Eyes Wide Shut When it Comes to Procreation

            We hate to start the new year on a negative note … but you know we’re going to do it anyway. How many would-be parents think about the personal suffering of those with physical or mental illness, ongoing wars, racial injustices, and human unkindness, not to mention our brutal treatment of animals?

            Mark O’Connell, in his article in the August 3, 2014 New York Times Magazine, has mulled over it all.  “What A Raw Deal for the Poor Little Guy,” delves into what children face simply by being born, and his own parental angst about a world that is doing badly.

            O’Connell takes the reader on a journey from the time he was about 10 years old when his father took him to a nursing home to visit a female friend.  In the bed next to the friend another “impossibly ancient and decrepit” woman, agitated with the indignity of old age, said, “look at what’s happened to me.” Her voice was pleading and the young O’Connell was shaken, enough so to upset the applecart of his innocence.

Samuel Beckett

Writer Samuel Beckett. Photo – Wikimedia Commons

           O’Connell first read Samuel Beckett in college, “with his sense that to be born at all was a form of damnation.” In Waiting For Godot, the Pozzo character reminds the reader that “the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.”

            O’Connell went on to read the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who stated without apology that “The world is just a hell and in it human beings are the tortured souls on the one hand, and the devils on the other.”  Schopenhauer also posed a bold question: If procreation was not accompanied by pleasure, but rationally deliberate, wouldn’t people feel so sorry for the upcoming generation and that they would spare children the “burden of existence”?

Aarthur Schopenhauer

18th Century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Photo – Wikimedia Commons

            In spite of his philosophical acumen, O’Connell’s wife had a son in March of 2013. While he sat in the hospital with her and the baby, he read the Irish Times. He was horrified by the news: “massacres, rapes, recurrent outbursts of savage recreational violence, a world built on a seemingly unshakable foundation of economic cruelty and injustice, the continuing project of environmental destruction … What a world. What a species. What a raw deal for the poor little guy.” No kidding.

            Kudos to Mark O’Connell. He went into fatherhood with eyes wide open, while he continues to struggle with his simultaneous love for his progeny and his own pessimism about “the world we chose to bring him into.” He thought twice about the pitfalls of life, and the state of the world before making a child.  Given his wisdom, we choose to believe that he is likely to have just one.

How Can Anyone be Happy Without Having Kids? Easy!

Note: This will be the last column for quite a while on this blog. We are going on hiatus to evaluate our directions in life (if such a thing is realistic). Writing Enough of Us  and this blog has been a many-years-long project for us. We hope it will promote a dialogue on an issue that has too long been predominantly confined to intimate conversations and unspoken judgments. We thank everyone who has followed and supported www.enoughof.us.

 A study reported in London’s Daily Mail bears this not-so-surprising-to-us headline: “Childless couples ‘have the happiest marriages.’” A research study entitled “Enduring Love?” conducted by Britain’s Open University determined that—in the U.K. at least—people without children are more satisfied with their relationships and more likely to feel valued by their partner. They are also more likely to be happily married.

          The study involved questioning more than 5,000 people across a range of ages, statuses, and sexual orientations. “For both men and women, those who did not have children ranked the quality of their relationship more highly than those who did.”

          The “childless” include the childfree (those who choose not to have kids) and those without kids who may want them. Overall, childless couples worked more than parents at maintaining the quality of their partnerships. Such efforts include “going out” together and talking to each other.

          We try to be as fair as we can on this blog, so we won’t hide the fact that, “Mothers were happier overall than any other group, while childless women were the least happy. By contrast, men with children emerged slightly less happy than those without.”

          Being parents also influenced levels of intimacy. Fathers were twice as likely to cite a lack of sexual intimacy as the biggest downfall of their relationships, while mothers reported that they often want to have sex less than their partners do. We’re not sure if these contrasting emotions were felt by members of the same couple, in which case “too much” for one would be “not enough” for the other. If that is the case … well … heaven help them.

