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.

Should politicians be encouraging overpopulation?

Let’s start with a disclaimer. We are not Mitt Romney-bashing, elitist journalists who can’t wait to pick on the guy. But sometimes we wonder whether politicians think past the immediate objectives of their guidance to the populace. For every action, Isaac Newton informed us, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

On April 27, Mr. Romney, speaking at the Southern Virginia University commencement ceremonies, advised the graduates to marry young and have “a quiver full of kids if you can.” A quiver, in case you are not familiar with archery, is that tube archers carry on their backs that hold the ammunition, as in arrows. How the heck did babies become metaphorical arrows?

Mitt Romney wants students to put lots of kids in their quivers

Mitt Romney. Photo: Gage Skidmore

In the Bible’s Book of Psalms, Psalm 127 to be exact, it is written, “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”

We agree that some kids can be like arrows, tearing right through their parents’ emotional guts. But the Bible sees them as a blessing; you know, the whole “be fruitful and multiply” thing. It even exhorts man (the Bible predates gender political correctness) to cover the earth with more of himself. Following this exhortation, there is a movement afoot called Quiverfull that believes God gave women bodies to make kids—so make them. Forget contraceptives. Be like Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar.

Here’s where we see the problem. What is mankind supposed to do once it actually does cover the earth with its progeny? ‘Cause guess what, mission accomplished. Before long there will be eight billion of us. As in “Earth, we’ve got you covered.” After all, aren’t we also supposed to be guardians of the Garden of Eden? Thou cannot protecteth that which thy overpopulateth.

During his presidential campaign, Romney ridiculed global warming. That would fit with his seeming disregard of the consequences of filling quivers with kids.

A traditional bow and quiver that's full

Quiver (sans kids) and bow. Photo by Traumrune [GFDL (httpwww.gnu.orgcopyleftfdl.html)

According to an article by Kathryn Joyce in Mother Jones magazine, the Quiverfull movement “has a long-term campaign to win the culture wars by outnumbering its opponents.” We are not saying that Romney is part of Quiverfull. But we are associating him with a blatant disregard for the consequences of the get-pregnant-as-soon-and-as-often-as-you-can mentality. According to Mother Jones, for years, conservative leaders of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) church have joined the Catholic Church and right-wing evangelicals on so-called pro-family issues. A Mormon think tank leader coauthored a statement of principles, “The Natural Family: A Manifesto.”

This manifesto was once adopted by the town council of Kanab, Utah. The Mother Jones article says that in the manifesto “families are described as the fundamental unit of society, individual rights are valued only insofar as they correspond with pro-natalist, pro-family goals, and women’s rights are qualified as follows: ‘Above all, we believe in rights that recognize women’s unique gifts of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.’”

The article goes on to assert that Quiverfull sees feminism and family planning as a slippery slope that involves women taking over a body that actually belongs to God. That slope leads to gay rights, abortion, divorce and witchcraft.

Personally, we feel that what a woman does with her body is her own business (with the exception of Dolly Parton, who went just too far), and that includes Mormon women and their fellow travelers. We are not out to skewer LDS. There is plenty of room for most belief systems. We just wonder why people with these fecundity beliefs fail to address the current environmental messes, the numbers of troubled kids, the levels of mental illness and disabilities, and the shortage of natural resources.

There are Enough of Us. And when high profile pols like Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and others trumpet the blessings of doing God’s work by popping out kids, we have to question whether they also speak for God’s feelings about the attendant consequences. This is certainly the wrong advice to be giving young women who just spent four years getting educated about all kinds of valuable stuff.

 

 

 

 

“If you don’t intend to have kids, don’t get married.” What?

We just returned from a two-and-a-half-week sojourn to New Zealand, where we were able to put non-South Pacific news out of our minds. Those Kiwis are the friendliest people we’ve ever met. Nevertheless, we had plenty to think about when we learned how this beautiful country–the last to be discovered by humans–managed to get its fauna screwed up, starting with the arrival of humans on its shores. For the animals on the land of the Kiwis it became a sad tale. That story, however, is for another day.

