Women without children: ‘I don’t want to be pitied – I’m really happy'

Denise Felkin, 51

I grew up in a single-parent family: my mother raised four girls on her own. I watched her struggle and from an early age I knew I didn’t want to do that. I’ve faced hostility for not having children – I’ve been called a barren freak and even had people tell me that I’ll never understand what love is until I have a child.

I wanted to challenge negative stereotypes: to show that women without children are not selfish, half-women, spinsters, crazy cat ladies or barren, so I conceived the idea of photographing as many as possible. I shot 50 women as they lay in the foetal position on their own duvet, so that the images conveyed the idea of the unborn child.

When I first started the project, my period was late, and before one photoshoot I had to do a pregnancy test. I experienced a massive sense of dread, followed by relief when the result was negative.

On that same day, three women came in. After I had finished photographing them, we viewed the images together. They sat, half-undressed, on the set mattress, sipping wine, laughing and swapping stories of not having children. It was a revelation, because I had never experienced so many people in the same room who shared a sense that it’s OK not to have kids.

It wasn’t all smiles, though. One of my best friends came for a shoot and totally broke down. I’ve known her for nearly 20 years and it’s the only time I’ve seen her cry. Through her and the many other grieving women I have met, I have learned to listen, tread carefully and be ultra-sensitive around people without children. Most importantly, I have learned to understand that not all their circumstances are the same.

Mel Kalay, 45

Portrait of Mel Kalay, women interviewed for feature about childfree women

Mel Kalay: ‘I never felt it was a priority’

I find it bizarre that having children is even a thing that’s expected. For me, there have always been much more important things to do. I never felt as if I wasn’t maternal, but I also never felt it was a priority. I just thought, if it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Also, my longest relationship was only three and a half years; in that time, we did discuss having children, but then, when I was 28, we got a dog and I was happy with that.

I’m in my 40s now, at that age when men sometimes think that, if you’re childless, you’re going to be desperate for a baby and they’re scared you’re just after them for their sperm. I’m quite looking forward to being a bit older and it not being an issue.

I think it’s healthy for women to know they have a choice, and it’s more than OK to choose not to have children. It opens up a different kind of life that can be filled with joy. Not having children should definitely be regarded as a healthy option – for the planet and society. I don’t want to be pitied: I’m really happy.

I hope I don’t wake up one day with regret. In the meantime, I will just keep on entertaining and taking care of my own inner child and loving life.

Ria Raphael, 35

Portrait of Ria Raphael, interviewed for feature about childfree women

Ria Raphael: ‘I’m conscious that my biological clock is ticking’

Four years ago, I was travelling when I discovered I was pregnant. It was unplanned and I wasn’t in a stable relationship. I didn’t want to bring a baby into the world knowing that their father didn’t want them, so nine weeks in, I had a termination. Although it just involved taking a pill to bring about a miscarriage, it was incredibly traumatic, and I was bedridden for 48 hours in utter agony. I regretted it so much, and I still do.

In 2017, back in the UK, it happened again. Although I wasn’t with the father, I knew I couldn’t go through what I had done before, so I decided to keep the baby.

I was getting used to the idea of being a mum when, at around 12 weeks, a scan revealed there was no heartbeat. The baby was gone. I left the hospital sobbing, and drank a bottle of vodka to numb the pain. Three days later I went back to give birth to my foetus. It was the most horrific experience of my life.

I still want to be a mum, but I’m conscious that my biological clock is ticking, so although I would love a Disney-style romance with the perfect man, I’m not averse to the idea of having a baby on my own, or with a friend.

Jolie Booth, 40

Portrait of Jolie Booth, interviewed for feature about childfree women

Jolie Booth: ‘Now, I’m doing all I ever wanted to’

When I was in my 20s I didn’t want children: I wanted to do other things – become an actress and be famous.

When I was 29, I met my husband and he really wanted kids. I was always up for adoption and wasn’t necessarily bothered about them being biologically ours, but then my hormones kicked in and I found myself really wanting a baby.

We started trying when I was 30, but after three years I realised something wasn’t right. Back when I was younger, I thought that if you weren’t meant to have children, you shouldn’t: but now my body wanted a baby, so we ended up having three cycles of IVF.

It really messed me up physically, and when we finished the third unsuccessful round, it was the most profound experience of my life. I realised that Plan A of becoming a successful actress hadn’t worked out and now, after six years of trying, Plan B of being a parent hadn’t either. I felt suicidal, like I had nothing left.

Until then, I had been using every atom in my body to crack getting pregnant. The moment we walked away from that unbelievably painful hunger, our lives began to flourish. Now, I’m doing all I ever wanted to – and I want to show people that it’s not the end of the world if you can’t have children.

Susanna Scouller, 50

Portrait of Susanna Scouller, interviewed for feature about childfree women

Susanna Scouller: ‘It’s a huge undertaking’

One thing I’ve noticed is that young girls and women often talk about “my children”, with certainty that they will bear a child one day. I’ve always found it fascinating that women make that assumption, because I never did – I’ve never felt an overwhelming desire to have them. I don’t have children because of a cascade of factors, rather than just one thing.

I was at boarding school from the age of 10 to 15, so during that time I didn’t have a traditional family life and got used to being alone. In my mid-20s I was diagnosed with mild MS. Having a child can make the condition worse, so that was always at the back of my mind, too. On top of that, I’m passionate about my career and I’ve never seen myself being a stay-at-home mum like my mother.

For me, there were two things missing: meeting the right partner at an age when I could have children, and a certainty that it was what I wanted to do. Unless you do have the right circumstances or a burning desire, it’s a huge undertaking for someone who isn’t sure.

Now, I do have what I want: a job that fulfils me, and a partner whom I love, and who was never desperate for children, either.

Mum’s Not The Word: Childless Childfree, by Denise Felkin, is published on 31 May by Earthworld at £19.99. To order a copy for £17.59, go to or call 0330 333 6846.

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