          Evidence indicates that many couples with kids persist in their marriages primarily for the sake of their kids. Childless and childfree couples as a group have a significantly higher divorce rate than those with kids, which on its face appears to be contradictory. But when you consider that many parent couples stay together because of the potentially devastating consequences for their kids, it makes sense that parents “stick it out” longer.

           As reported in the Huffington Post, of those interviewed, mothers reported being happier with life than any other group, and childless women reported being the least happy.

           The study indicates that “couples need to keep investing in their relationships. It’s reassuring to know, especially in these tough economic times, that it’s the small gestures of appreciation and affection, rather than the big romantic displays that really make the difference,” said Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of the relationship support organization Relate, which contributed to the study.

          For our book Enough of Us, we interviewed comedian Jay Leno, a longtime acquaintance and colleague of Ellis’s. Jay and his wife Mavis decided that having children was not compatible with his show business lifestyle, among other determinants. Instead, they have maintained a happy and steady marriage for 33 years, sans offspring. The Lenos are typical of many people who have a clear vision about what their marital partnership should consist of, including whether to change their life path for keeps.  

The Great Kate

Katherine Hepburn in her prime. Wikimedia Commons

        The great actor and notorious eccentric (in the best possible way) Katherine Hepburn, put her choice thus: “I had such a wonderful upbringing that I had a very high standard of how a mother and father should behave. I couldn’t be that way and carry on a movie career.”

          Lori Buckley is a sex therapist in Pasadena, Calif. As reported in WebMD, she observes that the couples she sees have no regrets about living a childfree life. “They might have curiosity, wondering ‘what if.’ But once you’ve made a conscious decision and you have clarity about your choices, then chances of regret go way down.”

          Over the years, one of the soundest pieces of advice we have repeatedly come across is that couples need to deal with the “will we or won’t we” question of parenting before committing to a “permanent” relationship. Doing so is no guarantee of success, but it does improve the odds.

 ***   

President James Madison

James Madison by John Vanderlyn (1775–1852) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

       And here is a bit of political history. James Madison was the fourth president of the United States. He is regarded as the father of the U.S. Constitution. He was married to Dolley Payne Madison, who had two sons by a previous marriage, the youngest of whom died at three months of age on the same day as Dolley’s husband.

         James and Dolley never produced a child

Fourth First Lady, Dolley Madison

Hello Dolley!
Dolley-Madison-c.-1804-by-Gilbert-Stuart

together. The upshot of this story is: You may not father a child but you can still father a democracy.

Global WARMING? Half the Country is Freezing! But Don’t Tell That to Australians

We wish the term “global warming” had never been conceived. With a third of the U.S. population having its brains beaten out by snow and near-record cold temperatures (at this writing New York City expected a low of seven degrees this morning and Chicago looked forward to a wind-chill of about 40 below), how can anyone think about global warming?

          Just hold your horses—or kangaroos—as we take a look down under.  The Aussies have just lived through their hottest year on record. And so far, things don’t look much cooler for 2014. While the cities on the east coast of the country have decent temps right now, it might not be a good idea to visit the outback, and we’re not talking steak houses here. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology reported that 34 locations in Australia set all-time high temperature records between Dec. 30 and Jan. 4. One area of south central Australia had highs above 120 degrees. These high-low ranges are why “climate change” is a better term than “global warming.”

          Remember, we just experienced mega Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, preceded by “Frankenstorm” Sandy on the U.S. East Coast. Which brings us to the point. Don’t let the bitter cold that is saturating broadcast news misdirect your attention. In California, where we live, 2013 was one of the driest years on record. The northern part of the state, including the San Francisco Bay Area and the snow-dependent Lake Tahoe area of the Sierra Nevada, is practically gasping for rain and snow. We are experiencing week upon week of well-above-average temperatures. So while we are all looking at snow drifts on the tube, we feel this reminder is timely: THE EARTH IS WARMING AND THE SEAS ARE RISING. In other words, on average the surface temperatures on our planet are headed upward. And that means ice everywhere is melting faster than it is replaced.

