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The meaning and experience of voluntary childlessness for married couples 2005

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T H E M E A N I N G A N D E X P E R I E N C E OF V O L U N T A R Y C H I L D L E S S N E S S F O R M A R R I E D C O U P L E S by DIANA L. MAWSON B. A., University of Winnipeg, 1983 M.A., University of British Columbia, 1989 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES COUNSELLING PSYCHOLOGY THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA APRIL 2005 © Diana L. Mawson, 2005 II ABSTRACT This hermeneutic phenomenological inquiry investigated the meaning and lived experience of voluntary childlessness for married couples. The extant literature on childlessness is dated, and although popular and academic works offer more recent descriptions of this life choice among women, there remains a paucity of contemporary information regarding childfree couples and men. This study thus extends our understanding of how the childless by choice construct meaningful lives. The purpose of the study was to illuminate the underlying meaning of voluntary childlessness among married couples. The study also explored whether meaning- making differed between men and women, and how they created meanings of their voluntary childlessness as married couples. Eight couples volunteered to describe their daily lives without children, in individual spousal and conjoint interviews. The findings of this study emerged from a guided existential reflection founded on four existentials of human experience: lived body, lived relation, lived space, and lived time. Descriptive themes that illuminated the daily lives of these childless couples are presented within each lived existential. Although the participants did not appear to directly value childlessness as a source of meaning in daily living, analysis of their accounts revealed two prominent meaning-themes that encompassed the materials contained within the four existentials. The first meta-theme of meaning was freedom, the expression of autonomy and choice in daily living. The second meta-theme complemented that of freedom, that is, the compelling drive to live a responsible life. In effect, the adults in the study described a balance between their commitments to autonomous strivings, and demonstration of accountability and contribution to society outside the parameters of parenthood. Results are discussed as they relate to research and writing on intentional childlessness, and to established psychological theories of adult development. Overall, the findings suggest that the voluntarily childless adults in this study derived meaning from autonomous and generative iii acts that are similar in purpose to the strivings for mastery, control, and generativity that have been traditionally associated with parents in mid-life. iv TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT ii TABLE OF CONTENTS iv LIST OF TABLES vii CHAPTER ONE - INTRODUCTION 1 Statement of the Problem 2 Purpose of the Study 8 Personal Context for Exploring Voluntary Childlessness 8 Terms of Interpretation 10 CHAPTER TWO - REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 13 Voluntarily Childless Couples 14 Voluntarily Childless Women 28 Voluntarily Childless Men 47 Critique of the Literature 55 CHAPTER THREE - METHODOLOGY 60 Introduction 60 Method 60 Research Design 61 Hermeneutic phenomenology 61 Philosophical tenets of hermeneutic phenomenology 63 Hermeneutic Phenomenological Method 68 The hermeneutic circle 68 Pre-understandings 70 Role of participants 72 Role of researcher 73 Research Procedure 75 Participant criteria 75 Finding couples 77 Data Collection i 79 Assumptions of the interview 79 Interview process 81 Data Analysis 87 Interview transcription 87 Thematic analysis 87 Data presentation 92 Criteria for Evaluating Trustworthiness of the Study 92 Summary 96 CHAPTER FOUR - RESULTS 97 Participants' Biographies 97 The Lived Experience of Voluntary Childlessness for Women and Men ..110 Lived body: women I l l Maternal body 113 Embodied time 118 Lived body: men 120 Comparisons of lived body: women and men 123 Lived relation: women 124 Animals 124 Children 128 Friendships 135 Missing collective 138 Lived relation: men 144 Animals 144 Children 145 Friendships 148 Missing collective 150 Comparisons of lived relation: women and men 155 Lived space: women 158 Physical-home 159 worldly 161 Psychological-inner 165 self-conscious 168 Lived space: men 171 Physical-home 172 worldly 175 natural 177 Psychological-inner 178 self-conscious 182 Comparisons of lived space: women and men 186 Lived time: women 188 Time is now 189 Spontaneous time 193 My time 195 Unknowable time 199 Lived time: men 207 Time is now 207 Spontaneous time 210 My time 211 vi Unknowable time 213 Comparisons of lived time: women and men 218 The Lived Experience of Voluntary Childlessness for Couples 221 Meta-themes of Meaning 222 Freedom: the expression of autonomy and choice 224 The responsible life 227 CHAPTER FIVE - DISCUSSION 232 Restatement of the Purpose of the Study 232 Theoretical Implications 232 Descriptive themes 233 Meta-themes of meaning 247 Theories of adult development 250 Implications for Counselling 252 Limitations of the Study 260 Implications for Future Research 264 REFERENCES 270 APPENDICES 277 Appendix A - Recruitment Advertisement 277 Appendix B - Telephone Contact Outline 278 Appendix C - Telephone Screening Questions 281 Appendix D - Interview Orienting Statements 282 Appendix E - Sample Spousal Interview Questions 283 Appendix F - Sample Conjoint Interview Questions 285 Appendix G - Study Participant Consent Form... 286 LIST OF TABLES Table 1 Table 1: Summary of Descriptive Themes 1 CHAPTER ONE Introduction Choosing to live without children is not a new topic of public or academic interest; there have always been non-parents who either by choice or chance construct their lives in quiet parallel to the dominant culture of parenthood. Demographers are currently reporting a new wave of fertility trends indicating that in the Western world this minority group of voluntarily childless adults is growing (Statistics Canada, 1999; Qu, Weston, & Kilmartin, 2000). Recent predictions suggest rates of intentional childlessness at 15 to 17%, or one out of every six women choosing childlessness at the millenium (Rovi, 1994). Some estimates suggest up to 22% of women born between 1956 and 1976 are unlikely to have any children; most of them will be childless by choice (Bartlett, 1994; Tyler-May, 1995). This trend toward childlessness commenced in the 1960's but the historical stigma surrounding the voluntarily childless did not entirely disappear during the ensuing decades (Tyler-May, 1995). Rather, the social meaning of intentional childlessness has vacillated between polarities of acceptance and tolerance, and rejection and denigration. For the better part of this last century, our Western culture of religious, political, medical, and academic discourses has heralded parenthood as the central life purpose and source of meaning for healthy men and women (Ireland, 1993; LaFayette, 1995; Lisle, 1996). Psychological theories continue to reinforce and contribute to these social discourses; parenthood is the natural and critical developmental task marking adult maturity and identity (Gergen, 1990; Ireland; Lachman, 2004; Safer, 1996). Alternative life paths considered socially and culturally to be of equal status and value to parenthood have not yet emerged for women or men (Daniluk, 1999; Gerson, 1993). Indeed, the option in Western society to eschew parenthood-particularly motherhood-is unique among the majority of world cultures wherein family life is essential for the maintenance of cultural, religious, and social life. 2 Western beliefs about parenthood as natural and desirable are indeed widespread, but clearly they are not accepted or lived by everybody (Marshall, 1993). Couples making the childless choice comprise a small but increasingly visible minority (Morell, 1994). As they eschew traditional roles and identities of adulthood for themselves, these individuals must discover and create meaning in their lives deriving from their experience of difference. However, their lives are poorly understood and absent from psychological theorizing of adulthood (Gergen, 1990; Ireland, 1993). My study attempted to address our inadequate understanding of a reproductive choice and lifestyle that reflects the realities of a growing number of women and men. Through the qualitative method of hermeneutic phenomenology, I intended to present insights into the meaning and the experience of voluntary childlessness for couples and spouses. Statement of the Problem In our Western culture we live in an age-graded society with normative expectations for social behaviour, gender roles, and developmental tasks that together constitute markers of adult identity formation and maturation (Neugarten & Datan, 1996). Historically, marriage and family life remain important in the cultural ethos (Thornton & Young-DeMarco, 2001) and parenthood in particular, is the hallmark of developmental maturity in our society (Neugarten & Datan). The "parenthood ideology" of Western societies (Marshall, 1993) is translated continually into social discourses that shape our adult lives and direct us to have children. The last forty years, however, have seen expansion of life choices in the family domain, concomitant with significant shifts in Western values and attitudes about family life (Nichols & Pace-Nichols, 2000; Tyler-May, 1995; Thornton & Young-DeMarco, 2001). Commencing in the 1960's, dramatic changes in women's roles, growing environmental concerns, and increased access to birth control heralded a new era of relationships and family structure (Bartlett, 1994; Gillespie, 2001; Tyler-May), and increased social tolerance for previously proscribed social behaviours. Rates of childlessness soared towards pre-World War I levels and were presumably 3 due to a rise in voluntary childlessness. Sociologists interpreted this period of increased social favour for childlessness as a backlash against the baby boom and the success of feminism in liberating women from the economic and social constraints of motherhood and domesticity (Bartlett; Burgwyn, 1981; Lisle, 1996). Academic interest in voluntary childlessness increased dramatically and produced a substantial body of literature that attempted to understand and describe this non-traditional cohort - their lifestyles, individual and relationship characteristics, and the motives for choosing childlessness (e.g., Burgwyn; Houseknecht, 1987; Veevers, 1980). However, in the 1980's and 1990's North American culture witnessed a resurgence of conservatism accompanied by traditional values emphasizing marriage, family, and conformity to earlier norms of parenthood (Daniluk, 1999; Gillespie, 2000; Tyler-May, 1995). After two decades of profound social change sustained by the feminist movement, women were again being encouraged to pursue motherhood, even if this meant balancing their maternal roles with career responsibilities. Men, on the other hand, moved through this period of social transition with a different experience of role options and reproductive responsibility. Changes in labour market, education, and family domains for women witnessed parallel changes in norms for men's development and identity (Gerson, 1993). Former role prescriptions of breadwinner and economic success dissipated into cultural ambiguity wherein men began searching for new meanings and definitions of family-related roles (Gerson; Levant, 1999). Active fatherhood became significantly more common and socially accepted for men, potentially making it even more difficult for men who were not invested in career roles to voluntarily reject fatherhood. These men were forced to negotiate their identities and sources of life meaning differently and with less social endorsement than fathers (Lunneborg, 1999). The contemporary cohort of voluntarily childless adults appears to be caught in a curious paradox of sociocultural values and demographic shifts. Research confirms that the "oughtness" that has historically been associated with parenthood has diminished among North Americans 4 (Thornton & Young-Demarco, 2001), and that there is a gradual increase in the number of adults choosing childlessness (Rovi, 1994). Nonetheless, the vast majority of people still highly rate the role of parenthood and anticipate becoming parents (Jacobson, Heaton, & Taylor, 1988; Miall, 1994). Indeed, it appears that although we may have widened the cultural space of tolerance for the voluntarily childless in North American society, that space is small and remains at the margin of society (Daniluk, 1999; Tyler-May, 1995). Here, couples who eschew parenthood are challenged to negotiate and maintain a "personal culture" (Heidmets, cited in Brandstadter, 1999) of values, beliefs, and life goals that is embedded in the larger sociocultural context of pronatalism (Bram, 1989 ). One wonders how the childless by choice interpret and negotiate the demands and expectations of the dominant culture's prevailing discourse of parenthood (Marshall, 1993). Those expectations are expressed in stigma and stereotypes that continue to discredit nonparenthood (Lampman & Dowling-Guyer, 1995) and subject voluntarily childless adults to experiences of "othering" (Daniluk; Morrel, 1994). Some research efforts have been made to more clearly understand the social world in which childless adults live and negotiate the dominant ideology of pronatalism (e.g., Gillespie, 2000; Marshall, 1993). Studies of the social perceptions of voluntarily childless couples confirms that they are generally regarded as less warm and less agentic than parents, and judged to have more negative emotions (e.g., LaMastro, 2001). They are also viewed by many as lazy, less caring and less driven than parents, insensitive, and lonely (Lampman & Dowling-Guyer, 1995). Childless marriages are often presumed to be less satisfactory and less stable than those of parents (LaMastro). Since they eschew the religious, social, and political norms of traditional family life, many consider intentionally childless adults to be deviant, selfish, career-focussed, and antinatalist in values and attitudes (Gillespie; Veevers, 1980). Voluntarily childless women especially are frequently denigrated by criticism emanating from deeply-engrained cultural expectations that women's value and identity centres on their 5 reproductive cycle (Gergen, 1990; Ireland, 1993; Lisle, 1996; Lunneborg, 1999). Women's rejection of bearing and raising children is commonly construed as evidence of self-absorption, psychopathology, over-identification with masculine gender roles, and immaturity (Bartlett, 1994; Gergen; Hird & Abshoff, 2000; Ireland; Lisle). Overall, research findings confirm that our pronatal culture harbours deep-seated social stigma about men and women who choose childlessness, despite measured trends of increased tolerance to variant family forms (Thornton & Young-DeMarco, 2001; Veevers, 1980). This bias continues in spite of the lack of research to substantiate these assumptions and claims, and in the face of contradictory evidence. Research on the psychosocial correlates of voluntary childlessness has failed to present any supporting evidence for the above-described negative social stereotypes (e.g., Houseknecht, 1987). So what, then, is known about the lives and motivations of the men and women who choose this variant life path? We know that intentionally childless women tend to have higher levels of education and are employed in professional occupations; they report less religiousity and have less traditional sex-role orientations (Bram, 1984; Jacobson & Heaton, 1991; Jacobson, Heaton & Taylor, 1988; Rovi, 1994). Childless married women and men report intimate and committed relationships with their partners, and shared valuing of creative and career pursuits (Safer, 1996; Veevers, 1980). Couples in childless marriages also appear to emphasize self-actualization in their lives and to work toward egalitarianism in their marriages (Bram, 1989; Jacobson & Heaton). Overall, they describe rich lives of spontaneity, freedom, opportunity, and community and environmental involvement ( Bram, 1989; LaFayette, 1995; Lunneborg, 1999; Veevers). Researchers have also attempted to understand the motives or rationale for choosing childlessness (e.g., Houseknecht, 1987; Weston & Qu, 2001). The most oft-cited reasons are personal freedom from routine and other obligations, and maintenance of an intimate spousal bond (Houseknecht; Safer, 1996; Veevers, 1980). More men than women express antinatal 6 sentiments (Lunneborg, 1999) as a key factor in rejecting parenthood, while more women cite family of origin experiences and a desire to make career commitments (Houseknecht; Veevers). Women appear to value the freedom to work whereas men apparently value the freedom from work: voluntarily childless men express appreciation for the reduced pressure to perform well in a career path and for the option to pursue less financially-rewarding work opportunities (Lunneborg). Overall, the psychosocial correlates and prevailing social meanings and stereotypes of voluntary childlessness have been well-explored in the psychological and sociological literature (e.g., Houseknecht, 1987; Marshall, 1993; Rovi, 1994; Veevers, 1980). However, this body of work has several limitations. First, the majority of the research studies use data from older cohorts of intentionally childless adults in the 1970's and 1980's and that may not adequately reflect the lived experience of a contemporary cohort of non-parents (e.g., Burgwyn, 1981; Houseknecht; Nason & Paloma, 1976; Silka & Kiesler, 1977; Veevers). Indeed, the seminal work of Veevers and Houseknecht exploring and describing voluntary childlessness dates to the late 1970's and 1980's and was followed in the 1990's by a decrease in scholarly interest and inquiry. In the wake of dramatic shifts in the social construction of adults' lives and choices, clinicians currently working with intentionally childless individuals are informed by a body of literature that is out-dated and possibly of reduced relevance to contemporary clients. A second shortcoming of the academic and popular literature concerned with voluntary childlessness is its almost exclusive focus on women's experiences (e.g., Bartlett, 1994; Ireland, 1993; Lisle, 1996; Safer, 1996). There is a dearth of information about men who make the childless choice (LaFayette, 1995; Lunneborg, 1999; Rovi, 1994). Instead, voluntarily childless men are indirectly described in women's accounts of their relationships (e.g., Bartlett; Safer). In those few studies where men have participated in research interviews their accounts are subsumed in broader descriptions of the general personality and demographic attributes of 7 voluntarily childless adults (e.g., Veevers, 1980). Similarly, there has been scant interest in the lives of intentionally childless couples (e.g., Veevers; Burgwyn, 1981). With few exceptions (e.g., Marshall, 1993) childless couples have been described almost exclusively through women's voices. Hence we have few insights into how these couples jointly construct their childfree lives or how husbands experience their childlessness. A final shortcoming of the literature on intentional childlessness is that it focuses heavily on determining the personality and demographic correlates of voluntarily childless adults (e.g., Rovi, 1994; Jacobson & Heaton, 1991). Findings tend to diminish and distill the richness and complexity of childless adults' lives into typologies and categories of reproductive decision- making (e.g., Houseknecht, 1987; Ireland, 1993; Veevers, 1980), motives and rationales for choosing childlessness (e.g., Houseknecht; Hird & Abshoff, 2000; Rovi; Veevers), and lifestyle characteristics (e.g., Bartlett, 1994; Burgwyn, 1981). To summarize, the research literature on voluntary childlessness is dated, and has focused primarily on exploring the social meanings and the psychosocial correlates of childlessness. This work presents interesting and descriptive information about voluntarily childlessness, but it fails to illuminate the meaning and the lived experience of this life choice. We know little about how childless adults in contemporary times negotiate the dominant discourse of parenthood (e.g., Gillespie, 2000; Marshall, 1993) or how they create personal meaning of their childlessness in the course of daily living. We know only that despite a purported tolerance for variant life paths in adulthood, those who opt out of parenthood are still largely viewed as deviant (Gillespie; Veevers, 1980). The norm in North American society is still to have children (Jacobson & Heaton, 1991). Indeed, according to Mueller and Yoder (1997), being intentionally childless "remains a risky choice fraught with negative evaluations" (p. 218). 8 Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to illuminate the meaning and the lived experience of voluntarily childlessness for spouses and couples in contemporary times. This phenomenological inquiry asked: " W h a t is the meaning and experience of voluntary childlessness, for mar r ied heterosexual adults, individual ly and as a couple?" I applied a hermeneutic method to seek core meaning structures in interview texts from eight voluntarily childless married couples. My goal was to uncover the meaning of this life choice, as it was experienced in the ordinary lifeworld of spouses and couples. I was especially interested in exploring whether men and women's meaning-making differs, and how they create meanings of their voluntary childlessness as married couples. Hence I interviewed spouses separately, and then together. Although findings from this study do not provide a comprehensive picture of the meaning of voluntary childlessness, they offer a fuller understanding of this reproductive choice. Such knowledge can help counsellors working with intentionally childless couples and spouses by informing a more empathic awareness of their lives. Counsellors might also apply this new awareness to guiding clients through reproductive decision-making, where they can share insights about daily living and meaning-making in marriages without children. I also believe that my findings contribute to psychological theories of adult development by providing insights into childlessness as an alternative path through adulthood. These insights challenge assumptions inherent in conventional psychology that the childless choice reflects immaturity, inadequacy, and unhappiness (Ireland, 1993). Personal Context for Exploring Voluntary Childlessness I entered this research assuming that I met van Manen's (1997) criteria for posing a phenomenological research question; "a phenomenological question must not only be made clear, understood, but also "lived" by the researcher" (p. 44). I am a voluntarily childless woman 9 in my forties in a committed relationship. Hence my intrigue with the research topic of childless couples derived directly from my own lived experience of intentional childlessness. I embarked on this research journey at the threshold of my forties where I was confronted by the cycle of life. Here at an intersection of time and family, my father passed away and I moved into the final years of my own fertility. Prior to then I lived my childlessness as I always had; at ease with my chosen path and without concern about my reproductive difference from other women. I am probably an "early articulator" (Veevers, 1980) who never envisioned a future self as mother. I had no fantasies of having or raising babies, nor did I make efforts to seek out a mate best-suited for fathering my children. I never heard a ticking biological clock, or wondered whom else I might become if "other than mother" (Letherby, 1999, p. 359). Many of my friends were similarly childless, some by chance and others by choice. My reproductive status seemed unimportant to the world around me. Hence my lived experience of childlessness defied the dominant discourses of pronatalism and motherhood. Without children, I felt no absence or emptiness in my life. Instead, I continued through my twenties and thirties nurturing beautiful gardens, some musical abilities, friendships, a diverse career, and academic goals. When my father died my awareness of being childless shifted in a reflective pause to the biological closure of my fertility. As Morell (2000) described, losses and significant life events triggered a melancholic revisitation of my childless state and a sudden sense of difference. I became aware of social discourses of motherhood in all aspects of my daily living - a barrage of messages declaring maternity the normal state of maturity for women. My lived experience of ease and comfort in my childlessness was suddenly disrupted as I awakened to a new self- consciousness of being a not-mother. The meaning of my childlessness slipped from quiet, simple preference to a place of noisy external commentary. I felt compelled to guard it, to justify it. 10 Commentaries about my childlessness began to emerge unsolicited in ordinary social exchanges. One psychiatrist acquaintance eagerly told me "You must be married soon, Diana. You're running out of time to have your family." When I casually informed her that I did not want children, her tone changed and she pursued the topic with escalating intensity. She insisted that I create a family life - "you must. You'd be a wonderful mother. You will want children when you are married." I was alarmed and upset by her disregard for my choice, yet I felt obliged to explain myself, to excuse myself. Days later, my male dentist reversed that exchange and lauded the value of this research project. "Thank God" he said. "Finally someone will look at us and not think we're evil and awful! I want to be in your research project! I'll tell them that we're normal!" Throughout my root canal he enthusiastically told me his story of voluntary childlessness. After years of quietly living without children among a peer-culture of family life, this research provoked in me new awareness of the pronatal discourse around me in daily living - T. V. ads and shows, movies, political rhetoric, and medicine all conveying that parenthood is the social norm. I also became more attuned to the small chorus of adult voices speaking of their childless choice, in the academic and popular literature as well as in my daily social encounters. To the extent which my experiences might be others' experiences, I endeavoured to be reflectively aware of certain experiential meanings -1 had "personal clues" to orient myself to my participants' lived experiences of voluntary childlessness (van Manen, 1997, p. 57). By exploring my own lived experience and the accounts of my co-researchers, I strived to reveal shared meanings of voluntary childlessness and to provide a deeper understanding of the significance of choosing to live without children. Terms of Interpretation The prevailing ideologies of a historical period and culture are translated into social discourses of language and institutions (Gillespie, 2000) that shape our identities and lived 11 experience. In my research I assumed that we are embedded in a strongly pronatal culture. Pronatalism refers to the socially-constructed beliefs that adults and married couples should have children and should want them (Veevers, 1980). Parenthood is exalted as a natural and necessary achievement that marks the most mature of adult accomplishments (Letherby, 1999). Pronatalism is conveyed through social discourse that pervades all aspects of Western living. I considered pronatalism a critical dimension of the sociocultural context in which we are embedded and that shapes the lived experience of individuals and couples who choose an alternative path through parenthood. Scholars who have studied voluntary childlessness concur that research has suffered with the obscurities of language and its inexact applications to describe similar but distinct experiences of childlessness (Houseknecht, 1987; Ireland, 1993; Lisle, 1996; Veevers, 1980). Our vague understanding of voluntary childlessness is fraught with gaps and negativity in part because we lack adequate language in the pronatal dominant discourse to express adult identities and experiences independent of parenthood (Gillespie, 1999; Ireland). Indeed, options for adult living are emerging without language to describe them (Morrel, 1994). According to Ireland, "what has actually been culturally absent has been the naming and representation of nonmaternal female experience" (p. 140). Although there have always been childless women and reluctant parents, maternity is still the foundation for naming and evaluating women's adult experiences and identity (Gergen, 1990). Similarly, there is no language to denote men who opt out of parenthood. We are left only with language that establishes their identity as "not"-parents. Terms unrelated to parental status are unavailable and hence, we rely on words in a negative counterpoint to the traditional terms created and maintained in the dominant pronatal discourse: not-mother, not-father, non-mother/father, non-parents. In her seminal work on childless marriages Veevers attempted to denote intentionally childless couples in neutral terms, referring 12 to their "variant lifestyles" and acknowledging that couples who choose childlessness " themselves beyond the moral pall of conventional society" (p. ix). The limitations of our language create terms of absence and emptiness to denote those who eschew parenthood. Child-"less" insinuates absence of what could or should be, and deviance in this chosen path (Gillespie, 1999,2000; Ireland, 1993; Lafayette, 1995; Lisle, 1996). Child-"free" suggests that someone has avoided or escaped an unpleasant experience, or otherwise shirked their adult responsibilities. Neither term is a fair representation of this life choice; neither infers adequacy in the face of difference. One of my goals for this research was to ensure that I did justice to describing the lived experience of childless spouses and couples without contributing to the culture's dominant discourse of negative views of my participants' life choice. Al l research eventually enters cultural life with the capacity to alter or reinforce existing belief and language systems (Gergen, 1990; Gergen, 2001). Hence I reluctantly and cautiously used terms well-known in the child"less" literature. I hoped that readers would, in the spirit of interpretive phenomenology, note their pre- understandings and pre-suppositions about these terms and allow for more neutral and fair interpretations. I was optimistic that at the conclusion of the research my participants would have co-created with me different means of symbolizing their life choice of voluntary childlessness. I listened carefully to their stories for different ways they might name themselves, hopeful that I could contribute alternative positive descriptors of childlessness for use in future research. 13 CHAPTER TWO Review of the Literature In the previous chapter I presented an overview of the sociocultural and theoretical contexts of voluntary childlessness, and my rationale and purpose for this study. In the following discussion I review the scant literature pertaining to the lived experience of childlessness for married couples and spouses. This review is drawn from academic and scholarly research, as well as popular holdings that are authored by journalists and other non-academic writers. Few of these pieces focus exclusively on eliciting descriptions of individuals' daily lives. Most offer general commentaries on lifestyles of childless adults, their self-reflections about their childlessness and decision-making processes, and their coping behaviours within our pronatal society. Therefore to expand my review I have culled from broad reviews of childlessness any discussions more germane to my research focus on the lived experiences of childlessness. I have also incorporated authors' speculations about personal meanings of childlessness, regardless of whether these were gleaned from childless persons' reflections or more general conceptual and theoretical premises. Finally, where possible I describe the theoretical underpinnings of the extant literature, and any methodological challenges that indicate new directions for research. In this chapter I first present reviews and key findings from some of the seminal explorations and discussions of voluntarily childless marriages. Although this literature is dated, being limited to respondent samples from the 1970's and 1980's, themes of meaning and common experience are reported because they came to comprise the original conceptualizations of voluntarily childless couples and lifestyles. I have also included two more recent but non- academic works regarding childfree marriage because they provide contemporary accounts of childless couples' lives. I then review a selection of academic and popular contemporary work exploring childless women's lives. Finally, the meager number of studies of intentionally childless men is presented. 14 Research on Voluntarily Childless Couples One of the earliest scholarly explorations of childless marriage was presented by Nason and Poloma (1976), whose work was based on Veever's (1972, 1973) initial research on voluntary childlessness. These investigators used data from interview discussions with a nonrandom sample of 30 voluntarily childless couples. Spouses were interviewed separately and together by the two researchers, and data were merged to present each couple's case for analysis. Nason and Poloma reported on the decision-making process, that is, motives and process, and the level of commitment of couples to their childfree status. In most cases, couples' decisions to remain childless evolved during the marriage as they became busy in their career and social lives, and came to appreciate a lifestyle without children. Perceptions of social pressure to have children varied between couples by degree of commitment to their decision, as well as between men and women. Overall, these authors reported that their sample experienced less social pressure to conform to pervasive pronatal norms than suggested by Veevers. Nason and Poloma's (1976) work exemplifies early work on childlessness. They inquire into the decision-making process, perceived advantages and disadvantages, that is, motives for choosing childlessness, and lifestyles of childlessness. They report the reflections and opinions of respondents about their childless status and coping as a minority in a pronatal society. Their findings are affirmed in subsequent work by Veevers (1980) and others who make similar r inquiries into reproductive decision-making, opinions of childless status, and lifestyles. As with other qualitative inquiries, their sample was nonrandom. Moreover, their participants represented a new wave of family life in an era when social changes were rapid and general tolerance for variant family structures was increasing. As such, these couples formed a distinct cohort of a unique historical period of social change. Inferences about their experiences of childlessness cannot be generalized to contemporary couples, particularly since a new generation of potential parents has since come of age in yet another era of social change. However, Nason and Poloma 15 make the valid and timeless recommendation that future research on childlessness must view couples as the unit of study to uphold childless marriage as a valid family structure, and to ensure mens' views and experiences are incorporated into understanding childlessness. Possibly the most influential work cited in popular and academic works as an authority on voluntary childlessness is sociologist Veevers' (1980) in-depth exploration of multiple facets of childlessness. Veever's work was a seminal effort to address the paucity of popular and academic interest in the resurgence of childlessness as a lifestyle choice during the 1970's. She successfully unveiled and articulated the "parenthood prescription" of our pronatal society that lauds parenthood as the ultimate achievement of adult maturity, identity formation, and self- actualization. Using widespread media appeals in the Toronto area, Veevers conducted semi- structured interviews with 120 childless wives and 36 childless husbands; 26 couples were interviewed together. She applied rigorous criteria to her screening process to include only couples who: were legally married for a minimum of five years, self-reported fecundity/use of birth-control, had no history of child-rearing or parenting experience, and were committed to a childless future. Veevers (1980) collated her participants' expansive accounts of their childless choice, careers, relationships, and lifestyles. Her findings reflected a heterogeneous group of individuals and couples who were successfully negotiating a developmental path through adulthood that society perceived as deviant. Participants confirmed that they felt they were stigmatized by negative stereotypes and perceived as psychologically maladjusted, emotionally immature, immoral, selfish, lonely, unfulfilled, and unhappy. Contrary to these perceptions they reported instead that their lives were fulfilling and rich, and that they enjoyed spontaneity in their lifestyle activities and intimacy in their relationships. Veevers' (1980) findings included some specific descriptions of the lived experience of her participants' childlessness. In particular, she distinguished types of coping strategies used by 16 her respondents as they negotiated their childless identities within the cultural parameters of the "parenthood prescription." She found that vulnerability to stigma and sanctions for choosing childlessness varied according to participants' stage in the life cycle and the particular sanctions enacted in individuals' social context. Overall, though, they tended to apply two coping styles: avoidance of confrontations and, positioning themselves as part of a counter-culture that rejects the parenthood prescription and justifies the childless choice. Evasive actions included strategies like choosing residential/geographic locations that assure anonymity and privacy (eg., urban settings), implying infertility instead of openly declaring choice as the cause for their childlessness, and conveying a temporary status about their childlessness. The childless individuals in Veever's (1980) research also described lifestyle themes that were reported in other exploratory studies of childless women and couples (e.g., Burgwyn, 1981; Houseknecht, 1987). Veevers' respondents emphasized their freedom from routine and obligations because they were unencumbered by children's needs. They enjoyed the spontaneity of choosing activities and valued opportunities to pursue new experiences and to learn new things. The notion of personal development and growth was important, as they described goals for self-actualization that made their lives interesting and vibrant. The importance of work and career was also ranked highly for meaning-making in the lives of Veevers' participants; in particular, women described pursuit of occupational roles in career domains often dominated by men. Childless men, on the other hand, lauded childlessness as a release from the socially- endorsed role of breadwinner. They celebrated the freedom from work because of the flexibility of their childless state, while childless women moved into careers with the freedom to work. Veevers (1980) also used examples from accounts of their daily living to describe three primary features of her respondents' marriages: high levels of intensity and intimacy, a high level of marital morale, and egalitarian roles. Childless marriages afforded these spouses the unique opportunity to devote their affective and lifestyle commitments solely to one another. Veevers 17 referred to these relationships as a "reference group of one" in which spouses relied exclusively on one another for support and validation of their childless choice. Veevers concluded that childless couples enjoy positive marriages because they are childless, not in spite of being childless. Veevers1 (1980) work succeeded in explicating the phenomena of childlessness in the 1970's and early 1980's. Her exhaustive description of participants' decision-making processes, lifestyles, and coping provided an initial glimpse into the lived experience of childlessness. However, Veevers did not attempt to answer a specific research question, nor did she investigate how voluntarily childless adults lived with and made sense of their childlessness. Rather, she attempted the somewhat ambiguous task of seeking information that "allowed closer approximation of the version of reality constructed by the subjects themselves" (p. 178). She then categorized her participants' data and declared themes describing their lifestyles, relationships, coping, and reproductive decision-making. A second shortcoming of her work is the use of non-random sampling procedures that generated an unrepresentative sample of childless adults: they were predominantly urban, well-educated, upper-middle class, and not religious. They were also exclusively white and of long-term marriages in which almost all spouses were employed. A third limitation to this expansive work was Veevers' failure to clearly distinguish findings as they were revealed by men, women, or couples who were interviewed together. Instead, she reports results in general terms for childless adults and concludes that they comprise a heterogeneous group about whom few generalizations can be made. In doing so she has possibly obscured differences in lived experience between spouses. Following Veevers' (1980) landmark study on childless individuals and couples, Burgwyn (1981) published an extensive treatise on childless marriage for a nonacademic or popular readership. She interviewed "roughly one hundred" (p. xiv) childless individuals of 18 varied marital status who ranged in age from their mid-twenties to 90 years old. Burgwyn solicited her large purposive sample through personal friends, social networks, referrals from professionals, and members of organizations advocating the childless choice. An undisclosed number of interviews were conducted with married couples together, with spouses separately, or at times with only