Childfree By Choice
Not every couple longs for the pitter-patter of little feet.
Illustration by Zela Lobb
Vincent and Laura (L.T.) Ciaccio met in their freshman year at Iona College in New Rochelle and, very early into their relationship, they knew two things: One, marriage was definitely in their future. Two, kids were not. “When we started dating at 18, we casually talked about our life plans,” Vincent remembers. “L.T. has a brother and thought she’d have two children when she got older. I am an only child, and I thought I’d have one child.” After a year of dating, Vincent and L.T. realized that their relationship was serious enough that marriage could be on the horizon. “The more we talked about parenthood, the more we realized it wasn’t something we actually wanted to do.”
By the time they were 20, the young couple knew with unwavering certainty that they never wanted to have children and, when Vincent was just 23, he had a vasectomy. Today, Vincent (now 38) and L.T. (now 37) are happily married, childfree, and L.T. is the official spokesperson for No Kidding! an international social club that helps connect like-minded childfree couples and individuals.
The Ciaccios’ story is reflective of the growing number of people in Westchester County and throughout the US who are opting out of parenthood. According to the latest population survey from the US Census Bureau, the number of childless women between the ages of 15 and 44 is higher than it’s ever been since the bureau started tracking this statistic—with 47.6 percent of women in this age group never having given birth.
No Two Choices Look Exactly Alike
The reasons behind choosing to be childfree are as varied as the people making the choice. Take, for example, the complexities that led Yonkers couple Donald and Ann Marie Medlar to remain childfree. “I’ve been with my husband since 1985, when I was in my 20s, but we didn’t get married until ’93, when I was in my 30s.” Ticking off the many variables that went into her decision, Medlar says, “We were both career people. We liked to have freedom to travel and to do lots together. And I have a vision problem; I’m totally blind, and I just thought it would be more difficult for me to raise children.” Medlar, who comes from a large family with plenty of children, says, “Children are a blessing—there is no doubt. But I also see how parents struggle financially and emotionally with their children.”
Then there is biographer and nonfiction writer Laurie Lisle, whose decision to remain childfree came down to two pivotal life choices: her decision to write a book and her decision to leave an unhappy marriage. The author from Ardsley-on-Hudson explains, “When I got into my 30s, I started hearing my so-called biological clock ticking about the same time I got the chance to write a biography about Georgia O’Keeffe. So I had to make a decision between having a child or becoming a writer.” Lisle chose the book. By the time she was finished writing the biography, her marriage was falling apart. “I decided to leave that marriage by around the age of 40. By doing that, I knew that I was making this decision not to have children.” Soon after that, Lisle decided to pen another book, Without Child: Challenging the Stigma of Childlessness, which she says was inspired by her desire to celebrate her choice to live childfree.
Advances in Fertility Aid the Childfree Movement
It’s easy to understand how financial, personal, social, and even environmental forces impact the childfree trend. But there is another less obvious force at work: increased access to adoption and improved fertility treatments. Alternate routes to parenthood can alleviate some of the urgency, allowing women to delay the decision instead of rushing into motherhood. According to clinical psychologist Emily Bly, “In many ways, the increase in alternate routes to parenthood—either through fertility treatment or adoption, et cetera—really creates a much more conscious and soul-searching process for couples around the decision of whether or not to become parents.” Bly, who has been counseling couples for the past decade at her practice in Pleasantville, says she has “seen many people who, having delayed marriage and parenthood for reasons related to education and career, arrive at the end of their childbearing years only just then feeling ready to address the question of whether or not they even want to parent.” Addressing those couples who encounter difficulty conceiving, Bly says, “I think in the most adaptive of these situations, a couple can really come around to a conscious choice to remain childless/childfree because, in the final analysis, they determine that they are sufficiently content in their current lives, and that the pursuit of extraordinary measures doesn’t seem worth it to them.”
The Pressure to Mother
Even today, in socially progressive Westchester County, women who choose a childfree lifestyle almost universally feel more pressure than their male counterparts to become parents. Having witnessed this gender inequity through the eyes of her clients, Bly says, “There is more pressure for women than men. I can certainly attest to this within my own practice.” The age of social networking, or “social broadcasting,” as Bly likes to call it, has brought with it another level of pressure. “There is a lot of valorization of the role of mothers and in motherhood as a lifestyle,” she says.
For Lisle, pressure from other mothers was so intense that it motivated her to write her book on the topic. “I can tell you that it was an issue in my 30s,” she recalls. “A lot of my friends were having children. My sisters were all having babies, and I wasn’t having one. I was writing. And I felt disapproval.” When she began writing her book, she started to feel that “some of this angst and hostility came from the ambivalence of mothers. They loved their children, but they didn’t always love the life of being a mother. But you naturally repress those feelings because you feel guilty about them, so it often comes out
as hostility toward women who do not have children.”
Happiness is Being Childfree
They may have all taken very different paths to their decisions to remain childfree, but Ciaccio, Medlar, and Lisle all share the belief that they are much happier today for their choice. Retired in 2006 from a fulfilling career in systems information, Medlar admits her “relatively early” retirement may not have been possible if she’d chosen to have children. “I have a very nice lifestyle right now. If I had children, I think my choices would have been a lot more limiting, and not just for financial reasons. I have no regrets.”
But perhaps Vincent Ciaccio explains it best. “There’s a self-selection that goes into it,” he says. “So I think couples in which both individuals are childfree by choice are happier than they’d be if they woke up one day and found themselves to be parents. And I think couples who truly want to be parents wouldn’t be happy if they didn’t have a child. There is happiness in living the life you want to lead.”