          According to the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, the preponderance of evidence places the blame on human activity. And no matter how energy efficient we become over the next century, adding three billion of us to the planet is going to make it all but impossible to reduce energy consumption overall. 

Dinosaur Comics

Dinosaur Comics/Courtesy Ryan North

           Nancy Cole of Union of Concerned Scientists, writing in the fall 2013 issue of Catalyst, explains that “ … heat is also absorbed by oceans, causing water to warm and expand. Together, these mechanisms have caused the global average sea level to rise eight inches since 1880; some cities along the East and Gulf Coasts have seen even greater increases, from 12 inches in Miami Beach to 30 inches in Virginia Beach.” Cole refers to scientists’ projections that globally seas could rise an additional six to 16 inches by 2050. In the ensuing 50 years they could rise another two to six feet.

          If there is one thing we have learned since diving into the myriad issues of the consequences of overpopulation, it is that such projections often don’t have merit when it comes to accuracy. 2013 for instance was supposed to be one hell of a year for Atlantic hurricanes. The reality, in a word: fizzle. But over the long haul, it is likely that the air will warm, ice will melt, and seas will rise. A lot.

          That will mean that coastal cities will either be swamped or have to spend big bucks on stopping the seas. Beaches, and even a country or two, like the Maldives, will disappear. And future generations will wonder, “What the hell were they thinking back in the early 21st  century? Or were they thinking at all? After all, didn’t they realize there were enough of us, even back then?

 

 

U.S. Gets a “C-” Reproductive Report Card

 According to the nonprofit Population Institute, The United States gets a grade of “C-” for its efforts to promote family planning and reproductive health. According to its “Report Card on Reproductive Health and Rights,” the country does a poor job of assisting its residents in obtaining essential family planning resources.

            The Report, released last year, gave nine states a grade of “F” while only 12 got a “B-” or better. Only Washington, Oregon, and California earned an “A”.

          What do all these letters mean? Reproductive health, as measured by the institute, is determined by four criteria, each broken down into sub-categories:

  • Effectiveness (30 percent):
  • Affordability (30 percent);
  • Prevention (20 percent);
  • Clinic access (20 percent).

          Effectiveness consists of teenage pregnancy rate and unintended pregnancies.

          Affordability consists of Medicaid availability for family planning, insurance that covers contraception, and funding for family planning clinics for low-income families.

          Prevention is broken down into two criteria: mandated school sex education and access to emergency contraception.

          The fourth criterion, clinic access, consists of abortion restrictions and protective legislation for clinic access. 

Color-coded map of states' grades

Population Institute Reproductive Health and Rights states map

         Title X (Title Ten) passed by Congress and approved by President Richard Nixon in 1970, provided low-income and uninsured individuals with access to family planning resources like birth control and preventive healthcare services. As a result, tens of millions of women who might not otherwise have had the option of limiting or spacing their pregnancies have been able to do so.

          “We’ve seen a lot of progress in the last four decades,” said Population Institute President Robert Walker in the report, “but we can’t take anything for granted.” Recent events, like legislation in Texas that restricts abortion clinics by requiring untenable operating requirements, concerns Walker. These
include such restrictions as requiring the clinic to be near a hospital or to have expensive budget-busting equipment in the clinic that would exceed any reasonable need for such facilities. “The U.S. still has an unacceptably high rate of unintended pregnancies, including teenage pregnancies, and yet family planning clinics in many areas are being forced to close, and schools in many states are using unproven, abstinence-only sex education curricula.”

          Fairness dictates we concede that some of the criteria employed in determining these grades are biased against those with religious beliefs that eschew abortion rights. But that still leaves a wide swath of heads-in-the-sand thinking in states that make it difficult to obtain abortions and are hostile to the availability of family planning. Among the most contemptible of these nexuses occurs when states like Texas attempt to close down Planned Parenthood locations because they provide abortions. The irony is that more than 95 percent of Planned Parenthood funding goes for services designed to help people avoid or plan pregnancies.

