Jan's story (Aged 57)

We were married in 1962. I was 21, he was 24.

These were times when it was generally expected [that] women married young, rarely travelled before marriage and were not independent in financial matters. They did not own their own cars or houses and mostly lived at home with their parents until marriage. Rarely did women have university degrees, most left school as soon as they reached 15 and worked in what was perceived as 'female' positions. The assumption was that they would get married, produce children and stay at home to be a mother and so a tertiary education was not considered important unless one came from a family of professionals.

It was generally expected that after a few years of marriage, children would eventuate. Contraception was a hit and miss affair, with diaphragms, condoms and the rhythm method to name a few and many unplanned pregnancies occurred. The Pill was coming into vogue permitting some degree of choice in planning a family. Still it was unusual for a couple not to reproduce, and stranger still that they would choose not to have children.

I never felt pressure to have a family. My mother asked once when she was to be a grandmother and was given the reply 'never', so the subject was not discussed again. My sister has three kids so she did not miss out on grandkids.

After we had been married for about four years, I had one well-meaning lady who knew there were no children on the scene, pat me on the arm and whisper 'Never mind dear, you can always adopt'. She could not understand when I explained we had chosen not to have children. Her generation had little choice, although in the 1960s, it was still expected for couples to follow the 'norm'. Couples today do make decisions not to have children and up to a point, their decisions are more accepted than in the 1960s. What is wrong with women wanting to pursue a career or whatever and deciding children do not fit into the scheme of things?

We have watched many of our friends' marriages end in divorce. Others have had numerous hassles with their children, which have caused problems in their relationships with their partners. I do accept that they may have had a great deal of pleasure and love from their kids – sometimes.

I do not accept comments like: 'Who will look after you when you are old?'. I would never have had children for that purpose and do not believe this is a logical reason for producing offspring. The choice not to have children in our case was not for selfish reasons, as was once mentioned by a person who did not know me very well, such as wanting material possessions. In fact these things are not high on our agenda. Sure, not having kids has given us more flexibility in some pursuits – but some of the decisions in our marriage have involved a low income for some considerable time and being able to support ourselves. We give freely to friends and charities and it is anticipated after our demise, should there be monies available from our estate, that it will be distributed to various recipients whom we choose.

Monica's story (Aged 30)

I don't like children. You'd think this was illegal judging by the reactions of other people. I don't like olives, hot weather, country and western music or football either. But say you don't like children and people can't seem to accept it. I like horses but don't insist that everyone else must do the same.

I value my freedom and independence very highly. I like to be able to just get in my car and go somewhere without having to load it first with the large amount of necessary accessories that go with children, or having to make alternative arrangements for childcare. I am totally happy with my life as it is. Having children would prevent me from doing many of the things I enjoy, such as riding and showing my horse. If I am already happy with my life why should I make such a major change? I don't see any benefits that would make up for the sacrifices I would have to make.

My mother is disappointed. I think she lives in the hope I will change my mind. I am fortunate that my close friends have the capacity to understand and respect my decision. Fortunately, most either have no children or have children who are now adults.

Surely having a baby would be one of the worst things you could put your body through with things like morning sickness, swollen ankles, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, possible diabetes and blood pressure problems and stitches in the last place you'd want them. Not to mention loss of figure. The tax breaks you'd get would have to be a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of raising a child – financially, psychologically and physically.

Lyn’s story (Aged 44)

I vividly remember telling my mother at age 12 that I didn't want children. By her reaction I could tell she was shocked but I presume she thought I was young and what did I know anyway. I don't remember it being an agonising decision. It was just that I knew I didn't want any and that was that.

In 1977, at age 23, I couldn't see the point of taking contraception for the rest of my child-bearing years and decided to have a tubal ligation. A major factor in being sterilised at that stage of my life was that I didn't have a partner. I knew further down the track a partner would have to be taken into consideration and I don't think that anyone except myself has the right to say what I can and can't do with my body.

I thought I would find it difficult finding a doctor who would perform the operation so my first port of call was Family Planning. I told them what I wanted and asked them if they could send me to a sympathetic doctor. I had absolutely no problems. The doctor asked me lots of questions about why. I must have convinced him because at the end of the interview he agreed to perform the tubal ligation at the end of the following week.

My family went along with the decision after I explained my reasons, in fact, my parents drove me to and from the hospital. After the tubal ligation I told my best friend and she was shocked. She has since had two kids of her own.

I always get the feeling when there's a baby around that the mother expects you to go 'goo ga' about her wonderful baby, as if it's the centre of the universe. Maybe it's just me because I am not interested at all. My partner doesn't care that much about kids, and the decision was already taken out of his hands, so he's happy to go along with it. He also says that he's lazy, so now he doesn't have to spend his mental energy working it out for himself.

I go to the movies in the middle of the day, I get involved in political, environmental and local government issues, I do volunteer work and I want to do some more travelling. I wouldn't have time for any of these things with a child around.

I have to say it was the best and most important decision I have ever made. I can honestly say I have never regretted having the tubal ligation.

John's story (Aged 42)

I never made a decision not to have children as such. Children were just never a high personal priority for me. My wife is more against having children. There was some peer pressure earlier in our marriage. But generally this decision did not cause any significant strain in our relationship.

We were too busy in career building (we started a business) in the early years of our marriage. Both my wife and I worked in the business, and we used to travel a lot for a period of four to five years. My wife also has lower back problems which could be a problem in carrying a baby. Although, as I understand, this problem does not necessarily exclude the possibility of having a child. I also think that current social and environmental conditions are not conducive to having children. Do we really want to bring more children into a world where thousands of other kids die each day, an overpopulated world with an increasing crime rate and global warming?

