'Somebody once told me I was selfish for not wanting kids'- Irish women who are child-free by choice
While some women are child-free by circumstance, for others it's by choice. Our reporter says it's time their voices were heard
Jennifer Aniston has become the poster girl for a new generation of women who refuse to be pitied for not having children. Months after writing in the 'Huffington Post', "Women don't need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own 'happily ever after' for ourselves," she hit out at the tabloid media's obsession with her maternal status.
"I have worked too hard in this life and this career to be whittled down to a sad, childless human," the 47-year-old actress told the latest edition of 'Marie Claire' magazine.
Hear, hear, says Irish businesswoman Aileen Eglington, director of PR company, AE Consulting. Like Aniston, she refuses to be defined or diminished by the fact that she has no children. She never had a desire to become a mother, she says, and even if her biological clock started ticking at some point, she didn't hear it. Or maybe she just wasn't listening.
"I never wanted children," says Aileen. "From my teens, my feeling towards pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding and all that stuff was 'OMG, no!' and it never changed.
"I think women who give birth are wonderful. It just wasn't for me. It wasn't a career decision - I just didn't want to do it.
"So many things can give you fulfillment. For me, not having children has given me time to do other things. There's a bigger family out there. I see parents who are very active locally, coaching kids and cheering them on, but you don't have to have children to engage with your community. I enjoy getting stuck in and helping local causes," she says.
On top of a busy work schedule, Aileen is also vice president of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Chamber, she's on the steering committee of the Public Participation Network, is a board member of Dublin SouthFM radio, and she still finds time to spend with friends and family.
"I have two wonderful godchildren, Beth and Shane, and I'm crazy about them," she says. "It's been a joy for my husband Paul and me to see friends' children grow up and be part of their lives. I've seen the happiness that parenthood brought to those friends, and I'm thrilled for them, but I never envied them," she says.
"I'm comfortable in my own skin. I don't need anyone to judge how I live my life. Somebody once told me I was selfish for not wanting kids. That judgemental stuff is so boring. All I'd say to naysayers is, for God's sake, stop interfering with other people's lives and get on with your own.
"I have no regrets. My husband was happy to marry me knowing I never wanted children, and now over 30 years later, we're in a very good place."
Paul agrees. "Aileen made it clear from the start that she didn't want to have kids, and I respected that," he says. "It was never an issue."
While Aileen is one of a growing number of women who are child-free by choice, there are others for whom kids just weren't on the cards, for all kinds of reasons. They wanted children more than anything in the world but found they couldn't have them; they didn't want to raise a child alone, and the right partner didn't come along; they couldn't financially support a child; didn't have confidence in their parenting skills… or whatever.
Read more: Should you walk if he doesn't want kids?
They're all part of a global shift in demographics and attitudes in recent decades. Almost half of US women of fertile age are now childless. Closer to home, Irish women over the age of 45 have the fourth-highest rate of childlessness in the developed world, at 18.4pc, according to a 2014 study by the OECD.
Like many women, Bernadette Ryan, a psychotherapist and relationships therapist with Relationships Ireland, prefers the term 'child-free' to 'childless'.
"Childless implies failure, less than other women, which of course they're not," she says.
"Having children is not the only choice anymore. Years ago, women who didn't have children were pitied, but today's women reject that premise. Some simply don't feel an affinity with children. Others weigh up the financial side," she says.
"Childcare costs a fortune in this country, and it means making a lot of sacrifices for parents. Are they willing to take that on? Modern Irish women look at motherhood from many angles before committing to it. Choosing not to have a child is not selfish, it's a question of a woman looking at her life options.
"However, for a woman who can't have children, perhaps despite IVF treatment, it can be a very painful experience to hear talk of motherhood as a lifestyle choice - for her it's a lifestyle imposition."
One Irish woman who is child-free by circumstance rather than choice is Eileen Reilly, who created the blog 'childfreeinireland'. Now in her mid-40s, not only does she echo Jennifer Aniston's call for women to live their own fairytale, she's written her own.
"Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a little girl called Eileen," it begins. "Although she was highly intelligent and supremely sensitive, like many little girls she was a little naïve… She dreamed of growing up to a life of pumpkin carriages and glass slippers, of living in a big castle in the sky with a handsome prince and golden-haired, apple-cheeked offspring."
"However, when she turned 40 and realised that the prospect of having the child she had always dreamed of was looking unlikely, in real life Eileen went through a grieving process.
"She lay down under a great oak tree and cried for three days and three nights," she continues.
"But then she met some people walking in the forest, and Eileen learned that she didn't have to live in a castle with a prince and apple-cheeked offspring in order to feel fulfilled.
"They taught her that you could build a treehouse or a boathouse for yourself, or you could live in the wide open under the stars. They told her that they would help her build a house for herself."
"When the house was built, Eileen threw a big party, and as she looked around at the people who came to celebrate with her, she realised that she wasn't alone after all. She belonged to everyone in the room and everyone in the room belonged to her… they were all her family."
And they all lived happily ever after.
4 celebrities on being child-free
"We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child" - Jennifer Aniston
"I don't think I'd be a great mother... I don't want to spend that kind of time. I don't want to have a kid and have it raised by a nanny. I don't have time to raise a child" - Chelsea Handler
"If I had kids, my kids would hate me, because something in my life would have had to suffer, and it would probably have been them" - Oprah Winfrey
"It was not my destiny. I kept thinking it would be, waiting for it to happen, but it never did, and I didn't care what people thought … It was only boring old men [who would ask me]. And whenever they went, 'What, no children? Well, you'd better get on with it, old girl,' I'd say 'No! F*** off!'" - Helen Mirren
- Celine Naughton