          According to Walker, the United States has a higher rate of teen pregnancy than most other developed countries. So while Texas (with a grade of D-) and New Jersey (C) have slashed state funding for family planning clinics serving low income uninsured folks, access to food stamps and unemployment insurance benefits are being hacked on the federal level as well. In other words, some families will grow larger while their ability to feed their most vulnerable members, the kids, will diminish.

          According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011 state legislators introduced about 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions. Of those, 135 became law, tightening restrictions in 36 states.

          Let’s give this all some perspective. State legislatures dominated by conservatives tend to oppose the funding of family planning facilities, especially those that offer abortion or the so-called morning after pill. They also oppose generous contraception policies for teenage girls. These same legislatures frequently oppose health care reform, Medicaid and other benefits for those in the lower economic strata. Combine that with cutbacks in food stamps, and these states are whipping up a recipe for ipecac soup.

          Whether or not you believe that reduced population is a good thing, how can these anti-reproductive-health cohorts believe that their policies, or lack of them, are a good thing? Read more about these issues in our book, Enough of Us.

 

Should we Prevent Devastating Pregnancies? What’s Your Opinion?

            Adopting foster children can be an unending series of trials and tribulations. Maggie Jones’s “The Meaningful Life of a Supersize Family,” in the November 17, 2013 New York Times Magazine, makes the case in spades. The article profiles two families that have sacrificed the niceties of life in order to provide hearth and home for kids who most need it.  

            Misty and Jon already had four biological children. Even so, they discussed the adoption option and realized the $20,000 it would take to complete the process would overstretch their budget. But an ad on a Christian radio station about a new organization that was helping Christians to adopt foster kids helped change their minds. It opened the door for the Misty-Jon family (they didn’t want their last names used) to take in Denver County foster children, with the intention of adopting them. They were able to receive financial help including Medicaid and payment of therapy expenses.

            Their first foster children were brothers, Shon and Cory. They were told that the boys’ mother had dropped them off with a man who couldn’t care for them, and she never returned.

            Of the two, Shon had the worst time adjusting to his new family. He would lie in bed at night, head in hands, staring straight ahead until Misty left the room. He’d wake up in the same position in the morning “as if he were on guard all night.”

            Eight months later, as the adoption process was inching along, a caseworker informed Misty and Jon that Corey and Shon’s mother had just given birth to twins, a boy and a girl. They were dangerously premature at 24 weeks old. Each infant weighed one pound, and the county was asking for foster parents to

Premature ababy and mother.

10-week premature baby being held by her mother (this is not drug-related). Photo courtesy Polihale, Wikimedia Commons

cuddle the babies in the hospital. The boy died days before Misty and Jon’s first “holding” hospital visit, but his sister Olivia survived. Having severe heart problems, she was hooked up to a ventilator. After six months of driving 45 minutes every other night to the hospital to hold Olivia, Misty brought the little girl home, with a tracheostomy tube to help her breathe, a feeding tube, and full-time nursing care paid for by Medicaid.

            Another girl, Raena, was supposed to be a short-term placement. Her mother was on track to regain custody of the four-month-old, who weighed only 11 pounds. A relative’s boyfriend had shaken the child and thrown her into a bassinet, which resulted in two permanent brain injuries. When Raena’s mother lost her parental rights due to drug problems, Misty and Jon, who were caring for this special-needs child, “eagerly” began the adoption process.

            Maureen and her husband Christian heard the same religious radio ad as had Misty and Jon. They also had four birth children, and believed they had a calling to adopt foster children. The result was they adopted two boys. David and Ernesto’s birthmother was 16 when she had David. Thirteen months later, she gave birth to Ernesto, even though she tested positive for methamphetamine. Ernesto struggled with sensory issues: In one instance, he wrapped his torso in duct tape and in another, covered his head in Vaseline. He had screaming fits, hit his adoptive mother, and “grabbed her hair with both hands so that she couldn’t move.” Maureen rightly suspected that he had been exposed to drugs in utero.

