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Apodaca: Examining the child-free life — from afar

August 23, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

When I was young, I never dreamed about becoming a mother. I didn't fantasize about my wedding dress, choose my kids' names years before they were born, or spend time wondering how many babies I'd have or whether they'd be boys or girls.

But when I did marry and have children, those decisions were the biggest and most important of my life, and I haven't for a second regretted my choices. Being a mother has been the making of me.

In the more than 16 years since I've lived in Newport Beach, my kids have been the center of my universe, the primary force driving my social, work and travel schedules. Virtually every aspect of my life revolves around being a mother.

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My closest friends are other Newport moms, with whom I've forged an unbreakable bond amid countless school projects, coffee meetings and sob sessions over the complications of raising children.

I can't imagine it any other way.

But parenthood is a path not shared by all, and according to recent reports, it's one that's increasingly avoided. The U.S. birthrate has fallen to an all-time low, despite advances in fertility treatments that have made conception possible for those who would have found it impossible a generation ago.

By 2010, about one in five American women ended their childbearing years without children, compared with one in 10 in the 1970s, according to research cited in a recent Time magazine cover story. The publication also reported that the share of women ages 40 to 44 who had never given birth rose by 80% from 1976 to 2008.

Here in Orange County, the trend is reflected in data compiled by the state Department of Finance, which found that the county's birth rate peaked in the 1990s at more than 50,000 per year before going into a gradual decline to about 38,000 births in 2011.

The Time article, "The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children," prompted a slew of commentaries and op-ed pieces. We heard from "childless by choice" defenders, critics who bemoaned the alleged destruction of the American family, essayists writing thoughtfully about lifestyle choices and environmentalists concerned about overpopulation.

I've read all these articles with interest, but the question revolving around the issue of childlessness that plagued me most was this: Have I subconsciously bought into negative stereotypes of people without kids as either sad cases with big empty holes in their lives, or egotists too selfish to take on the responsibility of parenthood?

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