Will women who choose to go childfree regret it?
Kate Banister and her husband Ian spent two or three years weighing up whether to have kids.
"We both had our ups and downs, but now we're equally on the same page about it which is very fortunate," the 37-year-old business owner said.
Getting their two dogs Ruby and Saffy helped the Banisters make up their minds. "We thought 'this is actually quite nice, you get the interaction and the nurturing with the dogs, and you can still have a life'."
But new research suggests one in four women who choose not to have children live to regret their decision, as they face growing old without family.
Edith Cowan University families researcher Bronwyn Harman interviewed 330 women who hadn't had children to compare the life experiences of the childfree and the childless.
The majority of the deliberately childfree are pleased they never had kids, because of the freedom it gives them. "They can do whatever they want, they can come and go as they please, they can please themselves as they want to," Harman said.
Ian and Kate Banister with their Jack Russell dogs Saffy and Ruby. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
However, a quarter of childfree women came to regret their decision once they were past child-bearing age and began contemplating old age alone. Harman said her study was the first to identify this trend.
"They feel lonely, they've got no-one in the world, and no-one to hand things down to," Harman said. "They think perhaps this is something they should have considered more carefully, and thought about the future."
One woman interviewed said she would be approaching retirement in 10 years. "I anticipate a lonely existence, without children and grandchildren."
The Banisters value the freedom and flexibility they have being childfree.
"We like to try new restaurants and bars, being able to do that when we want to, and not being as tied down [is the benefit of not having children]," Kate said. She also recognises she has fewer expenses, gets more sleep, and is better able to focus on her business without children.
Yet Kate is aware they could come to regret their decision not to have children. "One day we might regret it," she said. "That's a particularly high possibility when we're in our 70s and 80s when we're alone."
The couple are very consciously building networks to support them in any times of need in the future. "You have to build those relationships and bonds so you have got that network of people who will look out for you."
The majority of the deliberately childfree are pleased they never had kids. Photo: Peter Braig
Most of the 250 women who were deliberately childfree said they had never made a conscious decision not to have children; they simply always knew it wasn't for them. "They just never considered it a possibility," Harman said.
Some women said they had experienced a bad childhood so they didn't want to inflict something similar on another child.
Harman believes childfree women are becoming more visible as societal notions that life satisfaction is bound up in having a family begin to shift. "Women can get satisfaction from other things, particularly women who work outside the home," she said. "Success is no longer tied up in how well you mother a child."
Although the idea that a woman's primary role is to breed may be becoming antiquated, 50 per cent of the childfree women Harman interviewed felt their choice was misunderstood, particularly by their parents and siblings.
There was a sharp contrast between the life satisfaction of deliberately childfree women and those who wanted to have children but couldn't because of medical reasons or the lack of a partner.
"The childfree are much better off because they made a choice whereas the childless had the choice taken away from them," Harman said.
"These women would dearly love to have a child. There is such a great element of grief in their lives that they can't."
While childless women tried to find joy in the children of friends and family, it didn't assuage the sadness they felt over not having their own. They said they were pitied by other people, viewed as defective or selfish, and had their personal medical issues pried into.
"I think society perceives childless women, myself included, as selfish and career oriented and certainly most people assume I am childless entirely out of choice," one woman said.
"This added to my grief, unfortunately, and made it difficult for me to feel understood."