Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is population control a good reason not to have babies?

The world's population has reached seven billion and is still growing. In her new book, The Baby Matrix, Laura Carroll insists that if our culture keeps encouraging people to have babies we will destroy the planet. People who care will not have children, or if they must, they will have only one biological child. If that's not enough, they will adopt additional children. The overriding theme of this book is that our "pronatalist" society's belief that having children is the right and natural thing to do is wrong, wrong, wrong.

For baby boomers like me, Paul R. Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, published in 1968, was required high school reading. In it, he predicted that if we didn't do something about our ever-increasing population, the world would become so overpopulated it would self-destruct. This book became the bible for the Zero Population Growth movement. It started about the same time as birth control and abortion became legal for most people in the U.S., so people really did start having fewer kids. The average family produced two children instead of three, six or a dozen.

Still, Carroll says we need to cut back even more. When I talk to people who are childless by choice, many mention overpopulation as one of the reasons not to have kids. It's rarely their main reason, but it's one of them.

All of this makes me uncomfortable. Weren't our bodies designed to make babies?

I was happy to find some articles that report the population has started decreasing, that maybe we're not headed for disaster. This one from Slate, "About That Overpopulation Problem," explains that some countries, such as Germany, have already lowered the birthrate so much that the overall population is going down.

With couples waiting until they're older to have kids, with birth control being available to most people, and more and more choosing not to have children at all, it would seem likely that our population would stop growing. If not, I suppose the natural methods of population control that work with non-humans--predators, natural disasters, lack of food--would eventually balance out the numbers.

What do you think? Do you believe we should limit births to keep the population down? Has anyone in your life suggested this as a good reason not to have kids?

Friday, January 25, 2013

What would have happened without The Pill?

Birth control pills became legal for unmarried women in 1972, the year I lost my virginity. I realized this last night as I was reading a new book called The Baby Matrix, written by Laura Carroll, who also wrote Families of Two. I’ll write more about this book when I finish reading it, but the section on birth control is the most complete I’ve ever seen. I was shocked when I suddenly understood the chronology. In the 1960s, birth control became legal for married couples, but it wasn’t until I was in college that women who were not married had an effective means, aside from abstinence, to prevent unwanted pregnancies. This blows my mind.

I was a late bloomer when it comes to dating and sex. My mother said “don’t” and I didn’t until I was 20. It was only when I met the man who became my first husband that I finally learned how much fun sex could be. The first few months that were dated, he kept pressuring me to “do it.” I knew that he’d dump me pretty soon if I kept saying no. After I finally gave in, he hustled me to the San Jose State University health center, where I got my first birth control prescription. The pills made me sick and fat, but they kept me from getting pregnant. After we got married, I switched to a diaphragm, a rubber disk full of spermicidal cream that I inserted just before intercourse. That’s what I used until several years after our divorce, when I met Fred, who had had a vasectomy. With him, I no longer needed birth control. Conception was impossible.

I got those first pills in 1972, hiding them so my parents would never know. A year earlier, the pills would not have been available. Nor would the diaphragm. We might have used condoms, but the chances were good that I would have joined the many women who are pregnant on their wedding day. In the old days, lots of women got married to men they might not otherwise have married simply because they were pregnant. To have a child outside of marriage was a scandal to be avoided. God help the unmarried pregnant woman and her illegitimate child.

Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , 40.8 percent of babies born in the U.S. are born to unmarried women. Today they have a choice, and they choose to become single mothers while their sisters may decide not to become mothers at all. But before I was 20 years old, we didn’t have these choices. Even then, it took a while for attitudes to catch up with legalities.

Without birth control, it would be a lot harder to choose a life without children unless you also chose a life without intercourse. It would also be a considerably more difficult for a spouse who doesn’t want children to keep from having them anyway. Many of us who are childless by marriage would not be if this were 1963 instead of 2013.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thoughts on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Before 1973, women seeking abortions were forced to find illegal practitioners who were not necessarily trained or licensed to perform the procedure. In many cases, they suffered from illnesses or injuries as a result. Whether or not one favors abortion, at least now one can hope for a procedure that is done properly in sterile conditions with minimal danger to their health.

