Women’s reproductive choice is nothing new

Millions of women will reach the age of 45 today without having given birth. The social scrutiny of women’s reproductive health has been a long-standing concern. Picture: Pexels

Millions of women will reach the age of 45 today without having given birth. The social scrutiny of women’s reproductive health has been a long-standing concern. Picture: Pexels

Published Aug 27, 2023



As early as the 1500s, women had the choice to either bring a child into the world or not. The driving force behind having children was based on reproductive rights, the needs and the desires of each woman.

Millions of women will reach the age of 45 today without having given birth. The social scrutiny of women’s reproductive health has been a long-standing concern.

Having children is considered an automatic choice in life, by some. Modern thinking influences the decision to have children, which is linked to something much older, the solemn promises made during marriage vows. Over the past four centuries, women have gained more control over biological decisions about children, in addition to changes in the timing and significance of marriage.

Despite strengthening the significance of marriage vows, these changes shift the focus of marriage from conceiving to career development and personal fulfilment. In the 1500s, women started to delay marriage until their mid-twenties. Their efforts were directed towards saving for a dowry. Fertility outcomes were influenced by the combination of personal choices, economic, cultural and biological control.

By the 1800s, more women chose to be single. Women started to restrict their childbearing within marriage. Birth control awareness was heightened by the improvement in the standard of living and higher levels of female education. Research has shown that at least one in five American women born between 1885 and 1915 had no children. Similar rates were observed in other parts of the world.

Findings indicate that almost half of the men and women born in Sweden between 1885 and 1899 had no great grandchildren. Women born around 1935 and entered adult life after the war had the lowest rates of children on record. In the 1970s, birth control became more reliable and sexuality became a topic of discussion. Women’s choice for economic opportunities, independence, personal fulfilment and the ability to control their own bodies had also been recognised.

Just like 150 years ago, today’s childless women who break away from the standard protocol of childbearing are more engaged in career goals and are less traditional. This feature is applicable to different cultures with different expectations at different ages.

Countless studies have proved that women who use family planning are generally more empowered, healthier and productive. Today, more couples choose to remain childless as society evolves and new attitudes towards relationships become apparent. Women are empowered by choice.

The choice of having a child can be guided by these questions: Are you in a stable/secure relationship? Does your partner display good family values? Is your home environment stable? Do you or your partner suffer any mental health issues? Are you able to visualise a healthy future with your partner? If pregnancy screening reveals your baby has disabilities, what do you do? Can your partner offer emotional support during difficult times? What are your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to money? How will you split parenting duties?

Bad parenting can be predicted by factors like domestic violence, alcohol or drug misuse, which can lead to child abuse and neglect. Choosing to have children or not requires careful reflection. This has the potential to predict the quality of parenting or welfare of the unborn child.

Women have different thinking styles, as some may not find their ideal partner who can guarantee love, respect or stability in the relationship. Also, women who are childless often feel the agony over their inability to reproduce, and that’s a tragedy. But spare a thought for men who want to become fathers, but find that they or their partners are infertile. Who do they reach out to? Who empathises with them? The World Health Organization indicates that the involvement of men in reproductive health is crucial in contraceptive decision-making.

Women tend to have strong reasons for their decision to reproduce or not, which are often well-thought-out. However, the intrinsic value of a woman should be embraced. Avoid judging someone by their surface, as you never know what lies beneath.

By accepting all fertility choices, we can create a society that is more inclusive and mentally healthy. Not wanting children, is the kind of statement that often prompts disbelief. Be true to what you desire for yourself. We may think that we live in a unique situation with little to guide ourselves. However, the long history of childbirth can help us demystify myths, share ideas and broaden possibilities. Do not let society dictate your sense of reasoning.

Living a meaningful life and deciding what is meaningful are age-old questions. The journey to find meaning is a personal one. The right questions can reveal the answer to your decision, whether to have a child or not. Your ultimate victory lies in being true to yourself in a world that constantly strives to change you.

Anolene Thangavelu Pillay is a Psychology Advisor. Picture: Supplied

Anolene Thangavelu Pillay is a psychology adviser.

Daily News

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