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New Book Explains Why So Many Women Are Saying No to Motherhood

Once you have children, your life undoubtedly revolves around them. Saturdays are filled with enriching activities, there are hours of playdates after school, even vacations become kid-centered. As most moms will tell you, it's exhausting but rewarding. However, it's a trade-off in personal time that a growing number of women may not be not willing to make. Today, more U.S. women are childless than at any other time since the government began tracking birthrates. Nearly half of us between 15 and 44 do not have children, according to the Census Bureau.

Author Debbie Slevin—a mother of three, including a single daughter in her 30s—didn't need official data to tell her that. The realization hit her during book club one night several years ago. All former PTA moms, the ladies had formed the group in order to stay close after their kids went off to college. "We had seven daughters among eight of us," she explained. "Some of us were in our mid-60s and no grandchildren. From the time I first had kids, I thought out the timeline when I could have grandbabies. I loved having kids and grandmothering was a natural extension. So when my kids paired off but still didn't have children, I started questioning. Why didn't they want to do this? What happened?"

What she discovered was eye-opening. In "Unpregnant Pause: Where Are the Babies," Slevin delves into why women in their prime fertility years are not giving birth. She shares what she discovered with Mom.me.

Were your other mom friends just as perplexed as you were?

Yes. We could look back and say all of our kids were all very social children. They were socially accomplished, well liked. There was no easy or obvious explanation.

What role if any you think you all played in this phenomenon?

I don't think my generation gave equal importance to family when we encouraged our daughters to have a career and make their own way. I wanted her to be fully independent. We didn't say it's just as important to need someone in your life and have a family. We should have told them to work hard, study hard and date more!

But isn't it great that a lot of women focus on their careers, and then decide to have children?

Well, I don't want women to wait so long that they have fertility problems, which is happening a lot. Of course they want to build their careers, but no one on their deathbed ever said, 'I should have spent more time in the office.'

It's interesting that these days there is male family leave, dads talking about work-life balance. That should let women know they don't have to sacrifice their personal lives now. Women don't have to feel they need to "work like a man," so to speak.

Could it be that young women just aren't as interested in traditional family life?

Young people, they are not looking ahead. They are trying to establish themselves but biology is biology. There is a limited period of time that she can do this successfully. There is an optimal time for a man as well. Neither has forever to have kids. But when they are in their 20s and 30s, they feel they have plenty of time. I talked to many women like that. They never worried about it until it was too late.

You talk about relationships a lot. What role does that play in these statistics?

There are countless women who ultimately regretted leaving old relationships. At the time, the guy wasn't perfect. They thought someone better would come along. It was sad to hear them look back and say, "He would have been a good dad. I wish I had never ended it." It's as though so many women are looking for the BBD—the bigger better deal. They are overlooking nice guys because they don't make enough or aren't exciting enough.

That kind of regret is hard to live with.

Yes. And even worse, women who are not married are often shamed. One woman told me that since she isn't married or doesn't have kids, her parents sit her at the children's table during holidays. Another said that her parents make her sleep in the foldout cot in their hotel room during family vacations, while her brother and their wives get their own rooms. It's as though people think, "Nobody chose her." That veil is incorrect and unfair. Women should not be validated by marriage. We need to stop treating them like something is wrong with them.

And what do you think about the growing number of women who are turning to sperm banks and adoption to start families?

It's awesome. If you want a family, go for it. But I just hope they have the financial resources and the family support needed to raise a child. When that baby is sick and you've been up for 48 hours caring for him, you need somebody to help. It's hard. Very hard.

This was largely inspired by the fact that your daughter doesn't have kids. How does she feel about the book?

Oh, she thinks it's one big Jewish guilt trip because she didn't make me a grandma. But I wanted her to know that I am OK with her choices and she should not feel guilty. She is not interested at all in having children and she is happy with her life. I am happy for her.

Bottom line, what do you want women to know about having kids ... or, rather, not having them?

I would hope that people think about a better balance in their lives. More importantly, let's change the conversation. If your daughter isn't dating anyone or doesn't have kids, say with confidence, "No, she is not." It's more important that they be happy and fulfilled by their choices even if it's not what everyone else thinks they should do.

Yet there has been a change in your grandparent status, right?

Yes. I am happy to say I have a grandchild, via my son's wife. Now there are two of us in the book club who are grandparents but, interestingly, it's our sons who had the kids, not our daughters. I really wanted a happy ending for the book and I got it.

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