             These stories lead us to ask the big question: Is it time to consider laws that prohibit unfit parents (drug addicts and child abusers) from repeating their traumatic, inhumane, and costly mistakes?  Progeny from parents who have no capacity to “think twice before making children,” frequently suffer sad and dysfunctional lives. The families who take in and take care of these children suffer too, both financially and emotionally. Society suffers by paying for services to dysfunctional parents and the children they sire. Citizens witness the cruelty to these offspring with horror, unable to stop the injustice. Why do our laws allow it? Can lawmakers and voters set boundaries that will actually save the yet unborn from a terrible fate?

          What do you think? We’d love to start some dialogue in this topic.

Pass It Forward: Fertility After Pediatric Cancer

Years ago, a female friend was diagnosed with breast cancer weeks before her wedding. Her fertility was uncompromised, so a year or two after a double mastectomy, she remained determined to have children. Her first baby was a boy. No problem. Before her second child was born, she shared with us that she feared having a girl because she didn’t want to go through what her mother had suffered through with her, that is a daughter who contracted breast cancer. Our friend did give birth to a female.  Davida is still young, in her third year of college, and to our knowledge she has not yet been tested for the breast cancer gene.

            In an article on the New York Times blog, “After Cancer, Fertility is Often Within Reach,” a 39-year-old working mother, Karen Cormier, revealed that after developing a “rare form of kidney cancer” at age 5, she assumed she wouldn’t be able to become pregnant due to her doctors’ counsel that the treatments damaged her reproductive organs. Three years after adopting a child, Ms. Cormier became pregnant and had Ryan, “a walking biological miracle.”

            The Times blog post makes the point that many adults who survive childhood cancer struggle to conceive, especially if they had received pelvic radiation treatments, a certain class of chemotherapy drugs, high doses of radiation, or stem cell transplants. After the two latter treatments these youthful patients became completely sterile. Nowadays, though, fertility treatments for both male and female childhood cancer survivors increase their chances of overcoming clinical infertility, leading doctors to surmise that young patients’ ovaries and testes may be more resilient than originally believed.

           Cancer trade magazine According to the Times article, a recent large study in The Lancet Oncology found that about two out of three female survivors who turned to fertility treatments did become pregnant – “a rate of success that mirrored the rate among other infertile women.” Other recent studies found that many adult men with low sperm counts after having childhood cancer (due to side effects of chemotherapy) “undergo procedures that harvest viable sperm, allowing them to father their own children.”

            Although this article holds out hope for many would-be parents who had pediatric cancer, it fails to mention the possible consequences for their biological children, specifically, what about the hereditary cancer that parents with their own early history of the disease might pass on to their child?  

            According to the American Cancer Society, only about 5 percent to 10 percent of all cancers are inherited.  In spite of this low percentage, “cancer in a close relative like a parent or sibling . . .  is more cause for concern than cancer in a more distant relative.”  Also, a family member that had a very early onset or rare cancer should consult with a genetics specialist for their children’s sakes.  

            Due to the widespread media coverage of Angelina Jolie’s recent double mastectomy, many Americans have become aware of

Angelina Jolie inherited her mother's predisposition for breast cancer.

Angelina Jolie. Photo courtesy Georges Biard

some women’s predisposition for breast and ovarian cancers. Had Jolie had genetic testing a few years earlier, she might have decided against having biological children. Indeed, her daughter Shiloh, with a grandmother who had contracted breast cancer and a mother who carried the gene for same, is most probably at high risk for the illness.

            Over the years, in some of Cheryl’s conversations with would-be parents about adoption, many expressed a concern that if the adoption isn’t “open,” meaning that if the biological parent isn’t in the picture (and/or cannot be reached), the adopted child’s unknown health and psychological history could lead to serious medical problems. Yet, some of these same would-be parents seem willing to pass an inherited illness like cancer onto their own biological child!

            So, here’s the message to doctors who specialize in fertility, and to would-be parents who suffered from childhood cancer but yearn to have biological offspring: Think twice before making children. The genetics you pass along may be dangerous for the kids.

The World as We Know it is Coming to an End … So What Else is New?

