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With every birthday through my late 30s and into my 40s there's been a growing relief. Each passing year brings fewer occasions to contend with the dreaded question: " Are you going to have kids? Why not!? No answer is the right answer because if this is a person who will ask such a profoundly personal question, it's a person who won't find any response — let alone my fumbled, "umm, because I don't want to," satisfactory.

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She's childfree by choice, and despite being confident in her decision, Jess is constantly undermined by society's inability to separate women and motherhood. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says that sometime in the next decade, the of couples without children will overtake the of couples with.

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It's a trend psychotherapist Zoe Krupka says is often wrongly labelled selfish, shallow and immature. ABC podcast Ladies, We Need To Talk is sharing the stories of women who choose to be childfree to help clear up some pretty shitty misconceptions. Dr Krupka defines childfree by choice as a woman making a conscious decision that she doesn't want to have her own children.

And rather than it being about cost, ruining your body or the fact having kids can be a rough gig, Dr Krupka says women are turned off by the ridiculous standards around motherhood. Research shows women's reasons for choosing not to have children are multifaceted and complex.

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Overpopulation and climate changea lacking maternal instinct, health concerns and a desire for independence and freedom are just a few. Caroline Epskamp is 48 and says she's never felt maternal. And her husband of 22 years didn't have a strong opinion either way. Melbourne writer Gemma, 40, says the choice not to be a parent was made with her mental health in mind. Whatever the reason, the research shows most women who choose free life are confident in their decision. Tory says she's been made to feel like if you don't use your womb, "you're not really a woman".

Caroline says there is "stunned silence" when correcting people who assume she has. Another woman Ladies, We Need to Talk spoke to put it as: "I would love it if people wouldn't see it as something you lack … [but rather] as something that embraces other things.

Voluntary childlessness

Women without kids don't just face judgement and scrutiny, they can be socially excluded too — and not just during the 'childbearing years'. That can be in small ways like being excluded from conversations, or bigger ways like not being invited to a kid's birthday party, explains Dr Krupka.

It continues throughout life, to the point women are expected to not just be mothers, but grandmothers too. I don't have any.

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End of conversation. Jess says the best thing about being childfree is "not having to think about anyone else in terms of choices that I make with my life being spontaneous. Being true to myself". No bottoms to wipe," says Caroline. But just how free that choice actually is, when much of society still expects women to choose to be mothers, is something worth considering.

The challenge to business leaders

ABC Everyday helps you navigate life's challenges and choices so you can stay on top of the things that matter to you. We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn and work.

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It's known to end conversations, leaving behind confused blank faces and dropped jaws. Especially when coming from a woman.

Maternal instinct: does it really exist?

That means more women are choosing not to have. Why women choose not to have children Dr Krupka defines childfree by choice as a woman making a conscious decision that she doesn't want to have her own children.

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Settling for average could be the key to happiness. Childfree women over 40 share why they have no regrets. More women are choosing not to have kids, and society can't cope.

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Deciding whether to have kids or not is hard, but there is a way forward. We ran a story on women who choose to be childfree. Your response was overwhelming. Choosing free life. This contraceptive was supposed to empower women, so why don't we use it? Mothers get abortions, too: Breaking down misconceptions around terminations.

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