Danni Duncan, a 33-year-old content creator from Ōtautahi, doesn’t want kids, ever. She chats to Rachel Judkins about how she reached her decision, being a DINK, contraception anxiety, and the backlash online.
A young woman wearing an exaggerated smile on her face gets out of bed late, skips around her neat and stylishly-furnished home, hand-grinds the beans for coffee and dances with her cat. This morning montage of joy sits at odds with the misogynistic bitching of the male voiceover – that of former Fox News host Tucker Carlson – saying: “A day in the life of a childless woman. The point is to make you feel good about being an aging, deeply unlikeable woman who never had kids”. This TikTok reel with more than 40,000 likes perfectly captures two contrasting perspectives: the freedom enjoyed by women who have chosen not to become mothers, and the bile spewed at them for doing so.
Meet Danni #proudlychildfree Duncan, a 33-year-old content creator from Ōtautahi who doesn’t want kids. Ever. While most of her peers are knee-deep in dirty nappies, toddler meltdowns and the relentless responsibility of keeping a small human alive, she is revelling in the luxury of sleep-ins, alone time and a quiet house free of sticky surfaces. Not only is she bucking societal expectations by deciding not to procreate, she is broadcasting her childfree life in an attempt to challenge the outdated narrative that women are only worth what they do with their uteruses.
“I get really frustrated at how women are still primarily seen as only having value if they have children,” she says casually down the phone, styling her hair in front of the mirror. Happily married, Duncan says that people often assume she and her husband Alex must be trying for a baby, and she is constantly reminded that at her age, her biological clock is ticking. When the inevitable question arises about how many children she has, she always answers, “I don’t have kids. I don’t want kids.”
It’s not that Duncan dislikes children; quite the opposite, in fact. “I’ve always loved kids. I just find them so funny and interesting. If I’m at a party, I’m the person hanging out with the kids.” She previously worked with children as a speech therapist and has two nieces and a nephew that she babysits on a regular basis, but she knows that being a fun auntie is very different from having babies of her own. “People say that kids are such a joy, such a blessing. They are those things, but they are also really hard work.”
Growing up the eldest of four children in a religious family, Duncan doesn’t remember ever wanting to have kids, but the expectation was there by default. “My family never pressured me or anything like that,” she says, “it’s just that the other option was never on the table.”
But this changed when she turned 30 and began to properly consider buying a house and filling it with rugrats. “I started thinking about how much would change if we did have kids, and that got me down the path of thinking what would my life look like if I didn’t have them. And I liked that idea.” Alex could have gone either way, but given the burden of childbearing would be on Duncan, he was strongly supportive of her right to choose. She spent a good year or two flip-flopping back and forth before deciding for sure what she wanted (no kids) and feeling at peace with it.
Not that she has to justify herself to anyone, but Duncan’s decision is mostly for personal reasons. Money is definitely a factor (raising a family is expensive), but it’s more around lifestyle: she loves her life as it is and doesn’t want it to change. She cruises to the gym four times a week, takes her sweet time getting ready for the day (“I feel like I am never in a rush”), and while she and Alex are both homebodies who love pottering around the house, they can meet up with other childfree friends for a drink on a whim. She has been accused of being selfish, but Duncan knows herself well enough to be certain she is not cut out for motherhood. She feels there are other ways she can be selfless and caring.
At a time when the birth rate in New Zealand is the lowest it has ever been, you’d think public conversations around staying childfree would be commonplace, but even Duncan – who cheekily jokes that being childfree is her entire personality – initially found the internet to be strangely silent on the topic. She was already creating fashion and home-styling content for a modest social media following when she made one post about being childfree. Her TikTok audience exploded from 2,000 to 50,000 followers almost overnight.
Duncan decided to add childfree content to her arsenal and hasn’t looked back. “There are thousands of mum influencers and ‘parent-tok’ and all of that for parents. I wanted childfree people to also be celebrated and to be seen and to have a place where they feel like they belong.”
Her Childfree AUS/NZ Facebook group provides a safe space for chatting and sharing memes, and she encourages conversation on her Instagram and TikTok accounts through a mixture of fun and frivolous content and more nuanced discussions around what it means to be childfree. Pet peeves she has tackled include the world’s narrow views on what constitutes a family, advertising campaigns that only depict couples with kids, and childfree employees being taken advantage of in the workplace. She deliberately never suggests people shouldn’t have kids, but likes to emphasise that starting a family is a choice and there are alternatives. “My main message is that childfree people have fulfilling and amazing lives, just as parents do.”
Her popular, lighthearted series, “Reasons why I love not having children,” includes #12: “I can listen to Harry Styles for hours on end instead of The Wiggles” and #734: “Uninterrupted reading time.” It’s enough to make a frazzled parent green with envy, and the feedback from those with kids is often pretty defensive. She says that negative comments are a daily occurrence, usually from women who misunderstand the point she is making, but when a video occasionally goes viral she’ll receive immediate backlash, with most of the vitriol coming from men. One particularly unhappy chappy posted that he hoped she would “die a lonely spinster and have 50 house cats chew your face off before anybody finds your body”.
For the most part, though, Duncan’s loyal, childfree supporters appreciate her humour and honesty and feel validated for choosing a similar life path. Interestingly, she has many followers who have struggled with infertility and find themselves childless not-by-choice, and are grateful she shows them there is plenty of joy to be had in a childfree future.
The people whose opinions matter the most, of course, are her nearest and dearest. It took her own mum some time to get her head around Duncan’s decision, but once her family realised it wasn’t a passing phase, they were very supportive. Some of her old school friends, who are onto baby number two or three, have “had a go” at her which she found hard, but she has a large group of younger, like-minded mates she met online who share her outlook and lifestyle.
Being DINKS (Double Income No Kids) means Duncan and her husband have the disposable income to spend on the things they love: weekends away, brunches with friends, and feeding Duncan’s obsession with vintage clothes and furniture. But they can’t afford to be gung ho about contraception. While tubal ligation would be the safest bet, it’s an invasive procedure that most doctors are not prepared to perform on childless women in case they change their mind (note: this is not the same for childless men wanting a vasectomy). Duncan says she doesn’t completely trust her copper IUD so doubles down on protection, using condoms on the days her period tracking app tells her she is ovulating.
A self-confessed “worrywart,” Duncan regularly takes pregnancy tests. There is no part of her that thinks if she accidentally got knocked up, it was meant to be. “If I were to get pregnant that would be a very, very big hurdle,” she says. “I’m either going to have to get an abortion or change my entire mindset.”
All going to plan, Duncan will never know the joys of motherhood like seeing her baby’s first gummy grin, teaching her toddler to ride a scooter, or receiving mangled homemade cards on Mother’s Day. But she will also never experience the horrors of vaginal tearing, projectile vomit and never-ending monologues about Minecraft. As for the unconditional love her haters say she’ll never experience? She reckons her feline fur babies, Billie and Stanley, well and truly fill that bucket.