a husband or wife. Divorced adults were interviewed without collaborating interviews with former spouses. In some cases of voluntarily childless marriages, Burgwyn interviewed couples when one spouse had grown children from a former relationship. Burgwyn (1981) used unstructured interviews to solicit stories of her respondents' lives without children. Her goal was to identify trends and patterns across stories, despite demographic differences among her respondents. She merged her respondents' reflections on childlessness with discussions about the dominant discourse of parenthood, gender role expectations, and social norms of adult development and identity formation. Unfortunately, data from conjoint interviews with married spouses is not distinguished from data collected during individual spousal interviews, nor are findings for married couples discussed separately from individuals with differing marital status (never-married, divorced, widowed). Nonetheless, Burgwyn reports motives for childlessness (e.g., diminished ideals of family life, freedom in lifestyle, expanded opportunities for women), decision-making patterns (e.g., early deciders, postponers), and perceptions of stigmatizing stereotypes of childlessness. Burgwyn also presented some ideas about the personal meaning of childlessness. She suggested that "childlessness is a complex and fluid state" that is experienced differently at different times across the lifespan with the childless choice being a dynamic meaning-making process in couples' lives. Unfortunately Burgwyn does not further develop this proposition about meaning. Burgwyn's (1981) contribution to the childless literature is one of few that focuses on childless marriage. However, the variability in her sample (e.g., age, marital status, former step- parenting experience, etc.) obscures results that specifically reflect the experiences of intentional 19 childlessness for married couples. Further, like Veevers (1980) she used a purposive sample from which results cannot be generalized to the larger population of childless couples. Nonetheless, Burgwyn's findings were important because they largely affirmed findings from Veever's (1980) and Nason and Paloma's (1976) exploratory work on childlessness. In terms of methodology, Burgwyn did not aspire to produce a scholarly piece of research that is underpinned by a particular research paradigm. Instead, this work provided a readable and positive description of voluntary childless couples' lives that was relevant to its historical period. However, the cohort effects of Burgwyn's sample renders her work dated and possibly less relevant to a contemporary understanding of childless couples. During this early phase of burgeoning research on childlessness, Bram (1989) condensed her findings from her previous research on voluntary childlessness (1984, 1985) into a brief commentary on the lives of four American couples who chose childlessness. She presented her findings according to the prevalent themes around which these couples organized their lives. Themes included religious ideals, love of nature and active lifestyles, career, and adventure/exploration of life opportunities. Bram described how voluntarily childless couples actively pursue meaning in their lives by creating unique lifestyles unlike those depicted by social stereotypes of childless adults. She claimed that the couples in her sample were actively pursuing some form of self-actualization, they valued creativity and achievement, they sought egalitarianism in their relationships, and they embraced nontraditional sex roles in their lifestyles. In particular, Bram concluded that childless couples sought a transcendent purpose in their lives - a sense of immortality or continuity of self over time and space. She compared their pursuit to parents who achieve this end by bearing and raising children. Although Bram's (1989) conclusions about meaning-making are intriguing they may reflect more Bram's perspective and interpretive processes than those of her respondents. Also, she does not indicate whether she presented her speculation about transcendent purpose to her 20 participants for confirmation of accuracy or fit with their actual lived experience or meanings of childlessness. Furthermore, Bram did not explain how or why she selected the four couples from her prior longitudinal research project of a larger sample of voluntarily childless couples (1985). As a result, it is unclear how representative these couples are of Bram's original sample, particularly in terms of the prevalence of the four themes discerned by Bram. Nonetheless, Bram's brief description of intentionally childless couples' lives provides some unique observations about the lifestyles and sense of purpose in these couples' lives. Although the sample and research findings date to the 1970's and 1980's, the notion of immortality as defined by Bram is a universal and timeless construct that may be of ongoing relevance to childless couples in our current era. In contrast to Bram's (1989) focus on the lifestyles and quest for immortality of voluntarily childless couples, Marshall (1993) embarked on an exploration of voluntarily childless couples' lives from a sociological perspective. Her work presents an extensive theoretical treatise on ideology - the ideology of parenthood in particular, along with reports of couples' perceptions of childlessness. Her approach differed substantially from the descriptive work of other writers intrigued with such couples. First, she invited her voluntarily childless participants to describe and explore their experience of a prevailing ideology of parenthood. She then invited them to describe how they "confront and negotiate ideology" in their daily lives. Marshall's (1993) inquiry applied a combined quantitative and qualitative method. Using word-of-mouth through social networks she commenced her study by soliciting intentionally childless couples to participate in interviews. Although her interview data comprise the basis of her study, she incorporated questionnaire data from 97 voluntarily childless couples who responded to media coverage of her study. Descriptive statistics were applied to present an overview of demographic characteristics of this sample, as well as their perceptions and attitudes towards childlessness and marriage, and motives for choosing childlessness. Marshall presented 21 these descriptive statistics as a portrait of this self-selected sample of voluntarily childless adults, but did not incorporate them into further analyses. Just over half of the survey respondents were comprised of professional/managerial workers, 25% were in clerical and sales positions, and 10% were in skilled and semiskilled occupations. Almost half had postgraduate educations, 37% had diplomas, 7% worked in the trades, and 21% had completed high school. Over 90% of respondents indicated high job satisfaction, and 96% confirmed that they invested moderate or significant energy into their jobs. Overall, 82% confirmed that their jobs were important. With respect to quality of marriage, 73% of respondents stated that there was equal power in their marriages and a high degree of marital satisfaction. In the qualitative portion of her study, Marshall (1993) applied a longitudinal design during which she interviewed voluntarily childless couples up to four times across a span of five years. She solicited her sample of eleven couples through a network of friends and word-of- mouth. The interviews followed a schedule with structured questions and probes. Marshall indicates that she attempted to accommodate topics that arose in the interview discussions that were not included in her schedule and to follow themes that her participants raised. Although the interviews were structured, there was also some flexibility in the order of questions and emphases placed on different topics. For the first interview Marshall (1993) met separately with each partner but asked the same interview questions. After one year, she conducted a second, conjoint interview with each couple. By then, her sample size had decreased from eleven to seven intact couples; one couple had had children, one wife had decided she wanted children, and three couples had separated. Between 18 and 24 months later she again met with couples for a conjoint interview. At that time, one couple was disputing their childless choice, and Marshall added to her study two formerly married childless women. In this final interview Marshall asked her participants to make lists of their social networks, to diagram those networks, and to describe the characteristics 22 of people in their networks. She also invited them to draw their views of the world and their views of how people decide upon parenthood or childlessness. Finally, she recorded their comments about cartoons on the subject. Marshall's (1993) data analysis was centred on interview texts from which she attempted to discern categories of themes, as well as to separate out answers to particular questions. She created category headings under which she assigned and reassigned illustrative examples of interview text. Marshall characterizes her approach to data analysis as a modification of grounded theory. Since her goal was to monitor how couples negotiate with the culturally prevalent parenthood ideology over time, she used her longitudinal design to take insights from analysis of interview texts, and to apply them as conceptual frameworks for understanding material arising in subsequent interviews. Marshall's (1993) respondents described their daily interactions within their pronatal social milieu. Findings reflected individual differences in how childless couples responded to pressure to become parents. There was consensus that sources of pressure include families, friends, peers, and work peers, as well as media and socialization experiences from childhood. Couples reflected on their daily awareness of being different from parenting peers, of some "tormenting" and friction in friendships resulting from their nonparenthood decisions, and occasional ridicule from strangers. However, the felt experience of pressure was highly variable, ranging from mild irritation to hurt from stigma and derogatory assumptions about childless persons' characters. Couples in Marshall's (1993) study also reported that over time (e.g., the length of marriage, age) they encountered fewer inquiries and comments about their childless state. Social location of career and residence also accounted for differences in felt pressure; persons pursuing fairly conformist employment in suburbia appeared to be more affected by concomitant pressure to "fit in" with their social and physical surrounds by having families. Marshall reported that her 23 childless couples coped with their difference by establishing networks of nonoppositional acquaintances and those who supported their decisions. They also described a litany of interpersonal and linguistic coping skills, and attitudinal or ideological perspectives that helped to offset social stigma. Contrary to Veevers' (1980) descriptions of the social isolation of childless couples, Marshall's (1993) respondents did not perceive themselves as lonely dyads. Spouses were not each other's only source of support in their respective childlessness. On the basis of these findings Marshall concluded that childless couples "cannot be seen as beleaguered couples, desperately resisting social pressure towards parenthood" (p. 135). She presumed that voluntarily childless couples avoid a generally oppositional stance against the dominant discourse by choosing the elements of that discourse as rationale to support their choice to forgo parenthood. In this way, they acknowledge and live their lives within the parameters of the discourse, without fully rejecting it and standing outside of it. In her research Marshall (1993) did not elicit or describe the personal meaning of childlessness as it is experienced in ordinary living. Instead, Marshall inferred from her findings that childlessness is "as much a state of becoming as a state of being" (p. 138), but she did not explore the meaning inherent in this presumed state. Her conclusions emphasize that the meaning of parenthood and childlessness is socially constructed, and that a psychological understanding of childlessness is inadequate. She maintains that childless couples are embedded in, and therefore contribute to, the cultural meaning of childlessness. She thus equates social meaning to personal meaning. A basic critical consideration of Marshall's research derives from her own contentions about the historical location of discourse. Since her research was conducted between 1979 and 1984 there is a specific cohort effect of her data that limits generalization of her findings to contemporary times. Another weakness of her research derives from her method. The ongoing 24 evolution of research design during Marshall's study, her inconsistent treatment of interview texts, and her changing sample size across the longitudinal design, all weaken claims of rigour for her analysis and findings. Also, although Marshall's data were rich and included an array of intriguing information, Marshall does not indicate her rationale for soliciting non-interview data (e.g., drawings, diagrams, lists of names in social networks). Finally, Marshall's presentation of qualitative and quantitative findings do not fully complement each other, and she relies almost exclusively on her analysis of interview texts from a very small sample to present her interpretations of how voluntarily childless couples appear to negotiate a parenthood ideology. Although Marshall's (1993) work features a complex and varied method, her findings still make a significant contribution to the childless literature. Possibly her most important observation is that couples "do not stand outside the ideology of parenthood.. .they are located within it" (p. 138). Their motives for remaining childless derive from their appreciation of the social expectations of parenthood, that is, sacrifices of time, energy, pleasure, and identity. In other words, her couples demonstrated a "reverse discourse" similar to that described by Morrell (1994) in which childless adults describe their experiences and decisions as a counterpoint to the dominant discourse. Based on her findings, Marshall also suggests that childfree couples may experience the dominant ideology of parenthood differently across time. They apply a range of coping techniques to deflect negative attention away from their choice. Overall, Marshall stresses that childfree adults live their lives with "individual agency" in the context of "structural constraint" (p. 141). She concludes that adults choosing childlessness engage in continual creation and negotiation of "personal cultures" (Heidmets, cited in Brandtstadter) within the dominant culture of pronatalism. Leslie Lafayette (1995) offers a popular commentary on intentional childlessness in the 1990's that also critiques the prevailing ideology of parenthood identified by Marshall (1993). Lafayette is the founder of the American Childfree Network, and a popular figure advocating the 25 childless choice. In her book she extols the potential for nonparents to explore, grow, produce, and contribute to society in ways other than responsible parenthood. The data base from which she draws examples of childfree living are survey results provided by members of her childfree organization. She merges accounts of childfree living as described in her organization's membership survey results, with her own positive views of intentional childlessness and anecdotes of childless living from her own and others' lives. She focuses much of her discussion on childfree lifestyles, which she describes in terms of activities and interests ranging from individual creative or career-oriented pursuits, to others in the domains of community, religion, politics, environment, and social relations. Lafayette infers from her survey data and anecdotal accounts that voluntarily childless adults actively pursue more opportunities than parents to better themselves through education, and that they have more freedom to take career risks. Lafayette also contends that childfree couples enjoy relationships of enhanced intimacy and commitment. She thus presents the lives of childfree individuals as colourful, varied, rich, and rewarding with ample opportunity for spontaneous change and/or long-term commitments to one's chosen interests. Despite the positive lifestyle features of childless couples, Lafayette affirms that couples must take the initiative to forge relationships with similar childless others. She maintains that the minority status of these couples in our pronatal society places them at risk of social isolation and loss of former friends. She also challenges the social discourses of parenthood that she maintains privilege parents with taxation benefits and provide them with flexible and ostensibly reduced workplace responsibilities. Unlike Marshall's (1993) work on ideology, however, Lafayette applies her own observations and interpretations of social discourses of parenthood without reference to research findings that explore the meanings and manifestations of a parenthood ideology. 26 Lafayette clearly declares in her book that she assumes a political and social position from which she actively defends and promotes intentional childlessness as a desirable and socially acceptable life choice. Hence she presents an exclusively positive depiction of childless persons' lives which may not represent the lived experience of the larger population of intentionally childless adults. Nonetheless, Lafayette's summaries of lifestyle themes is not inconsistent with those reported in other research describing voluntary childlessness (Burgwyn, 1981; Bartlett, 1994). She does not, however, present insights into the actual daily lives of her members, nor into the meaning they ascribe to their childless choice. In another recent account of childfree marriage, Carroll (2000) presents a positive overview of lifestyle attributes and relationship characteristics of fifteen childless married couples. Caroll's book was the outcome of her own investigations into the childless choice, and her efforts to "learn about road maps for lifelong marriage without children." Her search for "road maps" revealed little information about contemporary childfree marriages and her social circle contained no childless couples with whom she could feel connected to by virtue of her reproductive choice. Carroll's work attempted to address the dearth of information in the popular literature about childfree marriage. She placed newspaper advertisements in several American cities where she travelled to conduct interviews. She sought couples who had no children from their current or previous relationships, and had chosen not to have children. She also attempted to recruite prospective interviewees through word-of-mouth contacts. She received over 100 telephone calls from interested respondents. Despite efforts to recruit respondents from different ethnic backgrounds, she received very little response to newspaper ads with ethnic readerships. Carroll met with thirty married couples in California, New York, and Connecticut where most of her respondents resided. She conducted all thirty interviews using "most of the same questions" in all interviews. From those thirty interviews she selected fifteen which she believed were most representative of what was said by the other respondents. Although she states that all 27 couples interviewed for the project were from a "wide range of backgrounds," she does not specify the demographics of her sample. Carroll briefly summarized her impressions of her participants' marriages with descriptions of their married lives and the quality of their marital bonds. She noted that her sample was a diverse group who nonetheless featured several similarities with regard to their childless choice. Contrary to social stereotypes that childless adults are irresponsible, she noted that the couples in her sample very carefully reflected on their reproductive decision-making. She also noted that these adults were leading mature and responsible lives in mainstream society. Carroll reported that almost all of her participants sought ways to influence the next generation of children through either work or extended family relationships. She found no evidence that these couples rejected children. Rather, they indicated that they simply did not want childbearing and childrearing to be the main themes of their lives. They confirmed that their marriages were the central priorities in their lives. The couples in Carroll's project expressed their valuing of freedom and independence and believed that parenthood would have curtailed these aspects of their daily living. Instead, they asserted their need to live their lives as they wanted, and voiced their disinterest in social opinions about their childless choice and their lifestyles. They also explained their desire to make a difference in the lives of others and to the environment. Overall, Carroll concluded that the couples in her study were committed to self-awareness, self-development, and living a meaningful life. The childless choice was reportedly an important means of furthering these goals. Carroll's book provides insights into the lives of several childless couples, using photos and detailed quotations of her participants' answers to interview questions. The purpose of the project was not, however, to distill statements of meaning or to explore in-depth how couples experience their childless choice in a pronatal culture. Similar to LaFayette's (1999) work, 28 Carroll has presented a very positive account of childless marriage which was not intended to explore the psychological aspects of childless from any methodological or theoretical positions. The absence of any negative accounts or descriptions of the challenges unique to the childless choice, limits the degree to which her participants' experiences may represent those of other voluntarily childless adults. Importantly, however, Caroll has reported lifestyle themes and values that are featured consistently in other research on childless couples and women: valuing of freedom and independence, expression of a social conscience, disregard for social opinions of the childless choice, involvement in children's lives, and a variety of friendship patterns (Burgwyn, 1981; Bartlett, 1994; Ireland, 1993; Lafayette, 1995; Lisle, 1996). Research on Voluntarily Childless Women The substantial majority of academic and popular literature describing childlessness focuses on women. This material initially emerged in the 1970's and 1980's as commentary on changes in family structure and gender role expectations that were galvanized in part by the feminist movement. This era hosted a second wave of feminism that championed women's rights to seek out alternative identities beyond motherhood in the public and cultural spheres. Feminist activists and scholars rigorously challenged the cultural myth of maternal instinct in efforts to reduce idealization of motherhood as critical to women's selfhood (Daniluk, 1999; Gergen, 1990; Ireland, 1993; Lisle, 1996; Morrell, 1994; Veevers, 1980). Reproductive freedom from widely available birth control further supported the feminist cause of releasing women from the traditional definitions of "woman equals maternity" (Ireland). Popular concern about increasing world population also contributed to making intentional childlessness a socially acceptable variant form of family and adult life (Veevers). Media and journalists' interest in the increasing numbers of childfree women and couples has reflected the public's growing interest in the childless choice since the 1970's. Several of these non-academic publications have elaborated on women's lived experience of childlessness 29 in an anecdotal and descriptive tradition that presents women's lives in work, relationships, culture, and community (e.g., Casey, 1998; Reti, 1992). A parallel but less intense momentum of academic interest in the topic also appeared in the 1970's in the disciplines of sociology and social psychology. However, with few exceptions (e.g., Bram, 1984; Gillespie, 2000, 1999; Ireland, 1993; Morell, 1994) there has been little formal scholarly or scientific exploration of the lived experience of childless women that might illuminate the meanings of this life path. A large body of scholarly research has instead identified trends in childlessness (e.g., Abma & Pederson, 1995), and explored the psychosocial variables predicting, motivating and maintaining women's decisions to choose childlessness (e.g., Houseknecht, 1987; Rovi, 1994). Hence the popular literature provides the richest insights into the lives of childless women and is most relevant to the present study. Following reviews of some popular works I discuss the scant body of academically-oriented research that provides some glimpses into the meaning of childlessness for women. One prominent work in the popular literature about non-mothers is Bartlett's (1994) exploration of "what it is like to not become a mother" (p. x) . Bartlett reports the results of 50 interviews with childless women ages 22 to 75, across different socioeconomic classes, and of different sexual orientation and marital status. She solicited her sample through media appeals and first distributed a questionnaire to participants, followed by unstructured interviews in which she attempted to "uncover a broader understanding of what it means to be child-free" (p. xiii). She locates her inquiry in a contextual discussion of pronatal cultural and Judeo-Christian values, the socialization of women, stereotypes of mothering and non-mothering, and attitudes towards childlessness. Bartlett reiterates the culturally entrenched binary view of the lived experience of childless women: the "sad spinster" and the "neurotic career bitch" (p. 14), both of whom suffer relentless social pressure to marry and reproduce. Despite the emergence of childlessness as a viable life choice, Bartlett asserts that established psychological and sociological interpretations 30 of womanhood are still manifest in social discourse; mature female adult identity is equated almost exclusively with maternity (e.g., Erikson, 1997). Bartlett's (1994) interviewees revealed many meaning-themes related to their voluntary childlessness. Most confirmed that their social experience of the childless choice frequently meant isolation, in part due to separation from mothering peers and loss of former friendship bonds when most of the women in their lives pursued childbearing and childrearing. Nonetheless, many of her respondents challenged the "maternal myth" (Veevers, 1980). They discounted the veracity of a mothering instinct and expressed ambivalence towards pregnancy and childbirth as a naturally desirable experience. Some respondents saw their childlessness as success in achieving an identity that distinguished them clearly from their mothers; childless meant being unlike mother. Others professed their unsuitability for parenting. Childlessness afforded them relief that they would not regret having children or have to live out worries of being inadequate parents. For these women, not having children meant being free to realize their potential and to form their identity in other domains of personal and public life. Many of Bartlett's participants sought contact with children for enjoyment in non-maternal capacities, thus allowing for a different form of contribution to another generation. Some women searched for alternative means of creating a legacy of meaning after death. For others, leaving an enduring contribution to the next generation was insignificant. Instead, they focused on personal growth and living their daily lives. Based on her findings, Bartlett (1994) concurs with other writers (e.g., Lisle, 1996; Morell, 1994) that the personal meaning of childlessness changes across the lifespan, and is especially profound at menopause. At this time many childless women appear to conduct melancholic stock-taking of their lives, consider time remaining and old age, and query the wisdom of their childless decision. However, most of Bartlett's participants discounted social stereotypes of the meanings of childlessness in old age. Few anticipated inevitable loneliness and 31 regret, and almost all anticipated building networks of close relationships for future years of comfort and enjoyment. Regret was refrained by her women respondents as occasional wistfulness. The childless choice was viewed as just one from among many of life's possibilities. Bartlett (1994) also reveals insights into childless women's relationships, and the lifestyles, meaning, and gender roles among these couples. She echoes other writers (e.g., Lisle, 1996) who affirm that childless women inhabit both the "margins" and mainstream of marital relationships. By declining parenthood, women are free to enter a range of relationships that meet diverse needs, and which may or may not include marriage. Her married respondents highly valued their relationships and described them in terms of intimacy, harmony, spontaneity, egalitarian gender roles, and interdependence. They also reported a theme of mutual commitment with their spouses to the childless decision. Bartlett's respondents confirmed that their marriages were the most important context for affirming and respecting personal meanings of childlessness (e.g., opportunities for personal growth, desire for intimacy). Finally, Bartlett explored the meaning of work and career among her childless participants. Consistent with other studies of childless women (e.g., Veevers, 1980), women in her sample described vibrant vocational pursuits that fulfilled creative interests and realized their talents. Similarly, they found meaning in a wide range of leisure activities and public service roles. Bartlett's (1994) work is a rich composite of childless women's stories that reveals insights into many aspects of their lives, and some meaning-themes about childlessness. However, the work has some shortcomings that reflect her non-scholarly approach to the topic. In particular, Bartlett was committed to presenting a favourable view of childlessness so she does not report the diversity of lived experience that might characterize other childless women's accounts. Also, Bartlett's respondents were all apparently well-adjusted and successful women who likely were not representative of all childless women. Finally, Bartlett did not expressly seek out meaning in terms of women's ordinary daily living. Her book is focussed on celebrating 32 the childless life choice, and so presents positive self-reflections and experiences without delving into underlying processes of meaning-making, both positive and negative. Laurie Lisle (1996) made a unique contribution to the popular literature on childless women. In her thoroughly researched work, Lisle provides a lengthy defense of women who by choice or chance, are not mothers. The emphasis of this work is on seeking and defining ways in which childlessness can enhance women's lives, their families, and the communities in which they live. Lisle draws on history, literature, religion, sociology, and psychology to weave a rich and positive account of childlessness through the ages in Western culture. Throughout the book she presents her own life story and details of her journey towards the childless choice. She thus offers a thoughtful and provocative challenge to the stigma that denigrates childless women, a challenge comprised of a positive and multi-faceted account of non-motherhood. Lisle (1996) traces the venerable history of childless women in our culture and notes that there are few remaining images of enriched and satisfied women outside of motherhood in contemporary times. Like Bartlett (1994) she notes the lack of language to name or describe childlessness, and the negative expressions that apply more often to childless women than childless men. Regardless of the feminist movement and expanded views of what constitutes "family" life, Lisle joins other feminist writers and scholars (e.g., Bartlett; Gillespie, 1999) who emphasize that the pronatal ideology of our culture remains a powerful determinant of how society views childless women. Lisle (1996) explores several dimensions of women's lives without children, commencing with a discussion of the social expectations and psychological dynamics of reproductive choice. She elaborates on the factors that complicate women's decisions to pursue motherhood: career, pursuit of creative endeavours, individuation, and desire for freedom. Lisle retains in this discussion of the dynamics of reproductive choice an astute awareness that whatever path women choose, social space opens between mothers and non-mothers-space that reflects the 33 ambivalence with which these women regard each other. Lisle also delves into the social meanings of motherhood and women's experiences of daughterhood in relation to the childless choice. To Lisle's credit, at no point does she idealize or denigrate either reproductive choice. Her accounts of mothering experiences are presented as a thoughtful counterpoint to the experiences of childless women. She thus successfully presents both motherhood and non- motherhood as valid and fulfilling life choices. Lisle (1996) also attempts to present a sense of heritage and historical perspective with which women can contextualize and appreciate the childless choice. She expounds on historical female figures in literature and life who together constitute a veritable kaleidescope of images and portraits of childlessness. Lisle presents these figures as models of strength and diversity from which contemporary childless women can draw assurance about their childless choice. She also expounds on social change and pronatal discourse as it has waxed and waned throughout the 20 t h century, and its pressures on the "either/or" choice of motherhood. In her discussion of pronatal discourse, she cites research that helps to debunk the myth of a maternal instinct and concludes that "maternity appears to be more a social than a biological construct" (p. 100). Lisle searches for ways in which femininity or womanliness can be defined outside of motherhood. She explores the culturally-defined links between sexuality and procreativity, and the cultural teachings that disparage nonmaternal eroticism. Lisle encourages childless women to utilize their physical energy, sexuality, and endurance in any manner that expresses their strength, sensuality, and energy. Childless women's relationships with friends and with the natural world are also means by which they can discover and express different facets of their femininity. The unlived life of motherhood and fantasies of unborn children are commonly-expressed facets of childlessness that Lisle (1996) explores in her work. She gives voice to these quiet fantasies by describing the "idealized rapport"(p. 117) with an imagined child expressed by mothers in literature and by herself and her female friends. However, Lisle also celebrates 34 women's capacity to actively enter into children's worlds through relationships or through creative endeavours like writing and visual art. Imagined relationships with children can thus be transformed into realistic fulfilling contacts and contributions to the next generation. In her discussion of the role of work in childless women's lives, Lisle describes the demands of creative and academic work that women may view as incompatible with the demands of motherhood. The choice of nonmotherhood places these women at risk of accusations that they are self-centred. Lisle argues that childless women ought not to feel obligated to assume social mothering roles to compensate for their non-motherhood status. They should feel free through work and other life projects "to pursue activities for the sake of satisfaction, gain, influence or altruism" (p. 214) outside of motherhood. Relationships between childless women and their male partners comprise a significant topic of discussion in Lisle's (1996) work, as she notes men's challenges to define thir childlessness within the context of changing social expectations of fatherhood and marriage. This discussion is intended to cast non-fatherhood in a positive light and to encourage more inquiry into men's experiences of childlessness. Finally, Lisle devotes a portion of her discussion to childless women's apprehension about the future and their desire to create a meaningful legacy. She comments on common fears of loneliness and vulnerability in old age, and cites research indicating that childlessness is not directly related to well-being among the childless elderly. Rather than focussing on the unknowable future, Lisle celebrates the opportunities of childless women to relish the rewards of careers and happy relationships. She concludes that women's reproductive choice does not determine the potential for fulfillment and satisfaction in living. Rather, she suggests that "life-generating and life-enhancing forces are morally equivalent" (p. 245). Lisle's (1996) work is a rich composite of materials that illuminates the many dimensions of childlessness that are highlighted in feminist writings on childlessness (e.g., Bartlett, 1994; 35 Gillespie, 1999; Ireland, 1993; Safer, 1996). Although this is not an academic presentation of childlessness that derives from formal research, Lisle's meticulous research and incorporation of materials from a wide range of resources renders her work a very readable yet scholarly exploration of childlessness. However, this account of childlessness does not include the voices of childless women, and Lisle relies almost exclusively on her own lived experience as a foundation upon which to structure her discussion. She also makes indirect references to women's voices as they have been recorded in academic research. However, at times Lisle's discussions of academic research findings (e.g., reproductive decision-making, motherhood) are obscured by material derived from women's literature and letters, and from descriptions of myths and archetypes. As a result, the work is not a particularly concise or reliable representation of the research literature or findings from studies of childlessness. Lisle also does not pose or answer a particular research question. On the other hand, her general approach to illuminating the many facets of childlessness provides an exceptional overview of the historical and contemporary cultural meanings of childlessness. In another popular work exploring women's voluntary childlessness, psychoanalyst Jean Safer (1996) interviewed 50 women ranging in age from 22 to 72. She solicited her participants in part by public response to an article she published in 1989 in a widely-read New York publication, as well as through social and professional networks. The majority of women in her sample had made a conscious decision not to have a family; a small group of younger women were still ambivalent but indicated an increasing likelihood of remaining childless. Al l sample members had men in their lives and none had known medical conditions that would preclude pregnancy; hence, all appeared to have been able to become mothers if they desired. Most of the women were white but an undisclosed number were Asian, Hispanic, and black. The majority of her research respondents were middle-class professionals; many had careers in the arts while others were also secretaries, lawyers, and nurses. Most participants were from urban centres, 36 with some living in suburbs or small towns. A small sub-group of her respondents were the only childless women in their communities. Safer reports that some of the women had been in psychotherapy, in part to discuss their thoughts and feelings about having children. The age at which most of the women in her study decided to remain childfree ranged from four to 45-plus. Safer claims that her sample of professional, well-educated, and middle-class women from predominantly urban areas closely represents the demographic characteristics associated with the larger population of childless women in America. Similar to Bartlett's (1994) investigation, the underlying premise of Safer's (1999) work is that "motherhood is no longer a necessary nor a sufficient condition for maturity or fulfillment" (p. 3). She maintains that childless women want a respectful audience for stories of their alternate life paths. In their lifestyle descriptions her participants spoke of the peace and quiet, the spontaneity and control they enjoyed in their daily living. Rejecting parenthood allowed these women to view life as a plethora of opportunities for self-development and achievement of important personal goals; to these women childlessness meant freedom and independence. These non-mothers reinforced their self-concepts as responsible and thoughtful adults who took seriously the implications of parenthood, as well as those associated with coping in a strongly pronatal society. Some participants described their naturally defensive postures in response to the socially imposed meanings of childlessness. Willingness to justify their choice and to remain unperturbed in their decision was key to coping in the dominant culture of parenthood. Based on the stories of the women she interviewed, Safer indicates that stalwart commitment to childlessness is a source of pride and personal integrity for many non-mothers. With respect to relationships, Safer's (1996) women declared marital happiness underpinned by shared commitment to both mutuality and independence. Choosing childlessness assured these women of uninterrupted intimacy with their partners. Safer's work illustrates how these childless couples forged shared identities through mutual projects or by supporting each 37 others' individual pursuits. On the other hand, her women respondents claimed that forging individual identities as not-mothers was often more difficult. Al l women were challenged to construct identities by distinguishing maternity from womanhood, and maternity from sexuality. These women resisted denigrating social meanings of intentional childlessness conveyed by family, friends, and even strangers who implied they were selfish, characterologically flawed, and child-haters. Safer clearly illustrates how the meaning of childlessness for these women was inevitably cast from a place of contrariness, defensiveness, and resistance to a derogatory discourse of childlessness. Some women more than others were able over time to transcend negative social stereotypes and refused to internalize or engage in rebutting them. Consistent with the work of Gillespie (2000) these women perceived themselves not as "childless" but as "other than mother" (p. 359). In terms of aging and potential regrets about their childlessness, Safer's (1996) respondents generally denied such stereotyped concerns. Instead, these not-mothers described limitations across their lifespans because of their choice to be different. They recognized that because their needs and priorities were contrary to those of most women, their freedom exacted certain costs. Safer suggests that childless women appear to negotiate their reproductive difference at all stages in their lives. She maintains that old age is no more or less challenging to the self-concept and life purpose of childless women. Coming to terms with the choice to remain childfree appears to involve a meaning-making process that provides not-mothers a depth of perspective on themselves, their relationships, and the constraints and opportunities afforded by their choice - regardless of their age. Safer's (1996) presentation of women's reflections on their voluntary childlessness is somewhat limited in scope, however. For example, she emphasizes the decision-making process of choosing childlessness but limits the discussion of motives or rationales for this choice to personality factors and family of origin dynamics. She also extrapolates from her participants' 38 reflections on their intimate relationships to create some general descriptions of childless couples' relationships without consideration of gender differences in perspective or lived experiences. Moreover, as did Bartlett (1994) in her discussion of voluntarily childless women, Safer limited her presentation to positive accounts of successful adjustment to living within the constraints of the cultural pronatal discourse. An additional shortcoming of Safer's work is that she did not indicate how she analyzed her participants' interview texts. Rather than the product of extensive analysis, this work impresses as a compilation of anecdotes from the author's life and those of her participants. Therefore Safer's findings do not reveal insights into voluntary childlessness that expand or elaborate upon prior research findings, in part because she did not attempt to discern the meaning of choosing childlessness for her sample of women. Nonetheless, since Safer approached the subject of voluntary childlessness without intentions of conducting a scholarly piece of research, she created instead an enthusiastic and readable account of intentional childlessness as a viable alternative to maternity. Her work makes an important contribution to the popular literature on intentional childlessness because it is accessible to a general readership who may be seeking insights into intentional childlessness that derive from voices of women who have made that choice. In addition to the popular work on the topic of intentionally childless women, there is a small body of literature that is grounded in scholarly discussions of psychological and feminist theories of women's development and social discourses of motherhood. Ireland (1993) and Morell (1994) assert that there are no normative female identities for women who choose childlessness. Both writers attempt to construct alternate theories or conceptualizations of womanhood, exclusive of maternity. Gillespie (2000) explores how childless women experience and negotiate the dominant discourse of pronatalism. Their work will be reviewed in detail below. 