But no sooner had we arrived home and flicked on the TV than we were immersed in the controversy over the constitutionality of a ban on same-sex marriage (evidently the so-called budget sequestration issue had been resolved in our absence, as evidenced by the fact that in the five days since we returned, we have not seen or read a single story about it). Stand where you may on the gay rights issue, but one argument enrages us and should likewise raise the hackles (wherever they may be on humans) of anyone who does not or cannot have children.

There are those who argue that the purpose of marriage is procreation. In Wednesday’s Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as in Tuesday’s hearing on California’s Proposition 8, the procreation argument came up.

If procreation is the sole purpose of marriage, it raises the following questions:

Should women over age 50 be permitted to marry?

Should infertile couples be allowed to marry?

Should couples who intend to use donated eggs or sperm be allowed to marry, since the donated gamete will not belong one of the prospective parents?

And the greatest stick-in-the-craw question of all: Should ordinary heterosexual couples who have absolutely no intention whatsoever of having kids—like the two of us—be authorized to tie the knot?

And here’s one for “dessert.” If two women want to marry with the intent of having one of them having in vitro fertilization, does that put them above a heterosexual couple who merely want to adopt? … and the beat goes on.

While half of American women who give birth under age 30 do so without being married, the marriage/procreation connection becomes even more tenuous. As for those who argue that marriage for the sake of procreation is the only way to go, we hope that fewer of those folks marry, ideally because it dawns on them that there are already Enough of Us.

Population and the Mormon Church

                In keeping with our continuing series about religion’s influence on procreation, we look at the family, birth control, and abortion beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called Mormonism. 

            There are about 12.2 million Mormons worldwide, which makes it a small religion but one that carries a big-population punch.

            In 1995, the church’s First President and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued a “Proclamation to the World” that marriage (between a man and a woman), as well as family, is central to God’s plan. The Mormon Church has issued only five proclamationssince the church was established in 1830. This one spoke to the import of God’s commandment given to Adam and Eve to “multiply and replenish the earth.”

Mormonism's governing body

Mormon Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, including the First Presidency

            For Mormons, the importance of family has its origins in the Church’s belief in premortal life, i.e., the unborn are God’s spirit children.  Each husband and wife brings these spirits to earth, where they become offspring.  They manifest in human form and “gain earthly experience” in order to fulfill their divine destiny. Mothers are the ones who rear and nurture their children; fathers provide for, protect, and generally preside over the family, from which the relationships of the members extend “beyond the grave,” and fulfill the “divine plan of happiness.”

            Although Latter-day Saints (LDS) celebrate and encourage large families, “Church policy supports all methods of contraception except surgical sterilization,” says Joanna Brooks’ post on the Religion Dispatches.org Web site. “Birth control is widely used and accepted among LDS Church members.” Ms. Brooks points to a prominent LDS blogger and editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Kristine Haglund, who asked the question why insurance plans at LDS institutions do not provide coverage for birth control. The answer, it seems, relates to the present controversy over President Obama’s birth control regulation and “religious freedom.” Even so, Brooks notes that premarital health classes, birth control options and contraception itself is dispensed at Mormon owned Brigham Young University.

            The Church’s position on abortion is clear: it’s only acceptable when pregnancy is a result of a rape that causes severe emotional trauma in the mother (when would it not?) and/or when the life and health of the mother is in jeopardy.  The decision to undergo an abortion must always involve a competent doctor and confirmation through prayer of the local priesthood authority.

            Because Latter-day Saints believe that having a family is central to their purpose in life, there is little chance that most Mormons would choose to be childfree.  Yet, there are Mormon women who are childfree by choice. For them, receiving understanding within the LDS community is tough, and in some cases, nonexistent.  “I am made to feel worthless in the eyes of the church,” blogged one woman, who is married but clearly does not want children.

            Mormons may well be turning a blind eye to the plight of our planet by making children a spiritual priority. According to George B. Handley, Associate Professor of Humanities at Brigham Young University, the Mormon Church does not have an official position related to contemporary environmentalism.  He goes on to write that although the LDS scriptures “clearly announce the centrality of human beings as God’s offspring and declare that all of creation was provided for human enjoyment and use,” this does not mean that abuse of nature is justified.

