This collection of essays by female writers and entertainers reflecting on their lives without children will resonate with those who choose not to have a family. But it is also a useful read for parents, and those who don't have children for other reasons.
While discussions on whether to have children or not can be fraught, the reflections in this anthology are filled with wit. There is a diversity of perspectives. Margaret Cho's essay would be of particular interest for Asian readers, Nora Finn's piece brings politics into focus, Judy Morgan reflects on rejecting parenthood after a Catholic upbringing, and Andrea Carla Michaels writes on being cast in the role of "crazy cat lady" or "somebody's mother".
The cultural pressure for women to reproduce is abundantly clear. Julie Halston writes about being sent for counselling after she wrote her ambition was "to not get pregnant" in her sophomore yearbook. In the face of this pressure, it is unsurprising that a note of defensiveness creeps into the essays. On the whole, however, the book strikes a celebratory note. As Jeanne Dorsey says: "Is it a loss? How would I know? I'm too busy living."
Some of the common fears of those without children are dwelled upon and dispensed with. There is scepticism about the idea of having it all, and a concomitant validation of the decision (in most cases) to eschew children for careers.
Since the writers are in creative professions that can be unstable and demanding, they face more of an either-or when it comes to having children than women in other professions. However, in foregrounding career as the alternative choice, the book fails to address women who are uninterested in both children and climbing the career ladder.
The book raises important questions about motherhood and ambivalence. Amid the cultural noise about parenting, saying a loud and clear "no" is understandably difficult.
"I was trying to get pregnant but not necessarily because I wanted to," wrote Maureen Langdon, who equates the situation to teenage peer pressure. "Remember high school? Getting invited to the party was what mattered, whether you wanted to go or not."
A number of writers declare themselves "selfish" or "lazy" without apology, though this quickly loses value in repetition. The essays that grabbed me were those that offered perspectives one might have otherwise missed, such as Nancy Van Iderstine's description of a visit to a gynaecologist when not pregnant, or Judy Nielson's piece on her body becoming her baby after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Verdict: A good read for parents and non-parents alike, best digested in slivers. No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood, edited by Henriette Mantel, HK$138, fishpond.com.hk