          We have been sounding the clarion call, warning the world that making kids, especially a lot of them, is a really bad idea. What we have been unable to describe, however, is exactly what this tiny orb in an almost unlimited galaxy will look like in a few centuries.

          Author Alan Weisman described what the Earth might look like if we suddenly all disappeared, in his 2007 book, The World Without Us. In fact, it looks pretty good, if you can live without the image of The Peter Principle of all species (aka Homo sapiens) running through your imagination.

Alan Weisman warns of consequences of overpopulation

Author Alan Weisman

           In his latest tome, Weisman projects just the opposite outcome. In Countdown he guesses what our planet will look like if we can’t keep our sperm contained. 

          The world’s human numbers grow by the population of Egypt each year. Reno, Nevada has a about 230,000 residents. That is approximately how much global population increases daily. Imagine building a city the size of Reno each and every day of the year, replete with energy sources, fresh water, sewage, and on and on, each day. To us, that is mind boggling. In the six years since Weisman wrote The World Without Us, our numbers have increased from 6.5 billion to 7.1 billion. In less than a century, that number will grow to more than 10 billion.

          Imagine, 42 percent growth in nine decades. That’s an increase of two Chinas or nine United Stateses (if that’s how to say it). But enough of statistics. What does this mean in practical day-to-day-life terms?

          Let’s start with water. “Ever-rising water demand, and climate change, are expected to boost water problems worldwide, especially in countries that are already experiencing shortages,” says Dina Fine Maron of Scientific American.

          She goes on to point out, “Pakistan, one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, is on the brink of crisis. A recent report from the Asian Development Bank, highlighted by The Atlantic, states that the country’s emergency water reserve only has enough supply for 30 days – more than 30 times below the 1,000-day recommendation for similar countries.”

       Alan Weisman's latest book   We must find a way to bring these numbers down or, as Weisman points out, eventually, drought, warfare, disease, or famine will. He traveled to 21 countries to speak with scientists, religious leaders, politicians, and others to research his book. While countries that adopt liberal family planning policies, like Iran – which offers voluntary state-funded birth control and education – seem to “get it,” other countries slog along, creating cities like Mumbai, India, where many of its 20 million people live under tarps strung between skyscrapers.

          Weisman makes the case that our planet can provide adequate fresh air, water, and food for two billion people, which was our population in 1900. If we were to adopt China’s one-child policy, we could get back to that number in a century. “I don’t see us being able to change our lifestyles fast enough,” he opines. “The one thing we can do is contraception. We could change human impact more quickly that way, and give ourselves time to solve these other problems.”

           As we are fond of saying, there are more than Enough of Us. The tools exist for us to turn things around. What is lacking is the self-awareness, the political courage, and the gumption to “Just say ‘No’”.

Caring for Our Elders – Do We Need More Children?

[Sonia Burke lives in Portugal. She writes this essay in response to our September 4, 2013 column, “No Progeny Necessary – The Boon of Boomer Communities.” (http://www.enoughof.us/no-progeny-necessary-the-boon-of-boomer-communities). For background, we suggest you to read that column first.]

 

          In Europe there has been considerable debate about aging population and the sustainability of the welfare state. The question is, can nations afford pensions and national health care? But instead of presenting people with real solutions, we continue to hear that the solution is breeding more people.

          I’m childfree and I am sticking to that. What troubles me is the lack of will to put forward ideas that will accommodate the ever-increasing number of senior citizens and ensure their care. It doesn’t have to come from the public sector. In fact, it probably shouldn’t. But I am sure government incentives could give the private sector reasons to create appealing spaces in which those at the later stages of life can live and socialize, in contrast to the depressing elderly care homes that none of us would like to see their parent in.

          Ironically, while opting out of motherhood was very clear to me, I failed to realize that I should have a say when it comes to looking after my own parents. My parents were both 40 years of age when I was born. Having had my maternal grandmother living with us–and my paternal grandmother living at my aunt’s – this idea should have at least crossed my mind. Still, perhaps my mind was assuaged by the fact that my mother vowed never to put me through what her mother had put her through. And, let’s face it, if someone was difficult in their younger years they won’t have cute and cuddly personalities as they age. You can tell a child to go to their room, scold them for misbehaviour and expect they don’t repeat whatever they did wrong again. You can’t do that with a parent.

