Living the child-free life: We chat with three women in Singapore who choose not to have kids.
First job out of grad school: age 23. Marriage: age 25. First child: age 28. Living in Singapore, we’ve all been accustomed to society pushing us towards achieving a linear goal like this. But in recent years, more Singaporean women are throwing that “rule book” out the window and living life on their own terms. And that includes not wanting kids.
In fact, according to an article on CNA, the number of babies born in Singapore fell to an eight-year low in 2018, and saw a lowest decade of growth since her independence. Sure, we’ve seen our fair share of Covid babies over the last year, but many women are saying no to having kids and embracing the child-free life. We chat with three women who feel the same way…
Singaporean women on why they don’t want to have kids
“It wasn’t really a ‘eureka’ moment kind of realisation. But I do remember that the thought of not wanting children materialised as young as my secondary school days,” says Kalpana Sivan, 28. “[That] became much stronger over time.”
For Jevithra Kelsea, 27, the realisation only kicked in after her marriage when family and friends started asking for some good news. She’d immediately rebut with a straightforward “never”.
“Coming from the age group where I see many young couples becoming parents and instantly struggling with balancing out their work and parent duties, I definitely didn’t want to be put in the same shoes as them,” she says.
Of course, this decision isn’t made overnight. Aside from the high cost of living in Singapore, health concerns and a drastic change in lifestyle play key roles.
A few factors rose for Megan (not her real name) who’s in her late 20s. Fertility issues and painful experiences during her adolescent years played a part in her decision.
She adds, “I recently found out about a fertility issue and the future struggles I will face as advised by my gynae. And being a nurse, I know how pregnancy can take a serious toll on someone physically. I also worry about horrible parenting.”
“It’s more than putting on weight or washing a baby’s bum”
Kalpana’s reasons were initially superficial, but she realised she didn’t want to adopt children either. “Raising children is a huge responsibility and commitment. It requires a lot of time, effort, energy, love and patience. And I know I don’t have that patience and desire to nurture another human being. Neither do I have that energy,” she quips.
“As I grow older and see so much human suffering and inequalities arising in this world, I don’t want to knowingly bring a child into it and introduce them to all these atrocities.”
Keeping the current status of our climate in mind, some also feel that it’s socially irresponsible to turn a blind eye to overpopulation.
“I’m also quite passionate about environmental conservation. One of the main reasons why our planet earth is going through severe environmental degradation, climate change and global warming is because there are too many humans. The human population has overpowered the planet’s resources and has outgrown what our planet can sustain. I don’t want to add on to this devastation by bringing more humans into this world, even if it’s just one child.” she reflects.
Jevithra had a firsthand experience living with a newborn when her niece was born in 2014. Her sister (the mother of the child) and Jevithra’s mother were living together at that time. Though she cherishes those moments, it made her realise that juggling a career and a child is no easy feat.
“I truly enjoyed the moment back then but it was a chore as all three females in the household had to juggle [looking after my niece]. Of course, the part was significantly higher for [my sister] who had to sacrifice her sleep to care for her child. It’s a beautiful feeling but it can’t be balanced, at least during the newborn phase.”
“I’m currently focused on my career and personally think having a child will not be ideal for me at the moment. I used to tell my husband that I have so many dreams but having a child is not one of them. I’m also in the midst of building a family business and cannot afford to set time for child and mum duties,” Jevithra explains.
Cost of living and freedom are also common threads
Megan shares that, without a child, she can travel anywhere without worrying about additional costs.
Jevithra agrees as she enjoys her time and freedom to commit to other milestones. “It’s the joy of not having to spend a significant amount for child expenses. It may not seem huge now but it’s not an easy job for the parents if they want to give their kids proper necessities or education.”
And it’s totally fine to put career first.
“My husband and I really treasure our time together as we’re both busy and career-minded individuals currently struggling with a lot of things. You know what they say – start building your empire in your early 20s and you’ll be closer to attaining your dreams. I’m already in my late 20s. My husband is 25 and we’re both loving the idea of not having kids. We’d prefer pets instead,” she says.
It’s crucial that their future or current partner is on the same page
Megan, who’s currently single, worries about how her views will affect her future relationships. But she believes that in time, she’ll find someone who understands her reasons wholeheartedly.
For Kalpana, her future partner has to be strong in his stance of not wanting children.
