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Childfree in America 

Oh, baby! Is this a fast-growing, misunderstood movement that has taken root in Charlotte -- or just a bunch of mean ol' kid haters spreading their vitriol?

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Lake decided to form a No Kidding chapter in Charlotte one night when she was out with her husband for a drink. She was sitting at the bar of the now-closed Rio Bravo on South Boulevard when a man walked in with a newborn baby. The patrons at the bar were engaging in appropriate behavior for the setting -- smoking, drinking and talking loudly -- but not for an infant. The man moseyed up to the watering hole and plopped the baby carrier (with the baby in it) on top of the bar.

"I felt terrible for the baby," Lake remembers. "You don't want to put it in this kind of environment. And certainly if I was a parent, I would not have it there."

Shortly thereafter, Lake found No Kidding online. She was surprised that Charlotte didn't have any vocal dissenters among the diaper-toting masses. She contacted No Kidding's founder in Canada and began the Charlotte-area chapter. "I just figured if there were clubs for lactating mothers, there was room enough for us in town," she says.

That was 2001, and since then the Charlotte chapter of No Kidding has grown to include more than 100 members. They gather twice a month for wine tastings, picnics and sporting events, and they keep in touch through an e-mail list. Lake says this area needed the group, because Charlotte is a major family-first city. "It seems everywhere you go in Charlotte there are kids there -- even when they're not supposed to be," she says.

Lake says tykes frequently make appearances at downtown Charlotte bars such as the Fox and Hound, but adds that the problem is even bigger in areas like Ballantyne. Given such intrusions, she says, a backlash from childless people was inevitable.

Almost every day Lake receives e-mails from people who want to join No Kidding. "We talk about everything but kids," she says of the group's events. "It just never comes up. You never have to worry about people asking you how many kids you have, because everyone already knows you don't have any."

Detroit member Darlene Johnson-Bignotti, 46, is married but her childfree status separates her from other married couples. "I have friends that I can't see anymore because my idea of a good time isn't going to Chuck E. Cheese," she says.

"The very first No Kidding event I attended, four years ago, it was really amazing, being in a room with a group of women who had something to talk about other than their children," says Johnson-Bignotti. "I didn't know that there were other people out there like me. It was such an experience to be around other women whose lives didn't revolve around the lives of children."

Lake agrees that finding like-minded people on the child issue has increased her index of close friends. Still, she has several friends who have children. "I just never see them. They don't have any time," she says.

"No one in our chapter militantly hates children," she adds. "They just prefer to be around adults."

Says Susan Mayer of the Detroit chapter of No Kidding: "We may not like to be around [kids] all the time, but there are lots of things people don't like to be around all the time. Like construction."

Diane Evans-Gleneski, 40, another Detroit member, has been married for two and a half years. She says society has been "totally brainwashed that producing a child is a must, that it's an obligation as opposed to a choice. If you don't [have kids], then you are an object of pity or scorn."

Childfree people also lament what they see as preferential treatment given to people with kids. Debra Mollen, an assistant professor of psychology at Texas Women's University, conducted an extensive study on childfree women. She found many of her subjects were expected to work longer hours than co-workers who were mothers.

"Pregnant women get preferential parking, those without children are expected to work longer hours, people with children get tax breaks," Mollen says. "There's social sanctioning for having children."

Semen demons

For something as seemingly innocuous as not wanting kids, many childfree are extremely gun-shy. Most interviewed for this article didn't want to be photographed. Some -- before agreeing to speak -- even demanded to know whether the author had kids. This may well be due to the sometimes biased and nasty treatment childfree people have gotten in the media. Kick a tame dog enough times and eventually it'll bite.

Some media have eagerly jumped on the more outspoken of the childfree set, the so-called hard-core contingent. These are the folks who refer to kids as "parasites," "larvae," "semen demons" and "crotch droppings," and to bad parents as "breeders" and "stupid moos." In online forums, they scathingly unleash their frustrations about dealing with badly behaved children.

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