39 Ireland (1993) interviewed 102 childless women from a pool of over 300 childless women who responded to a media call in 1988 to participate in her research study. These women completed a screening survey to identify membership in three groups: childless by choice (39 transformative women), childless by delay (32 transitional women), and childless by infertility or health problems (31 traditional women). On the screening questionnaire, transformative women highly ranked items indicating they made a deliberate choice to remain childless. Transitional women were those who gave high rankings to items indicating that circumstances had created delays in reproductive decision-making. Women who endorsed items pertaining to physical or medical conditions that precluded pregnancy were assigned to the traditional group. The total sample included 64 women from primarily professional occupations, as well as 32 nonprofessionals, nine unemployed, and seven students. Among the transformative and transitional childless women, there were 40 professionals, 20 nonprofessionals, five students, and six unemployed. Only 16 of the 71 voluntarily childless women were non-Caucasian. Twenty- four were married, 11 were cohabiting, and 36 were single. Ireland noted that all of her respondents were members of the baby boom generation, ranging in age from 38 to 50. Prior to commencing the research interview, each of Ireland's (1993) respondents completed the Bern Sex Role Inventory as well as a questionnaire requesting demographic information. Data from the Bern instrument were submitted to chi-square analysis to determine whether women in the different groups exhibited differing sex-role orientation. Results indicated that transformative women more often demonstrated a masculine or undifferentiated sex role. Transitional women, or those who delayed their parenthood decision-making, exhibited an androgynous orientation. Finally, women who wanted but were unable to have children, displayed a feminine sex role orientation more often than did all the voluntarily childless women. Transcribed interview texts were the principal data source in Ireland's (1993) research. Al l respondents participated in an in-depth, focused interview with the principal researcher. The 40 interview structure was maintained across all interviews by consistency of questions that allowed exploration of the same topic areas. Ireland (1993) analyzed interview data by separating interview texts for women into her three designated groups. Her goal was to describe her respondents' experiences of the three "pathways to an adult identity" (p. 14), their primary relationships (family, spouses, friends), and their creative labours (the qualities and meaning of work). Although much of her discussion is concerned with psychological theorizing of women's identity development, Ireland (1993) reported on some lived experiences and meaning-making processes of her research participants. She explored the social meanings of absence, inadequacy, and emptiness often ascribed to childlessness, and emphasized the myriad ways in which her participants' lives debunked these disparaging assumptions about childless women. On the basis of her findings, she also rebuts assumptions that not-mothers are incapable of sustaining deep relationships and that they devote their complete selves to work. She argues that women's creative capacities need not be limited to conception and childbearing/raising; her women participants reported a plethora of creative endeavours in which they manifest their talents and psychic energy. In effect, she contends that childless women convert the metaphorical "absence" of not-mothering, into one of "potential space" for creativity. According to Ireland, childless women can embrace creative potential that is imbued with as much meaning and value as mothering. Ireland (1993) reflected on the deeply felt intimacy and commitment in all of her participants' romantic relationships. Moreover, she discerned some differences between the romantic relationships of "transformative" and "transitional" women. Women of the former group seemed to approach their relationships with expectations of gender role flexibility and egalitarianism. Ireland claimed that transformative women willingly tolerated the ambiguity of relationship bonds not otherwise experienced by parents whose relationships she suggests are 41 underpinned by mutual responsibilities of childrearing. On the other hand, transitional women's ambivalence towards the mothering role was reflected in their patterns of shorter-term serial relationships, and fewer transitional women were married than their transformative peers. Overall, based on her findings Ireland maintained that although childless women may structure their relationships somewhat differently they all appear to highly value their spousal relations. In summary, Ireland's (1993) work is a compilation of psychological theories of women's development, interspersed with her interpretations of childless women's histories, decisions to remain childless, relationships, and work. She confronts conventional psychological views that equate maternity with femininity and offers an alternate psychoanalytic conceptualization of childless women's lives and identities. She thus attempts to respond to calls for a theory of women's development that is unshackled from their marital-reproductive cycle (e.g., Gergen, 1990; Lisle, 1996) and that allows for acknowledgement of other aspects of women's lived experiences across the lifespan. Ireland's efforts to revision ways in which childless women can create meaning and purpose in their lives make this a valuable piece of conceptual work supported by women's stories. One shortcoming of Ireland's (1993) work, however, is the ambiguity of her interpretive processes applied to her respondents' interview data. Also, she did not reflect on how the biases she observes in theory and social meaning-making processes may have manifested in her analyses. Furthermore, the study's use of structured interviews with specific topic coverage and sub-groupings of her sample appears to reflect her personal frame of reference juxtaposed on her participants' lived experience. Clearly Ireland entered into her research with an interpretive scheme. Her presuppositions may well have inhibited spontaneous discovery by her participants and herself of other unexpected and deeper meanings. Finally, Ireland did not seek out and identify themes of meaning among her women respondents about their childlessness, nor did she solicit information describing their daily living 42 Nonetheless, Ireland's (1993) research provides valuable insights into the decision- making processes, relationships, and working lives of the 100 childless women in her sample. Her findings suggest that voluntarily childless women have distinct experiences of their non- motherhood, according to how they decide to remain childless (by deliberate decisions or by delay). Differences in sex role orientation as reported from the Bern Sex Role Inventory further underscored differences between the three groups of women in Ireland's sample. Hence Ireland's findings concur with prior research results indicating that voluntarily childless women comprise a heterogeneous group (e.g., Bram, 1984; Hird & Abshoff, 2000; Veevers, 1980) with nontraditional views of gender roles. Also, Ireland's findings strongly suggest that voluntarily childless women can find meaning and fulfillment, comparable to that achieved in motherhood. Morell's (1994, 2000) empirical and conceptual work on women's experiences of voluntary childlessness provides a sociological perspective on women's voluntary childlessness that compliments the psychological perspective presented by Ireland (1993). Morell's scholarly work differs from more descriptive (e.g., Bartlett, 1994; Lisle, 1996) and theoretical (e.g., Ireland, 1996) pieces in the literature because she aspired to presenting childlessness as a "social practice taking place in a highly politicized context, a practice which creates personal challenges for not-mothering women, and creates analytical challenges to existing theories about women" (p. 141). Morell undertook a thorough examination of the dominant social discourses - medical, academic, and feminist - that shape and define the lives and identities of childless women. Her goal was to explicate the tensions and freedoms experienced by voluntarily childless women who live their lives contrary to the dominant cultural values of pronatalism. Using a post-structural and feminist paradigm, Morell (1994) interviewed 34 childless married women in the late 1980's and early 1990's. All women completed a pre-interview autobiographical written exercise in which they were invited to reflect upon and write about eight to ten periods or "chapters" in their lives. The women's written work yielded categories or 43 themes around which the interview was organized (e.g., decision-making processes, pressures to mother and not to mother, changing views of childlessness over time). Morell maintained a personal research journal, and wrote post-interview summaries followed by imaginary dialogues with each participant. She thus maintained a strongly reflexive quality in her interpretive process. Her analysis of transcribed interviews focussed on discerning categories of recurring materials across all interviews, and clustering pieces of interview texts by headings that denoted particular themes. Throughout her study she engaged in both analytic/interpretive work on her research texts while also exploring scholarly work pertaining to her feminist, post-structural paradigm. Eventually Morell's analysis was organized by contents of her research journal and interview texts, into the chapters of her dissertation project. Based on her analysis of interview data, Morell (1994) concluded that childless women live adversarial lives. They continually endure and negotiate the pressures and prejudices of social institutions and dominant discourses that proclaim motherhood as the natural and inevitable state of womanhood. She found that her childfree participants successfully resisted the flawed and inadequate identities proffered by the dominant discourse of motherhood. Her findings affirm that these women created a "personal culture" (Heidmets, cited in Brandstadter, 1999) of values, beliefs, and lifestyles that is embedded within the broader culture of pronatalism and patriarchal systems of power. Morell (1994) also discovered that her respondents created a reverse inner discourse about their childlessness. This discourse revealed the tension in the dialectic between social and personal meanings of childlessness. In effect, these childless women defined themselves in terms opposite to the negative social constructions of character and womanhood ascribed to childlessness. A reverse discourse allowed for identity construction for these participants as not- mothers with positive esteem, desirable character, good relationships, and fulfilling life purpose. Most importantly, these women thus offset negative social projections about their childlessness. 44 Nonetheless, Morell's participants acknowledged that they revisited their decision to remain childless during transient moments of melancholy and wistfulness. The women considered these episodes natural reactions when reflecting on their childless choice as unrealized life potential. However, they consistently denied feeling regret about their decisions any more than if they had declined particular careers, relationship choices, or other life options. Instead, these women expressed sadness that their choice of nontraditional womanhood had created social distance between themselves and their mothering peers. Based on the experiences of the childless women in her studies, Morrel (1994) reflects that the daily lives of childless women are continually in flux against a backdrop of negative cultural views of their childlessness. She contends that her women respondents actively constructed their lives without support or models to guide formation of identity, relationships, work, and daily living in a pronatal cultural context. Her conclusions concur with those of Ireland (1993) and others (e.g., Safer, 1996), that guiding life scripts are inherent in the traditional choices of marriage and motherhood. The social roles and obligations of wife and mother are clearly defined across the lifespan, until they culminate in old age with widowhood and grandmotherhood (Gergen, 1990; Neugarten, 1996). Morrel's (1994) work is an important contribution to the literature on voluntary childlessness because it illustrates how nonmofhers are challenged to construct positive meaning, purpose, and sense of self through active negotiation and rebuttal of the social meanings of childlessness. The women in her study were engaged in a continual dialogue that weathered derogation by the dominant discourse of parenthood, and helped them to establish a contrary sense of self. This study suggests that the meaning of childlessness in our Western culture emerges in the dialectic between personal experiences of contrariness, and social constructions of childlessness. Morell's work thus emphasizes the embeddeddness of personal meaning-making in the broader context of cultural values and traditions associated with femininity. 45 Morell (1994) also locates her discussion of discourse and her participants' stories in the context of patriarchal systems of power. She argues that the dominant cultural group issues and maintains pronatal discourses to ensure that women are pushed towards motherhood. This same constellation of discourses also denigrates non-mothers, and thus disempowers both groups of women. This feminist discussion of motherhood and non-motherhood in the context of power systems comprises another unique contribution to the childless literature. As part of this contribution, Morell calls for a reconceptualization of womanhood by severing the false polarity between non-mothers and mothers. She maintains that women are forced by the dominant pronatal ideology into hierarchies of opposition, according to their reproductive choice. One shortcoming of Morell's (1994) work, however, is that her analysis did not focus on determining meanings associated with voluntary childlessness among her respondents. She identified only the notion of freedom as one element of meaning that recurred throughout her respondents' stories. Also, Morell's method and analysis evolved over the course of her study, commencing with a particular interview style in which she purposely introjected herself and her lived experience and then shifting to one in which she attempted to follow a more focused and distanced role as interviewer. Her accompanying reflexive work and analysis of texts also changed substantially. It is possible that Morell's fluid approach to collecting and analyzing her data may have precluded discovery of other material or themes. In addition, her intense reading of feminist scholarship during the initial phases of her interviews and data analysis may have predisposed her to pursue particular questions and conceptualizations of her respondents' issues. Nonetheless, Morell transparently presented her interpretive method and thus met several criteria for rigour of analysis and trustworthiness of findings that is uncommon in research inquiries of voluntary childlessness. These qualities of robust scholarly qualitative research render Morell's study a significant contribution to the psychological, feminist, and sociological research on 46 voluntary childlessness. Certainly her systemic perspective on this reproductive choice has broadened the potential scope of inquiry for future investigations. Gillespie (2000) offers a vantage point similar to Morell's (1994) for viewing women's experiences of voluntary childlessness. Her work is also a sociological exploration of how intentionally childless women negotiate the dominant cultural discourses of motherhood and childlessness. She reviews the entrenched discourses equating adult female identity with maternity, and childlessness with characterologic inadequacy and deviance. Gillespie optimistically hypothesized that traditional discourse may be diminishing and possibly changing because of the past three decades of social change and women's increased autonomy and opportunities. She explored her hypothesis in interviews with 25 childless women. Al l but one of her participants were white, two were not heterosexual, and the majority had higher-level educations. Al l participants were solicited from a family planning clinic in an urban center where they were invited to complete a survey form if they were interested in participating in a research project. Women who met research criteria and were available for interviews were screened into Gillespie's study. Gillespie's (2000) findings failed to reflect any substantial or positive changes to traditional motherhood discourses that derogate childlessness. Rather, her analysis of interview data revealed three themes characteristic of her participants' lived experience of childlessness, as conveyed during social interactions and relationships: disbelief that childlessness was a choice, disregard of childlessness as a valid or desirable choice, and assumption that childlessness was a deviant choice. Gillespie concluded that her participants' intentional childlessness was interpreted by others according to a prevailing and persistent pronatalist discourse. Based on these findings, she suggests that the dominant discourse has changed only in terms of its capacity to accommodate social changes for mothers. Her respondents' accounts did not indicate any 47 similar receptivity or increased flexibility and tolerance in traditional discourses towards women who choose childlessness. Gillespie's (2000) work is limited by some methodological problems similar to those encountered by Morell (1994) and Ireland (1993). In particular, Gillespie's findings were possibly influenced by the small sample size and lack of diversity reflecting race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Also, since the women were solicited from a family planning clinic in an urban center, they likely represented only a particular subgroup within the broader population of childless women. In addition, Gillespie's insights into her respondents' meanings of childlessness are somewhat limited because her analysis focussed on how individual women perceived the social meanings of childlessness. She did not investigate how they constructed their own meanings of childlessness, or how personal meanings of childlessness might evolve in relation to cultural meanings. Also, Gillespie does not describe her analysis of her respondents' data that resulted in identification of the three forms of negative discourse. Nonetheless, this study is a valuable commentary on prominent themes arising in childless women's daily social interactions. According to Gillespie's findings, social discourse continues to view these women as deviant, to disregard or discount the childless choice as one of incompetence and shortsightedness, and to disbelieve that voluntary childlessness is a valid choice unless legitimized by further explanation. Research on Voluntarily Childless Men There are no scholarly published studies of men's childbearing patterns. Researchers instead presume that most non-mothers marry and hence share a childless relationship with a man who is also uninterested in having children. Estimates suggest that since as many as one in five women may currently opt for nonparenthood, it would follow that as many if not more men are similarly inclined (Bartlett, 1994; Gillespie, 2000; Lunneborg, 1999). Unlike women, however, little academic or public interest has been expressed in the decision-making, motives, and lived experience of men who choose not to be fathers (Lafayette, 1995; Lunneborg). 48 Possibly the dearth of interest in these men reflects the assumption that men's adult identity formation has never derived purely from the role of father (Gergen, 1990; Ireland, 1993; Lafayette, 1995). Socially speaking, fertility and the ability to reproduce is a woman's issue and a woman's mandate (Daniluk, 1999; Gergen). Certainly there is no "paternal myth" to be debunked, since men have largely acquired and maintained role identities as competent adults in the public spheres of cultural life (Gergen). They have pursued clearly delineated developmental tasks in terms of financial success, career pursuits, public service, as well as marriage and family life. Moreover, unlike women, men have not generally perceived their careers or other non- family demands to be in competition with family life. Instead, economic success and upholding the family breadwinner role has been the cornerstone of male identity (Gerson, 1993). Rare accounts of men's intentional childlessness do not elicit social consternation or discomfort (Ireland, 1993), and the few childless men who have been included in research typically report that others' responses to them most often refer to their virility and self-centred lifestyles but rarely imply deviance or incompleteness of identity. There is general consensus deriving from psychological theories of men's development, as well as anecdotal accounts of childless men, that men's decisions and lived experience of childlessness differ substantially from those of childless women. Most discussions of childlessness concur that discourses of manhood and fatherhood harbour less compelling and evaluative mandates to parent than the merged discourse of womanhood equals motherhood (e.g., Ireland; Lafayette, 1995; Marshall, 1993). During the last four decades, however, the women's movement, changes in the global economy and labour markets, and reproductive choice have combined to loosen the constraints of historical norms for men's development and achievement of maturity (Gerson, 1993; Levant, 1999; Lunneborg, 1999). Some writers (e.g., Levant) suggest that these social and economic changes have contributed to the demise of cultural consensus on the purpose and meaning of 49 manhood. As have women, men are reconstructing their gender role identities in search of new meanings, purpose, and definitions of maturity (Gerson; Levant). Now more than ever it is less clear which goals a man should pursue, much less how he should pursue them. Alternative life paths to economic success, fatherhood, and family life have not yet clearly emerged. We do not know how men who reject fatherhood as one of the traditional male roles negotiate their identities in either their personal lives of spousal and social relationships, or in their career and public lives. Lunneborg (1999) attempted to address the dearth of research on childless men by interviewing thirty men, of whom 16 were American and 14 were from the United Kingdom. Her purposive sample included 22 married or co-habiting men and eight single men, some of whom were referred to the study through the author's personal networks. The majority of sample members responded to appeals through three organizations that advocate voluntary childlessness as a positive life choice. Twenty-eight of the men were white, one was from Japan and one from Iran. The 30 men ranged in age from 27 to 55. Most were from middle-class and working-class backgrounds, and most were highly-educated. One-third of the sample had vasectomies, and 19 of the 22 married men indicated that their spouses were equally committed to the childless choice. Prior to meeting with her research participants, Lunneborg (1999) forwarded to them a written exercise concerning the reasons for choosing childlessness. In her one-hour semi- structured interviews with the participants, the responses to the exercise were the topic of discussion. Lunneborg transcribed all interviews and sought themes to distinguish rationales'and motives for choosing childless. However, she changed the direction of her analysis when her search for categories of motives proved unproductive. Instead, she delineated nine groups of men into which her sample could be divided according to the major themes expressed about their lifestyles and experiences of childlessness. For each group she described the respondents' 50 decision-making, marital relationships, family histories, career/work lives, and experience of others' responses to their childless status. She also attempted to distinguish the prevalent values and core issues around which they constructed their adult identities and lifestyles. One group of intentionally childless men in Lunneborg's (1999) study emphasized the value of relationships with their spouses; they described the spontaneity, intimacy, and companionship of their marriages. In particular, these men described highly egalitarian relationships in which they clarified and respected their own and their partners' preferences and limits for domestic chores and other contributions to homelife. A second group professed to a lifelong pursuit of personal growth and development through either work, education, or self- reflection in which they strived to realize their potential in life. Lunneborg identified another group among her childfree respondents in which men expressed contentment with their freedom to work, or their freedom from work. All these men appreciated the flexibility in their childfree lives that allowed them to pursue work that was personally meaningful. Work without assuming the family breadwinner role appeared to ensure high levels of job satisfaction. A group of "homebodies" also emerged from Lunneborg's analysis of lifestyle themes. These childless men indulged their creative and leisure interests around the home, and valued their homes as a refuge from their work lives. Other childfree men were distinguished in Lunneborg's (1999) sample by their desire to avoid making mistakes as parents, possibly like those made by previous generations of fathers in their families. Choosing childlessness was their means of avoiding the potential for lifelong regrets about choosing parenthood. Some men identified themselves by their prevalent dislike of, or ambivalence towards children. Yet another group indicated that they wished to keep stress at a minimum in their lives, and they viewed children and parenting as a likely source of demands and strain. Finally, a cluster of Lunneborg's childfree men indicated that they were resistant to changing their interpersonal styles and personalities to meet the demands of parenting. .51 Lunneborg suggested that these men were content with their identities and by choosing childlessness, they did not have to become more patient, child-centered, and conservative about their career paths. Several common themes emerged across the nine categories or types of childless men identified in Lunneborg's (1999) sample. The majority of these childless men expressed respect for their spouses' attitudes and limits with regard to potential parenting. Most of the single participants indicated difficulty finding like-minded partners in Western pronatal society, particularly among women in their thirties or forties. Lunneborg also suggested that some childless men may opt for less demanding and less status-oriented careers than men who pursue more traditional roles of fatherhood and public personas. Moreover, she observed that by rejecting fatherhood, several men in her sample gained opportunities to fully devote themselves to career as a means of developing their identity. Alternatively, men who opted to remain childless enjoyed freedom from the pressures to pursue and maintain job security or a set career path. In most cases, however, the theme of self-development arose frequently, as did these childless men's enjoyment of their privacy and time for themselves. Some men adopted more active and public roles of advocacy or philanthropy in their communities, and spoke of working on projects to better the environment. These men appeared to enact the notion that "generativity" or contribution to the next generation can be realized through more means than reproduction alone. Contrary to women's experiences of social stigma around childlessness and consistent with Lafayette's (1995) reports about the men in the Childfree Network, the men in Lunneborg's study did not express concern about social responses to their childless state. Al l but the two men of non-European descent agreed that women are subject to more social pressure to parent than men. Some married participants expressed empathy for their spouses whom they perceived as pressured to become mothers since childhood. In their American and British workplaces, all 52 thirty men denied being discriminated against because of their childfree choice, and they claimed that male friends were generally supportive or nonjudgemental of their decision. Similarly, few expressed regret about remaining childless although some were keenly aware of a "loss of normalcy" as they rejected social expectations and therefore experienced some degree of social isolation from parenting peers. In summary, Lunneborg's (1999) findings suggest that unlike non-mothers, childless men do not appear to face the challenges of forging an alternative path to adult identity (Ireland, 1993; Morrel, 1994). The men in Lunneborg's sample appeared to be content with their sense of self and appreciative that they experienced no pressure to alter their personalities and lifestyles to accommodate children. Their self-development continued across the lifespan according to personal goals and desires unrelated to parenthood. Lunneborg's (1999) contribution to the literature on voluntary childlessness is an invitation to further explore childless men's lives by illuminating their relationships and by exploring how they construct meaning and identity for themselves. Unfortunately, Lunneborg's research is not a scholarly approach to the subject and is therefore limited in how it can inform our understanding of childless men's lives. One shortcoming of this study is its use of a nonrandom sampling technique. Also, the sample was small and the men tended to report almost exclusively positive experiences of their childless choice. Their favourable accounts may not fully reflect the experiences of other intentionally childless men who are less well-situated in terms of education and vocation (Marshall, 1993). Further, in her analysis Lunneborg identified nine small groups that were distinguishable from each other according to unique themes. However, a closer examination of the men's stories revealed commonalities that suggested uniformity, rather than disparity, in the men's experiences of childlessness. Hence it appears that the categories are somewhat arbitrary and perhaps artificial. Also, membership in these small groups appears to in part reflect the men's marital status. For example, Lunneborg observed that 53 in one group all four men were single, but she did not reflect on whether single and married men experience voluntary childlessness differently. Finally, Lunneborg's (1999) findings rely on the purely descriptive nature of her inquiry. Her interest in her respondents' lifestyles, career and community life, and goals for self- development provide glimpses into their lived experience of voluntary childlessness. However, she did not attempt to explore in interview discussions or in data analysis the meaning of intentional childlessness for these men. Despite these shortcomings, Lunneborg's brief foray into exploring childless men's lives demonstrates initiative to ask research questions about this population that have not yet been pursued in the literature on voluntary childlessness. The descriptive reports of childless men's lives presented by Lunneborg (1999) appear to elaborate the findings of a quantitative study that compared a matched sample of 44 vasectomized childless men with 51 vasectomized fathers (Magarick & Brown, 1981). These researchers attempted to identify the personality and social variables associated with childlessness, to identify background or historical variables predictive of childlessness, and to determine whether voluntarily childless men feel negatively stereotyped. Scores on the California Psychological Inventory were entered into a factor analysis that yielded three factors reflecting personal adjustment: stability/dependability, capacity for independent thought and action, and assertive self-assurance. The childless and parenting men did not differ on scores for stability/dependability or assertive self-assurance. However, the childless men had significantly higher factor scores on capacity for independent thought and action. These results indicated that the childless men tended to reject conventional solutions to problems, pursued independent achievements and interests, took risks, did not value tradition for the sake of it, were more flexible and inclined to experiment, and more idiosyncratic. However, on a measure of social perceptions of childlessness, this sample of childless men reported that they felt negatively 54 stereotyped and believed that others saw them as more selfish, deviant, immature, and unnatural than parents. Magarick and Brown (1981) offer the only quantitative inquiry into the psychosocial correlates of men who choose childlessness. However, the study is limited in application to current understandings of men's voluntary childlessness because it presents findings from a dated cohort of men who underwent their vasectomies between 1971 and 1976. Also, this cohort represents a sub-group of voluntarily childless men who sought out surgical means to assure their childlessness. Results may not reflect the experiences and personalities of men who chose alternative means of remaining childless. Also, Magarick and Brown limit their inquiry to determining particular correlates and personality factors associated with choosing childlessness. Their investigation did not explore or reveal the lived experience of voluntary childlessness. Instead, the significance of this study lies in the researchers' conclusion that childlessness is not determined by or associated with, social or personal pathology. Magarick and Brown suggest instead that the childless choice among men in the late 1970's reflected a viable and healthy lifestyle. It is notable that the childless men in Magarick's and Brown's (1981) study reported feeling stereotyped for the childlessness. This finding is consistent with Veevers' (1980) and Burgwyn's (1981) findings among their research participants who also reported experiencing derogatory social views of childlessness in that era. On the other hand, findings from Lunneborg's (1999) more recent research indicated that her male respondents did not feel they were subjected to negative social perceptions of their childless choice. These differing results between studies spanning almost twenty years may reflect a trend towards increased social tolerance of the childless choice for some groups of men. The voluntarily childless men who described their lives to Lunneborg (1999) appeared to report numerous examples of how they valued and enacted dimensions of the "capacity for 55 independent thought and action" factor discerned by Magarick and Brown (1981). Lunneborg's childless men thoughtfully examined and reconsidered traditional values and gender roles (often in terms of household work and spousal income expectations), sought flexibility in their personal and work lives (identified frequently as freedom and spontaneity), and were generally indifferent to social stigma or queries about their childlessness. This similarity in results between the two studies suggest that childless men construct and live their daily lives in ways that are often similar, but also distinct from fathers. Perhaps some of the differences in thinking and being in the world derive from personality attributes as suggested by Magarick and Brown. Overall, the paucity of literature concerning voluntarily childless men offers only fragments of insight into the lived experience and meaning of childlessness for these men. The two reported studies of voluntarily childless men (Lunneborg, 1999; Magarick & Brown, 1981) suggest that they may have less traditional belief systems than fathers, value intimate and egalitarian relationships with their spouses, and retain flexibility in their daily lives of work and other life pursuits. In addition, findings from the above two studies, as well from the general descriptions provided through women's accounts of relationships (e.g., Ireland, 1993; Bartlett, 1994) concur that voluntarily childless men report satisfaction with their choice to decline fatherhood. However, the limited scope of inquiry into intentionally childless men's lives has failed to illuminate their experience of daily living without children, and the personal meanings they attribute to their reproductive choice. Instead, there are mixed reports on how they experience social discourses of voluntary childlessness. Critique of the Literature Research into voluntary childlessness first emerged in the 1970's and has taken a rather poorly charted and erratic path through the academic domains of psychology, feminist/gender studies, sociology, and social psychology. Interest in the topic has waxed and waned over time but there exists an accumulated large body of work that explores multiple aspects of 56 childlessness. However, the works focussing explicitly on the lived experience and meaning of intentional childlessness comprise only a very small portion of the broader literature base. Although these studies provide valuable glimpses into the meaning of childlessness as it is experienced in ordinary living, they have some recurring limitations in their conceptual underpinnings and methodologies. Possibly the most substantial weakness of investigations into the lives of non-parents is the general failure to clearly situate research rationale and questions within specific theoretical orientations or research paradigms. Several inquiries present overviews of the dominant psychological theories that uphold or challenge pronatal belief systems (e.g., Burgwyn, 1981; Ireland, 1993), but few (e.g., Gillespie, 2000; Marshall, 1993; Morell, 1994) fully elaborate the philosophical or theoretical underpinnings of their own research. Hence the literature reflects disparate and equivocal approaches to childlessness that have not yielded a coherent conceptualization of the lived experience of childlessness. Moreover, the bulk of literature concerned with the lived experience of childlessness is non-scholarly or non-scientific work presented for public or general readership. Carefully constructed investigations of childlessness are rare. With respect to research paradigms and methodologies, studies of childlessness are compromised by insufficient descriptions of their qualitative approaches to soliciting and analyzing data. Most studies (e.g., Bartlett, 1994; Burgwyn, 1981) only refer to use of unstructured or semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions. Another common methodological weakness concerns these studies' ambiguity and variability of data analyses and interpretation. Only Marshall's (1993) and Morrell's (1994) work declare and demonstrate standards of academic rigour that assure their findings and interpretations are credible responses to clearly articulated research questions. 