How many people have abortions? More than you would think. In interviewing childless women for my book, I was surprised at the number of women who told me they had had abortions, legal or not. Some had more than one. And that turned out to be their only chance to have children. Some admitted they didn't really want an abortion but did it because their husband or boyfriend insisted. If anyone is in that situation now, I hope they can find the courage to say no and have the baby despite their partner's objections. A man who insists you abort a baby you want is not worth keeping.

I'm having trouble finding consistent figures on just how many American women have abortions. A fact sheet from the National Abortion Federation offers some interesting facts about who has abortions and why. They maintain that "at the current rate, 35 percent of all women of reproductive age in America today will have had an abortion by the time they reach the age of 45." That's a lot. As has always been the case, most are young and most are unmarried. A substantial number are older and belong to religions that say abortion is a sin. What drives women to abort? It's the feeling that "I just can't have a baby right now in this situation." God bless them, they see no other way out.

As a Catholic, I truly believe that abortion is murder, that it's ending a life. I would not have an abortion or encourage anyone else to do it. But do I have a right to impose my religious beliefs on other people who believe differently? To force pregnant women who see no other choice but to seek dangerous and illegal means to end their pregnancies? I don't think so. I know others will disagree. 

I considered including a chapter on abortion in my book, but took it out because I have no personal experience in this area. But it is a factor in becoming childless by marriage.

Tell me what you think about it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

With "The Bachelor," you get babies

I was watching "The Bachelor" on TV the other night. Is it just me or has it become sleazier than ever? So why am I watching it? But that's not why I bring it up. I noticed that every woman there professes not only to love, love, love the hunky bachelor Sean but to want to have babies with him. He has repeatedly said that he is anxious to "start a family." So it's all happy, right?

But what if he chooses his dream girl and it turns out one or both of them are infertile? No babies. What if she decides she'd rather keep her perfect bikini body and skip baby-making?

This year, the candidates are a diverse lot. Apparently the producers heard the complaints, so now Sean can pick from a smorgasbord of women who are white, black, Asian, Hispanic and even disabled--one girl was born without a left arm. No fat girls, of course, no one who isn't beautiful, and no one who is not gung ho about having children. I bet if one of the girls said, "You know, I really don't want to have children," old Sean would vote her out in a heartbeat.

But it's not a realistic situation, is it? It's the old Cinderella story. She'll marry Prince Charming and they'll have beautiful children together. That's about as real as their big breasts and their claims that they adore this guy they just met when all they really want is to be on TV and maybe get famous.

The night after "The Bachelor," I watched the second-to-last episode of "Private Practice." And what did we see? Babies everywhere. Charlotte gave birth to triplets, Addison's adoption of Henry was finalized, and Amelia announced to the hunky new ER doc that she wants to have his babies. He was fine with that. By the end of that show, I was suffering some serious baby lust which holding the dog did not satisfy.

In the real world, we may be seeing one in five women never having children, but prime time TV rarely reflects that reality.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Where does God fit in the baby decision?

One of my frequent commenters tugged my heartstrings yesterday with her tale of the marriage that ended with an annulment over the child issue and whose ex—who refused to convert when they were married--has since joined the Catholic church and attends with his new fiancĂ©e. He even stands up front and sings solos. This has made it hard for her to keep going to that church. If he had converted when they were married, their story might have turned out quite differently.

I have probably mentioned this before, but I was amazed in researching Childless by Marriage to find that almost no one included religion in their decision-making about babies. How could so few think about God in making this huge decision? I don’t get it.

In the U.S., statistics show that nearly half of Americans report that they go to church every Sunday. But do they really? According to a recent NPR story called “What We Say About Our Religion, and What We Do,” one in five say they aren’t affiliated with any religious denomination, and many of those who say they go to church don’t actually do it. Personally, I know a lot of good people who don’t have anything to do with any kind of religion.

No matter what kind of religion one practices, wouldn’t it make sense to pray, meditate, or light a candle when deciding whether or not to have children? The Bible tells us to “go forth and multiply.” The Catholic faith dictates that married couples must welcome children and raise them in the faith. Most other religions at least preach that babies are a good thing, if not an essential part of life. Yet couples are making this decision without any consideration of their faith.

