By T. Shawn Taylor
Tribune staff reporter
Published January 19, 2005
Edward, a Chicago attorney, had always dreamed of being a father. When he met a woman he wanted to marry, the topic of having a child together came up.
"She said, well, we'll talk about that," said Edward, who requested that neither his last name nor his ex-wife's full name be published. "That was confirmation in my mind that she was interested in having a child."
But two years after they married, it became clear that his wife--who had two children from previous marriages--wasn't interested in having any more. Their relationship crumbled, and they divorced after 3 1/2 years of marriage.
For them, like thousands of married couples, the decision to have a child or not became a pivotal issue. The recent breakup of superstar couple Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, reportedly due in part to her unwillingness to start a family, illustrates that even the most fairy-tale marriages can fizzle when the child question goes unsettled.
"The decision about having babies or not or how many is a point where values may diverge," said Audrey Gaynor, a divorce attorney who has her own family law practice in Chicago. "While they may have been a great couple . . . they may find they're not very compatible."
For many wannabe dads, compromise is out of the question. The same goes for some women, who can be just as steely in sticking by "no."
"When you pull something taut, it's going to snap, and ultimately it is a woman's body," said Debbie Mandel, a New York-based stress management expert and author of "Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul" (Busy Bee Group) who has counseled couples in similar crisis over whether to start a family.
Aniston's celebrity brought her more than her share of belly-watching, with the public's interest heightened by her hunk of a husband and a Hollywood baby boom that includes top-earning actress Julia Roberts among its new moms. Roberts gave birth to twins before Christmas.
Similarly, in the business world, there has been much ado over a growing trend among high-powered career women to "opt out" of work to raise children.
"That is putting pressure on women who don't want to have children," Mandel said. "Other women are giving up everything [so] they are made to feel selfish."
For husbands, trust can become a factor. "The man thinks the woman may be planning to leave him," Mandel said. "Men who are committed in a relationship generally want to have children. When you don't, they see it as a flag."
Edward, the lawyer, said he felt "deceived" by his ex-wife. He feels she went back on her promise.
"I kind of felt like I'd been taken advantage of," he said, adding that if she had tried to get pregnant but discovered that she could not conceive, "that would've been completely different."
"This is the woman I love," he said. "She should want nothing more than to have children with me, and vice versa."
The person who wants children in the relationship also might feel rejected by the mate who doesn't want children, psychologists say.
His ex-wife "had two prior marriages she wasn't happy in and left with the kids," Edward said. "And yet, that was OK to have children with those guys. What about me?"
But for a lot of women who reject motherhood, it isn't about the guy at all. Some are not willing to undergo the physical changes of pregnancy. For others, it's about making a conscious choice to live child-free.
Jennifer Shawne, 31, of San Francisco, who has been married since age 24, readily admits she does not want the responsibility of raising a child. Shawne also cited economic reasons, explaining that in an expensive city, that extra room for baby could tack on another $1,000 to the rent.
Shawne said her husband, who preferred not to be named, supports her decision. But everyone else isn't so kind.
"If someone says they don't want to have children, the societal response is, `Oh, you'll change your mind. Time is running out for you.'" she said. "For people who have kids, their time is running out in a different way. They're going to lose out on things that people who don't have kids are going to enjoy their whole lives."
Shawne was inspired to write a book for like-minded women to counter public criticism. The book, called "Baby Not on Board: A Celebratory Guide to Life Without Kids" (Chronicle) is due out this fall.
"You can always change your mind about having kids, but you can't change your mind once you've had them," Shawne said. "So it has always made more sense to me to hold off."
For women, especially those approaching 40, delaying motherhood may have consequences, such as trouble conceiving, riskier pregnancies and difficult deliveries.
That is why Phyllis Tobin, a New York-based psychoanalyst and author of "Motherhood Optional: A Psychological Journey" (Jason Aronson Inc.) said she encourages women who are ambivalent about children to address their feelings early so they won't have regrets later.
"I would like to think that more women can say no," said Tobin, who calls women who do "courageous." "But I believe that women should take seriously the question `Do [I] want children?' Most women will answer `yes.' But you have to make a conscious choice."
She added that whatever they decide, it is equally important that women share their attitudes about having children with their mate, especially before they walk down the aisle. But if a couple disagree once they are married, each person is entitled to their feelings and should follow their heart, she said. "If the relationship is going to be too ungratifying . . . then it's legitimate" to break up, Tobin said.
As long as the presumption remains that it is wonderful and natural to want children, women who reject motherhood will continue to be put on the defensive, said Gaynor, the divorce lawyer.