Originally created 04/02/02

Kid-free zones

Soon after their wedding, Lori and Tony Drawdy of Augusta started getting bombarded with questions about when they were going to have children.

That was almost nine years ago. Since then, they have put an end to the questions and any chance of having children.

At 31 years old, Mr. Drawdy had a vasectomy.

"We're not parenting people; I took the dog to the groomer and forgot him," Mrs. Drawdy said.

The Drawdys are part of a growing trend among American couples. The U.S. Census reports that in the past two decades, the number of women without children has nearly doubled. In 1980, 10 percent of women age 40-44 (which is considered to be the last of the child-bearing years) did not have children. In 2000, 19 percent were childless.

In spite of slight increases in birth rates, fewer women are having children, said Rose Kreider, a Washington-based family demographer for the Census Bureau.

And if you are a woman who does not intend to have children, the South is not the best place to be.

"We tend to be more family oriented in the South," said Doug Bachtel, a sociologist at the University of Georgia

According to the census, there are fewer childless women in the South than any other region in the United States, with 40.7 percent of women age 15 to 44 without children. The Northeast has the greatest percentage at 46.2.

The trend stems from several factors, including the women's movement of the 1970s.

"A woman can be a woman without being defined by family or her spouse," Mr. Bachtel said. "There's less pressure to have a child."

The prevalence of households with two working people may also drive the trend. "That changes lots of types of behavior," Mr. Bachtel said. "One of those is children."

Another factor is the advent of the Internet, which has opened a worldwide forum in which several child-free communities have been established.

Jerry Steinberg of Vancouver in British Columbia founded No Kidding, a social organization for people who choose not to have children, in 1984. "I started it because I was running out of friends," Mr. Steinberg said of friends who were having children. "They had become so busy, so exhausted and so broke that they no longer had the time or energy to stay friends. And they were making new friends of their own, other people with children."

Until five years ago, No Kidding remained a local phenomenon. After establishing a Web site (www.nokidding.net), membership has exploded.

"The interest and the growth have been astounding," Mr. Steinberg said. "We now have 72 chapters in four countries."

So why the emergence of childfree-related sites? Generally, childfree folks feel they are strongly criticized by those who do have children. Two of the three childfree sources for this story asked not to be named for fear of scorn from friends and business associates.

One Augusta woman, who asked not to be named, said she seldom feels that her choice is respected as a valid decision.

"There is a huge stigma attached to this decision and the feedback is almost always negative," she said. "I definitely feel like I'm in the minority."

One local man asked not to be named because he was afraid that his opinions, which are shared by his wife, would hurt business.

"It's a controversial decision. I feel like it's abnormal from the viewpoint of natural selection, it doesn't make sense," he said. "There never has been any desire for children, I have no interest at all."

For the Drawdys, it was a matter of lifestyle and responsibility, not a dislike for children.

Mrs. Drawdy is an aunt to two nephews and one niece, whom she loves to death, she said. She even sees her niece daily.

"I love to play with her," Mrs. Drawdy said. "We play, we have fun; I don't have an intolerance of them. I just don't have the patience or the tolerance to do it on a 24-hour basis. And we're both very, very busy; I don't foresee that getting any better."

Mrs. Drawdy also occasionally receives negative comments about her choice not to have a family. Sometimes she will simply avoid expressing her reasons to people she knows won't understand.

"The stereotypical thing that we get is that we're selfish," she said. "I think having a child just to say you have a child or because everybody expects you to is selfish. It's not fair to the child, who didn't ask to be born," she said.

Other times, Mrs. Drawdy wants people to know her life is not lacking because she doesn't have children.

"I think my life is pretty whole right now," Mrs. Drawdy said. "I am madly in love with my husband, I have no holes in my life and I don't feel like I need to have a child to boost my ego."

Reach Lisa M. Lohr at (706) 823-3332 or lisalohr@augustachronicle.com


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