'Generation Childless' is on the rise in Ireland
Ireland now has the third highest rate of childlessness in the developed world, but experts are divided on why this is the case. Andrea Smith talks to three women who are child-free for very different reasons
When we were 16 and studying a piece of prose on mother-hood, our English teacher asked how many of us thought we would become mothers?
The vast majority of hands shot up, my own included, but Ms Aitken might have been surprised to learn that 43pc, or 14 of the 31 vibrant, funny, smart women in my class, Rang Noirin, have ended up child-free at 45.
Never say never, of course, because of the 74,976 babies born in 2010, 164 were to women over 45. However, a new OECD study reveals that Irish women have the third-highest rate of childlessness in the developed world, at 18.4pc.
Nine of my class are still single, including me, and while some had fertility issues, others simply had no maternal leanings. I would have loved to have a family, but, thankfully, I'm not upset over it, as I have a lovely, fulfilled life anyway.
Not having children is still considered slightly odd, though and, while some women, like award-winning actress Dame Helen Mirren, admit to having "no maternal instinct whatsoever", others like actress Jennifer Aniston are openly pitied. Poor Jen, the world sighs, her womb lies empty because she was thwarted in love after her husband, Brad Pitt, ran off with that tricky Angelina Jolie one and, to add insult to injury, they have surrounded themselves with a gorgeous family of natural and adopted children.
It is believed that poor Jen broken-heartedly sips cocktails as she tops up her tan on the private beaches of the exclusive resorts she frequents and weeps all the way to deposit her millions in the bank, on the arm of her latest hunk.
However, there are many reasons for childlessness, and here we talk to three women who explain why they don't have children.
Singer and Eurovision winner, Linda Martin, is in her early 60s and lives in Dublin with her partner Ronan and their 22 rescue dogs. She has just put together a new five-piece pop band called Syngstreet.
"Not having children was deliberate. I began working in showbusiness at 16, and everything in my life has been dictated by it since then. That was the life I wanted. I was in the middle of Eurovision aged 38, and kids were the last thing on my mind. You get to a stage where you realise it's too late and it will never happen, but I can honestly tell you that I don't regret the decision to not have kids.
"I think as you get older, you become more selfish, and it suited me to just look after myself and the dogs. I don't have a maternal bone in my body. My partner Ronan loves children and he always plays with people's kids, whereas I would go for their animals. He realised when we met, 20 years ago, that it wasn't something on my agenda, and he was fine with that.
"My mum, Kathleen, was so maternal, gorgeous, warm-hearted and tactile. I try to style myself on her, because she was so beautiful inside and out. She loved children and they loved her, but she never made me feel like I should have had kids.
"I'm a very good auntie, and I always thought it was great to have the nieces and nephews, and then give them back.
"I never got asked to babysit. My sister says she would never inflict me on a child, as I genuinely have no empathy for them at all. I don't want to come across as hard-hearted or cold, but I'm an animal person and was able to give my time to animal rescue.
"My mother always said that when she was looking for me, she would look where there was a tail wagging. It is just something that's in me; it was always dogs for me. My father was really strict and very into education, so, if we worked well in school, we could have any pets we wanted. Animals were always around me, but I never remember wanting to wheel somebody's pram.
"There are so many more opportunities for people now. My nieces and nephews are all between 25 and 30, none are married with children and all are very successful and well-travelled. Everyone is different, and that's what makes up the world we live in."
Comedian June Rodgers, 54, lives in Dublin with her husband, Peter Lane, and their dogs, Beauty and Poppy. She plays Fat Annie in Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie, which is out now.
"I wasn't maternal in my twenties. I was living the life in London for a few years, and didn't have anyone in my life, so babies weren't even a thought. Peter and I met when I was 35. My older sister, Linda, was married at 21 and she had three girls, so I thought I was late getting married at 38.
"We were still on honeymoon for the first couple of years and my career was going strong, and the years just flew by. We never tried for a baby - we just didn't think about it, and then suddenly, I was in my forties, and I felt it was too late. I thought I was too old, but looking back, I don't think I really was.
"I was like a second mother to my nieces, Karen, Gillian and Megan, and I adore them. I have got more maternal now in my fifties, especially since Karen had two children, Chloe and Will. I really felt that I would love a little baby, but I'm definitely over the hill now. I know people have babies at my age, but I wouldn't even think about it.
"I think having a baby would have made my career harder. I grew up with my mother being there every day when I got home with food and the fire on, and I would have wanted to do the same.
"I went on tour to America for six weeks, and really would have had to consider that as children have to come first. Even if I go away now, I make sure someone is staying in the house to mind the dogs.
"I'm just so happy I met Peter and we have such a good relationship. I was happy on my own too, but I couldn't imagine life without him now. My only regret is that I know Peter would have loved to have a baby, and he would have been an amazing father.
"He was a great uncle too - he would be outside the discos waiting to collect my nieces.
" Peter and I are so used to doing our own thing, only having ourselves and our dogs to look after, and they are our family."
Anita Whyte, 42, lives in Kildare with her partner, Paul Moran. They own the beauty website, DolledUp.ie.
"I met Paul at 26, and we bought a house together after three years and started trying for a baby. When nothing happened, I went to my doctor, who referred me to a gynaecologist."
"After much investigation, they told me I had polycystic ovary syndrome, and put me on medication. It was hard as I was constantly nauseous, and I still wasn't conceiving, which ate away at my self-esteem. The doctors said I had unexplained infertility, and I envied women who were falling pregnant so easily and wished it was me.
"As well as the medical route, I did absolutely everything to increase my chances of conceiving, from massage, acupuncture and reflexology to boiling herbs. You want a baby so much, you're vulnerable, and people can take advantage by offering expensive, needless treatments."
"In 2008, we had our first pregnancy, conceived naturally, but I miscarried at seven weeks. A little over a year later, I got pregnant again, but miscarried at 10.5 weeks. In early 2011, I went back on the fertility drug, Clomid, and a gynaecologist suggested we try intrauterine insemination (IUI). I got pregnant again, but was just a few days off the 12-week scan when I lost the baby.
"We then had another unsuccessful IUI and ended up exhausted by it all. I had spent my 30s trying to conceive. It's such a private and sensitive subject that you don't talk about it to other people, so you feel isolated and lonely. What has got me through this is Paul's love and support. It was just as hard for him, but he would do anything to make things easier for me.
"We are going for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) next month, and I have spent the last year preparing myself for it. I found an amazing woman, Helena, who taught me mindfulness skills, and we did a fertility bootcamp. With each session and some hypnotherapy, we built on my confidence and everything improved - my sleep, my self-esteem and even my weight, as I had been comfort-eating. We did trauma release with the hypnotherapy and I'm a completely different person.
"I feel really confident going into the next pregnancy, and we remain hopeful that medical intervention will give us our much-longed-for baby."