Growing up following the adventures of The Waltons, the Bennet sisters, the March girls — and my own mad gaggle of siblings — I’ve always loved big families. As the eldest child of six sisters, I experienced moments when it seemed like there would be another baby.

My sister and I used to attempt to forecast our respective futures. ‘Each of us should have six children and they’ll all be cousins, and best friends!’ we’d say. Even if I didn’t have six children, I assumed that motherhood would definitely be a part of my future.

One distant day, when I was really old, around 27 or 28, I’d blink and discover I’d magically become a married homeowner with at least two children. This was what I saw in every woman my age.

But by the time I turned 25, single, between jobs and living in a tiny flat, this was starting to look unlikely — and I was beginning to panic.

It felt as if my life was stopping before I’d started and it broke my heart. My future didn’t look how I assumed it would and it scared me.

But now, at 36 years old, happy married, and owning our first home, the thought of having children is far away. In fact, my husband and I have decided we don’t want them. Even though I am writing this sentence, it makes me hesitate. There’s a lot of relief, but also a lot of sadness. I feel defensive. I feel afraid.

Made up her mind: Daisy Buchanan pictured today

Daisy Buchanan has made up her mind.

We haven’t come to this decision because we can’t have children or because, as some might assume, that we’ve tried and failed. We have just, both independently and jointly, realised that we don’t need a child for our family to feel complete. We don’t need a child to be happy. And, frankly, we’re nervous about the kind of world we’d be bringing a baby into.

I feel anxious to point out, too, that I’m not a child-hating witch — there are many adored children in my life and it’s a privilege to know them. But despite my feelings — which my husband shares — I still can’t escape the sensation of loneliness.

Because while motherhood automatically sees you invited into endless communities, I’ve yet to find an equivalent for women who choose to be child-free. My friends and I enjoy sharing the funny, joyful, and bizarre parts of motherhood online. However, I wish that there were a way to help people just like me find their tribe.

In theory, it shouldn’t be that difficult. Though the assumption is that young married couples always plan to have children, my husband and I are far from alone in deciding at an early stage that it wasn’t the path for us.

Recent U.S. research found that 44% of childless adults will never have children. Their courage is admirable. Because admitting that I, a woman in my 30s, doesn’t want children still feels like a huge taboo.

Women with children are loving, caring, and altruistic. A woman who does not want to have children is selfish, lonely — and more than a little tragic. We’re either represented as hapless Bridget Jones types destined to die alone eaten by Alsatians, or villains in the mould of Lady Macbeth, Cruella de Vil, Annie’s Miss Hannigan.

Pictured: Daisy on her wedding day alongside her five sisters

Pictured is Daisy with her five sister on Daisy’s big day

In fact, as a society, at times it can seem as though we’re obsessed with a woman’s procreation, or lack of it.

Just look at Jennifer Aniston, dubbed ‘Sad Jen’ for her lack of offspring. Last week, the 52-year-old told how the years of speculation had infuriated her, explaining: ‘I used to take it all personally — the pregnancy rumours and the whole, “Oh, she chose career over kids” assumption’.

‘It’s like, “You have no clue what’s going on with me personally, medically” . . . they don’t know anything and it was really hurtful.’

Why then did I reconsider my decision to start a family?

Strangely it was Jane Austen, who loved stories with happy endings — but was herself unmarried and childless — who planted the first seed.

As a child I longed to be an author — something I’m pleased to say that, with six books of my own, I’ve achieved. After reading her writing, I began to wonder how writing and having children might be compatible.

However, even then, I knew I was expected to follow in my mother’s footsteps. Our Mass was told that mothers were to devote their lives to the families of their children. You could be a mum — or a nun.

Yet now 36, happily married and having bought our first home, children seem no closer. In fact, my husband and I have decided we don¿t want them. Even as I write that sentence, I hesitate (stock image)

But now, at 36 years old, happy married, and owning our first home, the thought of having children is far away. In fact, my husband and I have decided we don’t want them. As I type that sentence, my husband and I hesitate (stock photo)

My 20s were a time of optimism. My path to security, happiness, and the future was clear when I met a smart boyfriend and found a job that I liked.

My only goal was happiness. But I didn’t expect the journey would make me feel so desperately sad. I craved fun and creativity, but as I tried to do the ‘right’ thing there was no room for either. I became depressed.

Many of my friends had already begun to see progress. Facebook always had something I was interested in. It was overwhelming — and confusing. I didn’t think I was ready just yet, but hated the fact I was ‘falling behind’.

My boyfriend, an insurance analyst, was doing well at work and we talked about marriage and babies ‘in a year or two’. But there was always an assumption he’d focus on his job and I’d look after the family.

My parents began to hint at how excited they were about becoming grandparents. I felt trapped.

Then I was fired from my ‘sensible’ job and my sensible boyfriend ended things soon afterwards. It was quite a relief. It made me realise that though I’d tried to think of children as a prize, I’d been heading towards a future that frightened me.

