Women’s bodies and what they choose to do with them have long been a source of societal fascination. An abiding interest in the female capacity to reproduce has frequently been the subject of intrusive public speculation.
This is clearly demonstrated by the enduring conversation about whether Hollywood actor Jennifer Aniston (50) might finally become pregnant. The manner in which the star’s fertility status has been discussed for the last 25 years raises interesting questions around the idea of motherhood versus childlessness.
It was Ellen Peck’s 1971 best seller, The Baby Trap which first brought forward the idea that some women felt ambivalent towards motherhood and were actively choosing a childless life.
The second wave of feminism in the late Sixties and Seventies influenced changing outlooks in relation to non-traditional behaviours concerning family formation and gender roles. In Western countries, women gained certain freedoms such as participation in the paid workforce while contraceptive options expanded, providing real alternatives to the presumption of motherhood.
The term ‘voluntarily childless’ has been defined as women of childbearing age who do not want to have children, despite being fertile; women who are of childbearing age and have decided to be sterilised; or women past childbearing age, who were fertile but decided against having children.
The involuntarily childless are a separate category to individuals who wish for children but are unable to have them due to fertility issues.
There is no doubt that childlessness is becoming more prevalent in Ireland. A 2018 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that Irish women have the third-highest rate of childlessness in the developed world. Furthermore, 18.4pc of Irish women over 45 don’t have children.
The national average for first time mothers in Ireland is 32-years-of-age, while 45 is the end of childbearing age as defined by the OECD.
This shift in demographics certainly hints at changes to the traditional developmental pathway and choices for women.
Within these statistics we can’t be certain what proportion of women among the 18.4pc are voluntarily choosing a childless existence, but we do know from the research that voluntary childlessness is on the increase across much of the developed world. Yet, very little is known about how heterosexual and homosexual women feel about their choice to be childless.
Deirdre O’Keeffe, a final year student in the MSc Psychotherapy programme in Dublin City University (DCU), is undertaking a research study on voluntary childlessness through the university’s School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health.
This will be the first known study in Ireland to try and capture the experience of women living in Ireland who choose to be childless. The project, which is being supervised by Dr Rita Glover, Assistant Professor in Psychotherapy at DCU, will also aim to gain a better understanding of the impact of choosing to be childless on adult intimate and sexual relationships.
How can you take part?
· If you are one of the increasing number of women living in Ireland who has chosen to be childless, then Deirdre O’Keeffe would like to invite you to take part in this important research study
· You can join this study if you are a heterosexual or homosexual female, aged between 30 and 55-years-of-age, currently living in Ireland who has chosen to be childless
· If you’d like to find out more about the research study and how to get involved, please contact Deirdre:
by email at: [email protected] or
by phone on: 085 765 9461
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