Beyond Motherhood

Choosing a Life Without Children

Finalist for the Books for a Better Life Award

After years of profound and often painful soul-searching, psychoanalyst Jeanne Safer made the conscious decision not to have children. She came to terms with a course of action that allowed her to pursue her life in a way that was right for her. Now, in this wise, compassionate, and deeply personal book, she provides expert guidance for every woman who has ever grappled with the issue of motherhood. In beyond motherhood, Safer and women of all ages from all over the country eloquently share their experiences and offer unique insights into what it really feels like to live this still unconventional life. They describe what factors in their histories, personalities, and circumstances shaped their decision; and how they forged their identities as women without being mothers. They talk with remkable candor about their marriages, their thoughts about aging without offspring, their legacies, and the meaning of their lives. Most compelling of all, they demonstrate how their vitality and passion for life belie any stereotype of childless women as emotionally barren or incomplete. This inspiring book goes beyond the immediate issue of whether to have a child, and offers the essential key to conscious, creative living for every woman, whether she chooses the path to motherhood or not.

“Beyond Motherhood is written with an impressive clarity and spareness. It’s honest, smart, brave, funny, and makes you think about things you don’t think about.”

-Peggy Noonan

“…filled with deep and unusual insights about one of life’s most important choices.”

-Betty Rollin

This book is about making a conscious decision not to have a baby–how to do it, how it feels, what it means, and the impact it has on your life. It grew out of personal experience, because this was the choice I made myself.

I spent years examining my feelings about motherhood, struggling with my ambivalence and my anxiety, until I eventually came to terms with how I felt about a course of action that had profound effects on virtually every aspect of my identity as a woman and a person.

Since I am a psychoanalyst, I had the advantage of training in the art of self-examination, which was an extremely valuable tool in resolving a question as emotionally charged as motherhood. I wrote this book in order to share the insights I gained through my own experience and to present the stories of other women who have made the same decision I did, in their own unique ways. My purpose is to provide help, both expert and deeply personal, to other women who are themselves struggling with the issue of whether they want to have children and support for those who have already decided not to and want to empathize with kindred spirits. Any woman who has felt ambivalent about motherhood-including many a mother-will find much here that resonates with her own experience. This subject is still not discussed openly very frequently, and many women feel quite alone with their doubts, as well as ashamed of having them in the first place.

In this book you will hear my story and you will meet an array of women of all ages from all over the United States who came to the same conclusion. Some of them knew from childhood that motherhood was not for them, and others still have lingering doubts into middle age, but all offer insights about what it really feels like to live this still unconventional life, what factors in their histories, personalities, and circumstances shaped their decisions, and what the myriad consequences were. These women talk with remarkable candor about their mothers, their marriages, their childhood memories, their thoughts about aging without offspring, their legacies, and the meaning of their lives. They describe how they have forged their identities as women without being mothers, and they share anecdotes both amusing and outrageous about tother people’s reactions to them. Their vitality, their passion for life and work, belie any stereotype of childless women as emotionally barren or unfulfilled. They provide guidance and inspiration for anyone who has grappled with this issue, regardless of her final resolution.

One of the biggest questions women who are in the midst of this crucial decision-making process ask is whether they will have regrets in the future if they decide not to have a family. The women in this book offer a variety of clearheaded answers. Despite the mixed emotions some of them continued to have, every one I spoke to emphasized that making an active choice to be childless, rather than postponing or avoiding dealing with the dilemma, was a source of pride for her. Each believed that understanding and accepting herself, even though she was acting contrary to expectations both external and internal, strengthened her self-esteem and freed her to pursue her life in the way that was right for her.

The Epilogue at the end of this book is specifically addressed to women who are still in the process of making up their minds. It contains practical advice based on the experience of others who have already made the choice and recommendations on how to think about whether a childless life would suit you: how to determine your real feelings about children and parenthood; how to evaluate your reactions, including your misgivings and your anxiety; and how to deal with the consequences.

I entitled this book Beyond Motherhood because it demonstrates that a women’s life can have expanded dimensions in the contemporary world outside the boundaries of the role that, until recently, was the sole widely acceptable one. Motherhood is no longer a necessary nor a sufficient condition for maturity or fulfillment. It is a biological potential and a psychological vocation which a significant minority of women, upon reflection, recognize does not suit them.


In your speaking and writing, you often tackle taboo topics. What drew you to write about women who choose not to have children?

Personal experience. It took me 5 years to make the decision not to have children myself, and I wanted to use the insights I gained to help others through this essential decision process. My most important insight: I realized I didn’t WANT to have a child; I WANTED to want to have a child.

It was also wonderful to be asked to contribute an essay to the anthology Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum. This gave me the opportunity to revisit the issue 25 years after I wrote Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life Without Children. I realized how important the decision, and the decision-making process, had been in my life. Now at age 70, I can honestly say it was absolutely right for me.

What are some of the challenges these women face in our American society?

I’m sorry to say that, although the stigma has lessened somewhat over the years since I struggled with this issue, women making this choice—or even thinking about not being mothers—worry that they are selfish, unfeminine, or missing out on fulfillment. And society reinforces these fears. The women I interviewed worked this through, and, to a woman, felt their decision was right for them.

What misconceptions would these women like to clarify with mothers?

That there are many ways to nurture; that motherhood should be a choice, not a foregone conclusion; that selfishness is equally distributed among mothers and non-mothers. And that there is NO life without regrets, losses, and gains.

What advice do you have for women who choose not to have children?

Think about it fearlessly! Make a conscious decision. You will never regret doing so. Realize that you can be creative and loving and fulfilled without a child. There are lots of women of all ages who can attest to the profound satisfactions of life (and marriage) without children if that’s the right choice for you.

What resources do you recommend for women who chose not to have children?

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, Meghan Daum’s marvelous book, which includes MEN (of all things!) for the first time, is a wonderful resource. It provides a spectrum of wise, funny and thoughtful voices.

My website has many articles and interviews on this topic that I’ve done over the years.

There are currently no upcoming events related to this book.

For a comprehensive list of past speaking engagements please click here.


“I’m a thirty-two-year-old teacher, who has read your book Beyond Motherhood more than once. Since 2003 when I was first married, I have been considering not having children, and that feeling, along with the passion I have for my life the way it is, have been growing ever since. Your book has been a friend to me, the only one that understands me. I’m writing to thank you for having written it.”