One Woman’s Path to Realizing She Didn’t Want Children

Written by: Ruby Warrington


Published on: July 4, 2024

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Photo courtesy of Vijay Sarathy/Stills

Author Ruby Warrington’s latest book, Women without Kids: The Revolutionary Rise of an Unsung Sisterhood, is available now and excerpted below.

A few days after my thirty-eighth birthday, my fertility careering toward the edge of the proverbial cliff, S and I sat holding hands on a busy street in the pulsing humidity of a stormy night in Sydney, Australia.

The baby conversation had come up, and three glasses of wine to the wind, I squeezed his hand and asked: “We should just do it, shouldn’t we?” We were ten thousand miles from our Brooklyn apartment, but wherever we went together felt like home. Why would we not want to expand the bubble of us? It’s not like we hadn’t discussed it before, but something about this time felt different. By the end of the night, we were agreed. Having a kid would be an adventure, an unbeatable once-in-a-lifetime experience! We would even call the child Sydney; the name worked for a girl or a boy. But when the booze buzz wore off, the feeling was the same as when I was planning a trip: anxious anticipation. Would I make all my connections okay?

But a baby is the literal opposite of a vacation, and our tipsy enthusiasm for the idea petered out like an engine sputtering to a stop. The following year I became an aunt, my adorable nephew a spit, the double in both spirit and image, of my lovely brother. My womb remained unmoved. And as everybody else became busily engaged with the daily onslaught of family life, any remaining curiosity or concern from others about my own ongoing nulliparous status began to recede like water draining from a river at low tide. So that was that, then. Quitting wondering when I would want to be a mom felt like both a big exhale and something of an anticlimax. A gradual stilling of choppy waters giving way to feelings of serenity, self-assurance, some sadness, and an open space of possibility stretched across my insides like a blank canvas.

Which meant that it was time to course correct, and to align myself more fully with whatever was my affirmative yes. And so it was also around age forty that I began to extricate my writing life from the glossy world of women’s magazines that had been the bedrock of my career to date and I began living my own dream for my life as opposed to using my energetic output to sell an exploitative, airbrushed version of happiness and fulfillment on somebody else’s behalf. Investigating what made life meaningful to me led me to launch an online platform dedicated to all things numinous, as I looked to the stars for answers and began to wonder what “spirituality” could mean for somebody raised atheist like me. In the years that followed, I would go on to publish my first book, get serious about quitting drinking, and begin to make peace with my personal demons once and for all.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many women without kids historically have been writers, therapists, and engaged in other ways with the creative and healing arts. Women who, beginning with their own process of self-reflection, have gone on to dedicate their lives to understanding and making peace with the more confusing psycho-emotional aspects of the human condition. Women who might also, in another era, have been given the label witch. Walking any path that diverges from the norm leads to the kind of internal self-inquiry that lends itself to vocations like these, which (whether undertaken professionally or not) tend to heal the self as surely as they heal others. I expect you can relate; a desire to better know yourself and your place in the world in which we live is likely why you’re reading this.

Not that many mothers are not also engaged in this kind of work. But with no child to dedicate one’s nurturing energies to, women without kids are by default buying themselves more time and space for their own personal development—time and space that is a rare enough commodity already in a capitalist society that demands constant productivity. It’s interesting that this is also often framed as “naval-gazing,” as if a woman who makes her healing and her personal growth the focus of her life is somehow searching for the missing umbilical cord. When in fact, if “hurt people hurt people”—endlessly projecting our unprocessed pain onto others and thus creating more suffering in the world—then healing our own shit before handing it down for the next generation to fix is as valid a contribution to society as any. A “purpose” in and of itself.

This is a concept we will revisit throughout this book. It forms the basis of my further-reaching theories about what it really means to be a woman without kids and the truly revolutionary nature of this orientation. Within this, we will see that in decoupling our destinies from a very old story about women’s rightful role in society, something is ending with us. That rather than a loss, this is how we begin to imagine a legacy for womankind beyond motherhood.

Excerpted from Women without Kids: The Revolutionary Rise of an Unsung Sisterhood by Ruby Warrington (May 2024). Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Sounds True.