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Championing Childfree by Choice: Meet Kelly Hawkins ’98

Since 1998, the year Kelly Hawkins graduated from Bay Path, the number of American women having children has steadily decreased.

In 2020, for every 1,000 women between the typical childbearing ages of 15 to 44, 55.8 of them gave birth, compared to 69.5 in 2007—a 20 percent decline. And yet, Hawkins routinely faced prying questions, impolite assumptions and way too much speculation surrounding her own intentional and unapologetic decision to not have children.

“I kind of felt like I was on my own island. It’s something that’s not so openly talked about, and I was compelled to share my story and my reasons,” she explains. 

Hawkins’ book, 50 Things to Know About Being Childfree by Choice, fulfilled the need to frankly articulate her choice but also to support and inspire women who, despite having no regrets about the choices they’ve made, feel pressured by society to explain them.  

A lover of words and stories, Hawkins grew up in Longmeadow. After becoming disenchanted with her previous university, she transferred to Bay Path at the encouragement of her mother, a longtime college employee. She felt instantly connected to the small, personal community and thrived, especially in her English classes.

“Ginna Freed, an all-time favorite English professor, asked if I would become a writing tutor, and I loved doing that. Then, I took a class with Gina Semprebon, and it changed my whole relationship to science,” Hawkins recounts. “It was the first science class that really got me excited. From that, I started tutoring another student in science, and I helped her increase her grade substantially. I knew I wanted to be a teacher.”

That experience led to a 22-year career in education, 18 of them teaching high school English in Agawam. Like many, she experienced the pandemic as a period of deep reflection, allowing herself to imagine alternatives to her routine and explore long-simmering interests.

“The universe had been whispering to me for a while, telling me that it was time for a change. I was feeling increasingly frustrated by the pressure of state–mandated testing and the uniformity of the curriculum. It felt out-of-touch with my initial educational philosophy, which is based on creativity, teaching and learning through my own personal and unique strengths,” she says. “So, when the pandemic hit, it was like the universe wasn’t whispering. It was screaming, ‘Now is the time.’”

Hawkins took a year-long leave of absence, and when the year was over, with schools still in the midst of the pandemic and mask debates, she decided to leave teaching. Sharing stories became her main focus, and she discovered she not only loved writing but also audio narration. “I’m not tech-savvy, but I built this little audio recording studio in the spare closet, and I was actually able to narrate two books by a local author, Judith Cosby, along with my own books. I would love to continue that, but it’s mostly a hobby right now.” 

Book CoverWhile working on her own book, Hawkins posted on Facebook, asking if anyone wanted to share their story of being childfree. “I was amazed at how many people responded: former students, family members and friends. It brought a whole new tone to the conversation. It’s a very different story than someone wanting children, but, for whatever reason, being unable to have them. My heart goes out to those people.”

As Hawkins sorted through stories submitted by women ranging from their 20s to their 60s, she found a sisterhood of women who felt content and fulfilled in their lives and weren’t fazed at all by the proverbial threat of a ticking biological clock.

“Childfree women are building happy lives, and we don’t feel like anything is missing. I love kids, and I channeled that love into my teaching career,” she says. “We don’t all have to have the same dream.”