color photograph of a Black woman wearing a bright red zip-up and black pants sits in a wheelchair and travels up a sidewalk towards the camera
(via iStock)

This summer will mark two years since I decided to be child-free. It was a shocking discovery for me, but one that felt right to do.

When I was 27, I asked my general physician about my fertility options as a disabled woman approaching 30. He referred me to a doctor who had experience with pregnant people with my disability, osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), better known as brittle bones disease. This doctor gave me valuable information about their experience caring for pregnant people with OI, including the realities and challenges of childbirth. They also informed me about alternatives to childbirth, like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy.  

My takeaway from that discussion was positive, which is unusual for disabled people seeking reproductive health and family planning support. I have written about the ableism and misogynoir Black disabled mothers experience in their parenthood journeys, so encountering a physician who didn’t project such unfavorable viewpoints onto me felt like a lucky shot.   

That conversation also led me to a desire to pursue IVF and surrogacy if I wanted to become a mom. Knowing I had those options for my route to parenthood took the pressure off of me to have a baby on a specific timeline, even as I entered my 30s.  

The pandemic, however, reshaped the priorities many of us have in our lives. For me, it meant doing a hard assessment of what kind of life I wanted as a Black disabled woman in her mid-30s. And during the summer of 2021, it hit me—despite knowing the paths to parenthood I could take, I didn’t want to become a parent.  

When I came to this realization, I felt both shock and peace come over me. Being a disabled woman in her 30s, people don’t hassle me about children. This is most likely due to ableism in people’s misconceptions that disabled people don’t desire to become parents. Given that there are more than 4 million parents in the U.S. who have some form of disability, this is clearly erroneous thinking. Since I wasn’t bombarded with the messages that those who can become pregnant typically experience, I could focus on my career and passions, and people in my circles respected that for me. The only people in my life whom I ever discussed thoughts of potential parenthood with were my friends, who saw me as a complete person and didn’t hold ableist views on who should and should not become a parent.  

My decision to ultimately be child-free had nothing to do with my disability status. I was never afraid of potentially passing along my disability—I understood the genetic lottery I would be playing and would have been happy either way. My line of thinking: who better to raise a disabled child than a disabled person, particularly with my circumstances—a financially capable social worker and activist with a robust community of support? I already know what it is like to have OI as a child; any child I had would benefit greatly from having me as their parent as they would not be the only disabled person in their home. Plus, there are so many more resources available now than there were in the 1990s when I was in my formative years—I was not worried about retaining the services they may need. Lastly, I was fortunate to have a great childhood thanks to my grandma, who made sure I had the essentials socially, medically, and personally. Thanks to her, I know what is needed to raise a well-rounded disabled child into an adult. The possibility of raising a disabled child never felt like a burden to me; if anything, I would have been elated to have someone to support and share my experiences with to hopefully make their reality less painful while navigating this ableist world. 

When I say that I am child-free, disability is not a factor in my choice. If anything, it is the demands and realities of parenting that determined this was not something I wanted to pursue. Parenting is one of the hardest things a person can do. The levels of sacrifice demanded of parents in a society that does not support families in full or protect children from ills of the world were things I did not want to engage with. I knew I would also have to pause many of my dreams and goals to be the best parent I could be. I do not want to hit pause, and choosing to be child-free means that I don’t have to.  

I can live the robust and fulfilling life I envision for myself and still support children without having any of my own. Deciding to not have children gave me a sense of peace because I no longer had to worry about the “clock ticking” as I made my way deeper into my 30s. Instead, I could just shut it off. I can care for and about children in ways that are still meaningful, particularly as I become an auntie for my friends who are becoming parents. Being child-free doesn’t mean that my life is literally child-free; I can be the fun auntie or supportive figure in a child’s life without having to be their full-time carer.  

Being a child-free disabled woman is freeing because it means that I can live intentionally, knowing that I made the best decision for me. I hold no guilt in my choice, nor will I allow others to project their fears about aging without children onto me. If anything, growing up around widows who either had or didn’t have children prepared me more for aging than spending that time with people who feared getting old and being alone could have. I know children aren’t the aging and social support insurance people like to believe—having children, for this reason, would be a miscalculation for me to do.  

Children are both a joy and a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Knowing this at my age and stage in life made deciding to be child-free the best choice, one that I am glad to live with in full with no regrets or concerns. 

Vilissa Thompson, LMSW, is a contributing writer covering gender justice at Prism. A macro social worker from South Carolina, she is an expert in discussing the issues that matter to her as a Black disabled...