pregnant

Yes, we live in a baby-obsessed nation. When do the tabloids not run craptastic cover stories on Octomom, Kate Gosselin, or Brangelina's brood? Then there's the tsunami of celeb-mom photos — Kate Hudson, Halle Berry, Gwen Stefani, toting their stylish tots like the latest It bag. It's enough to make a childless woman feel like an alien. "There's a stigma, especially if women are childless by choice instead of by circumstance," says Laura S. Scott, the 47-year-old married and kid-free author of the new book Two Is Enough. "Childlessness is perceived as being selfish, with a tragic outcome — you'll die alone with 10 cats." But sometimes having babies isn't all it's cracked up to be. We asked Scott — who talked to experts, parents, and 171 childless folk for her book — to bust myths about parenthood.

ALL WOMEN HAVE THE MATERNAL INSTINCT. "We think we'll get this burning urge," Scott says. "But many women never feel a desire to have kids, ever."

PARENTHOOD MAKES YOU A BETTER PERSON. "Better than who? Oprah? Gandhi?"

PARENTING IS, BY DEFINITION, REWARDING. For many, yes. For all? No. Says Scott, "Dr. Phil surveyed 20,000 parents, and a third of them said that if they knew then what they know now, they probably wouldn't have started a family."

IT'S DIFFERENT WHEN THEY'RE YOURS. "If you don't like being around kids, you're unlikely to be more tolerant if they're yours — especially when they throw a fit at Walmart."

PARENTING IS THE PATH TO MATURITY. "Our parents were raised to think this, and society clings to the notion," says Scott. "But let's face it: Having kids doesn't guarantee mature behavior." Ever see a dad go berserk on a Little League ref?

A BABY WILL STRENGTHEN THE MARRIAGE. "Research shows that marital satisfaction goes way down — particularly for women — after the birth of the first child," she says. "It doesn't return to honeymoon levels till the kids leave home."

YOU'LL REGRET NOT HAVING KIDS. "Studies don't show any widespread regret among the childless by choice. A lot of thought goes into the decision," says Scott. And if you need a kid fix, you can always be a mentor.

KIDS OFFER SECURITY WHEN YOU'RE OLD. "Grown children are often hundreds of miles away," Scott notes. "To really guarantee your well-being, long-term health insurance is a better bet."

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