57 A common shortcoming of several more prominent studies is their use of non-random samples (e.g., Lunneborg, 1999; Veevers, 1980). Veevers defended her use of a purposive sample by citing difficulty "stalking the silent minority" of childless adults for invitation to participate in research. To-date there are no studies that employ a random sample of voluntary childless persons, but all investigators acknowledge the resulting limitations for generalizing findings to the larger population of childless couples and adults. None has followed Veever's recommendation that future investigations might apply a longitudinal and cross-sectional design with a random sample. Instead, most research has relied upon small samples canvassed directly from organizations advocating for the childless choice (e.g., Lunneborg), through family planning clinics (e.g., Marshall, 1993), through media solicitations (e.g., Ireland, 1993), and through researchers' personal networks (e.g., Safer, 1996). Results of these studies are insightful and relevant, but we cannot be assured that they adequately inform our clinical understanding of voluntary childlessness in the larger population of nonparents. An additional difficulty arises from the distinct cohort effects of several of these studies, particularly since they present conclusions from data collected in the 1970's and 1980's (e.g., Burgwyn, 1981; Houseknecht, 1987; Veevers, 1980). These decades saw dramatic social changes that in turn recast gender roles expectations, and marital and reproductive options. Al l of these sociocultural factors created a distinct historical context that shaped the social and personal meanings of childlessness. A new generation of adults has since come of age in an era of further social change. Their experience of childlessness presumably will differ from those of the previous generation. The majority of inquiry has focussed on women and nonmotherhood resulting in a paucity of work exploring meaning-making in the lives of childless men. Most researchers assume that men partake of reproductive decision-making with their spouses and that they construct their lives differently than parenting husbands (e.g., Lunneborg, 1999). Some 58 researchers (e.g., Marshall, 1993) suggest that women's process of becoming childless is more salient for women than men because of the strong cultural discourse equating maternity with womanhood. Men's experience of childlessness is thought to be less salient and less deterministic of adult identity and lived experience in life roles (Gergen, 1990; Lisle, 1996; Lunneborg). Yet with the exception of Lunneborg's exploratory study, the extant literature presents theoretical conceptualizations of childless men's lives or describes their lives at the periphery of childless women's stories. Lisle emphasizes the need to explore both mens' and women's experiences of childlessness as a means of achieving liberation from gender roles and oppressive social discourses of parenthood. She also appreciates the interdependence of spouses' lives and meaning-making processes when she states that "understanding the nature of nonfatherhood, in fact, sheds light on nonmotherhood" (p. 154). Al l of the reviewed literature includes commentaries on the social meaning of childlessness as it is created and maintained through prevailing cultural discourses of gender, adulthood, and reproduction. Some writers provide insights into the lived experience and meaning of childlessness by describing the coping strategies used for living in a pronatal society (e.g., Marshall, 1993; Veevers, 1980). However, to-date there has been no specific effort to solicit descriptions of the lives of childless adults, and the personal meanings ascribed to their childlessness. Instead, theorists and investigators have extrapolated from social meanings of childlessness to construct presumed personal meaning-themes such as freedom and spontaneity of lifestyle. Also, accounts of childlessness have been analyzed for lifestyle themes, decision- making processes, and personality attributes of childless persons. These categories of data are also used to infer personal meanings of childlessness. To summarize, there is a dearth of research inquiry examining the lived experience and meaning of voluntary childlessness, particularly for couples and men. Research interest has focussed almost exclusively on childless women (e.g., Bartlett, 1994; Ireland, 1996; Morrel, 59 1994) with some dated interest in childless marriages (e.g., Burgwyn, 1981; Veevers, 1980). Men's experiences of intentional childlessness are virtually unknown. Moreover, we do not know how nonparenting couples together negotiate the dominant pronatal discourse or whether spouses share similar meanings of their childless choice. This study will attempt to make a unique contribution to the literature on voluntary childlesssness that will enhance theoretical and clinical understanding of adults who decline parenthood. I will invite adult men and women individually and as couples, to describe their lived experience of voluntary childlessness. From their accounts I will attempt to identify common themes from both the individual and couple data, that reflect their individual and shared meanings and experiences of choosing and living what is still considered by many to be a socially deviant lifestyle. 60 CHAPTER 3 Methodology Introduction The goal of this qualitative study was to illuminate the meaning and the lived experience of voluntary childlessness for eight married couples. Hermeneutic phenomenology is the interpretive method of inquiry I used to uncover common meaning-themes of voluntary childlessness that emerged in participants' accounts of daily living without children. In the spirit of interpretive methodology, I expect that those who read my description of the meaning of voluntary childlessness will enter into and continue my study by questioning and reflecting upon my final interpretation of voluntary childlessness. My findings were initially co-constituted by me and my participants, and they await the interpretation of all readers of this text. In this unfolding process of reading and reflecting my inquiry is unending and there is no final analysis or absolute, full understanding of the meaning of voluntary childlessness (Hein & Austin, 2001). Instead, I offer readers my personal perspective on the meaning of voluntary childlessness as but one of innumerable perspectives. My goal as a phenomenological researcher was to generate a description of the meaning of voluntary childlessness that will contribute to achieving a deeper, richer understanding of this important human experience. Method The present study is an interpretive inquiry that sought to answer the question: W h a t is the meaning and the l ived experience of voluntary childlessness for marr ied heterosexual adults, individual ly and as a couple? The present research is concerned with married couples who share the lived experience of voluntary childlessness and create meaning of this experience in their daily practices of living. Qualitative research methodology allowed me to explore spouses' and couples' experiences of childlessness without theoretical assumptions to constrain my questions or understanding of their 61 descriptions (Leonard, 1989). Also, this study was based upon a "what is..." question that cannot be answered by traditional psychological methods of inquiry (Valle, King, & Hailing, 1989). Traditional methods are empirically-based and seek causal relations o f linearity between particular variables that I could not presume to identify accurately. Instead, I utilized the more holistic approach o f qualitative inquiry to understand couples' lives. Moreover, qualitative research supported my interest in exploring my participants' subjective and inter-subjective worlds as they create meaning o f their experiences (Thorne, 1991; van Manen, 1997). Finally, qualitative research situated me as the researcher in a dialogic encounter o f exploration and interpretation with my participants. This atmosphere of mutual inquiry and thoughtful reflection in qualitative methodology closely parallels the counsellor-client relationship wherein findings o f this study may eventually be applied (Thorne). Research Design In the present study I used the qualitative method of phenomenology to achieve understanding o f the meaning o f voluntary childlessness. Phenomenology was introduced by Husserl as a philosophy for human science (Ferraris, 1996) that views investigation o f the human inner world as legitimate subject matter for human psychology (Osborne, 1994). It emphasizes discovery, description, subjectivity, and meaning o f human experience rather than the empirical and positivist values o f traditional psychological inquiry, that is, prediction, control, and measurement o f human behaviour. As such, phenomenology is a descriptive science and not an explanatory science (Georgi, 1985). Further, phenomenology regards humans and the world as co-constituted; humans are of the world rather than in it (Osborne, 1990/ Hermeneutic phenomenology. The philosophy of phenomenology has evolved into two dominant streams o f psychological inquiry, each o f which reflects the foundational philosophical premises espoused first by Husserl and then by his student Heidegger (Ferraris, 1996). Husserl's phenomenology was largely concerned with epistemological questions; he emphasized human 62 consciousness as the means by which humans apprehend and make meaning of their world. Researchers in this stream of phenomenological philosophy and method emphasize description and extraction of universal structures of meaning that underpin experiences of particular phenomenon. The goal of Husserlian inquiry is to transcend the "natural attitude" of preconceived or theoretical knowledge about human experience, in order to attain a description of pure experiencing of conscious awareness. Husserlian phenomenology also emphasizes the precept of returning to the things themselves (van Manen, 1997) that reflects the valuing of ordinary, lived experience as the site of all knowledge. Heidegger transformed traditional phenomenology by turning away from Husserl's epistemological concerns with consciousness to existential-ontological concerns of being human (Ferraris, 1986). Heidegger dismissed Husserl's pursuit of presuppositionless knowing (Osborne, 1994). Instead, he determined that descriptions of experience always comprise attempts to interpret and communicate awareness and understanding between humans (Geanellos, 1998a). He also insisted that presuppositions or preunderstandings naturally and necessarily frame our interpretations. With his emphasis on interpretation and understanding, and on language as our means of co-creating meaning, Heidegger evolved hermeneutic phenomenology. Hermeneutic phenomenology is concerned not only with what is known of the experience of being, but with how it is known and how it is expressed in language and action (Thorne, 1991). Although this is interpretive phenomenology it retains a positivist bent with its realist assumption that there are existential experiences, that is, phenomena, whose nature and meaning we interpret in the course of our daily living. Some of those phenomena may be obscured or unknown to our ordinary awareness and understanding (van Manen, 1997). Hermeneutic phenomenology seeks to uncover and interpret these phenomena, in order to achieve a deeper understanding of their meaning. 63 The present study applied the hermeneutic-existential phenomenology of Heidegger. Gadamer's (1988) elaboration on Heidegger's work was aiso incorporated, particularly with respect to application of the hermeneutic circle as method and to the written text as the object of study and the ground from which meaning emerges. The following discussion presents the rationale for choosing hermeneutic phenomenology to explore my research question. Specifically, I review the key tenets of Heidegger's phenomenology to illustrate their congruence with my ontological view of the person, with the research question and purpose of this study, and with the research design and method. Philosophical tenets of hermeneutic phenomenology. Hermeneutic phenomenology is concerned with the question of "what is the meaning of Being?". Implicit in this question is the assumption that humans are meaning-makers whose mode of being in the world is understanding (Chessick, 1990; Geanellos, 1998b). We are self-interpreting, and thus constitute ourselves and our world through interpretation and understanding; interpretation is the ontological core of human existence (Chessick; Leonard, 1989; Walters, 1995). This premise of the person as self- interpreting implies that all knowledge is perspectival (Leonard; Walters). Our interpretations and understandings can never convey an absolute truth; there is a multiplicity of interpretations available for any particular phenomenon and lived experience. Hermeneutic phenomenology thus freed me, the researcher, to explore all perspectives of the lived experience of childlessness. I could investigate individual spouses' interpretations, as well as couples' interpretations. Varied perspectives reflect varied interpretations, all of which I attempted to incorporate into my interpretive process. Moreover, I was able to explore descriptions that seemed inconsistent or contrary as exceptions that could illuminate obscure meanings rather than dismissing them as less valid. Finally, I was free to abandon artificial efforts to constrain my interpretations of the data (e.g., Husserlian epoche). Since hermeneutic phenomenology presumes that there is no 64 objective position of knowing I could self-consciously use myself as an interpretive instrument to understand others' experiences (Rew, Bechtel, & Sapp, 1993). A second critical principle of Heideggerian phenomenology is that human existence and the world constitute a unity (Colaizzi, 1978; Osborne, 1994). Neither can exist independent of the other, and neither is causal in the constitution of the other because "the two co-exist by reciprocal implication" (Colaizzi, p. 54). This principle of co-constitution implies the quality of embeddedness of human existence in the social and natural world. Al l aspects of human existence are inextricably connected with the world and "it is through the world that the very meaning of the person's existence emerges both for himself or herself and for others" (Valle et al., 1989, p. 6). The contextualization of human life is reflected in Heidegger's reference to Dasein, or being-in-the-world (Ferraris, 1996). In the realm of psychological inquiry, Heidegerrian phenomenology directs us to intersubjective experiences, or shared experiences and interpretations of Dasein (Geanellos, 1998a; Walters, 1995). The construct of embeddedness supported my inquiry into the marital relationship; spouses are embedded in the relationship as it is embedded in turn, in the larger social context. Spouses co-constitute their marital experiences and they co-create meanings of those experiences. Separating out their respective interpretations of a shared experience decontextualizes the phenomenon of inquiry. Simply put, it cannot be described separately as it is experienced together. The second level of embeddedness is of the couple in the social world. Al l interpretations of experience, and all conditions and parameters of experience are co- constituted by the world in which a couple lives. The principle of embeddedness presumed that my inquiry into couples' lived experience of voluntary childlessness would be attuned to cultural discourses and social norms about gender roles, marriage, and family life as they may emerge in couples' descriptions. 65 Hermeneutic phenomenology also relies on the foundational tenet of historically, that is, we are bounded in our Being by what came before us (Bauman, 1978; Chessick, 1990; Koch, 1995). According to Heidegger, our background is the culture and history that pre-exists us; we are born into ways of being and understanding, and swept up into them (Geanellos, 1998a). Gadamer (1988) refers to this notion of historicality as tradition. Background and tradition provide us the biases, priorities, prejudices, beliefs, and sensibilities that guide our apprehension and interpretation of the world. They constitute our respective spheres of understanding and knowledge which we cannot transcend. They also situate us in a particular historical period of culture and knowledge. With respect to the current study, persons living in North American Western culture are influenced by a tradition of strongly pronatal values (LaFayette, 1995; Tyler-May, 1995) and assumptions that maternity is a central task of adulthood for women (Ireland, 1993; Lisle, 1996). Hermeneutic phenomenology invites consideration of such prejudices even as they are deeply rooted in our social traditions and histories. It allows for examination of how couples and individual spouses have gleaned personal meanings of their choice to remain childless, from the broader social and cultural traditions that bound their possibilities in meaning-making. The constructs of embeddedness and tradition imply another key concept, that is, humans are "condemmed to choice" (Valle et al., 1989, p.8). Heidegger refers to the "thrownness" of humans into the world, and our resulting "situatedess" in history, time, and culture (Chesla, 1995; Leonard, 1989). In the ordinary dailiness of living in a world of givens that we may or may not have wanted, humans make choices within a constrained range of options for living. The assumption that humans are always making choices about their existence echoes the topic of the present research because it presupposes that couples have made the significant life choice to remain childless. As are all choices, this choice is influenced and reinforced by the social and cultural context in which we live (Chesla). In my study individual spouses and couples described 66 their lived experiences of choosing childlessness within the pronatal context of our Western culture. A further premise underpinning hermeneutic phenomenology is that daily living, or the lifeworld of taken-for-granted practices is the concern of human science (Bauman, 1978; Walters, 1995). Humans' pragmatic, involved activity is our way of knowing and being. Moreover, through our engagement in the world we come to value things and have concerns that guide our daily living (Chesla, 1995). We are purposeful and intentional beings and we attribute significance and relevance to particular things in the lifeworld (Leonard, 1989). My research sought to reveal the underlying meaning of the experience of childlessness as it manifests in daily living and shapes people's lives and interactions with the world. I also offered my presupposition that couples with children construct much of their daily living around their children's interests and needs. Hence, I anticipated that childless couples construct a lifestyle distinct from parents and that reflects their particular needs, interests, and concerns. Also, I hoped that discussion of the "dailiness" or "everydayness" ( Darbyshire, Diekelmann, & Diekelmann, 1999) of participants' lives would provide me with rich and relevant descriptions of the experience of childlessness that avoided statements of opinions or theories (Osborne, 1994). With an invitation to describe their ordinary daily lives, I hoped my participants felt free to reveal the issues that were significant to them, within the constraints of social desirability that contextualize my study. In hermeneutic phenomenology, the role of language is stressed as "the meaningful articulation of the understandable structure of being-in-the-world " (Heidegger, in Allen & Jensen, 1990). Language conveys the background or tradition of history and culture into which we are born, and it circumscribes our worldview (Bubner, 1988; Gadamer, 1988). It is also through dialogue that total interdependency is maintained between humans, and between humans and the world (Valle et al., 1989). According to van Manen (1997), "by learning a language we 67 learn to live in collective realms of meanings" (p. xiii). Hence, all meaning is created in and emerges from language and dialogue (Gadamer; Thompson, 1990). Moreover, in the tradition of Gadamer the researcher attempted to understand the content of the text rather than participants' meanings. The researcher "becomes a mediator between the text and all the text implies but not the interpreter of what the author (the research participant) meant" (Geanellos, 1998b, p. 157). According to Gadamer (1988), understanding of the text occurs at the fusion of horizons between the text and the researcher/reader. Our horizon encompasses our sphere of understanding and knowledge that is given us by tradition. In other words, our horizon circumscribes our vantage point or perspective for interpreting the world. In order to transcend it and to understand the text's depictions of others' lived experience, we must query and challenge our pre-understandings. In the fusion of horizons lies the potential for shift in vantage point, for synthesis of knowledge, and for new understanding. Fusion thus implies a merging of different vantage points that ensures a new interpretation of text and self (Thompson, 1990). The current research placed the site of knowledge in the transcribed dialogue, because language is the means by which I co-constructed with my participants the meaning of childlessness. My interpretations of the multiple interview texts allowed me to grasp and convey the core meaning structures of living without children. I also maintained my personal writings in a personal research journal as a record of my experiences of the interviews and research process. By writing about my reflections and their influence on my interpretive processes I demonstrated the interdependency between myself and my participants as we co-created meanings in our interview dialogues (Chessick, 1990; Geanellos, 1998b; Koch, 1995). I also used my personal writings to remain open to fusion of horizons between the texts and my own lived experiences and meaning-making of intentional childlessness. Finally, Heideggerian phenomenology presumes that the Self is embodied; mind and body co-constitute each other (Chessick, 1990; Leonard, 1989; van Manen, 1997). This holistic 68 view of the person allowed my study to acknowledge the personal and social connotations of fertility, control of fertility, and termination of fertility by either artificial or biological means that my participants described. Further, the choice of childlessness means forgoing biological changes and visible transformations of the body - conception, pregnancy and childbirth - that became grounds for exploration in this study. Similarly, the physiology of aging and the interdependence between these changes and our inner emotional lives emerged as related topics for exploration. Heideggerian phenomenology allowed me to embrace all of these physical dimensions of lived experience, many of which proved salient in understanding the lived experience of voluntary childlessness for couples in the current cohort. Hermeneutic Phenomenological Method Just as there is no one prominent philosophy of phenomenology, there is no singular or predominant phenomenological method of hermeneutic inquiry (Thompson, 1990; van Manen, 1997). The processes of writing, rewriting, interpretation, and understanding characterize the method. Because of methodological ambiguity, hermeneutic work relies especially on the researcher's qualities of reflectiveness, insightfulnes, sensitivity to language, and openness to experience and change (van Manen). In general, the hermeneutic phenomenological method provides an interpretive model in which the researcher is concerned with intersubjective experiences, or the shared experiences and interpretations of Dasein (Walters, 1995). It also asserts that we can best understand humans from the experiential reality of their everyday lived experiences, or their lifeworld (van Manen). The hermeneutic circle. Hermeneutics is the theory and practice of interpretation and understanding to achieve shared meaning (Chesler, 1995; Chessick, 1990; Thompson, 1990). According to Gadamer (1988), "it is the task of hermeneutics to illuminate this miracle of understanding, which is.. .a participation in shared meaning" (p. 69) that emerges from the reader's interpretation of the text. The method of interpretation occurs within the hermeneutic 69 circle which is a metaphor for achieving understanding; "it is a process of moving dialectically between a background of shared meaning and a more finite, focused experience within it" (Thompson, p. 243). In the present study I applied the hermeneutic circle as one method to explore and interpret the descriptions of participants' lived experiences of voluntary childlessness. I entered the interpretive process of reading the transcribed interview texts with my own anticipations of the overall meaning of the texts. These anticipations derived from my tradition and background and were reflected in my presuppositions or preunderstandings about the meaning of voluntary childlessness. From this broader view of the text, I attributed more particular meanings to separate parts of the text. Through intense meditative reflection and writing on the language, stories, motifs, and other elements of my participants' descriptions, the meanings of separate parts shifted and induced changes in my original expectations of global meaning. This revised meaning of the whole in turn demanded a reconsideration and revisioning of meaning for the separate parts. Hence at each step of interpretation, I was engaged in continuous effort to harmonize meaning across the particulars of the text, so they were consonant with the whole. Concordance between all parts and the whole is the criterion for understanding at each step in the process (Gadamer, 1988). I made many revisitations to the texts until gestalts or patterns of meaning cohered in a sensible fashion, thus revealing how they constituted the meaning of the whole (Kvale, 1983). This interpretive process occurred for each individual's interview text, and for each couples' conjoint interview text. The backwards and forwards movement between parts, and from parts to whole, is the hallmark of the hermeneutic circle (Gadamer, 1988; Geanellos, 1998b; Ferraris, 1996). My task was "to expand in concentric circles the unity of the understood meaning" (Ferraris, p. 68) that resembles a spiralling down motion of encompassing, deepening, and focussing. There is no final interpretation at which the reader eventually arrives (Connolly & Keutner, 1988). Rather, the 70 hermeneutic circle provided me the dynamic means of exploring and interpreting the meaning- structures of the lived experience of voluntary childlessness. I expected that consciously entering into a hermeneutic circle of interpretation of interview texts would naturally support my movement between individual spousal texts as respective "parts", to the "whole" texts of each spousal group. I thus sought similarities and differences between themes arising among the husbands, the wives, and the couples. I then compiled primary descriptions and identified themes that were common within each group. This multiple layering of texts (individuals to spousal groups, separate couples to a group of couples) and their meanings add to the depth and inclusivity of the hermeneutic circle in this study (Gadamer, 1988; Thompson, 1990). Pre-understandings. According to Heidegger (in Geanellos, 1998b), the hermeneutic researcher's task is not to exit the hermeneutic circle, but to enter into it correctly. I entered into the hermeneutic circle by commencing a self-conscious effort to expose my pre-understandings of voluntary childlessness (Koch, 1995; Kvale, 1983; Walters, 1995). Gadamer (1988) states that "it makes good sense for the interpreter, animated by his ready pre-opinion, not to tackle the 'text' straight off, but rather to test the living pre-opinion in himself for its legitimacy, i.e., for its provenance and validity" (p. 72). If my predispositions towards particular meanings were not clarified, I risked finding in the interview texts merely confirmations of my personal truths. I also risked inadvertently guiding participants to opinions and ideas that reflected other influences, including mine. My task, therefore, was to be aware of my presuppostions and projections onto my participants' lived experiences, and to demonstrate how I took them into account in my interpretation of the text (Geanellos, 1998b). This creates for the reader a transparent presentation of interpretive efforts that lends credibility to my final argument of meaning associated with the lived experience (Osborne, 1994). 71 I attempted to expose some of my pre-understandings of voluntary childlessness by writing about my lived experiences of voluntary childlessness, and my childhood and parenting. These entries were made before and during the investigation in a personal journal. I also pursued personal discussions with close friends about my childless choice. Eventually I sought out friends who are voluntarily childless and solicited their thoughts and feelings about their experiences and their opinions of my research. Throughout all these discussions I wrote extensively about my impressions, feelings, and reactions to the dialogues and to my written stories. From all this material I began to identify implicit and explicit meanings I held about childlessness and how I have constructed and live out those meanings in my ordinary routines of living. Finally, I immersed myself in the literature concerning voluntary childlessness, and reflected extensively on published work exploring the dominant cultural discourse of pronatalism, as I experience it. Hermeneutic phenomenology presumes that such unravelling and exposure of presuppositions is endless and therefore I cannot attain a presuppositionless view of voluntary childlessness. Nonetheless, exploration of my beliefs and pre-understandings served to increase my awareness of their influence on my interpretations of participants' descriptions and ultimately, on my declaration of meaning themes (Austin & Hein, 2001). My pre-understandings about voluntary childlessness among married couples fall into four categories. One assumption is that these couples experience social stigma because they have made choices contrary to social norms and expectations of adulthood. I presume that they are viewed as selfish, exclusive, and in some way flawed in their overt choice to reject the dominant role of "parent." Consequently, I envisioned that participants in this study would describe the conflicts and difficulties that arise in their lives and relationships because of negative social beliefs about their childless choice. My second presupposition derives from my lifestyle experiences that reflect my interests and those of my partner. I presume that other childless couples enjoy "the good life" because of 72 freedom to make a broad range of choices in daily living. I assume that, like myself, my participants would express their appreciation of the flexibility, spontaneity, and independence from the demands of raising children. I presumed that they experience this autonomy as rewarding and enjoyable. A third set of pre-suppositions concerns my views about the quality of the marital relationship when a couple has chosen nonparenthood. My beliefs are predominantly positive, as I envision spouses in these relationships enjoying a level of intimacy or communion that deepens over time and that is the primary love bond in their lives. I presume that their intimacy is exclusive and intense. A fourth category of my pre-conceptions reflects Heidegger's emphasis on history. I believe that personal histories of family life are influential in shaping people's desires to have or not to have children, and in determining the ways in which they live their lives after choosing childlessness. Entry into the hermeneutic circle occurred when I began clarifying and reflecting upon my pre-understandings about the lived experience of voluntarily childlessness. Throughout this research project I was engaged in the interpretive circle by continually revisiting those assumptions and biases as they emerged during my dialogues with participants, and my interpretations of their transcribed interviews. It was incumbent on me to remain open to the emergence of pre-suppositions of which I was not yet fully aware, and to any new perspectives that were inconsistent with my beliefs. I wrote all such insights into my personal journal (Drew, 1989) in order to help render more transparent my interpretive processes and co-constitution of meaning for the interview texts (Geanellos, 1998b). Role of participants. I expected that the couples who agreed to participate in my study would be self-aware and comfortable discussing their experiences of intentional childlessness. I anticipated that they would be verbal and willing to become engaged in a dialogue with each 73 other and with me about those experiences. In the spirit of respect for their lived experiences, and since we had in common the choice to remain childless, I viewed the participants in this study as adult peers of equal power and extensive expertise in the research topic. I assumed that their intimate knowledge of the phenomenon would help to balance the power difference in our relationships attributable to my academic standing (doctoral student), my professional identity (counsellor), my role as researcher, and my theoretical knowledge of the topic. To further offset the power imbalance inherent in the research process, I invited participants to describe their lived experiences as they wished to do so. I provided only an orienting statement to the research topic with some supporting questions that I used to explore any areas that had not spontaneously arisen in our conversations. My goal was to refrain from imposing on the interview any structured questions or opinions that may have led my participants to confirm theoretical or social views of the phenomenon, or to affirm my experiences of the phenomenon. Role of researcher. The phenomenon of voluntary childlessness is the lived experience of the researcher. The likelihood of physical (e.g., age cohort) and psychological closeness (e.g., relevance of the topic, familiarity of emotional responses) to my participants required me to make decisions about how I would situate myself in my research, and how I would monitor my level of participation, my role in the research, and the intensity of my responsiveness to my participants' stories. My challenge, in sum, was to reconcile my simultaneous roles as researcher and voluntarily childless woman as I explored and interpreted my participants' descriptions (Powell, 1999). I wanted to draw concurrently upon my lived experiences as a childless woman and researcher to guide my work. Rather than attempting to suspend myself from involvement in the study as practiced in empirical phenomenological methods (e.g., Georgi, 1985), I deliberately and self-consciously inserted myself into this project by writing in two journals: a research journal and a personal journal. In the former I recorded my reflections and reactions to participants' dialogues, sketched out my fledgling ideas, elaborated on common themes, drew 74 pictures and diagrams to look for linkages between ideas, and jotted notes on gender differences. This journal helped me to maintain a written stream of conscious reflection that accompanied and supported all my interpretive work. I used my personal journal for more private exploration of feelings and encounters in my own life that paralleled the discussions and materials in the research interviews. In this personal dialogue I also wrote out my answers to the same questions I posed to my participants and used my responses to further reflect on my role in this research project. On two occasions, I was compelled to put aside my analysis of texts to absorb the impact of two friends' announcements that they had altered their childless choice and were pursuing parenthood. My journal pages absorbed the confusion and sense of loss during those times. On another occasion, I was forced to reflect on the experience of death and childlessness. In the midst of writing chapter three, I lost a dear family member who left behind an ill spouse. They too, were childless. As I visited my ailing and aged widowed relative, I stepped away from analyzing interview texts and instead wrote in my personal journal about my own fears and anxieties of the unknowable future. These and other personal writings and reflections comprised the reflexivity inherent in this research inquiry. My goal at all times was to maintain conscious awareness of my pre-understandings, my background, and my reactions to my participants' stories and to corresponding experiences in my own life. In keeping with the phenomenological assumption that humans are embedded in and co- constitute the world, I was aware that the triad formed by myself and each couple was in part constituted by larger systemic dynamics. I anticipated that to some degree, these dynamics could impact on participants' willingness to fully participate in the dialogue. Research on voluntary childlessness confirms there is a dominant and intense pronatal discourse in our Western culture that regards as abnormal those couples who choose childlessness (Marshall, 1993). I was concerned that my interest in "studying" voluntary childlessness could be perceived by my participants as a form of stigmatization and rendering of their lived experience as abnormal (and 75 hence worthy of study). My task was to study this group of individuals without further extending their sense of marginalization (Morell, 1994). I attempted to address this tension between research interest and negative social meanings of childlessness by presenting myself transparently as a woman who is also childless by choice. I explained to my participants that I was incorporating myself into the study by writing my own responses to the same interview questions I posed during our meetings, and by reflecting fully on them as I would those of a participant. In this way I hoped to avoid a researcher/subject split that mirrors the sociocultural "splitting-off' of childless couples from mainstream or traditional views of mid-life and maturity (Gillespie, 2000). Finally, the hermeneutic method followed in this study emphasizes the unified process of writing and research (van Manen, 1997), and the assumption that all meaning resides in the text (Gadamer, 1988). Thus my research demanded that I assume the additional role of writer. Crafting the research text in a series of interpretations and expanded understandings and ultimately in the unveiling of meaning, I was charged with writing texts of depth, reflection, sensitivity, and integrity to the spoken words (van Manen). I was also obliged to dwell in the text and to rewrite as meaning continued to emerge, form, and reform (Moustakas, 1994). I strived to be continually present to the text; remaining open to it and aware of my projections of meaning onto it. The quality of my writing will determine the extent to which I have achieved a fusion of horizons between the text and myself, and between my interpretations of my participants' stories and my readers. Research Procedure Participant criteria. Participants were volunteers with personal experience of, and interest in, articulating and understanding the phenomenon in question (Colaizzi, 1978; Osborne, 1994). They brought to the present study descriptions of their daily lives and reflections on their childless choice. ,76 The volunteer participants in this study were eight heterosexual married couples who are voluntarily childless. My choice of heterosexual married couples is congruent with Western cultural depictions of relationships most sanctioned for family life and therefore, that are most likely to reveal the meaning of intentional childlessness within a pronatalistic culture. Since these couples had rejected the pervasive "parenthood prescription" (Veevers, 1980) of the dominant culture, I expected that their experience of the childless choice would reveal a discourse of lifestyle and meaning as quiet counterpoint to pronatal cultural norms. Other relationship configurations in which individuals live without children were beyond the scope of this study. A second criteria for participation in the study was that couples had been married for a minimum of five years. This criteria followed from Veevers (1980) application of the same criterion, with the assumption that couples who are still childless after five years of marriage have demonstrated their commitment to the childless choice in the context of their relationship, and are likely to remain non-parents. Moreover, it was important for purposes of investigating shared meanings of voluntary childlessness, that the participants had adequate shared lived experience of their childlesness from which they could derive rich descriptions of events and meanings. A third criteria for participation in the study was that couples had actively committed themselves to their childless choice by controlling or terminating their fertility through medical means, or were of the age when biological factors limit or preclude fertility. Hence the age of 40 was designated as the minimum criteria for entry into the study. Presumably, by the age of forty most women have engaged in serious consideration of reproductive choices and are unlikely to revert from their childless choice to pursuit of motherhood in their few remaining years of fecundity. Neither spouse had children from former relationships. This fourth criteria was imposed to exclude individuals with parenting experience. Former exposure to parenting in a family context was considered a likely confound for exploring couples' childless choice and their 77 daily relationships with parents and children. Also, the study excluded couples with fertility difficulties who had opted not to adopt or have children via reproductive technologies or surrogate parenting. These delimitations ensured that this study overcame a common weakness in prior research wherein voluntary and involuntary childlessness was ambiguously and variably defined (Marshall, 1993). Moreover, these criteria ensured that my study and interpretations avoided confounding a history of failed medical treatment for infertility with issues more specific to choosing and living a childfree life. Finding couples. The research was subject to the University's ethical review process. After receiving ethical approval, potential participants were recruited through advertisements in two community newspapers (see Appendix A). The advertisements were published once in each paper. Couples who were interested in participating in the research project were invited to telephone the researcher. Informal telephone interviews were conducted with the spouse who made this initial contact with me. Interested parties were provided more information during this telephone call about my status and the purpose of the study, as well as the requirements for participation, including the time commitment and type of interviews involved (see Appendix B). As well, I asked them a series of screening questions to insure that they met criteria for entry into the study (see Appendix C). I invited and answered their questions about the study, and informed them of their right to refuse to participate or to withdraw from the study at any time. I offered during this telephone call to present the same information to the other spouse if they were available. I then offered to call back in a few days to allow each couple additional time to consider their participation. However, almost all the initial interviews with at least one of the two spouses were scheduled at the end of this first contact. Al l other spousal interviews were arranged during subsequent telephone calls. I also informed many colleagues, friends, and family members about this study, inviting them to spread news of the research and to encourage potential participants to telephone me if 78 interested in obtaining further information. In two cases where acquaintances knew of prospective participants, I provided a copy of the newspaper advertisement to pass on to their friends and colleagues. In another case, I provided my email address to a relative, to forward to an acquaintance. These three couples contacted me by telephone, and I responded to their interest in the manner described above. Eight couples were recruited over a period of ten days, six through the newspaper advertisements and two through word-of-mouth. A total of 20 couples telephoned me to inquire about the research study, as well as one recently widowed woman of a childless marriage. After screening in six couples, I continued to receive telephone inquiries about the study. The next two couples who called after I had met my recruitment goal were asked if they would be available for future contact if their participation was required. They confirmed their willingness to join the study at a later date if it was convenient for them. The founder of No Kidding, a prominent international social organization for the childless, also contacted me for information on the study. He offered contacts with his members if I required participants for the study. The surprising numbers and enthusiasm of the respondents to the two recruitment advertisements merit comment. In her research on childless adults, Veevers (1980) described her difficulties locating childless adults as "stalking the silent minority" (p. 171). She presumed that childless adults constituted an invisible minority who were reluctant to come forward and give voice to their childless choice. The response rate in the current study suggests that at least in this geographic area, there are many childless individuals who are keen to tell their stories of childlessness. Possibly the steady growth in numbers of this minority group has rendered them more visible and vocal. Overall, it appears that there are ample opportunities to make ready contact with this population for research purposes, a positive development that marks the two decades since Veevers conducted her seminal work in this field of inquiry. 