Daum (The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, 2014, etc.) compiles essays from a group of noted writers—including Kate Christensen, Geoff Dyer and Lionel Shriver—holding forth on the topic of deliberate childlessness.
The quality of the writing is uniformly high, but read as a whole, the pieces become repetitive and bleed into one another as the same notes are sounded over and over again. One prevalent theme concerns the oppressive conventional wisdom that holds parenting as life’s most profound and worthy calling and the stigma attached to those who choose to forgo children in the interest of other pursuits. Other recurring motifs include the incomprehension of others regarding the writers’ choices, the artistic sacrifices necessary for conscientious parenting, resentment of the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth, frustration over prescriptive gender roles and the self-annihilation associated with domestic responsibilities. Thirteen of Daum’s contributors are women, and three are men, but the perspectives and insights offered by all of the authors remain more or less uniform. A few of the essays touch on childhood abuse perpetrated by parents as a deterrent to procreation, but the majority cite a dedication to the writing life—and the profound disruption to that path that having children promises—as a primary motivator in remaining child-free. Regret over the decision to not have children is notably absent from the book; the authors here largely profess a sense of satisfaction and relief about the choices they have made. It’s a sentiment worth considering but perhaps not 16 times in a row. Other contributors include Laura Kipnis, Sigrid Nunez, Anna Holmes and M.G. Lord.
A courageous defense of childlessness and a necessary corrective to the Cult of Mommy, but Daum’s collection could have benefitted from a more diverse pool of contributors and a fuller consideration of contrary opinions.