“I don’t want a situation where, in the future, he turns around and suddenly says he wants kids, or we need to have kids because his parents or family wishes so. That’ll be a deal-breaker for me… As long as I’m able to find a partner who’s as strong as me in his beliefs, I don’t think it’ll pose a big problem, even if we were to face pressure from family or society.”
“But finding a cis-gendered male with similar beliefs is very hard. One of the reasons why I’m still single,” she laughs.
Luckily for Jevithra, she came to the conclusion of not wanting kids together with her husband. “He was shocked at first but understood that the decision was best for us.”
On people’s reactions: “If they get it, great. If they don’t, I simply move away.”
As you can imagine (especially in the Asian community where family comes first), the initial reaction that most people have is shock. And all three ladies agree.
People around Megan are usually surprised to hear her decision because of her motherly demeanour. “Apparently, I seem motherly or I have portrayed actions that may seem maternal. So they’ve always expected me to be a mum. I don’t think I was born with motherly urges. So despite the negative or positive comments from people, I try to educate and explain the reasons,” she says.
It also stems from stereotyping an individual based on their interests too.
“I’m someone who takes immense pride in my culture, heritage, ethnicity and identity. I’m deeply passionate about Bharatanatyam [a Tamil classical dance form]; I have a strong inclination towards preserving Tamil art forms; I love sarees and wearing the pottu [a coloured dot worn in the centre of the forehead] even with non-Indian wear. So because of this, people have this idea that I’m very ‘homely’,” Kalpana says.
It’s one thing to stereotype but it’s downright disrespectful to brush off someone else’s views.
“Some will tell me ‘oh that’s what everyone says, but once you get married you’ll automatically want to have kids’. Honestly, I find this very rude. You’re dismissing my feelings as invalid and not respecting them. Just because you know of a few people who went through that cycle, it doesn’t mean that everyone else will go through the same. And even if I do change my mind in the future, that’s my prerogative,” Kalpana explains.
“Sometimes I feel like asking them, ‘so would you like to pay for my child’s expenses if I have one, as you look so concerned?’” Jevithra laughs. Jokes aside, she’s surprised that most older individuals can see her point of view and have even encouraged her to take her time instead of rushing into things.
Selfish, career-minded and a smokescreen for fertility issues
Oh you know, just some misconceptions about women being child-free by choice. We see you rolling your eyes there. But that’s the sad truth.
“People are also concerned that we won’t be passing down the family name, not assisting [our] aging population and not fulfilling the wish of our parents as they’d want to spend their retirement with grandkids,” adds Jevithra.
Kalpana explains that a lot of this differential treatment or perspective towards women who choose not to have kids stems from patriarchy and the policing of women’s behaviour and bodies. It’s the idea that no matter what you’ve achieved in life, a woman’s ultimate duty is to have kids and continue the husband’s family line.
“Any woman who digresses from that or chooses to place her happiness over anything else is seen as deviant, defying, arrogant or too demanding.” she sighs.
If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all
The responses people have shared with these women about their choice are astounding but not uncommon.
A fair share includes:
- “You’ll change your mind in a few years if you find the right man.”
- “Don’t be so selfish and think only about your happiness and freedom.”
- “You need kids to keep your marriage life going.”
- “Nothing gives you more joy than having a child. It completes you.”
- “You need kids to take care of you when you retire.”
We don’t know about you but that sure irks us.
Looking into the future: Open conversations over time
It’s tough to change an idea that’s deeply embedded in generations overnight. But having open conversations is a step in the right direction.
“I also feel that the media plays a huge role in shaping ideas and values of any society. Mainstream media continues to portray motherhood as an intrinsic part of womanhood. And I think therein lies the problem. Of course there’s definitely been a lot of change since 10 to 20 years ago. But it’s still quite prevalent.” says Kalpana.
Jevithra believes this perception will definitely change in time. “I don’t think we’d be the only couple who think this way. I believe society is getting more open and educated in this with the help of social media. Articles are being spread around for individuals to read and understand different points of views.”
My body, my choice, my rights
In this day and age, many of us have an idea of how we want our lives to pan out. Whether having kids is in the picture or not, everyone has the right to make their own choices without having to worry about what others think.
And who said that a family has to constitute a baby? A family is what you make it. Whether it’s just two people or a Brady Bunch situation, both ways can bring you joy.
What are your thoughts on not wanting kids? Drop us a DM on our Instagram!