79 Data Collection Phenomenological research attempts to gather elaborate descriptions of the experience of a phenomenon under study. Data sources are usually spoken or written accounts of participants' experiences (Osborne, 1994; Polkinghorne, 1989), or anecdotes derived from close observation of participants (van Manen, 1997). The current study used the more common and convenient approach of conversational interviewing to gather descriptions of the lived experience of childlessness (van Manen). The goal of the interviews was to elicit rich descriptions of the lived experience of intentional childlessness; transcribed interview texts were the contexts within which I attempted to uncover and interpret meaning. Assumptions of the interview . The present study applied principles of qualitative interviewing as presented by Kvale (1983, 1996). The goal of the qualitative phenomenological interview is to gather descriptions of the life-world of the participant, with special attention to the interpretation of the meaning of the described phenomena. Also, since hermeneutic inquiry seeks meaning in dialogue and subsequently in transcribed text, the interview is theme-oriented and not person-oriented. Hence I did not attempt to ascertain whether descriptions, interpretations, or ascribed meanings corresponded to my participants' personalities or worldviews (Polkinghorne, 1989). A third principle of phenomenological interviewing is that of viewing a participant as more than a source of data (Kvale, 1996). It was incumbent upon me to attend to the complete person of the participant - verbal, nonverbal, and other expressions of being and to note these unobtrusively in writing during the interview. My holistic attunement to the participant enacted the phenomenological appreciation of embodiment of the self; our bodies move us into the world for perception of and interaction with others (Leonard, 1989). Kvale (1983) further notes that the phenomenological interview is necessarily open and unstructured in order to accommodate changes in pace, direction, and content, and to invite and 80 tolerate ambiguities that may not resolve in the immediacy of the interview. The interview is guided less by fixed questions than by a shared focus and purpose to understand a particular experience. Consequently, at the beginning of the interviews I read aloud a prepared orienting statement to help my participants commence description of their lived experiences of intentional childlessness (see Appendix D). The balance of the interview was comprised of open-ended questions, clarifying statements, and probes that were intended to facilitate participants' descriptions of their childlessness in as detailed a manner as possible. Al l my comments were made judiciously and not for purposes of guiding my participants towards particular opinions about particular themes (Kvale). Ideally, the interview atmosphere is one of shared intellectual curiousity and mutual respect. I attempted to demonstrate my regard for my participants' experiences by consciously suspending expression of my judgements about participants' stories, and by providing them ample time to choose and reflect upon their experiences. The interview questions were created using van Manen's (1990,1997) lifeworld existentials of corporeality, relationality, spatiality, and temporality. He proposed that these four existentials can guide inquiries and reveal the "fundamental thematic structure" (1990, p. 100) of human experience. These existentials are also cornerstones of Heidegerrian existential- phenomenology and therefore appropriately reflected the philosophy and method of this project (e.g., persons as embodied, persons as embedded in a social context, background and tradition). One set of questions was prepared for the spousal interviews (see Appendix E), and a second set for the conjoint interviews (see Appendix F). Not all questions were asked of participants. Rather, questions were posed to help explore areas which had not emerged in spontaneous conversation, or when participants appeared to be describing lived experiences that related to a particular existential. In summary, the phenomenological interview focuses on the lifeworld with openness to the lived experiences of participants (Kvale, 1996). It elicits rich and deep description as it seeks 81 to unveil obscured meaning structures of a phenomenon (van Manen, 1997). The researcher is fully engaged in the encounter and participates in the co-creation and co-interpretation of meaning as it arises in the dialogue (Geanellos, 1998b). Interview process. In the present study I, the researcher, conducted and audio-taped all interviews. Since the process of collecting data places the phenomenological researcher immediately into the hermeneutic circle (Polkinghorne, 1989), it was imperative that I was directly involved in the data gathering from the outset of this study. I conducted four of the spousal interviews in participants' workplaces; the remaining 20 were conducted in participants' homes. The choices made by participants of the interview environment was significant because the interview is a context-bound and a context-defined experience (Kvale, 1996). I was fortunate to be invited into the environments that contained the participants' activities and practices of daily living. My research thus became another event in the ordinary spaces of their lifeworlds, and in turn was imbued with the meanings inherent in those spaces. I sat on a tiny chair in a kindergarten classroom while interviewing the teacher at the 'snack table', and in a plain interview room at a police headquarters while speaking with a peace officer. Perched on a work bench in a high school woodworking shop, a participant displayed for me the projects of grade eight students whilst P.A. announcements punctuated our conversation. In participants' homes I petted cats and talked to dogs, and was invited to sip tea and enjoy snacks. I was extremely flattered by participants' keen invitations to view projects and spaces in their homes that truly reflected their interests and the dailiness of their lives. I was shown a drumset in a home studio, an extraordinary aviary filled with exotic birds, an ongoing kitchen renovation, and artistic projects of great talent and beauty. These glimpses into participants' lives provided the interviews unspoken richness and authenticity. Individual spouses were interviewed first about their lived experiences of voluntary childlessness. Research and anecdotal reports suggest that men and women experience voluntary 82 childlessness differently, both intra- and interpersonally (Gergen, 1990; Ireland, 1993; Lunneborg, 1999). Moreover, spouses may have refrained from fully disclosing their personal descriptions while in each other's presence, particularly in an initial research interview. Hence spouses were interviewed separately first, in order to elicit elaborate, personalized accounts of their childlessness with the opportunity to speak freely of their unique histories, feelings, and experiences that might not emerge in accounts of their shared lived experiences. These interviews lasted between 45 minutes and two hours and 15 minutes. At the beginning of each individual spousal interview I presented two copies of the consent form for participants' signatures. I briefly described ethical considerations of confidentiality, use of the research findings, and freedom to terminate their participation at any time during the study (see Appendix G). This consent included participation in the conjoint marital interview. A l l participants were also asked to choose a pseudonym, known only to the participant and myself, for the purpose of ensuring participants' anonymity. Within two weeks of completing both individual interviews I met with each couple for a conjoint interview. Those interviews lasted between 45 minutes and two hours. The focus of this interview was explicitly on the shared experiences and meanings that each couple attributed to their intentionally childless status as it manifests in their daily living. Couples were also invited to elaborate on their marriages, in relation to their childlesness. These interviews were intended to address the portion of this study's research question concerning couples' co-creation of meaning around their childless choice. Since I wished to maximize opportunities for them to describe their marital experiences of childlessness, I refrained from making references to lived experiences described by spouses during their individual interviews. Also, I was bound by ethical requirements to protect the confidentiality of disclosures made by spouses in the privacy of their individual interviews. 83 The purpose of the conjoint or "marital" interview was two-fold. First, the couples' interview reflected the Heideggerian notion that individuals co-constitute and co-interpret lived experiences (Koch, 1994; Leonard, 1989; Walters, 1995). "Understanding the relational and configurational context allows for an appropriate interpretation of the significance that things have for a person" (Leonard, p.46). This study presumed that both the individual and the shared lived experiences and meaning-making of intentional childlessness that occur in the context of marriage can be further elaborated through co-presentation of descriptions, that is, through conjoint interviews. According to Moustakas (1994), "in the back and forth of social interaction the challenge is to discover what is really true of the phenomena of interpersonal knowledge and experience" (p. 57). Finally, the two-tiered approach to interviewing in my study was methodologically consistent with the movement between parts (individual spouses), and between parts and the whole (spouses and the couple) inherent in the interpretive process of the hermeneutic circle. The two-week break between completion of individual interviews and conjoint interviews provided me time to listen to each spouse's taped interview and to orient myself more thoroughly to their respective stories. I wrote extensively in my research journal during this two week period on my early impressions of the interviews and the participants. As the interviews accumulated over time, I relied heavily on my writing to keep my impressions organized and to insure that the sixteen spousal accounts remained separate and distinct from one another. I also hoped that by writing and re-listening to audio-tapes I would become more attuned to the explicit and implicit dynamics of the participants' childfree lives, and thus enter the conjoint interviews with greater sensitivity and focus. This time period also provided the opportunity for me to listen for any emergent expressions of difference between spouses as they described their lives without children. Indeed, the sociocultural discourse of parenthood and childlessness implies significant 84 gender and role differences in the evaluation and attribution of meaning to the childless choice (Ireland, 1993; Lisle, 1996). The validation interviews were conducted after data collection and analysis was completed for all interviews, that is, approximately ten months after the original interviews. The validation interviews were conducted with 12 spouses from seven couples. One man declined to participate in the validation interview, citing time constraints and his difficulty reading lengthy documents. His wife read and provided feedback on the women's material. Another man could not be reached for discussion of the men's material, but his wife participated in a validation interview. One couple had relocated from the Lower Mainland and could not be reached. Prior to the validation interviews, I telephoned each couple and advised one of the spouses that the analysis was complete and the findings were ready for their feedback. I offered to schedule either telephone or in-person interviews to hear their feedback, after a minimum two week period in which they could read and reflect on my findings. One day after this telephone contact, each participant was provided a copy of the results of the study that pertained to his or her gender. Each couple also received a biographical description of their married lives. A cover letter invited each participant to review the written material, and included the principal question with which to guide their reading: "Do these findings resonate generally with your experiences as a childless man/woman?" Each couple was also asked to review their biosynoposis to ensure accuracy of information. The participants were telephoned for their feedback within three weeks of receiving their reading material. Those who could be reached expressed a preference to discuss their impressions during a telephone conversation rather than an in-person interview. These telephone consultations varied in length from ten to 20 minutes, and one interview lasted for two hours. The primary purpose of these validation interviews was to achieve consensual validity of my findings. I first ensured that I correctly recorded information in each couple's biographical 85 review. Three participants requested small corrections such as time dating prior to marriage, and number of siblings. I then discussed with each participant whether and in what ways the themes I uncovered in my analysis fit with their lived experiences of intentional childlessness. I made notes during these conversations, and in one case I used a telephone answering machine to audiotape our conversation. Al l five of the men participating in the validation interviews confirmed that the findings of the study resonated with their personal experiences of voluntary childlessness. Comments ranged from "I really felt it did fit", "it rang quite true", "I enjoyed the read-I could generally relate to most of it", and "it fits excellent-I really enjoyed it". Six of the seven women participants similarly validated the descriptive themes and meaning themes as apt reflections of their childfree lives. One woman commented that the findings "jived very much with me and my life", and another commented that she saw "a lot of common connections. It felt really familiar and I saw I'm not alone out there." A third woman reflected on her reading that the findings were "very interesting-I recall feeling in sync with it all. I totally related to it." One woman lauded the document as ".. .very positive. If I was younger and childless and trying to make a decision, it would maybe influence me to decide not to have children, as a positive choice." This same participant requested some editorial changes to text comments to insure anonymity and more accurately depict her work and relationships. She also requested changes to quotations derived from her interview, as she felt her initial dialogue was awkward and imprecise. For example, she requested that the word "reverent" be replaced with "highly respected" in her descriptions of the maternal body, and that her nieces viewed her life as "interesting" rather than "exciting." We agreed that these revisions did not alter the content and intended meaning of her original statements. Hence I was not compelled to revisit my interpretations of her comments, or their contribution to the descriptive themes that emerged across all the women participants. Another woman participant expressed concern about her excerpts in the document, 86 stating that "I sounded superficial and glib, but that's not how I really feel. I take my life seriously. It's how my words came across...." Despite her concerns about her use of language, this woman denied that I had construed or presented her comments in a manner she had not intended. Upon re-reading segments of the document that included her quotes, I did not make any changes to my text or to her quoted material. As per my initial impressions of this participant, I viewed her input as highly relevant to my overall interpretations. Indeed, she made several comments that succintly reflected common ideas and themes that arose among the other women's material. She also confirmed that she felt strongly connected to the themes and experiences reported by the other women. Finally, one of the women requested that I delete one of her self-descriptions as a "rescuer and saviour." Although she was uncomfortable with her choice of words she could not think of any alternative phrases that she felt better-captured her orientation to work. Hence I did not delete these terms. Only one of the seven women contacted for validation interviews stated that she "could not relate to the other women" whose lives were portrayed in the findings. She stated that her "gut feeling" upon reading the document was that "we were all a bunch of sadsacks." With respect to the descriptive themes across the four existentials, she emphasized that the themes also characterize the lives and aspirations of parents. In her view, the document incorrectly presented childless women as unique. We discussed her ideas via email and on the telephone, and she expressed her relief and satisfaction that my overall research findings concurred with her belief that although childless adults are in the minority, they are not particularly unusual or unique in their daily living, among the larger collective of adults in society. She did not identify specific instances in which my descriptions or interpretations imbued the text with a sadness or negativity (as per her comment of "sadsacks"). I therefore did not attempt to rework the text to integrate this feedback. 87 Data Analysis Interview transcription. The object of study in this research project was text, a written transcription of any discourse (conversation or speech) (van Manen, 1997). Data in the present study were the written transcriptions of audio-taped interviews. Each interview was transcribed verbatim. After they were returned from the transcriber, I listened to each tape and read along with the transcription, adding notes about vocal pace, tone, inflections, and other nuances of the dialogue. After making very few corrections to the transcribed documents, I added observations from my interview notes about physical or nonverbal gestures. My attention to physical and vocal expression thus reflected the Heideggerian holistic view of persons as embodied (Leonard, 1989). I transcribed the first two spousal interviews, a critical means of immersing myself in the interview data. This exercise was also a point of entry into the hermeneutic circle with my initial global expectations of meaning, and my subsequent reactions to the interview. As I listened to my participants' voices and recorded their words in written form, I recalled additional details of those interviews and noted them in my research journal. Professional transcription services were utilized for the remaining 22 audio-taped interviews. Thematic analysis. The goal of data analysis in this hermeneutic phenomenological inquiry was to determine the underlying structures of meaning that constitute the lived experience of voluntary childlessness, for spouses and for couples. According to van Manen (1997), we discern meaning in texts by uncovering themes in experiential accounts. Themes comprise the sense we make of our lived experience. In this study my initial attempt at data analysis followed the protocol suggested by Smith and Osborn (2003), who emphasize that "meanings are not transparently available-they must be obtained through a sustained engagement with the text and a process of interpretation" (p. 64). My exploration of interview texts for underlying meaning themes commenced with 88 approximately two general readings of the entire account or story provided by each man. In this initial stage of analysis I worked in detail with one account at a time, and moved forward case by case among the men's transcripts. After the preliminary readings I began to make notes in the left margin of the transcript that referred to ideas or comments of interest to me. At times I jotted brief summaries or paraphrased a participant's comment, or made associations or comparisons to other comments elsewhere in the text. On a few occasions I re-listened to the audio-tape of the interview to clarify phrases or comments that were confusing in written form. I then noted my revised understanding of such material in the left-hand margin of the transcripts. According to Smith and Osborn, this process of reading, listening, and note-making invites free reflection on the text and is unconstrained by categories or units of analysis. After completing this thorough review of a transcript, I undertook the second stage of analysis, the task of distilling emerging themes from the notes in the left margin. These themes were intended to raise the interpretive process to a slightly higher level of abstraction, from which commonalities could be identified and merged across different texts (Smith & Osborn, 2003). The themes were also expected to relate more clearly to theoretical principles and to invoke more psychological terminology. Al l of these themes were then noted on a separate page where I sought connections between them. This first list was ordered chronologically, according to the sequence in which material emerged in the interview. I then attempted to re-order them by examining commonalities between themes, and clustering them according to similarities in content. Throughout this portion of the analysis, I revisited the transcript to ensure that the theme or group of themes was clearly connected to the actual material in the text from which it was first derived. I isolated pieces of transcript that best illuminated those theme-clusters to insert later into the text of findings. Finally, I attempted to name the theme-clusters and identify any constructs that appeared to represent groups of theme-clusters. 89 I pursued this protocol for analysis on each of the eight men's transcripts. Unfortunately, the analysis produced an unwieldly volume of material across all transcripts, and a long list of thematic ideas and theme-clusters impressed me as repetitive and inadequate for discerning any robust or substantial meaning-themes. Although there were some notions in several transcripts that seemed promising for future development, I remained skeptical that continuing a similar process for the women's and couples' transcripts would be the best means for determining underlying meaning-structures. I became particularly frustrated by the realization that I was spending more effort containing and seeking ways to organize my ideas from the margin notes, than I was thinking and writing about the more salient points among those notes. I was thus motivated to abandon this analytic process and seek out an alternative protocol that would allow me to spend more effort exploring ideas than listing and organizing them. I subsequently turned to van Manen's (1990, 1997) heuristic of the lived existentials with which to guide the analysis, interpretation, and writing for all the transcribed interviews. This approach allowed me to frame my exploration of the interview texts using the same existential constructs that guided construction of my interview questions. In effect, the four existentials became the scaffolding around which I slowly began to construct descriptions of the lives of these men. By this time I was well-acquainted with their accounts, and before returning to the transcripts I sketched out some of the dimensions within each existential that I recalled from the men's stories. Encouraged by the fluidity of this process, I immersed myself once again in the first of the men's transcripts and began looking for experiences denoting the four existentials, working on one transcript at a time. The left margin notes were left untouched, and I turned my attention to the clusters of meaning-themes I had generated in the previous analysis. Here I began to identify descriptions, insights, and comments that suggested different existentials. I coded these according to each existential, and transferred those coded notes into their respective existential categories. I followed this procedure for each transcript. After reviewing and coding 90 all thematic materials within each transcript, I transferred the contents for each existential in each transcript, to 'grand' files for the four existentials. Within these final 'grand' files, I sought sub- themes or facets of the existentials for which participants had provided rich descriptions. For example, the notion of unknowable time emerged from repeated expressions of concern by participants about the future. And descriptions of relationships easily clustered into those with children and friends. At several junctures I was stymied by the large number of vivid descriptions that the participants provided of their daily lives. At risk of incorporating too much thematic material into the existentials, I followed van Manen's (1990) advice to continually re-orient myself to my research question and to the phenomenon of inquiry. I also struggled at times to discern important descriptive material and thematic ideas from less compelling but equally interesting notions. On these occasions I put the materials in question onto a short list entitled 'maybe'. I returned to these ideas at the end of a full analysis of each transcript, and often discovered that they elaborated on a particular existential. Some threads of thematic material remained too specific to a participant's account or were applicable to the participant's lived experiences beyond the phenomenon of voluntary childlessness. These "incidental" themes (van Manen) were not essential to constructing a description of the meaning of voluntary childlessness. They remained on the diminished 'maybe' list of less relevant material and were not further incorporated into the analysis and writing processes. After all the men's accounts were analysed, the thematic material and accompanying quotes and descriptions for each transcript were merged into one file for each existential. These compilations of excerpts and ideas from all the transcripts comprised the foundations for writing about the sub-themes within each lived existential. Development of the sub-themes required constant revisitation to the texts to insure commonalities across the men's stories, and to find citations that clearly illustrated these emergent ideas. Since these sub-themes were derived 91 specifically from participants' descriptions of their lived experiences, they were designated as the "descriptive themes" among findings of this study. I followed the same process of analysis and writing for the women's and couples' transcripts. My principal challenge in moving from the men's to the women's transcripts was to establish an open and receptive stance to the women's stories and ideas, attuned to expressions of any subtle differences from the men's transcripts. However, I also sought to retain awareness of my findings from the men's transcripts as clues to seeking out any similarities in the women's transcripts. Not surprisingly, I relied more on my personal journal writings as I worked with the women's transcripts. I found myself reflecting on and comparing my lived experiences with those of the women participants, thereby consciously using myself as an interpretive instrument and guide to deepen my exploration of their accounts. I was keenly aware that in this portion of the analysis I had become fully ensconced in the hermeneutic circle. The reading and analysis of the 24 transcripts was a lengthy process. As van Manen (1997) emphasizes, lengthy periods of writing and re-writing followed the reading of transcripts. Writing became the critical means of exploring the participants' accounts and elaborating my descriptions of the existential categories. After I had completed writing those descriptions, I undertook to transform them to a higher level of abstraction. At this stage of writing and analysis, I sought underlying meaning themes within and across the four existentials. I hoped to find themes that both unified the descriptive themes, while deepening our understanding of the meaning of voluntary childlessness. These meaning-themes emerged through a lengthy writing process in which I explored in my research journal the critical or most impactful dimensions of the stories told by the participants. In my emotional and intellectual reactions to the participants' stories, in the texts and in the existential descriptions of participants' lives, I eventually discerned two underlying constructs that were separate yet related. I wrote about one until the other took form as its mirror reflection. 92 Data presentation. I have presented the descriptive themes of participants' lived experiences of childlessness using van Manen's (1997) four lived existentials of body, relation, space,, and time. Hence the findings are organized in a manner that reflects my original conceptualizations of the lived experience of voluntary childlessness, the questions that were utilized in the interviews, and the interpretation and analysis of the data. The existentials thus provided a unifying and consistent structure around which to cohere the different stages and processes of this study. The meaning-themes were distilled from the participants' descriptions of the lived existentials and are presented as meta-themes or meta-constructs of meaning, separate from the descriptive themes. Criteria for Evaluating Trustworthiness of the Study Hermeneutic phenomenological research strives to illuminate meaning of particular lived experiences; the focus of all research is on Dasein, or human-being-in-the-world where all knowledge and understanding is interpreted within a given context. This study sought to reveal spouses' and couples' experiences of voluntary childlessness, and the meaning inherent in those experiences. As with all phenomenological inquiry, this study was tasked with maintaining maximum rigour of method and presentation of interpretations. However, traditional criteria of validity and reliability associated with rigour in empirically-based psychological inquiry are incongruent with the paradigmatic assumptions of qualitative methodology (Lincoln & Guba, 1986; Osborne, 1990; Stiles, 1993; Walters, 1995). For example, in qualitative inquiry, objectivity is replaced with the notion of fidelity to the phenomenon as it is described in the researcher's text (Colaizzi, 1976). Moreover, respectful listening replaces observation, description replaces measurement, openness to self and text replaces theory, and compelling statements of interpretation replace truth-value (Osborne, 1994). Rather than construing and applying conventional notions of rigour to qualitative methods, qualitative researchers should be focused on ".. .creating the evocative, true-to-life, and 93 meaningful portraits, stories, and landscapes of human experience that constitute the best test of rigor in qualitative work" (Sandelowski, 1993, p. 1). The caliber of phenomenological research therefore becomes defined in terms of trustworthiness (Lincoln & Guba, 1986; Mishler, 1990). This construct implies qualities of persuasiveness (Sandelowski), credibility (Beck, 1993), auditability (Koch, 1994; Lincoln & Guba), fidelity of the text to participants' stories (Colaizzi, 1976; Kvale, 1996; Stiles, 1993), and coherence (Stiles). This study featured four means of determining the trustworthiness of method and results. First, I sought a straightforward evaluation of the accuracy of my interpretations by asking my participants during validation interviews to review my findings and assess them for congruence between my interpretations and their accounts of childlessness (Koch, 1994; Kvale, 1996; Stiles, 1993). I thus obtained estimates of the consensual or testimonial validity (Stiles) of the findings. The goal was to hear participants accept the written accounts as consistent with what they had revealed (Polkinghorne, 1989). Moreover, the participants verified that the overall written descriptions and meaning structures of the lived experience of intentional childlessness resonated with familiarity and relevance. According to Sandelowski (1993), the researcher's responsibility is to "strive to represent multiple realities in a way that still remains faithful to each member's reality" (p. 5). To further support my pursuit of testimonial validity, I forwarded the findings of the study to a voluntarily childless couple who did not participate in my study (Shapiro, cited in Osborne, 1990). This couple was located through word-of-mouth referral. They were unavailable to participate in the research study but agreed to read and comment on my findings. Both spouses confirmed that the findings achieved a degree of "fittingness" between my interpretations and their lived experience of voluntary childlessness (Koch, 1994). The wife confirmed that "it all made sense to me, and I could relate to most of it," and her husband stated "I understood your entire chapter and resonated with most of it." This feedback from my external readers indicated 94 that my descriptions of the lived experience and meaning of intentional childlessness demonstrate an empathic generalizability to others' grasp of the phenomena (Osborne, 1994). A third means of enhancing trustworthiness of my findings was achieved through demonstration of good scientific practice (Sandelowski, 1993). I made visible to the reader all steps of my research method and protocol for data analysis; in effect, I provided sufficient descriptions in the text to comprise an audit or decision trail (Koch, 1994; Sandelowski, 1986). This trail demonstrates how my procedure, exploration of text, and interpretations are interrelated, congruent, and consistent with the philosophical underpinnings of the study. The trail includes full disclosure of my pre-understandings and how I incorporated them into the hermeneutic circle of interpretation and understanding (Gadamer, 1988; Stiles, 1993). I developed and maintained this audit trail in both my personal and research journals. In my personal journal I wrote about my process of exploring voluntary childlessness as I read my participants' accounts, and the events in my personal life that seemed germane to my research as they unfolded during this one year period. In my research journal I noted all my observations and ideas about the interviews and transcripts, and sketched out my ideas as they took shape during the analysis. Finally, I kept all my notes and feedback during conversations with my committee members in a "consultation file." This accounting of the interdependence of my personal and research processes demonstrates how I situated myself in this research project and co-constituted the descriptions and meanings of voluntary childlessness with my participants (Mishler, 1990; Sandelowski, 1986). I believe that this portion of the audit trail enables readers to evaluate my research in terms of its integrity and quality of method rather than in terms of the replicability of my findings (Sandelowski, 1986). Finally, this study incorporated the notion of "gestalt validity" to reflect the coherence and cohesiveness of my interpretations of meaning structures of the lived experience of voluntary childlessness (Packer & Addison, 1989). According to Stiles (1993), "coherence 95 includes... comprehensiveness of the elements to be interpreted and the relations between elements, and usefulness in encompassing new elements as they come into view" (p. 608). Gestalt validity echoes the formative processes at work in the hermeneutic circle whereby understanding occurs by linking together the constituent elements of meaning structures (Moustakas, 1994). I achieved this coherence by carefully selecting "parts" of the text in words, phrases, and stories and illustrating their relevance to the larger meaning themes or "wholes" uncovered in the text. The reader may thus see how constituent pieces form units and patterns of meaning and how they derive from my intuitive and/or logical interpretive processes. Conversely, the reader can work backwards from the description of the common meaning themes, to supporting content from the text (Polkinghorne, 1989). A second approach to achieving coherence was to critique my interpretation of meaning by seeking disconfirming examples in the text (Packer & Addison, 1989). At times I reflected on the questions: "in what way is this material different?", "what is not being said?" and "why is this not said by others?" Discovering contrary or disconfirming evidence of themes invited me to look more deeply into participants' accounts. At times these forays into exceptional material provided me with examples that resonated with findings in the literature. Most importantly, these questions prevented me from lapsing into organization of text into gestalts that merely confirmed my own experiences and those reported by the other participants. According to Kvale (1996), persistent attention to validity can erode the relevance and worth of a study. In efforts to offset a process of defensive legitimization of my research findings, I chose to incorporate the above principles of trustworthiness because they are philosophically and methodologically congruent and relevant to hermeneutic phenomenology. My task was to present for the reader an interpretation of my participants' lived experience and its meaning, in a powerful and convincing manner that upholds the above criteria. In effect, I was challenged to reflect and write in a manner that is strong and oriented to the lived experience 96 under investigation (van Manen, 1997). Accordingly, "achieving an understanding of the investigated phenomenon qualifies exquisitely as a criterion for research knowledge" (Colaizzi, 1976, p. 56). Summary The final product of this study is my interpretation of voluntary childlessness, a product of co-construction with my pre-understandings, my participants, and my encounters with the text. Other researchers of different backgrounds and traditions may have elicited different descriptions from which they could construe different interpretations and meanings. However, in the spirit of hermeneutic inquiry, I assume that a full understanding of the phenomenon under study is not achievable because a final analysis is never attained (Hein & Austin, 2001). Instead, readers of the text will continue in a circular process of inquiry, thus adding and deepening perspectives on voluntary childlessness. 