I’m trying hard not to preach here. I’m as bad as everyone else. Did I pray over it when motherhood was still an option? I don’t think so. Did I use birth control when my church says I can’t? You bet. I may even have asked that I NOT be pregnant a couple times when I was single. Maybe I got what I deserved.

Dear readers, help me understand. Why do so many people leave God out of the baby decision? I know even asking the question could make some readers angry or make them turn away. But I’m asking. Where is God in all of this?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tasty childfree treats from the web

Today I've decided to share some tasty treats from the web that should give you a balanced meal of information, inspiration and laughter.

At The Not Mom site, recent posts include New Year's goals--can you express your intention for 2013 in one word?--a tribute to non-mom and screenwriter Nora Ephron, and a look at whether actresses without kids can effectively play mothers.

Visit Gateway-women.com to read "No More Nice Girls," in which Jody Day takes us from a familiar nursery rhyme to the justifiable anger many women feel in our situation.

Then hit the Children or Not blog for a link to a great article by a woman who decided to become a mom on her own and also a delightful link to a goofy song by a couple who decided to break up because he wanted children and she didn't and used a music video to announce their decision.

Have a great weekend, and if doesn't turn out so great, write a song about it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Annulment offers comfort in childless divorce

Is a marriage doomed if one partner wants children and the other doesn’t? That’s the question we talked about in last week’s blog. I want to pursue the subject a little farther.

As most of you know, I was married twice. The first marriage ended in divorce, and my second husband died in 2011. I didn’t have children with either husband.

My first husband never said anything about not wanting children until well into the marriage. As we prepared for marriage in the Catholic church, we signed papers saying we would welcome children. But once we were married, he kept saying, “Not yet.” Then, when I thought I might be pregnant, he showed his true colors. “If you're pregnant, I’m leaving,” he told me. Well, I wasn’t pregnant, and the marriage fell apart about a year later for other reasons. About six months after the divorce, I filed for an annulment in the Catholic church. That annulment was granted on the grounds that my ex refused to have children with me. In the eyes of the church, it was not a valid marriage.

The annulment process was relatively easy compared to the divorce. I paid $300 and submitted written testimony, backed up with testimony from my parents and my brother, gave it all to my priest and eventually received a letter in the mail from the archdiocesan tribunal in San Francisco giving me the verdict. My ex was given the opportunity to give his side of the story, but he declined. I shed a few tears when I saw our full real names in that letter saying our marriage was invalid, but now I was free to marry again. The annulment process gave me validation that my desire to have children was right and good, that I did not have to suffer for my husband’s sin.

So now I could start over. I could marry someone else and have children. But it didn’t work out that way. My second husband, Fred, told me up front that the three kids he had from his first marriage were enough. He had had a vasectomy because he didn’t want to have any more babies. Although I suffered from a bit of denial—surely a miracle will happen and I’ll still have kids—I married him. He was not Catholic, and because he was divorced, we were not allowed to get married in the Catholic Church. There would be no annulment to rescue me if I regretted my choice.

Over the years, I often wished I could have children, but I never wanted to trade Fred for someone else. I didn’t have children with him, but I did get the support I needed to pursue my writing and music, and I did become a stepmother to his three children. He loved me like no one had ever loved me. Those are important things, huge gifts. He gave me a wonderful life. There was no breach of promise with Fred. No surprise.

In reading comments from men and women who declare themselves childfree, I find that many would end a relationship if their loved one wanted children. To them, it is worse to be saddled with an unwanted child than to lose their partner or spouse. What if Fred had said, “You want babies, so we’re going to have to break up?” Or if I had said, “Sorry, I’m going to look for somebody else.” What a loss that would have been for both of us.

What if my first husband had been honest about not wanting children? Our relationship was always troubled. But would I have had the sense to go find someone else? I was only 20 when we met. My whole life could have been different. But I wouldn’t have met Fred.

We don’t know what this life is going to bring, but when God sends us someone wonderful, should we send them away?

