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A historian of gender explores the complicated relationship between womanhood and motherhood
In an era of falling births, it’s often said that millennials invented the idea of not having kids. But history is full of women without children: some who chose childless lives, others who wanted children but never had them, and still others—the vast majority, then and now—who fell somewhere in between. Modern women considering how and if children fit into their lives are products of their political, ecological, and cultural moment. But history also tells them that they are not alone.
Drawing on deep research and her own experience as a woman without children, historian Peggy O’Donnell Heffington shows that many of the reasons women are not having children today are ones they share with women in the past: a lack of support, their jobs or finances, environmental concerns, infertility, and the desire to live different kinds of lives. Understanding this history—how normal it has always been to not have children, and how hard society has worked to make it seem abnormal—is key, she writes, to rebuilding kinship between mothers and non-mothers, and to building a better world for us all.