Inside story: Living childfreeSave
By Juliet Rowan
The reasons for women not having children are myriad.
They may be infertile, unable to meet someone, or have a partner who does not want children.
They may have left it too late after focusing on their career or saving for a house, they may fear passing on a health condition, or more simply, they may not want kids.
Tauranga woman Ange Wallace is one who has never felt the maternal urge, saying even as a child she shirked the idea of becoming a mum.
"In fact, I don't recall having babies ever crossing my mind until I fell pregnant to my boyfriend when I was 22," she says.
Ange miscarried soon afterwards, and when she met her current partner 11 years ago, she was relieved to find he did not want children either and they made a mutual decision to remain child-free.
I feel really liberated by the choice and excited by all the things I want to do . . . I'm huge on the time, energy, freedom and finances that not having children gives people.
"I feel really liberated by the choice and excited by all the things I want to do," Ange says. "I'm huge on the time, energy, freedom and finances that not having children gives people."
A former manager of Export New Zealand's Bay of Plenty office, the bubbly 38-year-old is founder of a new online community called Thriving Without Kids.
On April 3, Ange launched a Facebook page called Life Without Kids, inviting women she knew to share their stories of forging fulfilling lives without children, and says the response has been overwhelming.
More than 30 women have shared their stories with Ange, who has compiled them into detailed posts for the site.
"They're 1500 to 3000 words. They're not just bite-sized, social media dribble. They are very deep stories," she tells Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.
"This is a topic that a lot of people have very strong beliefs around. We're talking about procreation. We're talking about family units. We're talking about societal expectations."
As she posts, other women comment and she is beginning to record their stories. So far, she has stories of women in New Zealand, Britain, the United States, Japan and Australia.
So far, 450 people have joined the page and more than 34,000 have clicked to read and comment.
"Some of the most incredible words of support are from women with children," Ange says.
Women battling infertility have commented that positive stories of childless women are helping them look to the future and feel inspired.
One such woman writes on the page: "After talking to you and writing my story, if anything I feel more comfortable with the idea that having children may not happen for me."
Ange was spurred to start the page after watching many of her friends reach their mid-to-late thirties without having children, and struggle with the situation.
She says a lot of online support for women struggling with infertility already exists, but the socially childless - women who want children but never meet the right person or leave it too late - are a growing group that need a voice.
Life Without Kids provides a unique platform, she says, in that it is not closed or anonymous, but rather an open forum featuring women's names and photographs.
It also includes women who are childless by choice, whereas some popular sites are limited to women who are childless without their choosing.
Ange has interviewed men too but says most of their stories are short because they tell her it is not a big deal to them.
She also hopes to support women grappling with the decision of whether to have children, and challenge established notions that people who do not have children are lonely and full of regret later in life.
"That was a big push for me to start this because I know women who don't have children who are older and they don't regret it. Regret is more about your attitude and your personality than it is about anything to do with having children."
The page includes stories of women in their 60s and 70s and Ange herself says she has "zero fear of getting old", giggling at the thought.
"For me personally, I love the fact we're going to have more money. I love the idea of living in a funky rest home. I loved flatting. I can see so much fun."
She also rejects the idea that people need to have children for support in their old age.
"By having a child, you can't buy someone to look after you. It's just not reality that by having a child you're going to get that."
At the same time, she is quick to say, "no part of this is advocating for women not to have children".
Ange says she enjoys a close relationship with many children and she and her partner, Steve Ellingford, have mentored more than 30 foster children over the years.
Also a lover of the outdoors, Ange is part of groups called The Sunrise School and The Boat Tappers who climb Mauao and swim at Pilot Bay, respectively, and she enjoys socialising with a mixture of friends.
"I don't believe that there needs to be an 'us and them'. There isn't. I have amazing friends with and without children, and that's part of being comfortable in your decision and your life and looking forward and getting on with it."
She says people without children need to cultivate great relationships and that is part of her plan with Thriving Without Kids.
"You need to create that life that's rich, and have people in your life who care for you who you don't give birth to."
Ange's last job was as a business consultant helping Bay companies expand internationally, and she is dedicating herself full-time to growing Thriving Without Kids.
She plans to launch a website business under the name on Mother's Day, on May 8.
Drawing on her past experience, including running a career advisory company for three years, Ange will offer online programmes, resources and life-coaching for women to "begin creating a fabulous, fun and fulfilling life without kids".
"I want to be able to show women, particularly who never got the opportunity to have children, once they're ready to look forward, at all the amazing things that are available."
Rotorua woman Megan Dimozantos loves the child-free life she and her partner share.
"I enjoy the adventures we have together," she says. "If we were to have kids that would change all that."
Megan, 34, is childless by choice, saying she has never felt a strong maternal instinct.
"I really like kids and for some really weird reason, they really like me, but I never pictured myself having kids," she says.
Megan works in sales and project management, but is also heavily involved in the international mountain biking scene. She has competed in 24-hour endurance races and in 2014 and 2015, worked as race director for the New Zealand national mountain bike championships.
This year, she helped organise the Rotorua Bike Festival, and she is also a keen mountain climber and member of the local Land Search and Rescue team.
"When you imagine what your future looks like, I've always imagined my community around me, and my mountain climbing and my riding, and I've never really had a mini-me as part of that equation," she says.
I really like kids and for some really weird reason, they really like me, but I never pictured myself having kids.
However, Megan's partner, Lisa Fraser, feels differently and would have liked children, and so Megan considered it for a time.
"But I just couldn't bring myself to say that is absolutely what I want," says Megan. "It's a big step to take to do it when you're not sure."