9 7 CHAPTER FOUR Results This chapter opens with a brief biography of each of the eight couples in this study. I next present the descriptive themes that arose from participants' accounts of their voluntary childlessness, across the four existentials of lived experience. The descriptive themes are discussed separately for the women and men, then compared in light of their similarities and differences. The next section provides an overview of findings from the conjoint interviews, in which couples described their shared experiences of voluntary childlessness. In the final portion of the chapter I present two meta-themes of meaning that encompass and augment the descriptive themes across the four existentials, and that deepen our understanding of the lived experience of voluntary childlessness. Participants' Biographies Six of the couples in this study were recruited through a newspaper advertisement in a large city of the Lower Mainland. Two couples were recruited through word-of-mouth contacts. Al l participants selected a pseudonym to ensure anonymity and confidentiality. The following profiles of couples highlight their family background, the route they took to arrive at their childless choice, and some attributes of their lifestyles. Mynh and Angel. Mynh, age 43, and Angel, age 46, have been married for 12 years. Each comes from a small family; Angel has one sister who is single and childless, and Mynh has a sister whose two boys he and Angel indulge with gifts and holidays. The pair met when he was doing business as a bailiff with her law firm and they married eight months later. They live in a beautifully restored heritage home in a historical neighbourhood in a suburb near Vancouver. They share the home with a menagerie of animals that are the objects of Angel's passionate devotion to animal welfare. This is Angel's third marriage and Mynh's second. Both are committed to their careers: Angel has built a successful practice in matrimonial law and Mynh is a peace officer. Mynh intends to return to school in the near future to pursue graduate training in the helping professions. Angel's career takes up much of her time, and the couple spends their precious time together at home with occasional dinners out. Travelling provides welcome opportunities for them to spend extended time together. Both try to find time to sit on community volunteer boards, and Angel is heavily involved with the local Humane Society. Mynh was sure from a young age that he did not wish to become a father. During our interview he explained his reluctance to assume the burdens and responsibilities of parenthood. He candidly described the limits of his capacity to love and care for anyone other than his wife. He also expressed his unwillingness to bring a child into the world "to suffer the slings and arrows" of life. Mynh had entered his first marriage with the shared understanding that both he and his wife did not want to have children. Much to his surprise, a few years into the marriage his wife announced a change of heart and asked him to reconsider his childless choice. Mynh could not muster the desire or will to change his life course, so both departed the marriage on good terms. When Mynh met Angel, he counted himself lucky to have met a woman who was similarly convinced that she did not wish to pursue having children. Instead, she expressed her desire to devote herself to her career and to her interests in animal welfare. Eight years into the marriage, Angel broached the subject of revisiting their childless choice. Again Mynh declined to reconsider his childless choice, and the couple has moved on from that somewhat difficult period with the renewed agreement that children will not be a part of their lives. Mynh expressed his devotion to Angel, an appreciation of her integrity and respect for their initial childless choice and of her acceptance of his limits to "love her and only her." Angel could not ever recall being attracted to babies or imagining herself a mother. She described how the option of motherhood always seemed ill-suited to her future aspirations of establishing a career and achieving financial security and independence. Although Angel finds most children delightful, she questions her capacity to tolerate misbehaving and difficult 99 behaviour on a continual basis. She has enjoyed children's company on a short-term basis of brief visits, but has few children in her daily life. Despite her long-held assumption that motherhood would never be part of her future, Angel recalled a period of emerging dissonance around her childlessness when she was approximately forty two years old. At that time she was seeing a psychologist to address some dissatisfactions in life. As Angel reflected in our interview on this time period, she wondered if the psychologist had "planted the seed in my mind that maybe that was what was missing in my life." Angel felt compelled to reexamine her childless choice, and she embarked on an uncomfortable and confusing time of inner dialogue to determine what she truly wanted. She added that her physician agreed that she ought to become a mother, causing her to further question her life-long conviction that motherhood was not right for her. Angel explained that looking back at this unsettling time of conflicted values and viewpoints, she now considers it to have been an important exercise in self-exploration. She emerged from this difficult episode with renewed conviction that her childlessness is indeed a natural choice, a choice consonant with her self-concept as a career-focused individual with a wide array of interests awaiting her pursuit. She also reaffirmed her dedication to animals as a critical life purpose, one that she was loath to compromise by undertaking life with children. Brett and Roberta. Brett and Roberta have been married for 13 years. They met through a mutual friend in the public library system where they both worked in the children's departments at separate libraries. Brett is 50 years old and this is his second marriage; Roberta is 40 years old and this is her first marriage. Brett has no children from his first marriage. Roberta has one sister with children, and Brett has three siblings, two of which have children. Each has undertaken numerous career changes. Most recently they sold a restaurant that they operated for five years. Their work histories included working in the public library system, and Brett's twenty year history as an itinerant school teacher. Both have undergraduate degrees. 100 At the time of our interviews, Brett and Roberta were taking a career break and contemplating options for their next vocation, their upcoming tour of Canada, and their subsequent geographic relocation from the Vancouver area to Vancouver Island. The pair expressed an optimistic and open attitude towards the unknowns of their future. They have undertaken a lifestyle that features a minimalist approach to meeting their needs in part by eschewing the hectic lifestyle and materialism of urban culture. In recent years, the couple have been caretakers to Brett's parents. Their other activities include watching educational television, outdoor exercise, reading and volunteer work. Brett and Roberta place high value on being socially and politically aware, and they enjoy the intellectual stimulation of one another's critical thinking. Three cats live and travel with them. Roberta was keenly aware from her teen years that society expected women to marry and have children. She rejected the social norm that marriage and motherhood were synonymous, and was careful to express her childless choice to Brett while they were dating. Brett entered the marriage open to either reproductive choice. He explained a lifelong propensity to resist pressure to conform to common social norms, and he readily dismissed such norms as relevant guiding principles for living his life. He accepted Roberta's preference for childlessness without hesitation, a gesture of respect and support for her need to explore life without the constraints and obligations of motherhood. Neither Roberta or Brett have revisited their childless choice. They did not report any instances of wondering about the path of parenthood they did not take in their married life. Rather, they focus their energies and attention on their next travel and vocational adventures. Brett and Roberta appear to move through life as a tightly knit team, setting joint goals to pursue life projects that provide them with new challenges and opportunities to grow. They live with an easy spontaneity and confidence in their decisions, willing to live without conventional assurances of steady employment or long-term residency in any one home or community. 101 Ernst and Doll. Ernst, age 50, and Doll, age 44, have enjoyed their childless marriage for 23 years. Five years ago the pair had the frightening experience of Ernst's heart attack, an event which was not unexpected in light of his family history of coronary problems. He has since made a strong recovery and has resumed full involvement in work and leisure activities. Ernst is a heavy duty mechanic in the aviation industry, and Doll has worked for over 20 years as a nurse's aide in the same continuing care facility. Ernst departed early from an undergraduate program in political science to pursue a trade in which he had natural skills, and Doll is currently upgrading her education in order to pursue post-secondary training in another career outside of health care. Ernst has also been active in the union at his workplace and previously enjoyed a position in which he helped to identify problems and resolve conflicts. He and Doll also expressed a "social conscience" that directs their attention to environmental issues, health care issues, and other matters of broad social impact. Both Ernst and Doll described their marriage as a companionship and ongoing dialogue in which they actively share and explore ideas. Pursuing matters of intellectual interest and stimulation is a fundamental value in their marriage. They have maintained contact with nieces and nephews and Doll in particular expressed much delight in her relationship with these children. The pair are long-term residents of a seaside community south of Vancouver. Ernst entered his marriage with the assumption that he would likely have children, an assumption consistent with his experience of a large nuclear and extended family. From his parents' union Ernst has five siblings, all of whom have children and from his mother's second marriage, he has two half-siblings. Doll was ambivalent about motherhood in her early twenties when she married Ernst. She admitted that she had never felt "broody" and was not particularly drawn to children. She is from a medium-size family of three siblings, only one of whom has children. Doll grew up with virtually no experience of an extended family. Ernst and Doll's childless choice evolved over several years during which they occasionally visited the subject of 102 parenthood and each time postponed a final decision. Doll also harboured concerns about Ernst's probable short lifespan because of his family history of heart problems. She was reluctant to undertake the commitment to parenthood only to find herself a widow raising children on her own. At the age of 40 Ernst finalized the childless choice on behalf of the marriage. He feared that a change of heart to pursue parenthood by either himself or Doll would constitute too great a burden for his future. He thus announced his intention to follow through on his previous suggestions that he would have a vasectomy. Doll did not resist his decision. Ernst admitted that he occasionally reflects on the forgone possibility of raising children and wonders how fatherhood would have shaped his life. Nonetheless, he denied any tendency to dwell on this life choice and to second guess whether it was the best one for him. Doll also firmly believed that the childless choice has best met her needs for a quiet and predictable lifestyle. Both Doll and Ernst are content to enjoy the close companionship of their marriage, and to pursue their intellectual and political interests. Neither of them expressed regrets for their childless choice. Gord and Buffy. Gord, age 40, and Buffy, age 43, were the youngest couple in this study. They have been married for eleven years and live in a comfortable subdivision in a desirable residential community thirty minutes from Vancouver. They share their home with a Great Dane that enjoys their loving attention and that Buffy considers their child. Buffy has pursued a dual career in health care administration and counselling and has graduate degrees in both fields. Gord has made a few career transitions in his life, and currently owns a practice as a denturist. This is Gord's first marriage and Buffy's second marriage. Her first marriage was a brief childless union while she was a student in her early twenties. Gord and Buffy are devoted to their nieces and nephews with whom they have ongoing contact that includes visits to their home as well as attending the children's events and activities. Rather than undertaking the continuous commitment of parenthood, this couple enjoys the benefits of being aunt and uncle: they have 103 meaningful relationships with children but still have the time and energy to spend on a range of adult interests and activities. Gord and Buffy admitted that they do not share many pastimes. Rather, they pursue their respective interests on their own time. Buffy has continued with graduate school and other professional development, and is very involved in equestrian sports. Gord is a sports enthusiast and musician. Such diversity of pursuits helps each to maintain a valued sense of independence within the marriage. Gord described his childlessness as the natural outcome of never having felt a desire or need to have children. He has four siblings of whom three have children. He does not envy them for all the accommodations and sacrifices they make in order to meet their children's needs. Gord also conceded that he lacks the energy to parent small children, and that he may have become resentful of the demands placed on him by children. In short, he more readily saw parenthood as a series of personal sacrifices and losses that could not be outweighed by the rewards of parenthood. Gord emphasized his personal commitment to live his life to the fullest, a commitment that includes involvement with his nieces and nephews and maintaining a healthy relationship with his wife. Gord perceives that the childless choice is the primary means of preserving his freedom to be and do as he wishes in the present. He is delighted that he need not wait for children to grow up until he can experience the freedom he now enjoys every day. Buffy's childless choice reflects her lifelong disinterest in children and absence of any self-image as a potential mother. Her childless choice contrasts with her sister's enjoyment of motherhood. Buffy noted that even as her girlfriends were having children she remained uninterested in their experiences of pregnancy and childbearing. Rather, she finds herself consistently drawn to animals as objects for her affection and caretaking. Buffy reported a brief shift in her conviction to remain childless after attending a friend's labour and delivery. The birth elicited some mixed feelings about her own rejection of motherhood. However, these feelings dissipated quickly without causing any dissonance about her childless choice. Buffy also 104 explained how her emotional reaction to a pregnancy scare further confirmed that she did not want to pursue motherhood, either by accident or intention. Buffy views her pets and horses as her children and indulges them with the same care and adoration she believes that a mother would offer her children. She also believes that her nurturing tendencies are fulfilled as a devoted aunt to her nieces and nephews. Josh and Anna. Josh, age 56, and Anna, age 53, have been married for 19 of the 22 years they have been together as a couple. This is the first marriage for each of them, and both expressed their appreciation that the marriage allows them ample independence and time to pursue their respective interests and pastimes. They tend not to spend a lot of time together in their daily lives. As a result, their annual summer travels have become an important means of compensating for their independent lifestyles throughout the balance of the year. Both Josh and Anna are of Jewish heritage. Although Josh is not a practicing Jew, Anna has maintained a stronger orientation to her faith and culture through ongoing contact with her family. Josh has two brothers, one of whom is childless and unmarried and one who co-parents a son with whom he does not live. Anna has three siblings, all of whom have children. Maintaining relationships with her nieces is a source of great pleasure in Anna's life. Josh and Anna are both long-term educators; Anna is a high school itinerant teacher, and Josh is a university instructor with a lengthy history of teaching high school. Both have graduate degrees in their fields. Anna denied ever having been interested in becoming a mother and suggested that motherhood "was never even part of my constitution." She could not recall having discussed the childless choice with Josh when they married. Rather, she assumed that because he failed to raise the issue he was similarly not predisposed to have children. Anna admitted that her childless choice was significantly influenced by her intense desire to avoid the responsibility and accountability to children's well-being. Through teaching and counselling teens in the school 105 system, she has found an enjoyable and rewarding alternate means of establishing relationships with children and of contributing to their development. Josh could not remember ever wanting or thinking about having children. He explained that the topic of parenthood never came up during their marriage, and he thus assumed that it was unimportant to them both. Josh suggested that if he had married a woman who insisted on pursuing family life with children he may have conceded to her wishes. However, he is still unsure whether he could have overridden his preferred choice that he credits with having provided him many rich opportunities to travel, to learn, and to enjoy time alone with himself and his interests. Josh also admitted that he had always feared having a seriously ill or disabled child, a situation that he believes would have rendered his life very difficult and unhappy. He also expressed his relief that his childless choice has spared him the trials and turmoil associated with parenthood. Nonetheless, Josh acknowledged that "it would be nice" to now have an adult child in his life with whom he could share interests and a friendly companionship. He and Anna both affirmed, however, that the childless choice has afforded them a life of freedom and opportunities that would have been significantly curtailed if they had opted to have children. Phil and Sharlene. Phil, age 62, and Sharlene, age 54, have been married for 32 years. Phil was a visitor to Canada from Australia when he first met Sharlene through a mutual acquaintance. Their relationship started without regard for tradition or social convention; Phil proposed to Sharlene during intermission at a movie on their first date. The two weathered a brief and secretive courtship during which Sharlene risked detection by her strict and very religious family. Her religious background prohibited her marriage to a non-church member, so she and Phil eloped to the U.S. after three months of clandestine dating. Phil had similarly abandoned his religious background a few years earlier, and he endeavoured to support Sharlene as she struggled to re-negotiate relationships with her mother and siblings. Sharlene comes from a family of several brothers and sisters, of whom only one sister did not have children for 106 unknown reasons. The family's religious faith compelled them all to have children with the belief that "children are a gift from God." Phil has a large family of siblings and half-siblings, all of whom have children. The couple have close relationships with Phil's brother's children who reside in their neighbourhood. Phil has spent his career as an aircraft instrument technician, and Sharlene is a long-term office employee at a local university. Sharlene reported that aside from baking, she does not have many hobbies. Rather, she spent many years typing theses for graduate students during her non-work hours, and volunteered with the cancer society for 13 years after she lost her sister to cancer. She explained that she has always supported Phil's hobbies and activities and is now helping him rebuild their kitchen. In contrast, Phil listed a plethora of activities, interests, and hobbies that he actively pursues (e.g., photography, sailing, model-railroading, and building projects around the house). Phil reported that he likes to be busy and that he "always has something on the go". Both Sharlene and Phil entered adulthood with the assumption that they would marry and become parents. This assumption was derived from their religious backgrounds and family expectations, as well as the prevalent pronatal discourse of the early seventies when they started their married life. Despite the strong social norm of parenthood at that time, Sharlene initiated their joint re-examination of the assumption that they ought to have children. Although Phil had not considered the alternative of childlessness, their discussions eventually distinguished their personal desires to eschew parenthood, from the pronatal expectations of society. After considerable effort to find a cooperative physician, Sharlene had a tubal ligation. Within a few years she also underwent a hysterectomy for health-related reasons. Sharlene reflected on the male domination of women's medicine at the time of her surgeries. She explained that she needed Phil's written consent not only to receive her sterilization procedure, but also for her hysterectomy. 107 Sharlene has chosen not to openly share with others that she is voluntarily childless. She exercises careful discretion when telling others of her childless choice because of her mother-in- law's hurtful comments following Sharlene's hysterectomy. Rather than expressing concern about Sharlene's health, Phil's mother declared her disappointment that Sharlene would not present her with grandchildren. More recently, Sharlene's aged mother made similarly hurtful comments about her daughter's childlessness despite her assumptions that health issues resulted in her daughter's infertility. Phil has never received particularly critical or judgmental comments about his childlessness. Rather, he is a vocal proponent of the childless choice, urging co-workers and his niece and nephews to carefully examine their life options without acquiescing to pronatal social and family expectations. Neither he or Sharlene regret their childless choice. They expressed relief that they preserved their quiet lifestyle by not having children. Instead, they have worked hard as a team to set and achieve mutual goals that have brought them much pleasure in life. Fred and Marceline. Fred and Marceline live in their custom-built home in a large city in the Lower Mainland. They have been married for 18 years and this is the first marriage for both of them. Marceline met Fred at a recreation centre when she was 19 years old. They married three years later after living together for one month. Marceline, age 40, comes from a Catholic family that frowned upon any pre-marital cohabitation. She has two siblings, both of whom have children. Fred, age 46, has four siblings; his two married siblings both have children while the other two are still unmarried. Marceline and Brad have each made a significant career change during their marriage, with Marceline leaving a government clerical job to attend university and become a kindergarten teacher. After she completed her teacher training, Fred left his career in construction and pursued a second degree to qualify as a high school teacher. The pair enjoy a "good life," in which they attend performances in the arts, go to the gym, care for their home, visit with friends, read, and travel during summer months. When time is available, they also do 108 volunteer work as drivers for Meals on Wheels. Fred introduced Marceline to hiking which has now become another favorite shared pastime. Both spouses enjoy children, but Marceline jokes that "we like the kind that go home." Their contact with children is limited to the classroom where they believe they each make meaningful contributions to children's lives without having to undertake the full-time commitment to their own children. Fred always anticipated that he would marry and have children, traditional life choices he expected would yield a rewarding adulthood. When he married Marceline, he supported her return to university while expecting that upon her graduation they would start a family. Approximately thirteen years into the marriage and after Marceline had begun teaching, she approached Fred and informed him that she no longer wished to have a family. Her days filled with children had convinced her that she did not want or need further involvement with children in her homelife. Fred was taken aback by her change of heart, and by Marceline's conviction that a childless future was much preferred over motherhood. Fred undertook a period of re- examination of his life priorities and values, and he challenged his long-held assumption that parenthood was a natural part of marriage. After some reflection he began to ennumerate the benefits of the childless choice and could see a positive future as a childless married man. Although Fred occasionally wonders what his life with children may have been like, he has committed himself to being a significant adult presence in his students' lives and derives a strong sense of parental satisfaction from those relationships. Marceline described how her orientation shifted away from motherhood during the six years she spent at university. She became aware that having children was less her personal ideal than it was the general social expectation that women should marry and have children. While in university she was also conscious of delaying motherhood by setting career goals that extended into her late thirties. She finally admitted to herself that these goals were excuses to avoid motherhood, "little hints" that motherhood was not in her heart. When she announced her 109 childless preference to Fred, she was confident that he would stay in the marriage. Marceline has felt no regrets about declining parenthood. Kindergarten teaching has become her great passion, and it is well-balanced by her satisfying lifestyle of adult interests and activities that she shares with Fred and her friends. Shadow and Elsie. Shadow and Elsie have been married for 26 years. Elsie, age 57, is an only child who was born and raised in England. Shadow, age 51, is from the Maritimes and is of Aboriginal and African-American heritage. He is the third eldest of eight siblings in a traditional family that upholds hard work and family life as core values of adulthood. Shadow was raised on a military base for most of his childhood and adolescence and he spoke fondly of this community of loving adults and families. He lived for a brief period of time with another family on the base while in his mid-teens. This is Elsie's second marriage and Shadow's first. The couple met at the outset of graduate school and married eight months later. Both Shadow and Elsie are highly trained and experienced social workers who have dedicated their professional lives to supporting children and families. They have relocated several times across Canada to accommodate one another's career needs. Currently they live in a family-oriented neighbourhood in a desirable community thirty minutes from Vancouver. During her first marriage Elsie encountered some fertility problems. As that relationship neared its end she terminated early efforts to conceive using medical support. She was single for three years before meeting and marrying Shadow. After they married, she and Shadow undertook fertility consultations with tests revealing that Elsie had fertility problems that were fully treatable. Rather than immediately proceeding with any medical intervention, Elsie and Shadow took the opportunity to step back and examine their desires to have children. Shadow had already commenced this process in his late teens when he became cognizant that his options for adult living need not include the traditional choices of marriage and family. Elsie had never before fully explored her desire to become a mother. As a couple and as individuals, they embarked on 110 an intense period of reflection to determine a reproductive choice with which both could live comfortably. Shadow explained that he had never felt a yearning to have his own children. He recalled how his early experiences of caretaking his younger siblings had provided him a first-hand preview of the responsibilities and obligations of parenthood. The caring adults outside of his family had also modeled different ways of being in children's lives that he believed were equal to, if not more significant than what could be achieved through parenthood. Shadow was deeply influenced by these adults and he ultimately made the childless choice. By forgoing fatherhood, he has embraced a myriad of alternate roles which situate him continuously in children's and parents' lives. Elsie finalized her childless choice in consultation with Shadow, as well as through an inner dialogue during which she questioned what constituted a "natural process" of her becoming a mother. She also reminded herself that although she thoroughly enjoys children, she has never felt compelled to become a mother. Elsie asked herself questions about her felt sense of purpose in life and whether motherhood was part of, or contrary to that purpose. She factored into her decision some candid assessments of her own energy limitations and her resistance to the dependency needs of young children. Eventually Elsie acknowledged that any interest in having children was outweighed by her sense that motherhood was not the role in which she could make the most significant contribution to the world around her. Her intense work with children and families in distress has since confirmed that motherhood would have limited her ability to most fully realize her potential in both work and mothering. The childless choice has freed her up to allocate her energy to the difficult work that infuses her life with passion and purpose. The Lived Experience of Voluntary Childlessness for Women and Men The participants' stories were explored in an existential reflection guided by four fundamental life world existentials: lived body, lived relation, lived space, and lived time (van I l l Manen, 1990,1997). These existentials encompass all dimensions of human experience in the life world. Regardless of individual differences in how human beings make meaning of their lives, they will always exist in embodied form, in time, in space, and in relationships with others. Hence these four existentials help to illuminate the breadth and depth with which humans experience themselves and the world around them. The four existentials cannot be construed as distinct aspects of human experience. Rather, they "form an intricate unity" (van Manen, p. 105,1990), that is, they cohere into a gestalt of meaning that comprises the life world. Taken separately during the research process, they help to reveal the nature of human experience in each realm of existence. The existentials thus provided the framework for questioning, reflecting, writing, and guiding my interpretive processes of the participants' stories. Analysis of the participants' accounts of daily living yielded descriptive themes across the existentials (see Table 1). From the rich array of participants' lived experiences across all existentials, I also derived two meta-themes or constructs that are interwoven throughout the participants' accounts of their life world. These constructs appear to comprise the meaning-structures that underpin the participants' lived experience of voluntary childlessness. Lived Body: Women The existential of lived body refers to the fact that humans are always bodily in the world. In our physical selves we both greet and interact with the world and experience it through all our sensory capacities. Hence the body informs us of the world as it carries us through time and space. The descriptive themes emerging in this existential for the women were those of maternal body and embodied time. 112 Table 1 Summary of Descriptive Themes of Four Lived Existentials Existential Themes Lived Body Maternal body: women's awareness & appreciation of biological potential, defining 'natural' Embodied time: women's fertility & aging, reflections on changes over lifespan Lived Relation Animals: nurturance, source of pleasure Children: social parenthood, enjoying children, control over contact Friendships: variety, flexibility, challenges for women with mothering peers Missing Collective: indifference to difference, no social identity conferred, no marginalization, rare 'othering' Lived Space Physical Home: refuge, projects & learning Worldly: travel, humanity, culture, relationship Natural: men & the environment Psychological Inner: reserve of energy, passion for learning, realization of self Self-conscious: social contact with parents, heightened awareness of difference Lived Time Time is now: living fully in moment Spontaneous time: pursue desires/goals on personal agenda My time: imperative of privacy, opportunities for non- spousal relationships & independent interests Unknowable time: unlived life of parenthood, future 113 Maternal body: The descriptive theme of maternal body highlights the women's lifelong awareness and appreciation of their bodies' reproductive potential. However, all of them confirmed that declining pregnancy and childbirth was a "natural" choice. The childless choice engaged many of these women in reflections of whether and how pregnancy and a lifetime of motherhood might "fit" with their self concept, their life goals, and their relationship. Simply put, they wondered if utilizing their "natural" biological potential to create life was indeed a "natural" inclination upon which they should act. Angel struggled to discern whether she felt a true biological urge to mother, or if she was passing through a "phase" of self-doubt precipitated by some other life dissatisfaction. For a period of time she lost track of her intuitive inner voice that had initially guided her to the childless choice. Marceline described a similar period during which she felt burdened and obligated to reproduce - to use her body in the manner nature may have intended. Declining to fulfill her reproductive potential elicited feelings of guilt and self-consciousness despite her growing awareness that motherhood was not right for her. In Marceline's words, she felt: .. .guilty in the sense of, there are people, like I have worked with people that say they tried umpteen times to have a baby.. .miscarriage, miscarriage, doesn't work. I am thinking I could possibly have these ovaries that are working and I should be using them to have a baby. Perhaps Elsie's story best exemplifies the search for what felt right and natural as a reproductive choice. When she was informed of the medical measures required to conceive, she carefully re-examined her desire to become a mother. A "natural" reproductive choice implied alignment of her bodily self with her psychological self: ... so having labeled what was wrong and so forth there were answers to the medical situation, but the process that we had to go through in terms of becoming pregnant really caused us to stop and take stock. Is this something we really want? And it came more from an orientation of "this doesn't feel natural". This doesn't feel the right way to do things because it was ~ to me it felt so very artificial. And when it raised issues like that for me, it then caused me on another level to — probably more on a spiritual level to think, okay, is this what is meant to be for me as a person, as a woman, as an individual in my lifetime? 