Through the eyes of the childfree: A summary of the NotMom Summit

Through the eyes of the childfree: A summary of the NotMom Summit

I recently attended the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio. I had debated going but finally booked a last minute ticket and headed to the USA. It was a choice that I definitely don’t regret!!

The NotMom Summit is the only conference in the world that brings childless and childfree women together. Karen Malone Wright, the founder of thenotmom.com held the first conference in 2015. This year’s event took place at a beautiful new Hilton Hotel in the heart of downtown Cleveland.

The childless and the childfree together…really?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to expect before I arrived at the Summit. Friends asked me what there could be to talk about for two whole days. Well, there was A LOT! The two days were jam-packed with keynote speakers, workshops and networking events (the fun kind). I was also unsure how a room full of childfree and childless women would mix. After all, the childfree have chosen to live a life without children, while the childless have often spent many years trying to become parents. Could two very different sides see eye-to-eye?

It turns out the answer is yes. We all respectfully interacted and formed meaningful connections. It was an eye-opener to see the grief that some women had experienced from living an unexpected life, one without children. I was glad to be exposed to it (in a non-morbid way). After all, if anyone can show the childless how to live a beautiful and meaningful life without children it’s us, the childfree. Interacting with childless women also exposed me to how harmful our pronatalist society could be. The childfree may find endless pregnancy updates and the glorification of motherhood slightly annoying, but for women who desperately wanted to be mothers, it can cause real and oft-dismissed grief. After all, if you continuously hear that a woman’s most important purpose is to be a mother, of course you’re going to feel some real pain if you don’t become one. Luckily we, the childfree, called bullsh*t on that ‘everyone must have a child’ propaganda long ago. We know that living a life without children can be wonderful and purposeful, so of course we can help the childless see that.

What do you do at a summit for women without children?

Short answer…you meet people, you learn things, you eat really good food, and you finally feel like a normal member of society. There were so many intelligent women at this Summit, I was in awe! Lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, doctors, nurses, authors, filmmakers, teachers, the list goes on and on. These were definitely not ‘outcasts’ of society, instead these women were pillars of their communities and society as a whole.

Karen, the founder and organizer of the Summit has a wonderful, fun personality that set the tone for the event right away. Her upbeat address and networking bingo (yes we got to do the bingo-ing for once) had us all socializing right away.

Laura Carroll, author of childfree books (the Baby Matrix and Families of Two) took us through history with her presentation. She walked us through a fascinating look at women without children throughout the ages. There were so many powerful and successful women I had never even heard of. Her presentation included:

  • Caroline Herschel a German astronomer who discovered several comets
  • Elizabeth Peabody who opened the first English-language kindergarten in the US
  • Juliette Gordon Low the founder of Girl Scouts
  • Joy Adamson a famous naturalist and author

Plus so many other fascinating women. It was clear that women without children have been making an impact on the world for centuries. The presentation left me inspired and wanting to know even more about these women.

Next up was a delicious lunch and the keynote speaker for the day, Marcia Drut-Davis. Marcia is an absolute pioneer for the childfree movement. Though I had briefly connected with Marcia before through her Facebook page, Confessions of a Childfree Women, I had no idea how amazing she actually was. Her larger-than-life personality and childfree life story are marvelous! This childfree-by-choice advocate instantly had me transfixed. Marcia was one of the first American women to speak publicly about her decision to live childfree. She actually told her in-laws about her choice not to have children on national television in the 1970s- this woman has guts! She faced scorn from society but she never backed down from her choice and she has never stopped speaking out. She truly just wants people to know they have a choice when it comes to deciding whether or not to be a parent. Marcia’s story of choosing a childfree life so many years before it was even considered a choice was fascinating. She ended her presentation with a powerful piece of advice:

“Stop defending, start living, get deprogrammed (from the pronatalist views), and have a good life!”

I can only hope that I’ll be half as marvelous as her in my later years. I picked up her book, “Confessions of a Childfree Women: A Life Spent Swimming Against the Mainstream” so expect a full review of that soon! Marcia also hosts cruises for childfree people so if you’re ever interested in vacationing with the childfree let her know!

That afternoon we had our choice of six different breakout sessions. We only had time to make it to two of them so I had to choose wisely. I chose to attend “Lasting Impressions: Philanthropy & Volunteering” as well as, “How to Tell Your Story: Even if it’s Just for You.”

Both sessions were informative with lots of room for questions. The philanthropy and volunteering session reminded me that I didn’t need a lot of time or money to make a difference. Instead I just needed to choose a cause I was passionate about and then give it either, “my time, my talent or my treasure.”

The facilitators for the group were very interesting. Stephanie L. Jones wrote a book called, “The Giving Challenge” which chronicled her 500-day quest to do one good thing a day for someone else. Her examples really drove home how small gestures can make a big difference in someone’s life. The other facilitator, Rasheda Kamaria Williams is the founder of “Empowered Flower Girl”. This organization helps youth with bullying prevention, communication-building and self-esteem. My favourite quote of the day was from Rasheda. She said:

“I made a choice not to create new humans but instead take care of the ones that are already here.” She’s doing an amazing job of that!

