At Midlife, Intentionally Childfree Women and Their Experiencesof Regret
Published online: 17 March 2011
Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011
Based on the author’s exploratory qualitativestudy of the experiences at midlife of 15 intentionallychildfree married or partnered women, this paper focuseson one ﬁnding and related themes. A constructivistgrounded theory methodology guided data collection inmany areas of midlife, including regret, menopause, andrelationships. The data suggested that for most in the study,menopause, perimenopause, and reaching midlife did notawaken feelings of regret over their decision to livechildfree. The author discusses implications for clinicalwork with childfree women at midlife.
A commonly held notion, at least in the United States, is thatthedesireforababykicksinwhenwomenreachacertainageor achieve a speciﬁc marker. The usual thinking goes some-thing like this: The longing for a baby may emerge when awoman reaches 30 years old or may surface after a few yearsof marriage or partnership. However, this need does not holdtrue for all women. Consider the narrative below:My husband and I, neither one of us had a strongdesire to have children. It wasn’t really like we everhad that ﬁnal conversation. It was as if our life keptgoing on; it was very full, our friends were havingkids and we would spend time with them. But thenwe were like, ‘‘Oh, let’s go home, this doesn’t ﬁt ourlifestyle.’’ So I think
we just evolved and we are areally happy couple.The account above sets the ﬁndings frame for thisresearcher’s qualitative study on childfree women at mid-life. Speciﬁcally, the study focused on exploring theirexperiences of midlife, including menopause, regret, andrelationships. An assumption of the study was that reachingmenopause and the conclusion of a woman’s naturalcapacity for childbearing might awaken in childfreewomen speciﬁc feelings, including regret over not havingchildren. For women who have chosen not to have chil-dren, midlife and the biological changes of perimenopauseand menopause foreclose the option of pursuing a naturalpregnancy. Apter (1995) nicely captured this idea in herstatement, ‘‘menopause could ‘ring a panic button’’’(p. 212) for childfree women as they face their past deci-sions. The overall conclusion reached in the study was thatcommon societal assumptions about regret did not proveaccurate. Generally speaking, the women were satisﬁedwith their lives and not regretful about their choice to livechildfree. However, what emerged was a story about dif-ference, multiple pathways, and conscious choice.One note about language: In this article I use the word
, which is the term preferred by those who havechosen not to have children. The term
historicallyhas been used to describe barren women; it is too narrowand not responsive to current culture in which women mayopt not to bear children.
Review of the Literature
Over the last few decades, the United States, like manyEuropean countries, has experienced a slight trend toward
G. DeLyser (
)Institute for Clinical Social Work, Chicago, IL, USAe-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Clin Soc Work J (2012) 40:66–74DOI 10.1007/s10615-011-0337-2