Motherhood is ... optional
For many years, motherhood has not been optional for women. Women who cannot have children have found themselves negotiating their worth over something they cannot control. And those who don’t want children at all have had their choice met with doubt and concern.
We spoke to five women who don’t want children, despite old-fashioned ideas that women must have them.
These women have rejected society’s ideas of what it means to have a womb.
Sinawo Bukani (28) – blogger, content creator and digital marketing strategist from East London
Raised by a Christian mother, Sinawo Bukani says she’s never had the desire to have children.
The conviction came when she helped co-parent a neighbour’s daughter and her nephew.
“Part of the reason I quit the corporate sector and moved to Johannesburg to pursue a creative career is because I was beginning a journey of selfishness. This meant that my whole life would be mine. I love being on my own, I love being the only person I am responsible for. It feels great and less of a burden,” she tells me.
Bukani says that her mother yearns for grandchildren, and she has lost partners because of her decision.
“I’ve taken so much [into] consideration, and I’ve lost a few lovers who wanted to marry me but struggled with my decision to not have children. I’ve been willing to lose them to remain childless. I don’t think there is a chance of me ever changing my mind,” she says.
Bukani says in five years she wants to own her own digital marketing agency, have five novels on bookshop shelves and have travelled to almost every African country.
Joni Norval (32) – professional architectural draughtsperson from Johannesburg
Growing up in an Afrikaans family, Norval says she was groomed to be a wife who ensures children are fed and clean by the time her husband comes home from work in the evenings.
The last born of the three children, she developed a pituitary tumour in her 20s that doctors said might cause infertility, but she decided not to see fertility specialists after making the active decision not to have any children.
“My mother is pushing me to try and have children before I am 35. I am definitely not going to try for a child; I am actively taking precautions to make sure that does not happen. The biggest thing for me about not having children is [not sharing] my time and money. I get to live a fuller life because there is nothing dragging on my time, my money and my responsibilities.”
Norval says though her cousins all have children, she has surrounded herself with people who don’t want children and respect her choices, such as her partner of four years.
“My partner and I have agreed that our time and money are precious, and we don’t want to waste it all on years of child rearing. We have also talked about getting married and agreed that if we do it, it will be for the legal aspect, but we won’t do it the traditional way of swearing before God.”
Lerato Mokoka*(33) – student from Pretoria
Lerato Mokoka* says her decision came after she fell pregnant and decided to have an abortion.
“I grew up thinking I wanted kids. I believe this is what we are conditioned to desire. I fell pregnant when I was 22 but the man I was with at the time was irresponsible, and I was not ready to have children,” she says.
Although her decision to have an abortion came with guilt, she realised that at the end of the day it was her decision, as she had to live with it.
Mokoka’s partner is divorced with children. She says she is happy to be their mother figure.
“Both of us are not ready for another child. My partner got divorced at a very young age and has had to raise his children alone. I don’t see the need for me to have any children of my own,” she says.
“My grandmother lived a life that society expected of her. My mother on the other hand has been with a man for many years without the urge to get married. I learn from her, as she lives the life she wants.”
Hikatekile Maringa (26) – TV show translator from Giyani, Limpopo
“I decided I didn’t want any children in 2010 during a conversation with my friends. It was at that moment that I asked myself if I really want children,” says Hikatekile Maringa.
With nieces and nephews in her family, she says she is happy being an aunt and having kids running around her.
“I am not sure what I would want to bring out of raising a child when I am still finding myself. My mother is waiting for me to change my mind. She has been begging for me to have at least one child, but I don’t see the need,” she says.
Although Maringa does not want children of her own, she says she would be willing to be a surrogate mother: “I have cousins who want children but are struggling to fall pregnant. I am more than willing to help them have children,” she says.
She says she has friends who got pregnant without knowing what was happening, and for her, making such a critical decision is important.
“If I had to lose my job today, at least I would only have me to worry about,” she says.
Vanita Daniels (38) – businesswoman from Cape Town
Vanita Daniels says she never thought about having children until she got older and people starting asking her about it.
“Imagine if that child just turned out to be just like me? That would be the worst thing ever,” she jokes.
But Daniels says upon looking closely at her decision, she realised she is a selfish person who loves her life the way it is.
“For a good couple of years I got to travel a lot, and if I had children I probably wouldn’t be able to do all the things I love because I have to take care of them,” she reflects.
Daniels says when business is not going well and money is not coming in she feels vindicated that her decision is a good one, because she does not know what she would do without an income if she had children.
Her father has encouraged her to have children only when she wants them and not feel pressured by the need to give him grandchildren.
“I had a conversation with my mother about becoming a surrogate mother she asked if I wouldn’t be pained by carrying a child for someone else. I don’t feel anything about not having my own child, so it wouldn’t bother me at all,” says Daniels.
Lerato Mokoka is a pseudonym given to a woman who wants to remain anonymous