July 31, 2016 (Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Stand tall, women without children
香山リカのココロの万華鏡 子どもがいなくても

Japan's decreasing birthrate has reached grave levels. Meanwhile, mothers face a whole range of serious problems, from "maternity harassment" while they're pregnant to postpartum depression and the many stresses of raising children. There is no question that building a society where people can feel confident and at ease about having and bringing up kids is one of the most urgent tasks facing Japan today.

However, there are women in every era who don't have children. There are those who want to have kids but, for various reasons, can't. And then there are those who chose not to have children for reasons of their own. These women may not insist that they are having a tough time, but they do indeed have their own specific problems and worries. I have written a book called "Non-mama to iu ikikata" (A non-mother's way of life) aimed at these very people, based not just on my experiences as a practicing psychiatrist but also on my personal life as a woman without children.

Patients seeing me about their child-reading worries will often ask me, "Do you have children, doctor?" I answer honestly and directly, "No, I don't." On many occasions, the patient has replied, "Oh, well then you can't understand my problems." A senior doctor once told me, "Psychiatrists only truly come to understand people's feelings when they have kids of their own." In all honesty, it hurt to hear that, and it made me wonder if I was doomed to remain forever incomplete as a psychiatrist.

I admit I have sometimes been a little envious when listening to an old school friend talk happily about their kids. However, as I've built up various kinds of experience, I have come to think that the fact I don't have children gives me the ability to consider people's feelings and the problems of child rearing from a perspective not available to parents. And I think that's a good thing about me.

Women without kids who come to my office often feel guilty somewhere in their hearts, and it saps their confidence. Some of them end up burning out from overwork after taking on the responsibilities of other women at their workplaces who have taken parental leave. To these tired women I always say, "You are always you, whether you have kids or not. Give what you can do your utmost effort, and don't be shy about refusing things you can't do."

Having kids and raising them to adulthood is a wonderful thing, but that does not mean that not having kids is somehow less wonderful.

Women who choose not to have children face various circumstances and many worries, but there are also things that only they can do and be proud of. I believe in my heart that everyone should be able to stand tall and say, "I am me."

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist) (精神科医)