The main benefit is that I retain my personal identity. I am John the person rather than being so-and-so's father. I am also able to concentrate more on personal development and maintain a younger outlook in life.

However, at times I feel like [my wife and I are] social outcast[s]. As most of our friends have children and they all want to do children's things, we are on the bottom of their priority list. We had some pressure from family and friends when we first got married. Fortunately our respective parents are quite liberal in their thinking and after a while, everyone got used to the idea.

As far as I am concerned, a child is a poor legacy to leave as my mark on this world. I would like to be remembered for such things like achievements [or], if not, at least to leave behind some fond memories by my friends and people I touched that I was a good and kind and sincere person.

Theresa's story (Aged 42)

I'm not sure when I made a conscious decision to remain childless but I have never wanted children [except] for two brief weeks in my life – each years apart – each spurred by the absorbing love I had for a man. The decision was certainly conscious by the time I was 27.

I was the eldest of eleven children and as such a version of a mother. Mothers have the maturity to appreciate a child's development, therefore making the work associated with child-rearing pleasant and enjoyable. As a child I was not capable of this type of appreciation. I only recognised the work. It just seems like hard work to me.

By my own experiences, and watching others, I know that child-rearing done well is a selfless activity, allowing no time for a mother's personal needs. I am not willing to give up the time I have as a single person. I see it as a huge restriction. I also doubt my capacity for the tolerance and selflessness I believe are required for the task.

Laura's story (Aged 41)

I always assumed I would not have children. In fact I requested a tubal ligation from the university health centre when I was 20, and of course was refused! I just lack a maternal drive. My mother died aged 49, when I was 12, of breast cancer and because I too have a high risk of developing breast cancer, I didn't want to be in that position. Especially since if I had had a child, it would have been in my late thirties. I have also had a period of depression in my life and I feared having post-natal depression.

My husband feels that child-free couples are discriminated against in regard to much of our taxes subsidising the healthcare and education of others' children, but that bothers me little.

When I was in my late twenties and thirties and would tell people I didn't plan on having children I was met with some puzzlement. The less people know us, the more they feel able to question our motives. I have developed a repertoire of answers to 'Why no children?', most of them flippant, like the world has too many already, I've missed the boat (especially now I'm 40) or my brother has four kids so he's done it for us. I have a few patients who tell me they pray for me to get pregnant, especially Muslim and Italian men.

The only time I feel a bit awkward about it is with friends who want kids but have failed, even with IVF. We don't introduce the topic because we don't have a soap box position on this and don't want to be 'child-free bores'.

It's had a huge effect on my career. I was initially a clinical psychologist then decided to study medicine at age 30, completing my degree at 36, then undertaking my resident medical officer years. That would not have been a possibility for me if I'd had a child. Some people can 'achieve' it, but I've never wanted to try to 'have it all' as I see that as a trap. Life's hard enough as it is!

I have freedom from the knowledge that there is another being completely dependent on me and my love, attention, income and life, for at least sixteen years. I also have a happy relationship with the freedom to explore lots of interesting and exciting possibilities which would otherwise not be an option.

Betty's story (Aged 47)

In my mid-teens I read an article either written by or quoting Jacques Cousteau who said to ecologically sustain a Western middle class lifestyle for all, the global population should not exceed 400 million people. In the 1970s, David Suzuki made a similar remark but said it should not exceed 200 million! This was the start of the decision-making process to which a lot of other things contributed as I grew up.

My mother was horrified when I told her at 21 that I didn't want children. She told me I was giving up a woman's greatest joy. Her generation had limited opportunities to consider alternatives so I guess she had to think her mothering was her greatest achievement or think her life had been wasted. My father and his wife would have liked more grandchildren but they weren't going to help raise them so that is strictly academic.

I resent the tyranny of people who feel that because they have children, everyone should. I resent parents who feel their decision is the superior or right one. Worse still are those parents who argue that their children will support me in my old age. Not likely. My retirement funding is my responsibility, as should everyone's be, not that of their children.

When I was being sterilised at age 27 and had no children, the nurses on my ward were almost brutal to me. They did not disguise their contempt that I would make such a decision. Fortunately it was only an overnight hospital stay.

In the future I see us maintaining a high quality of life together with satisfying professional lives and romantic holidays, unencumbered by family demands. We look forward to our relationship continuing to grow stronger year by year, as it has these first eleven years. Unlike many of our married-with-children friends, we actually know each other very well and love to have time alone together. So many of our breeding friends are either unable or unwilling to even escape alone together for a single weekend. Perhaps with the priorities of family life, they no longer know each other well enough to be comfortable in only each other's company.

Through our many 'rent-a-kids' I hope we leave a legacy that makes them question the way things are. I hope that legacy makes them start to look for other solutions to man's insatiable need for his bit of immortality which is loading this planet with starving masses and creeping deserts while stripping it of its precious natural beauties. How can children be taught to examine environmental problems if they don't look at the underlying causes?

I hope that we have set an example of living softly on the earth with our bush maintenance efforts and our home practices of recycling. I hope the contributions we make to environmental and animal charities makes a difference in the future. What we will not have left is one single bit of rubbish created by our offspring. We will not have contributed to growing landfills with our children's throwaway plastic toys, disposable nappies, mountains of paper for school work, broken bikes or obsolete computers. We will not leave children whose reaching adulthood creates more demand for housing, water, food and recreation that then means further destruction of wilderness areas.