114 Most of these women have engaged in heartfelt struggles to attend to and understand the incongruence between the potential of their maternal bodies and their felt psychological resistance to motherhood. Al l have sought consonance between body, mind, and soul; all expressed satisfaction and contentment with their choice. Ultimately, the childless choice meant respectfully declining their bodily potential and trusting the inner voice that had quietly urged them to forgo motherhood. Having declared the limits of their maternal bodies several of the women explained how they subsequently needed to reinforce those limits. Buffy was challenged to reconsider her definition of maternity and to elaborate further on the boundaries of her maternal body. While seriously ill a friend made a surprising request of her: .. .they asked me if I would donate eggs so that they could have a child. And I was very flattered by that and I thought about it a long time, but I declined. And I said, you know, if I wanted a child of mine to be out there, I would have it myself. But I think I would feel too uncomfortable with somebody else raising a child maybe differently from the way I would want to. Boundaries for these women have also been tested when their bodily selves have overridden intellectual decisions to remain non-mothers. For Angel, an unplanned pregnancy with her now-husband Mynh was terminated as the logical means of preserving the integrity of her original childless choice. For Buffy, a pregnancy scare affirmed her absolute rejection of maternity: .. .maybe about three years ago at one point I thought I was pregnant and I was hysterically upset because it totally reinforced for me it is nothing I ever want. I was really upset and it turned out I wasn't, so great, we were so happy. But we also sat down and talked, and agreed "that really confirms we really don't want it." It wouldn't be anything I would choose to do. Elsie, Sharlene, and Roberta sought input from medical sources to help clarify their maternal options and to impose permanent physical limitations on their fertility. Elsie talked extensively with fertility experts to learn the limits and possibilities of her maternal body. 115 Eventually she chose to abstain from all fertility interventions and made her childless choice. Sharlene declared her absolute rejection of motherhood and in so doing defied the conventional medical discourse for women in the seventies. Despite the resistive patriarchy of obstetrical care she demanded and obtained a tubal legation, although "it was something I did keep quiet." Roberta sought a hysterectomy to finalize her childless choice: .. .this (having children) just wasn't something we were going to do regardless of whether I had the surgery or not. To varying degrees most of these women have envisioned their mothering selves during pregnancy and childbirth. What would her transformed body look and feel like? How would she deal with childbirth? What of her bodily self after birth - what changes might she expect? Answers to these questions helped each woman to better discern what was a "natural" way of being in her body and why she might wish to reject her maternal potential. Anna was highly respectful of her body's potential to create life. She, like Buffy, spoke of the emotional and miraculous experience of actual childbirth, the astonishing power of women's bodies to bear children. Both women were quick to yield the fantasy of pregnancy and childbirth, however, to the reality of parenthood. Anna commented on the temporary nature of "this miracle, to have a baby inside you" and the ultimate meaning of this bodily experience. She explained how in recent years she has envisioned herself as a mother. However, she has repeatedly reminded herself that the miracle of pregnancy is short-term only and that the obligations or responsibilities of motherhood last for a lifetime: .. .you are with that child for the rest of your life and you have to be responsible for that child. And I have never wanted to be responsible for other people's idiosyncrasies. Buffy also reflected on the seductive appeal of pregnancy and childbirth but quickly reminded herself of the reality of parenthood. She recalled her experience of attending her girlfriend's labour and delivery: I just thought it was an emotional experience being at the hospital when the baby was born. It is a really powerful thing to be there when the baby actually comes out and you 116 experience just that miraculous kind of bonding between the parents. And I thought that was really exciting, but that faded very quickly. Because the reality of children being a lot of work... Other women were relieved to avoid the potential physical costs of pregnancy. Angel envisioned the depression, stretch marks, and other negative changes to her bodily self. Even as she reflected on her body's potential for pregnancy, Anna again reminded herself of unwanted physical transformations experienced with pregnancy. Indeed, the beauty of creating life was countered by images of unattractive physical changes that she assumed would occur: I think, "oh, wow." I do think, "wow, what an experience that must be and to be able to give birth to this sort of miracle." I mean, this miracle about having a child. So that lasts for about two seconds (laughing). And then I think "oh, just think. My mother gained about a million pounds. After she had her first child she became very big." And that's not where I wanted to go... I miss the fact that, gee, it would be interesting to have that experience, but I don't think it is worth having a child to have that experience. Roberta wryly explained how the physical changes of pregnancy were also sufficiently off-putting to affirm her long-standing psychological rejection of motherhood. Before her hysterectomy she imagined herself pregnant and realized that: .. .it wasn't something I wanted to do, I'd imagine it, I'd think about it and then I decided "No, I didn't want to be big as a house and I didn't want to wear that kind of clothing" (laughter) and ... the changes that they go through". Roberta also alluded to how her pregnant body could alter how she occupied social space in the world. She recalled being offended by her coworkers' public discussions of the intimate details of their pregnancies and related physical problems. She was loathe to think that if pregnant she might impose such details on others. For other women in the study, images of pregnancy and childbirth felt foreign and invoked some distress. Marceline admitted that she could not "imagine something growing inside of me like that." Sharlene also struggled to envision childbirth and felt only anxiety. She recalled the counselling sessions she attended in her early twenties when, among other issues of concern, she expressed doubts about becoming a mother: 117 I think that was one of the things I thought about when I was talking to the psychiatrist about it (choosing childlessness), because I was concerned about some of those things.. .1 kind of wondered how I would deal with the actual child birth. I couldn't imagine myself going through it. The women of this study all chose to decline the life-giving potential offered by their maternal bodies. They carefully defined what maternity meant to them, and set boundaries on their fertility that was consistent with a felt sense of what was "natural" or right for them. Al l were keenly aware that options existed for them outside the culturally sanctioned view that maternity equals womanhood. Each listened carefully to an inner voice that encouraged nonmotherhood yet maintained respect and awe for the biological potential to mother. By making the childless choice, each woman conscientiously defined her physical self to exclude motherhood and was rewarded with the sense of personal power that emanates from choice. Buffy celebrated her capacity to exercise choice and to thus control options for her bodily self. Her words resonate with the gratitude for choice expressed by all of the other women participants. I am lucky I made that choice, and I think not everybody is fortunate enough to make that.. .And I understand that not everybody has a choice to get birth control pills, or maybe not everybody has the choice to have an abortion, or have the choice at all and how lucky I am that I am educated and living in a situation that I have that choice. In summary, the women in this study reported that determining what felt "natural" as a reproductive choice was a critical component of their childless choice. Some described a tacit knowing that they would never utilize their body's reproductive potential. Other women in the study described their conscious and careful decision-making process that sought congruence between physical and psychological reactions to thoughts of pregnancy and motherhood. Having made the childless choice, some of the women participants were challenged to further define the limits of their maternal body. Medical intervention was one option, as was simply declining all alternate means of becoming a mother—surrogate, foster, or adoptive. Almost all of the women 118 had envisioned themselves as pregnant and retained a keen awareness of their unused biological potential to reproduce. Embodied time. The descriptive theme of embodied time reflected the women's awareness of changes in their fertility and reproductive cycles across the lifespan. Several of the women participants reflected on the intimate relationship between time and body, the inseparable duo typically referred to as aging. For years the changes rendered by time on fertility and potential motherhood went unnoticed and seemed inconsequential to these women. Having made the childless choice, their reproductive capacity became a moot point to which these women paid little attention. After 40, though, some women experienced a renewed awareness of their bodily selves, a sense that they were undergoing change according to a discrete timetable of biological deadlines. Elsie explained how she was cued by age to revisit her childless choice: .. .when I started getting like into my mid 40s, I got to a time where I thought, "okay, it is now or never (laughing) biologically", right, and I just kind of kept going, "well, no"... (This decision has been through the mill a few times). Oh, it has. It has. I may not have verbalized it to Shadow each time, but internally I would review, "does it still feel right?" The now-or-never question also arose for Angel, 46, who in her early forties experienced a "dramatic change of heart" when she suddenly felt compelled to re-examine her childless choice. By then she had achieved many career and financial goals. She found herself contemplating her age and responded to the "seed planted" by her psychologist that she ought to reconsider her childless choice: It does seem to have been -1 don't know if it is fair to say a fleeting, or a passing short period of time where I was reconsidering matters. I suspect it was prompted by the fact that I realized that at the age that I was, it was now or never, and I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't making a decision that I was going to regret down the road. As I listened to the women's stories I heard many of them describe how passing time urged them to review the childless choice. However, I heard no words that reflected a biological 119 urge to mother, a compulsion that emanated from a deeply visceral place of need and desire to bear children. Although some of the women in the study supposed that a biological "urge" might motivate other women to become mothers, not one of them confirmed personal experience with such a yearning to bear children. Rather, these women seemed to be aware of the connection between time and their bodily selves - a connection that was motivated by cognitive concerns. The biological clock was clearly distinguishable from a biological urge. Doll mused that although she has never "felt broody," there may be a biological underpinning for motherhood that has affected other women. She referred in particular to her co-workers, all of whom are mothers and who have frequently encouraged her to start a family: I think perhaps there might be some physiological impulse nature gives females, I don't know, I am supposing there might be, to reproduce, I don't know... well, that's my opinion, I think there is, but I have never really had it. Doll also reflected on changes to her body over time. Looking back she commented on the inconvenience and discomfort of a lifetime of periods that will end within a few years. Nonetheless, she anticipated a sense of loss when menopause finally arrives. After years of choice, her body will take control and make the final decision of non-motherhood for her. Doll described some subtle physical changes associated with her declining fertility and speculated on her reactions to future changes: .. .being 44 I notice there is a change in my cycle, for example, and I think that it is funny, you know, your period every month is like a curse, it is called a curse, right. (Yes) Well, there is reasons for that obviously, and it is funny, I think ~ I was talking to my mom about it, I think that when my period does cease, when it completely stops, I think in some ways I might feel a loss of not being able to have the option of reproducing, but then maybe that's just a loss of power or something, I don't know. Anna, also reflected on her maturing body, noting that the physical and temporal dimensions of her existence have always been steps ahead of her psychological self. She has never felt herself to be of the emotional maturity expected for her age; her felt potential to mother has thus always lagged behind her body's ideal years for conception and childrearing. 120 Having felt "out-of-sync" between body and mind for many years, Anna reflected aloud on whether or not she had reached a point when she wanted or felt ready for motherhood: Well, maybe around this time, you know. Now that I can't. Or not that I can't, I still can, but probably — I don't know what those eggs are like now. Not that I would want to. I think "oh, God, 53 and having a teenager at the age of 70,1 don't think so!" Despite the loss of reproductive potential conferred upon the women by aging, the women relished the preservation of their youthful bodily selves. Most of the women in this study continue to enjoy a physically active lifestyle of fitness activity and conscientious self-care. Buffy noticed that mothering women younger than her look older. Marceline observed how time has been kinder to both her and her husband as her parenting peers age with the added stresses and fatigue of parenthood. She isdelighted with her physical fitness and attractiveness as she compares her appearance to others who are parents. At a party she noticed her mothering peers: I haven't seen these girls in a long time. I said to Fred, this might sound horrible, but I leaned over to Fred and said, "we look good". Like these people are a bit older, like we look good for 40 and 46 — I swear dumpy, you know, let themselves go and ... we look good, I think. Both Buffy and Marceline feel spared the additional costs of motherhood over time - the physical wearing symbolic of motherhood worry and fatigue. In conclusion, several women in this study reported that the passage of time has often elicited thoughts about their reproductive ability. Around the age of forty these women revisited their childless choice, realizing that time alone would soon usurp any desire to naturally bear children. The now-or-never question also reflected these women's concerns that they might have future regrets for their childless choice. None of the women participants disclosed any semblance of an emotional or physical urge to bear a child. Lived Body: Men The men's stories and reflections revealed some thoughts and feelings about their bodily experiences of life without children. Their insights and comments did not, however, seem to 121 cohere into identifiable themes of physical experiences of childlessness. Rather, most of the men alluded to a unique bodily aspect of their childlessness, each of which contributed to a broad but somewhat indistinct picture of how these men are embodied by their childless choice. There was only one common thread connected to a physical dimension of childlessness that ran through the stories of these eight men - their unanimous dismissal of the significance of leaving a genetic legacy through children. In other words, not one of these men believed that carrying on the family line was a meaningful life quest. Al l of the men shrugged off this physical implication of childlessness by referring to their parenting siblings who had met this familial obligation. Many of them also reflected on the absolute finiteness of human life and the futility of trying to preserve either a living memory of themselves, or a genetic heritage for the family. Mynh, Ernst, and Phil reflected that they had never felt a physical compulsion to become fathers, thus refuting the pronatal cultural assumption that having children followed from a natural or instinctual drive to reproduce. Mynh explained that he had ".. .never felt a biological need" to have children. Ernst similarly reflected that he ".. .didn't feel driven to reproduce" and that contrary to social expectations of normal and natural adult life choices, "childlessness is natural, it's the way I've always been." On the other hand, Phil reflected on his childless choice in light of his belief that there is indeed a human instinct to parent. He conveyed the strain of overriding two sources of powerful pressure to become a father: the pronatal expectations of his church and family history, and his own assumption that instinct ought to override personal choice. Phil reflected that the latter belief"... was a tough one to go against, too." His words suggested a niggling and disquieting tension between the contentment of living his "natural" choice to remain childless, while being at odds with his personal and cultural belief systems. Several of the men in this study made passing comments about their belief that their fatigue and energy levels would have been heavily taxed by parenthood. Gord frankly admitted his limitations for expending energy beyond his current lifestyle demands: "I don't have the 122 energy for little kids, it would be just going, going, going, going, I'd be far too burned out." Mynh and Gord expressed their appreciation that dispensing or utilizing their energy was always at their discretion rather than in continuous response to the demands of parenthood. Mynh reported that he is doubtless less fatigued than parents, and that as a childless man ".. .you get way more sleep" with the added lifestyle luxury that".. .when I'm tired I can just go to sleep." Ernst also explained that he sleeps as necessary to account for his health-related needs, an option that he could not exercise as freely if there were children in his home:".. .if I'm tired when I wake up in the morning I can roll over and just go back to sleep and a lot of times I have time to take a walk before work or whatever. The interaction between time and the human body, that is, aging, was raised by a couple of the men in this study. Mynh, 43, explained that his childlessness has allowed him to retain a degree of youthfulness and vitality with which he feels himself to be perpetually only 21 years old. Josh, 56, elaborated on the interplay between his age and his awareness of being childless. He reflected on a period when, at approximately fifty he realized that: "I'm definitely not going to have kids you know, maybe when I was 30 or 35 or even 40 maybe there was the possibility that I might have." Josh further described how this realization seemed to elicit a heightened self- consciousness about his childlessness that lasted for a year or two and then dissipated over time: I mean I don't think it was something I consciously thought about a lot, but ya, occasionally when someone would ask me or I would see - ya actually you know when I used to go for walks maybe 5 or 6 years ago and I'd see a lot of couples with kids I think I was much, I think it was a little bit, it affected me a little bit more than now. I don't think about it as much anymore. There were just two men among the eight who touched briefly on their experience of controlling their fertility. Shadow recalled how as a young man, he was aware that parenthood ought to be a conscious choice and he thus always took precautions to guard against a pregnancy: .. .it was very much a conscious decision in terms of any sexual activity, be very careful not to have kids you know and then there's very much a conscious decision. And it 123 wasn't a decision for my partner, it was my decision, and so it wasn't you know "it's your responsibility", no - it's my responsibility. Ernst described how he decided to get a vasectomy as a definitive means of finalizing his childless choice. Although he and Doll had often discussed and each time reaffirmed their preference for childlessness, he found himself in his forties increasingly uncomfortable that their decision was not yet unequivocal. He described his growing apprehension and quick decision for final physical intervention that would assure him peace of mind for the future: I think I was about 45 and I almost did that unilaterally because she had started to talk a little bit more about maybe having them, I was already 45 and Doll started kicking the idea around about maybe having them, and I just sort of said no way I'm not ready for this and I went and got a vasectomy, I told you know she knew I was going and she didn't fight me on it or anything like that. To summarize, the men in this study offerred glimpses into their physical or bodily experiences of the childless choice. Some of the men described how childlessness is a "natural" way of being, while a few others reported divergent experiences of aging and childlessness. There was also mention of how, as childless men, they could control energy expenditure and time for sleep. In some cases, the men also referred to measures of fertility control. Across these infrequent and disparate references to their bodily selves as childless men, I was unable to discern any prevalent themes or any emphasis on particular aspects of their physical experience of being childless. Perhaps the men in this study did not regard any such experiences in daily living as important and thus did not report them. Regardless, the men's accounts of their childlessness did not invoke the lived body existential as a prominent dimension of their daily lived experience. Comparisons of Lived Body: Women and Men The men and women in this study presented very different perceptions of their bodily selves in relation to their childless choice. The men offerred few reflections within the domain of this existential, suggesting that they do not harbour a strong physical awareness of their 124 childlessness. In contrast, the women's lived experiences of their bodily selves as non-mothers were clearly represented in the prevalent themes of Maternal Body and Embodied Time. Their stories suggested that the natural rhythms of their fertility cycles provide them a lifetime of reminders that they did not utilize their biological capacity for childbearing. Many of the women also reflected on the aging process, with some commenting that they enjoy a continued sense of youthfulness attributable to their non-mothering status. The women's greater awareness of their bodily selves as non-mothers appears to be an extension of the cultural discourse which equates a woman's worth and maturity with fulfillment of her biological "destiny" to mother (Daniluk, 1999; Gergen, 1990). The pronatal discourse of our culture does not impose similar expectations of men to use their physical capacity to procreate. Hence, it is perhaps not surprising that the men in this study did not spontaneously elaborate on any physical sensibilities deriving from their lived experience of non-fatherhood. Lived Relation: Women The existential of lived relation reflects the fundamental attribute of humans, that is, we are relational beings. In relationships we enter into dialogues that allow us to move beyond ourselves into communion with others. That is, through relationships we become part of the greater collective of humanity. According to van Manen (1990), such connections may also imply a spiritual dimension, where we seek to find purpose and meaning in ways that transcend the immediacy of our individual lived experiences. The women's accounts of their daily lives without children yielded descriptive themes of relationships with animals, children, friends, as well as their felt sense of belonging in the minority collective of non-parents in our pronatalist society. Animals. This relational theme depicts the women's love and appreciation of the joy and pleasure animals provided them in the course of daily living. 125 Almost all the women in this study described the special places they have created in their daily life worlds for animals. Some - like Buffy, Doll, and Elsie - had only one pet at the time of our interviews but have a long history of pet ownership from which they have always derived great satisfaction and joy. Angel epitomized the passion these women have for their animals; she has opened her home to a veritable menagerie of animals - an aviary filled with birds, and a lone dog among a dozen cats. She reflected aloud that "I cannot imagine living in a home without a lot of animals around." Doll said that she grew up with animals ".. .so it is just second nature to have a cat around." Elsie and her husband have had dogs for at least half of their married life, and she described their integral role in her daily life: We had two Wheatons before, and the last one we put down a year ago Christmas. And then we were without one until August. And the first three months were really hard, because I was so used to having a dog around as companionship. Some of the women in this study talked about how caring for their animals and spending time with them is a profoundly important part of daily living. Both Buffy and Angel described their devotion to animals and the intense commitment they feel towards their animals. Angel explained her caretaking of animals as a labour of love and admitted that "I do spend a great deal of time tending after the animals. It is not a chore - it is a hobby or a love." Several of the women acknowledged that they feel a maternal bond of love and responsibility for their animals. Buffy admitted how naturally she nurtures her animals in comparison to her lack of potential to nurture children: .. .and it is not that I don't like to look after things because I have always had lots of pets growing up.. .our pets are our family and we treat them like that. We put them almost first and we are very conscious about that. But it is just kids themselves that don't interest me. Angel admitted a similar connection to her animal "babies" that was in direct contrast to her lack of attraction to infants. Doll also referred to her animals as her "pseudo-children" whom she loves and whose lives are inextricably intertwined with her own. She reflected on her sadness 126 after losing her cats to accidents and raccoons over the years and added that "we have one left. And a lot of angst that we will lose her too. She's our child." Perhaps Buffy's description of how she provides for her Great Dane is the best example of how animals have become like child- substitutes to some of these women. She described the pleasure she takes in providing for her dog by sending him to daycare: Our doggy daycare is like sending him to nursery school because our doggie day care lady, who is wonderful and a friend of ours, she leaves us pictures of him playing, or she leaves a little report on what he did and it is cute. So you feel in a sense that that's like your kid.. .And you take them to obedience and you get a certificate of completion. And sometimes I say there is his little kindergarten certificate. And it is cute. The same care taken by parents to anticipate and meet a child's needs also appears to be reflected in the attitudes and actions of these women towards their pets. Buffy and Elsie describe how they consciously schedule their time away from home to avoid leaving their animals alone for lengthy periods. Buffy gave the example of how she and her husband take 'shifts' for caretaking their dog: We have made this plan so one of us will be home at night, not both of us out so that we don't leave him alone if he has been in the house all day and not again at night. Elsie admitted that pet ownership entails a significant commitment that at times approaches infringement on her freedom. Although she observed that "I don't personify dogs as you sometimes see others do," Elsie described her felt obligations to meet her dog's needs in a manner resembling a mother's mindfulness of her child's needs and the responsibility to meet those needs: I went through a time - do I really want a dog again? Because dogs tie you down too, in that we will be careful. Like on the days I work full time we are careful not to go out that evening and leave her by herself. Even though I have a dog walker coming in to take her out because she's still a puppy. But we are also conscious of timing. When we go out to diner, we make sure about the hours and so forth. Or if we go out shopping during the day, we don't leave her too long, kind of thing. So that ties you down. Roberta echoed Elsie's reflections on the obligations of pet ownership, and expressed appreciation for her cats because their needs do not demand the same level of ongoing 127 commitment of her time and energy. During our interview three cats meandered through the living room as Roberta wondered if". . . that's one of the reasons why we have cats is because they are so independent." Marceline expressed her satisfaction with goldfish, but glibly admitted that even they require too much care for her liking. Marceline emphasized throughout her interview the imperative of retaining her freedom to come and go at whim, and to spontaneously respond to opportunities in the moment. She feels that even pets would impose too many limitations on her freedom. Aside from Marceline and Anna, however, the majority of women in this study described their loving, attentive, and committed relationships with their animals. For a few of the women, pet ownership was described as especially significant for very personal reasons. These women described extraordinary relationships with animals, profound connections that bring them meaning and fulfillment in daily life. Buffy reflected on her discovery that being around horses was an essential and unique means of experiencing a precious part of her self. She told the story of how she finished graduate school only to feel an emerging dissatisfaction with her life, a nagging sense that she was missing something. She found that missing piece of herself in equestrian sports. Without her horses, she confessed a possible desire for children to fill that empty inner space: I went to Maryland to graduate school and lived there for six years. I was married and came back, and I always felt like there was something missing in my life and I just didn't know what it was. But I always felt like there was something missing. And one year he got me riding lessons because I had had horse in Nova Scotia, and the moment I got back to riding that's what connected for me. That's what I think completed everything that I was feeling that was missing; it was riding and horses and the connection with them. So for me if I didn't have that, maybe I would feel a need to have children. Because I would feel like there was that empty part. But that's what riding is for me, I think. Angel described how her passion for animals also gifts her with a clear sense of purpose and meaning in life. Her dedication to animal welfare constitutes her life project, which she fulfills in daily living by opening her home to stray and sickly animals and in more formal 128 contributions of her time and money to the Humane Society. Angel said her long-term goal is to purchase a property where an animal shelter can be located to serve her community. She also intends to leave substantial proceeds of her estate to animal welfare agencies. In her words, Angel explained: I take great comfort and pride in knowing that I've saved X number of animals' lives, which is what the humane society does. So that is the most important thing to me in this world. In summary, the relationships between these women and their animals bespeak more than a casual appreciation of the bond between humans and their pets. The women revealed relationships with their animals in which nurturing feelings were solicited and enacted across many facets of animal care. For some of the women, their intense devotion to animals enriches their lives with comfort, pleasure, and meaning. Not unlike the many ways in which motherhood can endow a woman with identity and life purpose, these women related a comparable sense of profound valuing and meaning inherent in their relationships with animals. Children. This descriptive theme emerged from the women's stories of the myriad ways in which children have entered into and enrich their daily lives. The women confirmed that they enacted "maternal urges" through their relationships with children, but insisted on controlling their contact with children in order to enjoy their time together. Contrary to the popular social assumption that childfree women do not like children, the women in this study expressed great compassion, interest, delight, and gratitude for their relationships with the children in their lives. Most have embraced opportunities for contact with children and have conscientiously contributed to children's lives. Some of the women have enjoyed children and teens through their work, while others have lovingly incorporated extended family members-nieces and nephews-into their lives and homes. As I listened to the women reflect on the significance of the children in their life worlds, I became keenly aware that although they rejected motherhood as a viable role for themselves in 129 adulthood, they have most certainly not rejected children. Instead, it appears that they have created a rich array of alternate roles through which they express their caring and commitment to children. Doll was among several of the women who declared that she "loves being an Aunt." She told the story of how she arranged to take her nephew on a trip to Australia when he was eighteen. Although this gesture was at face value a marvelous gift to him, Doll's story revealed another role that emerged for her in this particular experience of being an Aunt. She became his teacher and guide, inviting him to join her in an adult adventure of discovery and worldliness. Doll was rewarded with feelings of empowerment, the reward of opening up opportunities and perspectives on the world he would otherwise not have been exposed to: We took Danny, my 19 year old nephew to Australia last year. I just wanted to because financially they are not doing that well and I think at that age a kid needs to know there is a world out there. Horizons have to be broadened. So as an aunt it was a wonderful feeling to do this. And, you know, to see the world through his eyes, right, where it is somewhere I have gone since I was a baby. But to him it was all brand new, all the big beaches and the weird accents and the funny money, right. So, yeah, so I love being an aunt. And again that's power, you know, I was able to do that. I guess it is power, yeah. You are able to bestow this gift, this trip, if you want to look at it that way. Sharlene similarly described how she developed a close relationship with her niece. She spoke of her niece with sensitivity and empathy, and explained how this girl had struggled in adolescence to bridge differences between her mother's Asian culture and the Western culture in which the family lived. Sharlene responded to her niece's difficulties by providing the girl a safe place for personal conversations and emotional support. Sharlene described herself in terms resembling a surrogate parent and older sister. In this capacity she was able to quietly offer her niece advice, comfort, and guidance: Well, another thing is that Phil's brother's kids -1 think we are closer to them than their parents are. The oldest girl in particular, she's 29, and she came here from Thailand when she was two years old. And regardless of what Rob's brother said, and we have talked to him about this, he treats her differently than the other two. He says he doesn't, but he does. And so we -1 think more so me -1 am particularly close to her. I am like her older sister - her mom never went to school in Canada, never dated. There are a lot of things she doesn't really understand to this day, even though she has been here a longtime, and so she tends to talk to me more about some things. 130 Sharlene confirmed that she is likely a role model of childlessness for her niece and nephews. She referred to her own experience of religious and family pressures to become a mother, and how she would assuredly offer her niece and nephews support if they chose to decline parenthood-a gift of support that no one offered her when she made the childless choice: And I think this role model thing, for both Phil and I, if the kids ever said something to us about having children we are so close to them that we would say "Are you sure that's what you want to do? You know, don't have them because you think it is expected of you. Don't have them because his mom is after you, or your mom is after you." So we would do that with them. On the other hand, Anna expected that her nieces will all become mothers and that her childlessness will not be especially relevant to them. Nonetheless she expressed delight that her nieces see her as an interesting and vital woman whose life path is markedly different than what they anticipate their own to be. Anna has nurtured her relationships with her nieces and nephews who regard her as a unique and interesting woman: My niece, who comes from a very religious family, says "I don't know anybody like you." And she's always asking me about my travels and doing different things: "what are you doing?" and "Isn't that cool?!" Like Doll, Anna, and Sharlene, Buffy also reported being a dedicated aunt. She described the joy her nieces and nephews bring her and her commitment to actively participate in their lives: I mean, we love our nieces and nephews, we really do. And it is great that we can share that with them. And I have always gone to like their dance recitals and cello concerts and hockey games and talent shows. We do tons of stuff like that and we enjoy being the aunt and uncle, that's it. Not all of the women in this study reported having the option to access children through family. Some, like Elsie, have enjoyed children through their work. As a clinical social worker and family therapist for families in distress, Elsie has dedicated herself to the welfare of children. As she described her extraordinary work with parents of terminally ill children, Elsie concurred that she has often functioned in the capacity of "co-parent." As we talked, she added two roles 131 that seemed to more fully reveal the intensity with which she has always devoted herself to helping families and children: ".. .there is a bit of a saviour in me there, and a bit of a rescuer." Anna is another woman in this study whose work has assured her of contact with children, in addition to her close relationships with nieces and nephews. Her career as an itinerant high school teacher has elicited in her an outpouring of dedication to children similar to that expressed by Elsie. Anna explained that her position allows her to remain in her students' lives throughout adolescence and beyond. She informed me that"... alot of the students that I saw twenty, thirty years ago are still in contact with me." Her long-term involvement as their teacher, and her mandate to address her students' unique learning and social needs also assures her of ongoing contact with parents. Hence the roles of mentor, counselor, and educator seemed to emerge in Anna's descriptions of her teaching. As I came to appreciate these women's relationships with children in work and home life, my list of roles depicting their commitments to children grew steadily: model, mentor, guide, counselor, teacher, confidante, and rescuer - the roles or functions so readily associated with mothering in our culture. Indeed, several of the women in this study spontaneously described how their roles in children's lives satisfied what might be described as their maternal urges to nurture children. Elsie was one of the women who expressed the conviction that her work has utilized her capacity to nurture and allowed her to express her mothering self: I explored this, doing this work, what was it giving me? What needs was it meeting in me that I was finding so gratifying? And part of it was the mothering piece, and having those needs met. I think I talked to Shadow about that at one point in time, just in terms of my observations that that's probably what kept me at it for such a long period of time, in what could be perceived from the outside as being just totally overwhelming work. But my experience of it was the complete opposite - it was very energizing for me. But I am sure it is all those mothering kinds of things because many of the emotions I am sure, are parallel in terms of what I experienced. Anna similarly confirmed that from the onset of her teaching career she realized how much she enjoyed teens. Paradoxically, she reflected that the genuine pleasure she felt while working with 132 students ".. .made me more convinced that I didn't want to have children" because of the ongoing commitment and obligations of parenthood. Nonetheless, she is convinced that one of the inherent rewards of teaching has been the ease with which it has satisfied her "maternal urges." Anna even suggested that an alternate career in which she had no contact with children may have compelled her to reconsider her childless choice, despite her long-held indifference to motherhood. She reflected on her history of teaching in relation to her childless choice: And so I ended up having whatever nurturing part of me being met there, being with kids. And I really liked teenagers, and I liked being with them. And they were fun. And that part of me, that need was met.. .But probably if I didn't work in education I may have thought about it (motherhood). There may have been some other decision or debate around it, I don't know what would have resulted. Angel does not have opportunities through her work or family to be with children. She explained how instead she has created a special place in her heart for her neighbors' children whom she described as "little angels." She explained how contact with them satisfies her occasional maternal desires: .. .what the nice thing is, Suzy is always next door if I feel like I need a dose of having the companionship of a lovely little girl, then she's always willing to go with me to do whatever. She took a shining to me when we moved in. The women participants described many contacts with children through which they have continuously derived much personal gratification and joy. These women also emphasized, however, the caveat or condition that underpins their loving commitment to children. They alluded to the imperative of choice, or control over the terms and conditions of contact with children. This element of choice assured them the pleasure of being with children. Doll summarized her delight in being an aunt largely because ".. .you can spoil them and give them back. They come into your life when you want them." Buffy elaborated on her willingness to indulge her nieces and nephews knowing that her devotion to their pleasure was short-term only. She need not concern herself with the everyday obligations of parenthood. Just as Anna spoke of 133 her teaching role, Buffy's words captured how her role of aunt is not just fulfilling and fun, but is also a means of affirming her childless choice: Well, I don't have my own children, so I am childless. But I think we have a family of children there when we want them, you know, which is however much we want them.. .since they were little we have had sleepovers with them where they come for weekends by themselves. This is the fun part of being an aunt, we take them to the grocery store even from when they were two or three and we buy them any treats they wanted. And then we get whatever movies they wanted, as long as they were good, but they were little, and we all get in the bed and order pizza and pop and a million treats until they couldn't eat anymore and watch movies. And in the morning we take them out to lunch to McDonald's and they go home. And then we turn to each other and say, "we are never having kids, never." But it is fun. And we enjoy them that way. Angel was also forthright in her admission that she has personal limits of tolerance for engaging with children. Being free to disengage from contact with them when she reaches those limits is the condition that allows her to appreciate their time together: "I enjoy for a limited period of time, being around children, but only for a limited period of time. I couldn't stand working in a day care or something like that". Angel went on to describe the satisfying balance she has struck between having enjoyable contact with children without undertaking the lifelong commitment of parenthood. She was especially aware of the sacrifices she would have had to make if she were a mother - scaling back her professional life, withdrawing money and time commitments to the humane society, restricting travel, and living in a more modest home. Angel expressed in the following words her belief that she has found this ideal balance:".. .it seems to me that we are in the right place by having casual contact with the neighbour's children, and then not having the full-time commitment ourselves". For some of the women in this study, their desire to control their contact with children seemed to reflect their reluctance to assume the burdens of worry inherent in parenthood. For example, Doll spoke of the emotional fatigue of parenthood: 134 I don't have the worry that would come with children.. .the dreadful maternal worry which apparently lasts throughout the child's life even though the kid is 50, the 90 year old still worries, I know that. So I don't have that worry, which is real, very real. Anna expressed similar relief from the trials and tribulations of parenthood. In her role as an itinerant teacher she makes a significant contribution to children's lives but she is free to withdraw from her role at the end of her workday. Unlike mothers, she need not carry a fear of failure or anxiety that she has contributed to her students' problems or "idiosyncrasies." Anna jokingly explained how she thinks mothers are often seen as liable for their children's problems: ... and I have never wanted to be responsible for other people's idiosyncrasies. I thought to myself, when we all grow up to be about 30, and whose fault is it for some of these things, our idiosyncrasies? It is our mother! Through teaching, Anna can "keep things at a distance" and thus avoid the "... responsibilities or... the expectations that you have to perform a certain way" as a mother. Anna stays close to children in her roles of aunt and teacher, but retains the control to negotiate the terms of her commitment to children: "children are not part of my whole being, I mean, they are still at a distance. I can walk away you know." These women thus revealed their resistance to fully devoting their lives to children, an option that is obviously unavailable to mothers. Indeed, the women's stories of time with children illuminated their core ideal of personal freedom - in this case the freedom to choose when, under what terms, and how much time they shared their daily lives with children. In