Childless by Choice or Chance

by Mary E. Jaminet

December 1, 2006

Working and socializing among Catholics and pro-lifers over the years, I have noticed a significant number of young Catholic couples struggling with infertility. I also know a surprising number of intelligent, charming singles in their 20s and 30s still roaming the dating range. So, I was not surprised to come across a recent article in the Washington Post ("Style" section, November 29) discussing the growing number of women who, by choice or by chance, remain childless throughout life. The U.S. Census Bureau says the proportion of childless women ages 15 to 44 rose from 35.1 percent in 1976 to 44.6 percent in 2004. What is contributing to this trend, and how can Catholics respond to it?

There can be little doubt that abortion, as well as the widespread use of contraceptives and sterilization, contributes to this trend -- allowing women to "control" their fertility by preventing conception or ending their pregnancy. U.S. Census Bureau figures also show the highest rates of childlessness, regardless of marital status, among women with the highest levels of education and income, employed in managerial and professional occupations, and living in the Northeast and West. Women are increasingly falling prey to the lure of "having it all" by delaying childbearing, or denying it altogether. Some even find that the methods they used to delay or interrupt pregnancy have much longer-lasting effects than they planned. At the same time, some women remain childless not by choice, but by chance.

Whether the cause is infertility, early menopause, marrying beyond the childbearing years, or, as my female friends might claim, single men's lack of courage in asking for a date, some women have little say in whether or not they will bear children of their own.

How should we respond to this trend? In addition to alerting people to the negative impact of abortion and contraception, we should take the positive approach of encouraging the childless to fulfill their call to be "mother-like" in creative ways.

I'm reminded of my own mother, who wanted to honor her "childless by chance" daughter. A few years ago, she began to send me Mother's Day cards, to celebrate my "motherly and loving qualities."

We can encourage those who yearn for motherhood to consider parenthood by adoption, or to:

  • Become foster parents.
  • Volunteer for the parish Gabriel Project.
  • Donate to the local pregnancy care center.
  • Babysit for children of family and friends.
  • Volunteer to hold infants through the night at a local orphanage.
  • Assist at a children's hospital.
  • Serve as a teacher's aide.

We should also keep in mind the need to be sensitive to women who may regret their abortions, sterilizations, or decision to remain childless. They may be in need of counseling. The local Project Rachel program can offer healing and reconciliation for those involved in abortion.

Though not all women either choose, or are able to be mothers, all can be encouraged to celebrate children and cultivate their own ability to "mother." Let us together bring about a culture where fewer people will choose childlessness, and all will allow God the chance to bring the gift of a child.

Mary Jaminet is Special Project Coordinator at the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.