phenomenon because it unveiled two things: it gave people time to reflect and reconsider their personal preferences and it also revealed the realities of healthcare systems around the world. A study by the Guttmacher Institute found that the pandemic changed fertility plans for women, with access to contraception and attitudes to contraception shifting. For example, one-third of the women participating in the study said that they became more careful about using contraception over the course of the pandemic. The study also linked the pandemic to exacerbating social inequalities, with the pandemic disproportionately affecting Hispanic, Black, queer, and women of a lower socioeconomic background. They have reported barriers to more timely care, for instance. Black and Hispanic women reported higher intentions of using contraception because of the pandemic and the interconnected concerns to accessible healthcare and financial considerations.

Credit: Screenshot: @itssisi.official (tiktok)

In May 2021, data collected for over a year from the start of the pandemic, indicated that there has been a significant drop in fertility in both the United States and worldwide. According to the Pew Research Center, this plummet is in direct correlation to the pandemic. In the U.S., the birth rate had already dropped 4 percent in 2020. Take California, the country’s most populated state. There, a 10.2 percent decline in the birth rate was reported in December 2020, as compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, the UK is allegedly facing a “baby shortage”, according to the Social Market Foundation. The think-tank examined the total fertility rate (or number of children per woman) across England and Wales, comparing current statistics to the UK’s peak baby boom post World War II. Their projections showed that a recent decline in birthrates, along with an ageing population, are leading to this shortage.

Motherhood also requires an immense support system, a fact that the Guttmacher Institute also pointed out. If women in the UK, for instance, were provided with “greater parental leave entitlement and cheaper childcare”, the likelihood of choosing to be mothers could increase. The UK has been found to be “failing” on childcare, with thousands of working parents saying that the government has not provided adequate, well-priced support for families. Social support, from friends and family, is also vital for a positive experience of positive motherhood. A 2017 study by Science Daily found that a social support network continues to be important for mothers of teenagers, not just in early childbirth.

A CNN report from August cited various other factors that are contributing to women deciding not to have kids, including “economic insecurity, political uncertainty, shifting gender norms, and a lessening stigma.”

But the latter continues to prevail: women and people of other genders who choose not to have children face varying degrees of stigma when they express their desires to be childfree. A stray from the prescribed path of motherhood leads to some form of stigmatization.

This is likely where TikTok has come in — to fight the inevitable influx of external voices. TikTokers who are speaking out on the subject are attempting to normalize their personal reasons as to why they don’t want children.

@sherdesleona

So tell me why you’re not gonna have kids 🙇🏾‍♀️#therapytiktok #ThatCloseMessenger #fyp

♬ original sound – Sherdes Leona

Abigail Coughlan and Megan Grace-Hughes co-run a podcast, The Dick Effect, which aims to decode and dissect the language society uses. They regularly post their content onto TikTok. In a series of videos last week, they spoke about the various connotations of choosing to be childfree. They also examined the dangerous rhetoric surrounding childfree women, such as being labelled as “selfish”. Coughlan tells Mashable that she chose the subject in the midst of grappling with the idea of herself.

“I’m personally trying to establish whether that is something that I want or not. And in having honest conversations with Megan I realised that we often convince ourselves that we want something or we behave in a certain way just to line up with societal expectations rather than our own desires,” she says.

“When I was younger, I assumed I would have children. Now I am 38, a graduate student and not a mother. I’ve worried about biological clocks, finances, fertility but never about what I personally want,” Coughlan continues. “My partner doesn’t want children and finally I am coming to a place where I realise it’s not something I ever felt a pull towards, it was an assumption I made based on being a woman that I would just have them.”

Osbourne also turned to TikTok to express her frustrations on society’s overwhelming reaction to someone being childfree by choice. The reactions she’s faced from people for her own decision prompted her to speak out.

“I think it is important for women to know they have choices, even though society pushes us to be mothers. I’m 33 with no children on purpose but when the doctor asked me if I was sure I wanted a hysterectomy — instead of having a fibroid removed so I could potentially have children in the future — I said ‘please give me the hysterectomy!’,” she tells Mashable. “He was shocked and asked if I was sure. Why is it so shocking that a woman doesn’t want to be a mother? Those reactions are why I speak up about this topic more than some others.”

Coughlan similarly expressed the importance of having such conversations openly, with TikTok being a prime spot for this open communication.

“I think these conversations are happening more, because platforms like TikTok are allowing people to find commonality and allowing people to express themselves without too much concern for traditional societal expectations,” she says.

The members of #childfree TikTok are emphasizing the ability to have a choice and freedom, but to execute these decisions without society’s punishment. This means undertaking choices without the unsolicited opinions of others who want to impose their personal value system on childfree people.

Being #childfree is a woman’s right and personal decision, just as choosing motherhood is.

“I believe women are often stigmatized for not having children because we’re still often and mainly viewed as a ‘reproducers’ even though we’re so much more than our ability to have children or not,” says Sisi Hinley, a model, author, and TikToker.

“Society feels like it must change your mind, because you are after all a woman,” says Coughlan. “I’ve realised as I’ve gotten older, that I am allowed to make these decisions of my own free will.”

Their ultimate message is this: being #childfree is a woman’s right and personal decision, just as choosing motherhood is. It’s time for society to pay attention to the reasons behind this choice, without judgement.

Original Source