The women who say they are happy to be child-free
Becoming a mum is seen as a natural role for a woman, but parenthood is not for everyone. Erinn McMahon and Louise Vance, both from Belfast, tell Kerry McKittrick why they’ve never longed for the pitter patter of little feet.
As the average age of first time mothers gets higher, more women are now rejecting motherhood. The latest figures reveal that women in their 40s are now twice as likely not to have children as those from their parents' generation.
And, as Hollywood actress Jennifer Aniston has been quick to point out, being a mother or not is a liberated choice for all women.
Fed up with speculation about whether or not she was pregnant - and tired of being judged for her childless status - the actress posted an open letter clearly stating that she is complete as a person, regardless of whether or not she was a parent or a wife.
And she's not the only one. Helen Mirren has talked about how she had no maternal instinct whatsoever.
Meanwhile, Oprah Winfrey, Dolly Parton, Cameron Diaz and Dita Von Teese have been frank about their decisions to remain childless.
'I knew at 16 I didn't want children... two decades later that hasn't changed'
Louise Vance (36), from Belfast, is a qualified solicitor who is currently taking some time out to act as carer for her mum and run her fashion website therealellewoods.com. She is in a relationship with partner, Adrian Quinn, a full-time IT consultant and part-time photographer. She says:
I 've never felt the biological clock ticking and I never expected it to, either. Even when I was a little girl I didn't play at being mummy with my dolls - I wasn't interested.
Motherhood wasn't something I thought much about, but when I was about 16, I realised that everyone else did.
All my school friends were discussing the names of their future children, yet that wasn't something I had even considered.
Despite this, whether being a mum is right for me or not is something I've thought long and hard about. It's a very important decision.
To be a parent is such a significant role. You're helping to shape a person's life, but I don't want to take that chance. I grew up in such a loving family as an only child, and was a miracle baby.
If I didn't feel 100% certain that I could provide that for a child, then I wouldn't want to take the risk.
My mum has always supported me, even when I told her that I didn't want to have children, aged 16.
She knows how strong-willed I am, whereas lots of others told me it was just a phase.
They said I would feel differently when I met someone, but actually it's been the opposite. The older I am, the more sure I feel that not having babies is the right decision for me.
Many of my friends are mums now and I love spending time with them and their kids, but it hasn't made me broody in any way.
I really don't feel that I'm missing out on anything.
My partner Adrian and I have been together for two years now, but we were really good friends before we were a couple.
Shortly after we started dating we talked about parenthood; Adrian was very honest with me from the beginning, saying that he was taking the relationship seriously.
Likewise, I was equally frank, telling him that I didn't want to have children - but he knew me so well it wasn't a surprise.
He comes from a big family, so he doesn't feel any sense of loss and is more than happy for us to be the cool auntie and uncle.
Some people can judge you when they hear that you don't want to start a family.
As I'm very slim, some assume it's because I don't want to ruin my figure, or upset the social life that blogging has given me.
I do enjoy my life, but just because you're a woman it shouldn't be assumed that you have a maternal instinct.
A friend of mine at university found out that I didn't have children and she said to me, 'but Louise, God gave you a womb'.
That's not a valid argument for me. I don't think I'll ever look back and regret the decision."
‘We have travelled the world together and don’t see a need for kids’
Erinn McMahon (35), an operations manager, lives in Belfast with her partner Matthew. She says:
About six years ago, Matthew was given the opportunity to go and work in Bangkok. It was the kind of thing we couldn’t pass up, so we both went out there to live.
After six months we decided to move on and do some more travelling before ending up in Australia. It’s the kind of thing we really couldn’t have done if we had kids.
Afterwards, we had a big conversation about it and realised that having children was something we really didn’t want to do. I like my life and don’t see the need to have kids.
We came home from Australia last year — we had been settled out there but a family illness brought us back. Despite the fact we had a life there, it took just six weeks to pack all our belongings up and get them shipped home in a container.
The move was relatively simple, but it wouldn’t have been the case had we had a family with children in schools or nursery.
We like our lives and we just don’t see having children as our future. I’m more than happy to be an auntie to my nephews and nieces. I’ll bring them to the panto at Christmas and swimming on a Saturday — and then leave them back to their parents before bedtime.
I’ve seen a lot of women with kids in the jobs that I’ve done, and it’s a struggle for them. I don’t think for a second that women shouldn’t be able to work and have a family — but it doesn’t fit in with our lifestyle as a couple.
I have a full-time job and Matthew is a chef, so he works anti-social hours. We’re both really into fitness, so when we’re not at work we’re in the gym or going off on holiday somewhere.
I was discussing our decision not to have a family with two friends recently — one who has children and another who doesn’t.
Interestingly, one made the point that Matt and I really like each other, whereas some people who have a family focus on the kids and can sometimes forget about each other as a couple, and I don’t want to be like that.
It doesn’t bother me at all that my friends are having families — a school friend is a mum-of-five and we still have plenty to talk about. Instead of pictures of outfits, she sends me pictures of her wee ones doing things and I like those just as much — however, I don’t want that to be me.
We have a broad cross-section of friends and for some of them settling down and having kids just isn’t a priority.
Some people are quite patronising, though, and more so since we came home to Northern Ireland. Matthew and I also decided not to get married, as we want to spend our money seeing even more of the world. We’re confident in our relationship and have travelled to three continents together.
Sometimes, people assume I have kids and when I tell them we don’t, they comment that I’m starting late. Often they just don’t believe me when I say we’re not starting at all.
But Matthew and I have talked seriously about parenthood, and it wasn’t a decision that either of us took lightly. Occasionally, when we see a toddler throwing a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket, we exchange a knowing glance because we’re very glad that’s not us.
Sometimes on a Thursday night we’ll book a flight away for the weekend and it’s that kind of freedom I really enjoy.
Not having children wasn’t a cold decision we’ve made, we’re just happy with our life the way we are.”