I would love to hear your thoughts.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

If you disagree about children, is your relationship doomed?

Is it possible for a relationship to work when one partner wants children and the other doesn’t? This is the question that is still resonating in my head days after I finished reading Kidfree & Lovin’ It (reviewed Jan. 2). The opinion of most of the people author Kaye D. Walters surveyed is that this is a deal-breaker, that compromise is impossible, that the relationship is doomed. They say it is better to break up than to have a child you don’t want—or force a child on someone who doesn’t want to have children. Don’t date, don’t marry, don’t pretend it’s okay; it won’t work.

Walters urges couples to think it through and be sure of what they want. “Don’t just end a perfectly good relationship without first examining your means and motivations on the kid issue.” She offers lists of reasons to procreate and suggests that some of them are pretty shaky and perhaps one might not be a good parent after all. But in the end, like the people she surveyed, she seems to lean toward ending the relationship.

This issue is at the heart of my Childless by Marriage blog and book. It’s an issue that most books about childlessness (see my resource list) pay minimal attention to. But it’s a big one. If my first husband had been willing and ready to have children, I’d be a grandmother now. If my second had been willing to add more children to the three he already had and if he had not had a vasectomy, I’d have grown children and maybe grandchildren now. If I had dumped either one because I wanted to have children and they didn’t, my life would have been completely different.

I am childless because I married these men and stayed with them. The first marriage ended for other reasons, but the second husband was a keeper. We lasted three weeks shy of 26 years. If Fred hadn’t died, we’d still be together. He was the perfect mate for me in every other way. And maybe, if I truthfully answer all of Walters’ soul-searching questions, I would find I was too devoted to my career to add motherhood to the mix. I wanted children, and I wish I’d had them. BUT I loved Fred and knew I would never find a better husband. Should I have left him and hoped to find someone else, maybe someone not as good but who was willing to have babies with me? Am I a fool because I sacrificed motherhood for these men?

That’s the big question that many of the people who comment here are facing: stay with the partner or spouse who doesn’t want kids or try to find someone else? What do you think? Is a relationship doomed if you disagree on this issue? Is it all right to sacrifice something this big for the one you love? There are always compromises in a relationship. People give up their careers, move far away from home, or take care of disabled spouses, but is this too much to ask?

I really want to know what you think.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Book review: Kidfree & Lovin' It!

Happy New Year! I hope your holidays were good and wish you all the best for the new year. This morning I finished reading one of the newer books on the childless life, so I'm sharing my opinion. In the interest of full disclosure, I am quoted once, on page 20, as someone who regrets not having children, and the author gave me a small discount on the purchase price. This has not influenced my review in any way. 

Kidfree & Lovin’ It! by Kaye D. Walters, Serena Bay Publishing, 2012. I should have known. This is yet another book glorifying the childfree life. It is extremely well done, full of solid information and great resources, including an extensive list of famous non-parents and lists of places for the childfree to find other childfree people. Walters spent years surveying thousands of childfree people and includes lots of quotes from people who don't have children, nearly all by choice.

This is the most thorough book that I have seen on the subject. However, I had a hard time reading it. The overarching message seems to be that only fools procreate. It’s too expensive, messes up your careers and your relationships, and, most important, you have to sacrifice your freedom. Certainly Walters offers a few words here and there noting that if you feel that parenting is right for you, then go for it and God bless you. But those passages are overwhelmed by pages and pages of why parenting sucks and why children are undesirable. Also, if you and your mate disagree, then compromise is impossible; you have to break up. Apparently there is no room in this life for sacrifice or for doing things for other people because you love them.

If you are childless by choice, you will love this book. As I said at the beginning, it is well-written, well organized and full of facts. If you’re on the fence, you may decide after reading this that you don’t want children after all. But if you want children or wanted them and couldn’t have them, I bet you won’t make it through the whole book. 

Not to blow my own horn, but my own Childless by Marriage appears to be the only one coming out lately that acknowledges regret over not having children. The childfree movement seems to be coming at us like a tidal wave. Right now one in five women don't reproduce. That leaves 80 percent who do. I wonder what will happen with the next generation. Will only a small percentage decide to have children?