I was in high school when it hit me that I never wanted to have kids. Maybe that anti-maternal instinct would not seem so unusual now, or even back then in some other part of the country. But I grew up in Tennessee, where every young woman’s two-step program was supposed to include marriage and family. I was all in on the Prince Charming fantasy wedding component, but not the birthing part. I kept my errant feelings to myself — ecstatic when I stumbled across a book about women choosing not to have kids. I dogeared the pages, relieved that my feelings were validated.

I had great parents and I was lucky enough to have a mother I both loved and admired, and who was well loved by other kids. I should have wanted to embrace the role, but early on I told my mother I realized motherhood was a lifetime job and I didn’t want the job. And I didn’t change my mind later when a serious boyfriend told me not having kids was a deal breaker.

You might assume that I hate kids, but no, I enjoy other people’s kids. One of my friends forbade me from reading stories to his daughter because he said I was “raising the bar” by acting out all the characters and rereading the book as many times as she wanted. And I was always the first one volunteering to rock and coo over the newborn kids of my friends. Many of those kids grew up calling me Aunt Callie. So did my real twin niece and nephew, whom I have doted on all their lives.

I’m recalling my experiences because recently I’ve been stunned to see how much some people are invested in denigrating women who are childfree by choice. A choice that is none of their business. Chelsea Handler triggered a firestorm of misogynistic fury after a she created a satirical and raunchy sketch for Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show," which portrayed her exciting, carefree life as a single woman with no kids. Handler responded to the apoplectic Fox host Tucker Carlson with the question: “Are you really upset about how much freedom I have, or are you upset that you haven’t been able to take it away from me yet?” Handler’s clapback identifies this exchange for what it is: the latest outrage in the culture wars.

Childfree by choice, after all, includes choice as the operative word. A 2022 study of 1,500 Michigan adults found the percentage of young people deciding early — as I did — they don’t want kids has risen. What’s more, the study revealed that of the estimated one in five who said no to having kids, most don’t change their minds.

The news is full of incidents of neglected and abused children in the custody of people who should never have had them. So, I’m at a loss as to why women making a thoughtful choice not to have kids is threatening. But then again, I’m at also at a loss about why the folks pushing for every woman to give birth — no matter the circumstances — are generally the last ones to fight for resources to care for those children.

This Women’s History Month I’m saluting the women who continue to advocate for other women to make the reproductive decisions best for them: those who are wonderful mothers, and those who wisely chose not to be.