            As long as Mormonism encourages large families nature will suffer. The only light at the end of the tunnel where the LDS Church is concerned is adoption. If a couple cannot conceive, they can (and many times do) adopt, which is a saving grace for our overpopulated world.  It seems, generally speaking, that Mormons do not accept that making more children creates problems that far outweigh their beliefs about the sacredness of populating earth.

           

The Eastern Orthodox Religion and Procreation

            We continue with our examination of various religions and their views on procreation, this time focusing on the Eastern Orthodox Church. Its separation from the Roman Catholic Church resulted in differences between Catholicism’s and Eastern Orthodoxy’s views of procreation. Eastern Orthodoxy is divided into national subdivisions, including the Greek, Russian, Serbian, Coptic (Egypt and Middle East) and other regional Orthodox churches. 

The famous Russian Orthodox church in Moscow

St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow. Photo – wikipedia

    During the first eight centuries of Christianity there was one Church, which then divided into Eastern and Western divisions. The Church in the western Mediterranean became the Roman Catholic Church, and divided up again with the advent of Protestantism. The Church in the eastern region became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, which sees itself as separate from Western Christianity in that it views the Scriptures as they relate to the Holy Tradition of Apostolic times.

            Unlike the Roman Catholic religion, previously discussed in another essay, the Eastern Orthodox faith does not teach that procreation is the primary function of marriage. Spiritual oneness, the striving for eternal salvation, is.  However, and this is a big “however,” children are considered to be a natural part of being married. So, those who wait before having children, or those who decide never to have children, are in violation of the marriage union. 

            According to retired Orthodox priest Stanley Samuel Harakas, “Orthodox Christians are considered free in making moral choices.” In his essay, “Religious Beliefs and Healthcare Decisions,” Father Harakas states that “the Tradition guides and directs, but does not coerce, though ecclesial consequences can follow what the Church regards as improper decisions.” This is quite a paradox for the Orthodox community – freedom to think for oneself about what is moral, but such thought could occasion religious consequences.

           Birth control is allowed as long as it’s not “artificial,” such as birth control pills or condoms. (There are exceptions to this discussed in the next paragraph). Natural methods are acceptable if the circumstances are valid. A plus here for the pious is that these methods involve self-denial and self-control, and require a priest’s blessing.  The three acceptable ways to practice birth control in the Orthodox way of life are:

  • Limit sexual relations – this is a frequent choice when couples observe the traditions of fasting days and periods
  •  Total abstinence – when a couple has given birth to a number of children, and no longer feel that sexual relations must be part of their marriage
  •  Rhythm method (Natural Family Planning)

             The Orthodox Church does not subscribe to the dogmatism of the Roman Catholic Church regarding the birth control pill. In other words, there are circumstances where artificial birth control may be used, but this is largely a “pastoral issue where there may be multiple considerations.”

            Because the Orthodox Church considers the embryo to be human from conception, abortion is generally verboten. If a mother’s life is threatened or she has an ectopic pregnancy, the Church allows for some choice, and in these cases, preserving life is essential to the decision-making process.

            Orthodox religions disapprove of aborting pregnancy due to a physical abnormality in the child. These children are seen as “human beings in their own right, deserving of care and love.”

            Those who decide on a childfree lifestyle are considered sinners. Sterilization and birth control, other than for health reasons, is morally unacceptable. Couples of child-bearing age should “be prepared and expect to have as many children as God will send,” taking into consideration the health of the mother and the family as a whole.

            In our book, Enough of Us: why we should think twice before making children, we refer to a 1997 statement by Bartholomew I, patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, who passionately maintained that the ruination of the earth is against God’s will. To bear as many children as possible does not take into account that there already are enough of us. Seven billion strong and counting causes the degradation of the earth. This is a conundrum that all anti-family-planning dogmas must deal with.           

           

 

ISLAM’S VIEWS ON BEING CHILDFREE

            In recent articles we have looked at some of the pressures from religions to reproduce. Procreation is embedded in the Islamic religion. Although, as a researcher at Harvard University states in her article, “Female Leadership in Islam,” www.irfi.org/articles/articles_401_450/female_leadership_in_islam.htm,  “there is no term in the Quran which indicates that childbearing is ‘primary’ to a woman,” having children is nevertheless central to a Muslim couple’s life. 

