A writer takes a wide-ranging look at life for women who never have children.
Debut author Kaufmann recalls walking on the beach with a new friend and broaching the title question—one she always dreads hearing. Though her years of unsuccessful infertility treatment are long behind her, the now-single author resents outsiders interpreting this as the defining tragedy of her life. Instead, she characterizes childlessness as a situation that, like any other, has advantages as well as drawbacks. Raising a child costs $250,000 and 10 full-time working years, she reports, and “ambitious women still take career hits for having kids.” When she attends the first-ever “NotMom Summit” in Cleveland in 2015, women tell her that having children would have prevented them from experiencing meandering, exciting career paths. Philosophy professor Jane insisted: “Not having children was probably the best thing that ever happened to me…all my energies would have gone into them.” Bobbi felt free to travel while Chris could accept the low paychecks of nonprofit work. “I wish I’d had older non-moms to confide in and seek guidance from,” Kaufmann writes, and this perceptive and informative book is an attempt to fill that gap in the self-help market with stories and tips from those who’ve been there. The author acknowledges that women wind up in this situation for diverse reasons—it’s 50/50 chosen/forced for those she meets—and that the language problem doesn’t help: There’s no good term for a nonmother apart from the medical nulliparous. “Childless” implies a lack; the blithe “childfree” belittles the pain of barrenness. Whichever word one uses, Kaufmann deftly notes that friendships, aging, and spirituality can pose particular challenges for women who don’t have someone to pass their beliefs or possessions to. But she suggests numerous important roles nonmothers can play in children’s lives, such as stepmother, aunt, nanny, or tutor. Ultimately, this supportive volume serves as a plea to respect the diversity of human experience; “our options and lifestyles do not imperil motherhood….Rather, we represent a complementary dynamic,” the author concludes.
A reassuring picture of one facet of womanhood.