Once we were done the workshops for the day we gathered for a delicious spread of food and adult beverages. I couldn’t believe all the delicious choices! This was a great time to socialize with other women and find out what they’d covered in their breakout sessions. I had to duck out a little early for dinner and an interview with a Canadian reporter who wanted to know more about childfree and childless women in Canada. I was happy to take part because we are so often ignored in society and mainstream media. I don’t think this is necessarily intentional, I just don’t know that society understands that we are a diverse group of people with a multitude of reasons that have led us to our childfree choice. I am always happy to educate and hopefully build understanding about the childfree community. This interview also allowed me to meet a Montreal-based group, Femmes sans enfant. Neither of us had ever heard of each other despite the fact that we are both Canadian-based. Connections like this were an invaluable part of the conference.

After the interview and dinner it was time for a 9:00 pm screening of the soon-to-be released film, To Kid or Not to Kid. I am so excited for this film to be released! Maxine Trump, an absolutely wonderful filmmaker from New York, created this film. It chronicles her journey of choosing whether to have children. Its intention is to dispel the myth that living childfree is weird, selfish, or somehow wrong. I won’t give away any spoilers but I love that the film demonstrates the thought and educated decision-making that so many childfree people put into their choice. I’ll be sharing more information about the film as it’s available. In the meantime please check out the website, To Kid or Not to Kid (link at the end of this article).

The keynote speaker on day two was Jody Day, the founder of Gateway Women. Gateway Women is a global friendship and support network for childless women. I liked that the two keynote speakers represented the audience, one childless and one childfree. It allowed us to see the realities of each group. Jody was a fantastic speaker who openly described her struggles. Struggles which ultimately led to her being a beacon of hope and courage for so many childless women. She is doing great work in the UK and globally to help childless people rewrite their life plan. If you know of anyone struggling with infertility please feel free to refer them to Gateway Women.

The breakout sessions I attended that afternoon were both very interesting. One was about the medical upsides and downsides of not having children. The session really highlighted how much I don’t know about my own body and it seemed that a lot of women felt the same. I’ll work to share some of the more relevant information with you in the future.

The last breakout session was my favourite! They broke us out by ‘tribes’. I of course went to the ‘Childfree by Choice’ tribe and wow, I found our people! The session was moderated by two amazing women, Kimya Dennis and Amy Blackstone. Kimya, has a PH.D and is a criminologist and sociologist. She conducted a study of childfree people of the immediate African diaspora (the dispersion of people from their original homeland). Amy also has a PH.D and is a sociologist and professor who studies the childfree choice. She and her husband run a blog called ‘we’re {not} having a baby!’

Both moderators did a great job of steering the conversation as we all started talking a mile a minute about everything! From TV shows that had done a great job representing the childfree choice then ruined it *cough* Big Bang *cough* to people in our life who just won’t support our choice etc. We had to be reminded twice when the session was over because we all wanted to keep on talking.

The group really reminded me how rare it is for us to find like-minded childfree people in our own lives. I think we could have spent a whole day together without running out of things to say. It was also nice to finally not feel like we were stepping on eggshells. As awesome as it is to be at a conference with both childless and childfree people, there were definitely moments in the other sessions where I felt like I couldn’t truly express my joy in this lifestyle choice. In this childfree-by-choice session I absolutely could!

There was so much more at the Summit that I can’t even capture. Everything went by so quickly! There was the amazing childless and childfree bookstore. The awesome preview of Therese Shechter’s film, My So Called Selfish Life (please support the Kickstarter). The sweet Wonder Woman prize I won for tweeting the most about the Summit (check out the tweets at @childfreeNDW). And of course the amazing opportunity to meet the movers and shakers in our small, but growing, childfree community.

The NotMom Summit was a really enlightening two days. I have never felt such a sense of community or belonging as I did at the Summit. I will do everything in my power to make it to any other summits and I really recommend it to you. If you’re an introvert you have nothing to worry about. Everything was setup in a way that made it easy to chat with one another. I myself am somewhat of an introvert and yet I had invites for dinner, walks around Cleveland, drinks etc. These women want to connect and they’re so amazing to connect with!

Thank you to all the speakers, moderators, and especially, the NotMom.com community who made this Summit possible. I had a blast!

Childfree resources from the NotMom Summit

Here are some resources, mentioned above:

NotMom.com: The NotMom offers news, commentary and connections for the growing community of women without children. While living in a Mom-centered environment, these women are not Moms, by choice or by chance.

To Kid or Not to Kid: The Choice to live childfree: This amazing film is coming out later this year. The film aims to dispel the myth that living childfree is weird, selfish or somehow wrong. In a world where you’re threatened for speaking openly about living childfree, two women, from different decades, search for ways to support each other in making the decision to live without kids.

Confessions of a Childfree Woman: Marcia Drut-Davis’s Facebook page for her memoir which shares how she made the choice not to raise children, the shocking things she experienced after exposure on “60 Minutes” and if she has regrets at the age of 75!

My So Called Selfish Life: Still in the Kickstarter phase but looks very promising. It bills itself as a film about not having kids in a culture where motherhood feels mandatory. The trailer for it is fabulous!

We’re {not} having a baby!: offers the childfree a space for camaraderie, celebration, and, occasionally, commiseration. On the fence or not childfree? This is a space where you can learn about the childfree choice, who makes it, and why.

Femmes sans enfants: A great French language community for women without children. It is Montreal-based but also runs a meetup group in Paris and other locations.

Gateway Women: Gateway Women started as a blog in 2011 and has since grown into a global friendship and support network for childless women.

Laura Carroll: Childfree Zone: This author of two childfree-by-choice books also runs a childfree blog.

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