Megan says she and Lisa have "a really awesome relationship" and during their three years together, Lisa has never pressured her about her choice.
Megan is aware that for some couples, the issue of children can be a deal-breaker, but she and Lisa have discussed how there are also issues in splitting.
"You could leave and not find someone you connect with in that same way. There's also the risk involved when you make that call that you could end up without a person and without a child as well. We both acknowledge how difficult it is to find someone who you love and who loves you back."
Lisa, 37, says she respects Megan's choice not to have children.
"She's got every right to not want that," Lisa says.
But Lisa has always wanted kids and has spent the last year trying to accept the idea of not becoming a mother.
"I've been struggling to come to peace with it because all of the people around me have kids. It's part of society. It's how we talk about successful lives. Family is connected to everything and I'm a very family-oriented person."
Lisa suffers from an anxiety disorder which she fears passing on if she were to carry a baby. When Megan revealed she did not want children, Lisa was forced to think about whether she wanted the relationship more than a child.
"I've decided I want the relationship. It's not easy to meet someone that you really connect with, and in my case as a gay woman the statistics aren't in my favour, given we are a small portion of the population."
Lisa is one of six children, including a twin sister, and she has seven nieces and nephews. "I see the joy that they bring to my siblings' lives. Sometimes that's a reminder of what I want, but it's also about me reframing that and saying look at the opportunities I have through having so many nephews and nieces and being part of their lives."
Lisa says not having children allows her to devote more time to her parents, and she hopes to get involved in community work. Describing herself as a very social person, she is also passionate about helping others reach their potential through her career in human resources.
"I see that playing a part in what for me makes up a meaningful life," she says.
Worldwide, the number of childless women has grown exponentially since the introduction of the pill in 1960, and one in five women now go through life without having children.
According to Gateway Women, an online support network for women who are childless by circumstance, the figure is as high as one in three in some countries, including Germany and Japan.
Gateway Women says about 10 per cent of women without children have chosen not to be mothers, 10 per cent are childless due to infertility or other medical reasons, while the remaining 80 per cent are "childless-not-by-choice".
In New Zealand, childlessness has more than doubled in a generation, with data from the most recent Census in 2013 showing 24 per cent of women in the Bay do not have children, while nationally the figure is 31 per cent.
These figures include young women who are yet to have children, but Statistics New Zealand demographer Dr Robert Didham says there is an upward trend in women remaining childless.
"Things that affect the proportion childless include the age and sex structure of the population and when women start families - this can vary by country of birth, ethnicity, education, careers," he says.
In 2013, 15 per cent of women aged 50-54 were childless, up from less than 10 per cent in 1996, and for women born in 1975, it is projected that a quarter of women will never have children.
Increased opportunity in the workforce causing women to delay children is a long-term trend, says Jacques Poot, professor of population economics at Waikato University.
Professor Poot says coupled with declining natural fertility with age, women can inadvertently end up childless, and rising housing costs may also be a contributing factor.
A 2009 report titled Increases in childlessness in New Zealand says the association between women's educational level and childlessness is strong.
"The realization of educational aspirations and careers may fulfil a sense of achievement or life purpose that precludes the need for children for some women," the Statistics NZ report says.
The report also identifies social rather than biological change as the primary driver for increased childlessness. Children, once seen as the key to the health and wealth of a couple, are no longer considered as good insurance against a bleak and destitute old age.
"Moreover the altruistic view that childbearing benefits society is increasingly countered by arguments about diminishing resources, carbon footprints and the sustainability of existing populations."
Mount Maunganui woman Jo Wills says her decision to remain childless partly reflects her concern about the environment and society.
"I am influenced by the way the world is going," she writes on Life Without Kids. "I wonder if it is fair to bring a kid into this kind of world."
Jo is passionate about sustainability and does project development and management for community-minded Bay company Sustainability Options, as well as volunteer work for fair trade retailer Trade Aid.
She has been involved in the sector a decade and says not having children allows her to contribute more to her passion.
"It just allows me more time, more focus, more energy to put into this type of work, and not have to split my energy between what I love to do and children," she tells Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.
Her work sees her involved in housing, transport, school, health and council projects, and at Trade Aid, she serves on a local trust and the national governance committee.
"I give a lot to what I do. I don't often have a lot left over. Even my cat gets neglected," she says.
Interestingly, Jo is fascinated by the idea of being pregnant, but says she has never wanted the end result.
"As a little girl, I never dreamt about having kids. That instinct, I just don't have it. It's just always been the way I've been."
The youngest of three sisters, Jo has the support of her family and partner of six years, Cory Simkin.
"He's got four nieces and we do feel pretty much the same. We're not interested in the lifestyle that kids bring."
For Jo and Cory, life without children lets them be picky about jobs, not necessarily choosing the highest-paying but those they love.
"[And] because we don't have families to feed, we can save money and put plans into place to do what we want to do with travel," Jo says.
She says she has never been criticised or challenged in her choice, but some people have found it strange.
If asked why she does not have children, she replies, "Just simply that 'I don't want kids'."
"I don't think I would be a good mother," she says, although it is not because she dislikes children.
"I love spending time with my nieces and my nephews. I absolutely love being an aunty."
So if she unintentionally fell pregnant, would she keep the baby?
"That would definitely be a bridge we'd cross if we got to it. I have no idea. I'm just really glad I've never had to be in that position."
Jo is grateful for the Life Without Kids page, saying stories of other women who are childless by choice is welcome validation.
"It's just knowing that there's other people like you who have made the same decision and are really happy and really confident in it, and don't have regrets. It's just nice to feel like a part of a bigger group. It's always nice to feel like you're normal."