Then I decided to follow my passions by interning for a magazine.

Now my life was filled with fun and creativity — but at 25 I was broke. Renting a small, dark room in South London was difficult. I couldn’t envisage a future where I could take care of a child.

When I was in desperate situations, my mind drifted to what I would love. It was my dream to own my apartment, live with the person I love, and not worry so much about my bank account. Sometimes I played with myself, and imagined a house full of children. It didn’t feel as good as my other daydreams.

Being honest with myself was scary, but I was starting to realise I longed for independence — not a family.

But at parties aunts would ‘remind’ me about my biological clock. Many of my friends discussed fertility issues. Many people were determined to have children regardless of how hard or long-winded it was.

Strangely enough, I was able to learn from a few bad boyfriends and make wise choices. My 20s saw me reunite with an old friend from childhood. Our parents were close and would love for us to have children. He believed I could make a family with him.

A woman with children is loving, warm, altruistic. A woman who does not want to have children is selfish, lonely ¿ and more than a little tragic (stock image)

Women with children are loving, caring, and altruistic. A woman who does not want to have children is selfish, lonely — and more than a little tragic (stock image)

But the reality was quite different. The reality was different. He used to shout at me and then criticise my actions, leaving me alone at parties. He was not a good partner and there was no way to provide a secure future for his children.

Later, I was briefly and regretfully in love with an older, divorced man. His children were already grown and I began to question if it was possible for me to be happy being a stepmother. But on some level I knew I wouldn’t want to be a replacement mother. ‘Maybe,’ I’d whisper to myself, ‘not anyone’s mother’.

As I imagined my future with him and not as a family, I visualized myself writing.

Although it was unexpected, I didn’t find it painful. It was the first time I felt peace. I’d been scrambling to catch up to my peers, trying to run towards the future my family wanted for me, but I realised my biggest fear wasn’t not having children — it was the ways in which I might be judged for not having children.

After I was 27 years old, I met the man who would be my husband. Everything began to work out. This would have been the right time to get children.

Friends and family were putting pressure on me. Since I looked settled, many assumed I was going to start a family with my partner. I remember my friend Laura teasing me: ‘Is he the one? You must have babies!’

It was something that my partner and I discussed openly. Neither of us was entirely opposed to the idea — but neither of us wanted children enough.

I believe motherhood ought to be available to everyone who desires it. But I also believe we need to tell women that if they don¿t desire it, that¿s just fine too (stock image)

To me, motherhood should be accessible to anyone who wants it. But I also believe we need to tell women that if they don’t desire it, that’s just fine too (stock image)

We enjoyed our life together, and believed we were blessed with everything that was needed to live happily. Our friends had young children, who seemed exhausted and stressed. A future without parenthood didn’t break our hearts.

We had some friends who, like us, weren’t sure. It was something we shared with our friends. Were we able to find a suitable place to call home? If we were to lose our job, what would it mean? What kind of world might our children find themselves in? One evening, when I confessed my thoughts to a dinner party guest, the reaction was so surprising. ‘Thank GOODNESS,’ cried my old colleague, Ali, who had just got engaged to her boyfriend Pete. ‘I feel it’s evil to say I don’t want kids, but us too!’

However, we still weren’t ready to fully ‘out’ ourselves. If relatives asked questions, we’d make vague noises and say ‘maybe soon!’

Two of my sisters, who were then just a few months apart, had their first baby around that time. Although I was overwhelmed, it brought me some sadness. Subconsciously, I thought that when my sisters became mothers, I’d change my mind. But I found myself more confident in my abilities. Holding my niece and nephew, I realised I’d never hold my own baby.

Because of my parents, I feel a little bit of myself that still desires to have children. It feels selfish to deny them. However, I realize it would be selfish not to have children because of the fear of what other people might think.

Of course, there are infinite reasons people don’t have children. The UK has one out of six couples who have trouble conceiving. IVF is difficult for most women. I have seen friends struggle through it. It’s a tragedy that many of them are unable to have children. More should be done.

But, our attitude needs to be changed. If we change the way we consider women without children, we create a world where more women are allowed to feel that motherhood isn’t their only destiny. We’re not villains, and we’re not failures. Unfortunately, I still hear a lot of angry, defensive, and serious voices online, despite the fact that there are fewer child-free people. A part of me feels angry and sad, too.

There is much to be thankful for in my daily life. Each day I am grateful for my loving marriage, the joy I get from my job, and the chance to know my nephews and nieces. And if one day they don’t want to have children of their own, I hope I can be a role model.

I’m grateful that things didn’t work out with the sensible job and the sensible boyfriend. The wrong turns and false starts that caused me so much despair gave me time to work out what I really wanted — and what I didn’t.

As a child, I watched women talking about ‘having it all’: the house, the career, the family. This was difficult back then, and can be even harder now. I don’t think I’ll ever ‘have it all’, but I have everything I need.

To me, motherhood should be accessible to anyone who wants it. But I also believe we need to tell women that if they don’t desire it, that’s just fine too.