Laura LaVoie from Asheville, North Carolina, makes her living as a writer, so it’s not surprising that she appreciates the importance of language. She knew from a very young age that she didn’t want children, but it wasn’t until the term “child-free” came into wider use that this made sense as part of her identity. “Child-free” put into words how she’d been feeling since a kid, making her feel less frustrated.
“Child-free” also opened up a community to her. As a freelance writer starting out, she noticed “an oversaturation of mommy blogs.” As a group, mom bloggers have been killing it. Fourteen percent of U.S. women with a child at home are blogging, including at some of the most popular websites around, and they’ve formed major spaces for women to share their lives. But that’s left people like LaVoie out of the picture. She wondered, “Where was the voice of women like me?”
This led her five years ago to The NotMom, a website for women who are child-free, either “by choice or by chance,” as the site is fond of saying. As a writer and reader, LaVoie knows this is one place where she doesn’t have to hear people talking down to her or saying (possibly) well-meaning but hurtful things, like “You’ll never see love if you don’t have kids.”
As well as The NotMom, LaVoie and her husband appreciate personal perspectives like those shared in Families of Two, which collects stories from couples committed to not having kids. And she remembers, as a landmark, the 2013 Time magazine article where Laura Scott shared her child-free story.
Over the years, LaVoie says, “The personal accounts have become more important to me… It’s nice to hear real stories,” because the wider culture is so full of stories of inevitable motherhood. Sharing individual stories “really seems to connect people [and] really builds that sense of community” she was looking for when all she found were blogs by moms.
LaVoie is further building that community by bringing it offline. She’s one of the administrators of the NotMom Summit, which will take place for the second time later this year.
One person who will be speaking at the summit this year and also appreciates being part of a community of women who don’t have kids is Rasheda Kamaria. This 37-year-old Detroiter is far from a child-hater. In fact, her life’s mission is to strengthen girls’ capabilities. She runs a social enterprise that holds empowerment workshops and mentors girls and young women. As Kamaria puts it, “I don’t need to have children. I can make a difference to the ones who are already here.”
Kamaria has known for a long time that although she loves children, she’s too busy to raise them. When other girls were family-planning, she was career-planning, she says. Her child-free inspirations are both mega-famous (Oprah Winfrey, Mother Teresa) and more relatable; she loves the Savvy Auntie site, which shares stories of being a PANK (Professional Aunt, No Kids).
Like LaVoie, Kamaria has heard plenty of infuriating comments from people confused about a woman’s choice not to have children. “When you meet the right guy, you’ll change your mind” is one. Another is “What’s wrong with you that you don’t have kids?”
But she’s not fazed. She points out, “Moms aren’t the only ones who make a difference in the world.” And the support offered by online communities and writers’ memoirs, as well as her own circle of child-free friends, helps.
These are resources that wouldn’t have been available even 10 years ago, let alone when LaVoie and Kamaria were growing up. Savvy Auntie has existed since 2008, The NotMom since 2011. As more and more essays are showing, it can be incredibly helpful for readers to refer to the example set by other women without children.
One of the more recent without-children autobiographies is Paula Knight’s graphic memoir The Facts of Life, published in March. The book recounts her experiences with a difficult-to-diagnose chronic illness, which led to multiple miscarriages and then to her and her partner’s decision to stop trying for children. This sparked Knight’s interest in what it means to be a woman who is content with (or committed to) not having children, which the book explores in both historical and personal terms.
As Knight writes, “We are the only species that can choose not to perpetuate our DNA — our consciousness allows it. If this choice is part of human nature, it must, therefore, be natural. So, ambivalence must also be natural… as must choosing against having children at all.”
Together, stories like these suggest that just as there’s no one way to be a parent, there’s no one way to be a nonparent. LaVoie emphasizes that having more support for her own identity isn’t about negating other people’s experiences.
“It’s not us against the moms. This is an experience we’re all having,” she adds.