summary, the women of this study described the numerous ways in which they have created space in their lives for children. Their stories of caring and compassion for children clearly indicates that although they have rejected parenthood, they have not rejected children. Most of the women shared how their relationships with children provide them great pleasure and fulfillment. For some, their connections to children are an essential means of creating meaning and purpose in life. Anna's reflections on her teaching highlights how these women's lives are enhanced by their relationships to children: 135 That's (teaching) the meaningful part. Because when people say, "well, my life wouldn't be meaningful without children." My life has been meaningful and has been with children, but it just wasn't me giving birth to them or bringing them up, but I feel I had a lot of influence on them. The women in this study have however, declared a common need to control the terms and conditions of their contact with children. This is the caveat that protects their sense of personal freedom, while allowing them to fully enjoy their relationships with children. Friendships. The women in this study described an array of friendships with childless adults and parents, outside their primary bond of love and companionship with their husbands. This descriptive theme also reflects some of the women's experiences of losing intimacy and shared interests in their relationships with mothering peers. The women participants unanimously proclaimed their husbands as their best friends. Outside of their marital bond of companionship, half of the women explained that they had very few friends whom they saw consistently. For the women who said they actively pursue friendships, they denied that their childlessness influences them to seek out similarly childless women or couples for socializing. However, these women did spend time in our interviews reflecting on the challenges inherent in relationships with mothering peers. Marceline expressed her frustration about girlfriends who impose their children on limited socializing time with her. She gave the scenario of visiting a friend after her workday as a kindergarten teacher, and her unspoken retort to her friend's invitation to engage with her son: God, I come from a classroom, "okay, put the kids to bed. I came to visit you, not your children." And especially being a teacher,".. .show Marceline what you can do." "I don't care if he can do his bloody ABC's, I am here as your friend not his teacher," you know what I mean? Yeah, I think it always boils down to the fact that I don't have anything in common with those people. Buffy provided a similar example of how two different friends managed the impact of their motherhood on their friendships with her: .. .they are different because one of my other best friends had a child a year and a half ago and I do lots of stuff with her. But the thing is she knows me so well that when we are 136 going to do things, she doesn't ever bring her kid with her. Or she will say, okay, if we do that on that day, Jacob has to come, is that okay? And I say, yeah. But she knows that's not what I enjoy doing. And she has other friends that are new mothers and they do a lot of kid things together. And then with me, she just doesn't ever ask, she just assumes I am not going to want to and we do things together that aren't related to kids. And maybe that's her away time from him too.. .Whereas my other friend is always saying, I am not trying to make you feel guilty, but you haven't seen my kids in a long time. Anna also reflected on the challenge of acquiring the rare commodity of private time in friendships with mothers who are "always busy doing stuff with their children. She presumed that if she had her own children she would spend much more time with mothering peers because they would share interests, time, and activities through their children. Although she said she has not actively sought out friends who are childless, her small circle of friends has evolved to include only minimal contact with parents: ... a lot of the times our friends with children, everything is centred around the child, and so it is really difficult to really get together with friends because they have got to drive their kids here, they have to do this. If we had children, then we share it, you know, we will have them come over and share this. You do things more in common. Several of the women described the diversity of friendships they have cultivated as a way of compensating for the limitations of friendships with mothers. Anna mentioned that she and her husband have retained friendships with other couples who ".. .are different in their own way" and are less likely to focus on child-related priorities. Buffy thrives on friendships in her circle of equestrian friends where the shared passion for horses overrides any other differences in maternal status. Similarly, Marceline's friendships are predominantly with others who do not have children, not because she has abandoned mothering peers but simply because they are rarely available and she feels she has little in common with them: .. .our friends tend to be older, their kids are grown or they don't have kids. Or they are starting to get their grandkids. And I have - I have friends that are younger and who just got married and I know as soon as they have a baby it all changes. Despite their flexibility in creating and maintaining a variety of friendships, I sensed from some of the women's stories their feelings of disappointment and resignation that for very 137 practical reasons, their friendships with mothers were unable to meet their emotional needs and to support their interests. Indeed, several of the women implied that the emotional tone and quality of their friendships changed significantly when friends became mothers. Marceline's comments above conveyed her assumption that friendships change when family life begins. Roberta elaborated on such changes when she discussed the subtle loss of intimacy she feels in friendships with mothers. She described the disconnection and space that opens between them as their daily lives diverge in terms of priorities and interests, and there are fewer opportunities to reconnect with shared experiences: I can think of a couple of friends that I think it would, we would be closer if we had the same life, more similar life experiences, more similar life style. I think it would be, and it's probably on my side that the thinking is -1 can't connect because there's this kid running around or that they're so focused on this person I can't have a discussion with them. We can't have a chat because this is going on at the same time so in a way it's isolating.. .you have a different life experience from theirs and you connect with them on some level but not the whole picture. I don't ever think you can get the whole picture because you're slightly different. In efforts to preserve the friendship bond with mothering friends, some of the participants reflected on how they assert boundaries on "mother talk." For example, Marceline explained how she politely tries to change the subject when caught-up in such exchanges with her few mothering peers. However, she admitted that her unspoken experience of these conversations was less gracious: If you have a baby and you phone me, I will listen about your baby for five minutes, I will give you ten, but I don't want to hear about your baby, how he poohed and what he did for an hour. That doesn't interest me, that's so far removed, like that doesn't interest me. Buffy talked about being similarly assertive with mothering friends. She explained that she has made it very clear to them that she wishes to spend time with them, and that they ought not to expect her keen interest in their children. She described her forthright response to a mothering friend who was pressuring Buffy to visit her child:"... I said '.. .do you know what, if I want to see them I will be over there' (laughing)." 138 Two of the women in this study reflected on the importance of friends for their capacity to partly fulfill a missing sense of family. Elsie highly values all her friends regardless of their parenthood status. She explained how their bonds of friendship are flexible enough to welcome children: It (parenthood status) is just not a part of the friendship, or if we do things together, they will bring their kids along, or we will go to their place and do things with them as a family. It just doesn't make any difference for spending time with friends because our families are both distant. Sharlene also described a sense of family that she and Phil cultivated for a lengthy time in their friendships with his co-workers. She offerred to Phil's work-mates the warmth and acceptance of a mothering figure. In the following description of that pseudo-family, Sharlene explained how her childless choice gave her the opportunity to offer herself to friends in a unique way: There was a time with Rob's company where we were more of a family than we are now. There were some social occasions and people really cared about other people. More recently there haven't been many social functions so there hasn't really been a chance to be close. But one of the guys said to me "I am glad that you didn't have any children because we are benefiting ~ like we have sort of become your children and you are so good to us and you care about us." And I know Phil is sort of a father figure at work, although he probably wouldn't say that, but they do, they go to him for advice and things like that. And so — but this one person in particular said "we benefit from you not having children." In summary, the women in this study described a variety of friendship patterns, ranging from very few close friends to an array of connections distributed across activities and groups. Some of the women described the challenges inherent in bridging fundamental differences of lifestyle and interests with their mothering friends. Those friendships were vulnerable to loss of intimacy and reciprocal interest, and they required careful maintenance of boundaries. In some cases, friendships also provided the women with a sense of family not otherwise available to them. The missing collective. This descriptive theme explores the women's experiences of living in a minority group without strong relationships with other similarly childless adults. 139 Occasional experiences of "othering" augment this theme, but are diminished by the women's strong expressions of belonging in mainstream culture. What is it like for the childless women in this study to be living as a minority among the majority of adults in our culture who have chosen to become parents? The women participants shared an array of stories that depicted their varied experiences and different levels of awareness of their minority status as voluntarily childless women in our pronatal culture. At the level of day-to-day living all of the women confirmed that they are generally unaware of their childless state. Without a direct inquiry or particularly salient reminder, these women do not reflect on their childlessness as it might affect how they 'fit' into mainstream society. Indeed, all the women said they live conventional lifestyles with jobs and relationships that are entirely within the mainstream of our culture. And most have had extensive contact with children through either work or family. Elsie confirmed in a lighthearted way that: "I never thought of it (childlessness) as being in the minority. Only when someone says it to me, then "Oh, yes, it is, isn't it? Yeah." Doll concurred with Elsie in her statement that: "I don't really think about it. It is just a lifestyle, isn't it? I mean, it is just life." Marceline credits her work as a kindergarten teacher for offsetting any conscious awareness of being among a minority group of women. When I asked her if she felt her childlessness relegated her to the margins of mainstream adult living, she answered: No. I would say no, because I have contact with children. I often wonder but I would never know - if I wasn't a teacher would I feel differently? But I honestly don't think I would. The majority of these women thus affirmed that they feel very much part of mainstream adult living as they go about their daily routines. Nonetheless, I heard in their stories a quiet awareness that they do not belong to a recognizable, larger collective of childless women. Unlike mothers, whose role identity and social place are readily conferred in our pronatal society, the women participants did not refer to any such group to which they had a subjective sense of 140 belonging by virtue of their maternal status. Anna commented on the visibility of non-parents in society. She admitted that she quickly notices other childless adults as separate and distinct from the larger collective of parents: ".. .when I see people that don't have children — I mean, I think it is unusual, you know." Doll's comments extended Anna's observations on the rarity of encountering other childless women in the course of her daily life. When I shared with Doll some of the comments made by other women in the study that echoed her lived experiences, she told me that hearing affirmations of her own experience was ".. .unusual. It's unusual for me. Because I don't know many people with no children." Sharlene reflected on her minority status of childlessness and expressed her wish ".. .that a lot of other people would choose the same." Marceline joked about the difference between referring to her non-motherhood as 'childless' versus 'childfree' and decided that:".. .'childfree' sounds even better. That sounds like a good life. That one sounds more like we get more people on our team if you use 'childfree'". Marceline spoke again in jest about how her childlessness renders her unique in mainstream culture. She used her participation in this study to highlight how she is generally unaware of her childlessness but at times becomes more conscious that her childless choice affords her no sense of group affiliation: .. .when I read the advertisement, "oh, I can finally do one of these research things" and I just squeaked in by a month! "Oh, I can do it, Fred, because it is all me!" Oh, do you have erection problems? Do you have psoriasis? Do you get up to pee at night? "I can do this one Fred. Oh, I guess I am childless," like I have never said I'm childless. Some of the participants were able to describe their social position as childless women in relation to the majority of parenting adults. Marceline spontaneously offerred the metaphor of a continuum of groups to which adults belong in our society: Sometimes I think I am sort of in that "in-between" category. I am in-between. I am not in the marriage with the kid and I am not the single person. We are sort of the in-between ones. I don't want to call it for lack of a better word "the odd ball" who is the one that is single that could snatch the husband or the wife! - as society sees somebody. Whereas I am in-between. At the high end of it is the people with the kids. 141 Roberta suggested that society still fails to understand the childless choice as a viable life choice. As a result, she believes there are no "pigeon holes" in which to insert childless adults, no labels to explain their difference even as they live in mainstream society. She also emphasized that there are no public models of non-motherhood that would help assure all childfree women the esteem afforded mothers: They don't have an image of a woman, there isn't a woman out there who is childless that's big. There isn't a Margaret Thatcher, there isn't a princess or a queen. Roberta was the only woman in this study who firmly believed that she and other childless women are marginalized by our pronatal society. She spoke with intense and moving conviction about the tension and isolation she has experienced in the workplace and in some friendships because of the pervasive pronatal belief system in our culture. Roberta could not envision a solution to the social conundrum of being childless by choice. On the one hand she acknowledged that she is a member of a small but noncohesive group of childless individuals who are active, contributing members in adult mainstream society. On the other hand, she feels the absence of a collective that might unify all childless adults. Without a sense of group identity conferred by their reproductive status, Roberta believes that childless women are displaced to the periphery of adult living: .. .they don't have a pigeon hole for us yet, there's not enough of us out there so we're not visible enough or we keep to ourselves too much. I know there's a group that's called No Kidding in the area and it's a social group for people who are childless. It's good to have the support but perhaps it's also not the right thing. You need to be amongst others to say this is a lifestyle choice as well. Doll reflected on her occasional sense of isolation that arises by virtue of her childless state, particularly among her mothering peers. She told me how she considered joining the No Kidding group as a means of socializing with other childfree adults. Her words conveyed unmet needs for belonging to some collective, in which she might share non-mothering interests. She has not yet found an easy way to connect with other non-parents: 142 I am probably a very uninteresting person to a lot of other women. Because there are a lot of other women who have children, and you go out with them and nine times out of ten they want to talk about their kids, right. So I don't go into those circles. I had thought of joining No Kidding but Ernst was dead set against it because he doesn't like organized groups.. .1 talked to Gerry Steinberg on the phone. He was quite a neat guy, but Ernst didn't want to do it so I thought "Fine." Sharlene has found a way to create a 'mini-collective' of childless women through her relationship with a workplace supervisor. She explained how she and her supervisor are well aware that their maternal status can "isolate" and "exclude" them from the preponderance of mothers in their office. The shared experience of this isolation has assured them a bond of good humour and healthy perspective when they cannot relate to mothering peers. Sharlene expressed her delight and appreciation of the camaraderie she has cultivated with this woman: .. .there is one woman at work who is single, but she has chosen to remain childless. And we don't do this very often but every once in a while we chuckle, "did you hear that?" And it is really nice because we kind of have this kinship the two of us. I understand her. She understands me. And I think in a way it is harder for her because she is a supervisor, so she has one employee who tends to take a lot of time off because she has a young child and he is always sick and everything, and it must be incredibly frustrating for her. She doesn't talk about it, but occasionally there will be a comment with a bunch of women and she will be there and later I say, "what did you think about that"? And we have a good laugh about it. Some of the women in the study offerred quite different perspectives on being in the minority of childless adults. They shrugged off their maternal status as inconsequential in determining how they situate themselves in the world of adult living. Buffy contended that the childless choice is becoming more common and she does not feel self-conscious of her non- mothering status: I have had a couple of good friends growing up that never want to have kids. And there is somebody I work with that you might want to get into your study that's a little older than me and same thing, they never want to have kids. And I am meeting more people that have chosen never to have kids. And then you meet people who say, you are smart, you know, that's a good thing to choose to not have kids. Other women in the study also said they do not view their childless status as a significant attribute. They reported merging easily into social groups in mainstream culture according to an 143 array of interests and other personal attributes. Buffy spoke of having a "huge social connection" through her equestrian sports, and her regular contact with the "dog people" in her neighborhood. Angel described how her time commitment to the humane society assured her of a social group. Anna mentioned that she was seeking volunteer work with a group that would welcome her artistic and counselling skills. Buffy and Elsie extended their reflections on "fitting in" to society by describing the personal values that diminish the relevance of their maternal status as a source of personal and group identity. Buffy emphasized the higher purpose of contribution and caring that she enacts in roles other than motherhood: Personally I think if you have something or somebody to love and look after, it is the same thing as having a child. I think I fit in differently than people who have nobody or nothing, and are alone and not contributing in a positive way. Because contributing in a positive way doesn't have to be to a human being. Elsie similarly said she views her life roles and connections to others in a way that allows her to transcend the immediacy of her childless choice and parenthood in general. She tends to see herself foremost as a human being among the grand collective of all persons in this world: "I perceive myself as being part of humanity as opposed to part of a family line." In summary, the childless women in this study reported actively participating in mainstream culture as members of a small and disparate group among the large majority of parenting adults. Most of them expressed awareness that there is no substantial collective of childless adults that could confer a strong sense of social identity, unlike the social collective comprised of parents. The women described their efforts, and in some cases the ease with which they negotiate their roles and places in our pronatal society in part by joining groups in which their non-parent status is irrelevant. The childless choice appears to vary in its power to influence each woman's sense of social position during the course of daily living in our pronatal culture. 144 Lived Relation: Men The men's accounts of daily living without children generated four descriptive relationship themes that echoed those discerned from the women's accounts: animals, children, friends, and the missing collective. Animals. This descriptive theme captured some of the men's sentiments for their animals and the inherent responsibilities of pet ownership. Few men in this study reported any special bond or sense of connection to animals in their daily lives. The men who mentioned their appreciation of pets did so only briefly without elaborating on the meaning or nature of their relationships with their animal(s). Mynh's poignant description of his deceased dog was the only detailed commentary reflecting a significant bond between these men and their pets. As he reflected on the personal imperative of avoiding the responsibilities incumbent in parenthood, Mynh made a comparison to his former experience of fulfilling the obligations of pet ownership. Despite the pain he felt when he lost his dog, Mynh admitted that he also welcomed the relief from those caretaking responsibilities: I loved that dog, I'll have tears in my eyes because I really, he was like my little kid and losing him, as painful as it was, was an enormous relief because I often thought when he was alive how can I bear to be without him? And when he died it was the freedom. It's terrible but the freedom of not having to care about him... Among the other pet owners in the study, Brett expressed his love for his cats and Shadow emphasized that "my dogs are my passion." Gord indicated that he thoroughly enjoyed their Great Dane, but did not provide a rich narrative comparable to his wife's stories about the parent- like bond she felt with their dog. With the exception of Mynh, the men who no longer have pets in their lives did not spontaneously refer to past experiences of pet ownership. In summary, the men pet owners in this study-Mynh, Brett, Ernst, Gord, and Shadow- did not elaborate on their emotional bonds to their animals, or to any paternal-like needs to nurture that were met by caring for pets. Instead, I was left to infer from their behaviours around their 145 animals during our interviews that these men do indeed care deeply for their animals. Gord talked to and wrestled with his dog during our conversation, and Shadow's loving tolerance for his puppy's intrusions on our conversation clearly reflected his love for his dog. Brett, too, spoke gently to his shy cats as he introduced them to me. Children. This descriptive theme portrays the multitude of contacts and interactions with children enjoyed by the men in this study. Through work, family, and community roles the men "give back" to children and are rewarded by the satisfaction of enriching children's lives. Many of the men in this study described relationships of commitment and caring with children. For example, Shadow has been a social worker and family therapist working for years with disturbed and disadvantaged children. Josh has dedicated his career to teaching adolescents, and although he is now no longer in the classroom, he continues to pass on his experience and support to student teachers. Fred worked with children in a recreation centre as an extra job before changing careers from construction to teaching high school where he thoroughly enjoys being part of teens' learning experiences. Prior to becoming a business owner, Brett was for many years an itinerant teacher, then a librarian in a children's department of a public library. Other men like Phil expressed their caring and interest in the well-being and happiness of nieces and nephews in his comment that "we're very happy with the way things have turned out for them." Shadow reflected on his efforts to develop a relationship with his niece, admitting that "it's like I parent her at times, although I treat her as an adult." Gord and Mynh reported enjoying the pure fun of indulging nieces and nephews. None of the men in the study expressed dislike or intolerance for children, nor have any chosen to live an exclusively adult-oriented lifestyle with minimal involvement in children's lives. Indeed, Mynh's simple reflection on his childless choice aptly summarized those of many other men in the study: "It's not that I dislike them I just have found no reason to have any." Other men explained that not having children at home was a perfect complement to their rich and 146 fulfilling contacts with children through work and family. For example, Fred explained how as a teacher he enjoys a balance between his child-centred job and his adult lifestyle during non-work hours: "I come to work everyday at the school and I'm involved with kids here a lot so I don't feel a need or to have my own kids to be involved with all the time". Josh reflected on the same satisfying balance between a childfree lifestyle and a career with children, and talked about how his role as teacher probably supported his childless choice: ".. .it may have been a deciding factor being a teacher and being with kids all day. There was, I didn't need kids at home, I forgot about that, that may have been a factor." For those men who had ongoing relationships with children, they reported that their interactions with children were delightful in large part because they were of finite duration. The opportunity to control the nature and extent of contact with children was the condition under which these men felt free to fully enjoy the children in their extended families, neighbourhoods, and workplace. Gord reflected on time spent with his nieces and nephews, and his appreciation that there is always an end to their visits:11.. .the nicest thing about having nephews and nieces is you get to give them back, you have them over, spoil them, have fun with them, play games, shoo - and send them home. It's ideal." Mynh enthusiastically described his contacts with his nephews and how time limitations on their visits works in everyone's best interests: .. .they're in Ontario so it's you know Christmas and birthday presents and visiting when I'm back there. So we're kind of the mysterious uncle and aunt you know, who come bearing presents. And they can't wait to see us and they're so excited, and it's like The Beatles showing up when we come by. And then we're gone and it's great because the kids never get tired of us and we don't get tired of them. They're good kids so they're not difficult. Several of the men told stories of careers and family bonds that highlighted their profound commitments to supporting and caring for children, over and above their roles as uncles. Some of the men explained that by eschewing parenthood they were freed up to enjoy children in ways and contexts unavailable to parents. Shadow explained with some humour the 147 ease and flexibility with which he can fulfill a role in children's lives simply because he is not a parent: "I have a totally different relationship and I can walk in and walk out. It gives me the freedom. I don't have to hit them to make them listen!" The men also told stories of their relationships with children in which they assumed a broad range of roles: teacher, guide, mentor, model, and coach. Shadow described how his childless choice helps him to fulfill a deeply meaningful set of values and ideals: I think for me it allows me to be more of a friend and a teacher and a guide. I'm part Native Indian and one of my totems is as a healer, a guide. And so I think that has helped me in terms of sharing with kids. And I tend to do that with kids.. .so there's a connection there, but it's not like I have to have my own to feel connected. Both Josh and Fred acknowledged that teaching is an alternate means of parenting children. Fred reflected on the "touching" opportunities his job affords him to cultivate an intimacy with children not dissimilar to that experienced in a parent-child bond: Every once and awhile you get a kid coming up to you and saying "oh can I talk to you about something?" And in this school especially, we have a lot of home stay kids. We have a lot of kids from overseas who come here and they're boarded out. So sometimes they don't have a close relationship with their home stay parents. So they'll come to you and they'll say like one kid came to me and said "I failed my English." He's an ESL student, right? So he's used to getting good marks so he was a little crushed that he wasn't at the top... Gord suggested that he too, was a teacher-albeit outside a classroom. He told the delightful story of taking his nephews on fishing trips and teaching them the basics of fishing and camping: "I feel like I should be a teacher to those guys because I've got years of experience and they have squat so I can be a good teacher for them." Some of the men also depicted themselves as coaches to children's interests, both creative and athletic. Fred expressed great satisfaction with coaching school children in physics clubs during his non-work hours. He explained that "it's a great way of getting a little closer to the kids.. .and a little more personal." Shadow also said that he missed coaching children's sports, an activity he undertook as one means of contributing to children's lives. 148 Shadow was the only man in this study who suggested that he modeled the childless choice to children. In the course of his work with children, teens, and families, he hoped that his life would be an example of alternate ways of being a man: .. .there are other models out there than just... a man that needs to be in a family with kids. It's alright to be a male without kids, you know. It's alright to want to not have children but to share what you know or what you learned with the less fortunate kids out there so they get an opportunity.... In summary, the men unanimously expressed their appreciation of the balance they had struck in meeting their many personal needs and priorities by forgoing fatherhood, yet still finding ways to enjoy and contribute to children's lives. These men have created alternate roles to fatherhood in which they can "enjoy them (children) in a different way." None of the men expressed a sense of "missing out" on contact with children because they declined to become fathers. Rather, they described rich contacts with children across a range of family, work, and other venues. Mynh echoed the reflections of the other men in his observation that his daily life is not deprived of children: .. .absolutely not. I have children influencing me all the time. We're this, their whole essence swirls around my life, it impacts it, maybe not as much as people with children, but it's still everywhere. Friendships. This descriptive theme elaborates on the flexibility and variety of friendships enjoyed by the men in this study. Al l the men in this study confirmed that their spouses were their closest friends and preferred companions in daily living. The men also reported that they did not deliberately seek out friendships with similarly childless men. They described a variety of friendships, both in numbers and activities shared in the time spent with friends. Mynh indicated that he maintains a "large network" of friends with and without children. He appreciates the flexibility in his time that allows him to visit a variety of friends whose availability for socializing is often more restricted than his. Brett and Ernst concurred with Mynh in comments that their childlessness 149 does not influence their choice of friends. Shadow expressed his abundant appreciation for all his friends and compared their significance in his life to not having children: "it's not important to have kids in the family as much as other people that I can share with." Josh described having friends "in both camps" of parents and non-parents, and said that his childless choice is seldom a topic of interest or conversation when he is among friends of either group: I've got friends, close friends in both camps. And you know, it's always, I don't know if supportive is the right word, it's not just something that comes up. But it certainly, I never feel any, from the ones that do have kids I certainly never feel like they're saying you should have had kids. So I never feel I'm being singled out or there's something wrong with me as a result of that. However, men like Gord and Phil agreed in their observations that their friendships have been impacted by friends' lack of time to share outside of their family commitments. Gord noted that his friendships with men who are parents tend to "shift.. .until the baby's a little older and then when they're a little older they have a little more time" to spend together. Ernst explained how his fathering friends must go to great lengths to join him for outings, and that he sees less of them than when they were childfree: I'd be going for a hike every weekend in the summer and you know some of them would say "well let me know when you're going hiking and I'll go with you." Well it was a major reorganization of their life to get to come out there on one hike in the summer. Phil reflected on this same tendency that his friendships can and have waxed and waned over the years according to friends' involvement in family life. He noted that his friendships have dwindled over the years: .. .that's an interesting thing. You lose a lot of friends when you don't have kids.. .You know you've got friends who end up, they've got kids and so you never see them again because they don't bring the kids here. They go visit other families where they have children, where the children can play. So you never see them you know.. .We don't have a lot of friends. Friends have come and gone over the years... Fred spoke of couple friends he enjoys with Marceline and also mentioned how parenting friends are less accessible than those who have grown children or have not yet had families: 150 .. .it's not that I go seeking out somebody who doesn't have kids so that you know they are free. Alot of the friends we have are maybe a little older than us and their kids are already grown up. So you know they don't have that responsibility of taking care of their kids now. On the other hand, some of them are just starting out and they are only just having kids. So ya, some of them you know have small babies right now. Although it does tend to, like we've had other friends that we sort of lost touch with who had kids and now their kids are getting in the 5, 6,10 year olds, and we don't see them as much because they are busy with their kids. Marceline is my best friend, right? So we spend a lot of time together and we don't have a lot of real close friends that are always with us. In summary, the men in this study did not describe changes in the quality or intimacy of their relationships with friends who became fathers. Rather, they indicated that their friendships incorporated many other interests beyond family life including sport, cars, and work. The men also did not report any efforts to manage boundaries in their friendships with fathering peers. The men referred only to changes in friendships that arose because of fathers' time commitments to family life. The men sometimes lost track of their fathering friends over the years, but most of them anticipated eventual renewal of those friendship bonds. Most of them expressed a philosophical and accepting attitude towards the time constraints imposed on their friendships with their fathering peers. Moreover, they indicated that they maintained a wide range of friends across which their needs for companionship could be readily met. The missing collective. This theme depicts men's awareness of living in a small collective of childfree adults in the mainstream culture of parenthood. None of these men felt peripheral to the larger collective of parents, and they easily negotiated the occasional moments in which their reproductive choice was more visible. The men in this study expressed a range of lived experiences and perceptions of their daily lives as members of the small minority of non-parents in our society. Although none of the men described an ongoing or recurring self-consciousness of their childless choice, almost all of them expressed their awareness that there were few childless adults among the larger collective of parents. Starting with their childhoods some of the men recalled their early impressions that childlessness was rare. Josh described how even as a child playing in his friend's neighbourhood 151 he noticed a couple that did not have children:"...1 remember at the time thinking 'that's really strange. How come they don't have kids?' That's when I was 10 or 11, 12 maybe." Shadow also recalled some childless couples on the military reserve during his childhood whose memory served to remind him that he, too, could pursue alternatives to the adult norm of parenthood. Mynh described the lasting positive impression made on him by his contact with a couple who had no children: .. .when I was a kid my uncle and aunt had, they still have friends who are probably around 60 now who are childless. And they're very interesting people and they're very young you know, among their age group. I can relate so well to them because they think young and have never been parental and gotten old... Only Gord admitted that prior to our interview he had never before considered himself in a minority group of adults. However, he concurred with the other men in the study that his minority status is a trivial descriptor of his life as a childless man. With humour and some sarcasm, he reflected on this new way of regarding his childless status in our strongly pronatal society: I never looked at it like that before. We're in a smaller group, I guess. We're the have- nots, I guess: we have not any children. Well what am I to say? Hurray!! (laughter).. .That's okay, I don't care. I don't want to be with, well, ya why would I want to be with the kid people? I don't have any kids, why would I want to be? I never looked at it as part of a group or club. So ya, I just chose, I didn't want to have kids so here I am, I have no kids, perfect. Although some men reported having a few social models for their childless choice, most of the men in the study were similar to Phil who confirmed he had made his childless choice without social support or validation. At the time of his choice in the early eighties, Phil acknowledged that: " I didn't know of any others, I didn't get this idea from anybody else." He recalled his inner struggle to reconcile his rejection of fatherhood with society's view that childlessness was abnormal: I think maybe what we did was definitely not the normal thing to do, I think that's what it really is. See you have to challenge your psyche as to whether you know whether you are out in left field on that... 152 Josh also referred to the notion of'normal' as the critical criteria for membership in the general social collective of adulthood. When I informed him of the growing numbers in the childless minority he expressed surprise and relief that perhaps this social trend would serve to validate his choice as less deviant: "Oh really? I don't know, I guess it makes me feel better knowing that there's 15 or 20 per cent of the population, that it's not something wrong with me, it's not just an aberration... ." Although Phil and Josh had queried their own 'normalcy' with respect to their childless choice, their voices were consonant with the other men in the study who denied that they felt detached or peripheral from mainstream culture in the course of their daily lives. Although they acknowledged their minority status in our pronatal culture, most concurred with Mynh's opinion that there was no longer any "stigma" associated with childlessness that would marginalize them from mainstream adult living. Mynh reported that social values have changed over the years to render childlessness a more accepted life choice: Since the '60's or '70's, where there was kind of traditional family units were kind of attached, people were living together all of a sudden. And then there was the acceptance recently of gay unions. And you know, not to have kids is like the least of, you know of those evils, probably. So no, I don't feel there's any stigma attached to it anymore. Fred confirmed Mynh's assumption in his statement that