This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review.
I can guarantee that almost all woman (and a lot of men too) who don’t have kids, no matter what their age, have suffered through an awkward conversation where the other person is grilling them about their personal decision not to have children. Or, even worse, if a person asks whether you have kids, the answer is no, and they immediately ask why not, not realising that the answer might be both extremely private and extremely painful for that woman to discuss due to medical reasons.
Usually I have a bit of a fear of non-fiction. I struggle to get through it, the statistics and dry facts bog me down, and I just don’t feel as keen to pick it up like I would a novel. But when a PR company emailed me to ask if I’d like to receive a copy of Kate Kaufmann’s Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer Is No to read and review, I shelved my fears and accepted. I’m 24 years old and my partner and I are both decided that we do not want children, so I’ve had more than my fair share of conversations outlined above, at work, at social gatherings, at family events, and frankly it gets tiring. There are a myriad of reasons someone might not want to have children, and it’s time that couples without children were normalised.
I liked this book from the beginning, when Kaufmann reiterates that it was in no way written to belittle or judge those who do have children, and that no woman she spoke to for her research expressed any sort of ill will or jealousy or pity towards women who have children. It was simply to show the other side of the coin. She makes the distinction between childfree and childless, the former being by choice and the latter by chance. For the book she spoke with a number of childfree and childless women and their stories are fascinating to me. Some are sad, some are inspiring, some are funny. All of them have had to endure endless conversations about their choices, or biology, with nosy strangers who believe they are entitled to an opinion with what they choose to do with their bodies.
The start of the book was great, but then towards the middle a few chapters are dedicated to spirituality and religion, which I found a bit less interesting for purely personal reasons. There were a lot of statistics in those chapters, and my old fear reared its ugly head as I ploughed through, but I eventually got to a chapter on the medical side effects of not having children, which were quite sobering. Especially as Kaufmann points out that not a great deal of research is being done into WHY these medical events happen and occur more frequently in women who have not borne a child.
I also found the chapters on end-of-life care interesting and worrying. Most people assume their kids will be able to take care of them in their old age, but who do childless or childfree people have to rely on once they reach infirmity? Kaufmann assesses several different options, and although it is US-centric, it was still an eye-opening read into the amount of organising and sorting that needs to be done before it’s too late.
The parts that really shocked me with this book were the interactions Kate herself and the women she interviewed experienced throughout their lives. For example, one of Kate’s friends essentially severed their friendship once she had children, claiming that she ‘couldn’t keep up with her anymore’ now that she had kids and Kate did not. They’re inundated with unwanted personal comments and opinions from family, friends and pure strangers on the street, all of whom seem unable to grasp that it’s perfectly possible to lead a fulfilling life without bearing offspring. It’s baffling how many people believe it’s only their kids that they’re leaving behind – no other legacy seems possible to them.
At the end of the book, Kate offers some practical advice on how to have conversations with people who don’t have children. While I didn’t think some them were particularly viable, I do think it’s important to open up the conversation around this topic and help normalise those who don’t have children. Hopefully there will come a time in the future where I’ll never have to hear ‘you’ll change your mind when you’re older’ or ‘you’ll live to regret it’ ever again.