          I love my mother and my late father. When my father died we invited my mother to come live with us (we live around three hours away from her village). As you can imagine, when a death happens suddenly you don’t have time to think about such sensitive issues with a clear head. I lost my father when I was 25 and my life was just starting to unfold. His death brought it all to a halt. Neither my husband nor I imagined this would be a permanent thing. But at the time we felt the right thing to do for my mother was to invite her to live with us. Without much thought I was repeating what my mother did with her own mother, thus ensuring that I brought into my home and my marriage the very same atmosphere I’d experienced growing up. It was not pretty. Luckily, not having children stops me from any possibility of doing the same to someone else. Phew.

          After 10 years living with us, and a marriage that came far too close to ending, I had to tell my mother the arrangement wasn’t working.  Since she continues to be very healthy in every way, she’d have to split her time between our house and hers for all our sakes. This was heart-breaking and still is. No child, and no young couple, should be put through this decision.

           My mother used to say she’d go to a nursing home when she needed one, although now it’s a whole different story; it’s a taboo subject. If I try to discuss the future with her, we don’t get anywhere. I need to leave my country soon (as many are doing throughout southern Europe to find work) and I ask when are the governments going to start helping adult children and face the issue that many seniors need to make arrangements for their future? Many of these elderly, like my mother, are still perfectly capable of making decisions. But nothing  worth considering is being offered to them. You’d have thought that investors would gather around this new demographic reality and together with the government start promoting co-housing options. What we’re currently witnessing is that everyone is brushing the dirt under the rug and preferring to anticipate more babies, when what we’re really giving birth to, as a society, is millions of eventually aging citizens who may not have anyone to care for them.       

A senior residence in Ohio

Senior village in Columbus, OH

   I’m in my mid 30s and my husband is in his early 40s. Even if we did want children, we would not be able to afford them. If you consider that most of my friends who went to university are currently in the same predicament as we are (long periods of unemployment, low-paid jobs and therefore no stability) … how can we look after the elderly? I’ll still have a mortgage to pay when I get to the age of 70. My mother was financially independent in her 30s and retired at 55. My friends who have stable jobs barely make it to the end of the month with money in the bank, thanks to the high cost of living. How can my generation, and the one that’s right behind, care for the elderly when they have to work to survive? (Not to get rich… to survive). Most countries support parents with children to raise. But for adults who need to support their parents, there is no such assistance.

          Many of the elderly continue to enjoy their lives into their 90s. I know many who do and who don’t expect to live with their respective families. But even they are not really planning for the day when they can no longer be independent. I am sure these elderly would, if only there were choices presented to them.

          There are currently only two senior villages (as we call them) in my country, where the elderly can still have their own homes, cook, clean and have assisted care if they need to. The advantage is that they can have their family over to visit anytime, unlike what happens in care homes. Unfortunately no other projects have emerged. Wouldn’t this be good for the economy? It could create jobs. Healthier people in old age have fewer health issues and are less of a burden on national health, surely? Plus, their children are free to pursue their lives.  

          I can’t imagine anything more unethical than expecting people to breed for the sake of economics and to ensure their own care in old age.

 

Stepfatherhood is Good Enough for Me

[Guest blogger James Prescott is the author of a science fiction novel, Between Earth and Arcturus which can be listened to as an audio drama on www.workingthegalaxy.com. He is a member of the South Bay Writers group,to which Cheryl and Ellis Levinson belong.]

 

          I am 54 years old and never had children of my own; that is to say, no biological offspring. I do have a stepdaughter whom I first met when she was already in college, and now she has a beautiful baby boy of her own. My wife divorced her first husband when their daughter was quite small, and he has since passed away.

          Though we don’t share any genetic material, I love my stepdaughter as much as I would one of my own. At least, I think I do. Not having any way to compare, I will never really know, but does it matter?

          And her baby is a joy to me, which I never expected.

          Do I now regret not having kids of my own? Hell no!  I’ve got the best of both worlds. When I read the August postings on this site, they resonated with me and inspired me to respond with something of my own experience.

Author James Prescott

James Prescott

          Just read the August 15th (2013) posting (Who Are the Men Who Choose to be Childfree?) and you will get a good idea of why I wasn’t desperate to spread my genes around. Until reaching my 30s, my career and financial security were at the mercy of a fickle industry which was getting more heartless with each passing day. Then the economy crashed…several times…just when I thought I was getting my life in order. I never felt that I could provide the security and stability that a child deserves. 

         Besides, I was pretty content without children. In fact, until my mid-thirties, I was content being unmarried. I’d seen bad marriages, and I’d seen really bad divorces. Now, I am married, and when people ask me if it’s my first marriage, I tell them it is both my first and last. I’m mature now. This is not an experiment.

          My daughter and grandchild please me immensely, just at the time in my life when I am able to be a good father and grandfather.  What could be better? My wife and I shop for things for our grandchild, and we babysit often. When Cheryl and Ellis first told the group of their project, which later became the book, Enough of Us, I was skeptical. However, I do have an open mind (some say my mind is open at both ends to let the wind blow through), so I gave it a chance and began helping to critique their book as it progressed. During that time, I learned that the message they bring to us is not in any way mean-spirited.

          I often recommend this website as a source of well-researched and current information, and I recommend the book for anyone concerned with issues related to bringing a new life into the world.

 

Why Must Some Women Have a Child From Their Own Body? — Part I

            The so-called biological urge to have a child is most probably a myth. Danielle Friedman, senior editor of the Daily Beast, reports that “few scientists have actually studied women’s so-called biological drive to reproduce, so no universal explanation has emerged in the literature.”  In her article, “Childless and Loving It,” Friedman points to evolutionary biologist David Barash’s belief that having children is more socially acceptable than not having children. He, like many scientists, believes that the drive to procreate isn’t triggered by biology but by culture.  In his book, The Surprising Connection Between Sex, Evolution and Monogamy, Barash points to evolution, which has given women the desire for sex and the physical means to bear children, but the rest is free will. 

            Laura Carroll, author of The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking about Parenthood and Reproduction Will Create A Better World,  gives us something to ponder in her Huffington Post article, “The ‘Biological Urge’: What’s the Truth?”  “Realizing that a yearning for parenthood is not a biological imperative allows us to look harder at why we think we want children and ferret out how much of it comes from external conditioning.”

The cuyltural expectations for parenthood lead to overpopulation

. . . LEADS TO THIS.

 

The desire for mother hood is cultural, not bioligical

alivewithchrist.com
THIS . . .

            To add a one-two punch to the probability that cultural influences shape the decision  to bear children, Carroll quotes researcher and psychoanalyst Frederick Wyatt: “When a woman says with feeling she craved her baby from within, she is putting biological language to what is psychological.”

            Why then, do so many women want a child from their own body? Carroll asks the question another way. “What is at the essence of this feeling of longing? Is it truly to raise a child, or is it another yearning I think a child will fill for me in my life?”

            Is it possible that having a child from our body has little to do with what is considered the greater good of sharing genes or the romantic notion of making a deep connection with a being that comes from our bloodline and is therefore “thicker than water?” It’s not beyond possibility that having a biological child—as opposed to an adopted one—is an ingrained habit of our culture and has so penetrated a women’s (and sometime men’s) psyches that millions continue to believe in its magic.

            Modern cultures deserve a degree of shame for foisting outdated traditions on society and for not realizing that there are Enough of Us. As our book points out, millions of children are alone and in need of a nurturing environment. So why create more babies? Tune in to Part II of this column, where we discuss women who haven’t let questionable conventions influence their decisions about whether or not to give birth. 

            And if you are interested in more of this topic, Enough of Us is available in paperback, hard cover and as an ebook right here.