            An English translation of the Quran (Koran)www.us.singlemuslim.com./marriage_articles/birth_control.php is a site that “provides the best possible help for our brothers and sisters to find their ideal Muslim marriage partner and complete their faith within a happy and successful Islamic marriage.” Muslims can discuss matrimony there as well as read articles designed to help them succeed in marriage. “As procreation is the main objective of marriage, and Islam encourages having many children,” birth control is a subject with various rules attached and is “permitted for valid reasons only:”

  • If pregnancy or delivery would threaten the mother’s life
  • To allow appropriate gaps between having children
  • If the married couple is not mature enough to start a family
  • If members of the couple are students and having children would create difficulties

            The use of birth control is prohibited or limited if:

  • It leads to permanent sterility that is not medically necessary
  • The couple uses it due to fear of being unable to afford to bear a child (suggests a lack of faith in Allah)
  • Although not prohibited, Islam does not approve of spouses who put off bearing children in order to take the time to enjoy each other. 

            In our research, we found nothing that expressly allows for a childfree lifestyle within the Islamic community. But what if a couple simply can’t bear children?  Dr. Musa Mohd Nordin, Consultant Pediatrician and Neonatologist in Damansara Specialist Hospital, Malaysia, wrote an essay titled “An Islamic Perspective of Assisted Reproductive Technologies.” Dr. Nordin points to Old Testament prophet Abraham, and his barren wife Sarah who prayed to God for rectification of her infertility, which did result in a child. However, if a couple’s prayers do not bring success in this endeavor, Allah has probably decreed it:  “To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what he wills. He bestows (children) male or female according to His will. Or He bestows both males and females, and He leaves barren whom He wills, for he is full of knowledge and power.”

            Along with the complete acceptance of Allah’s will, assisted reproductive technology is acceptable in Islam, only if “it is practiced within the husband and wife dyad during the span of the marital contract.” This means that artificial insemination is permissible, as long as the sperm belongs to the husband. 

            Adoption of a son or daughter, which would be an avenue to raising offspring without making more children, is prohibited in Islam. The reasons range from issues regarding natural paternity to claims on inheritance. Muslims may foster children, but the children must be called by “(the names of) their fathers; that is more just in the sight of Allah. But if you do not know their fathers, they [the children] are your brothers-in-faith and your wards,”  (33:4-5) of the Qur’an.

            According to the web site www.us.singlemuslim.com/marriage_articles/introduction.php, “one of the main purposes of marriage is to raise pious children, who are faithful to Islam, in order to continue the Muslim Ummah,” (community or nation). About one in four people is Muslim – the second largest religion behind Christianity.  In spite of these numbers, which point to an already sizeable nation of Islam, a childfree lifestyle may not, if ever, be accepted by Islam for generations to come.

             In our book Enough of Us we consider the ramifications of religious pressures to multiply. We question whether ancient mandates to preserve the faith are still relevant as we face an ever-more overpopulated planet whose human inhabitants threaten to devastate God’s, or nature’s, or the universe’s natural legacy bestowed this tiny, unique orb as it hurtles alone through space.

             We’ll discuss additonal religious principles in upcoming posts.

 

Christian Views on Choosing to be Childfree

                In a recent posting we focused on traditional Judaism’s generally negative position on the choice not to have offspring. In our book, Enough of Us: why we should think twice before making children, we examine religious motives for bearing children. With the exception of Catholicism, Christianity has a variety of different slants on this subject. While some churches take the attitude that “be fruitful and multiply” is a commandment, others look at it as something other than a demand from the almighty.

            Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, writing in the November 12, 2001 online issue of Christianity Today, says that “Fertility is not a command but a blessing that God gives his creatures.” Therefore, says Van Leeuwen, a professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, “be fruitful and multiply” is a blessing, a “may you” declaration from God, not a mandate.  He also states that “some Christian traditions take a wrong turn” when they see “Be fruitful” as a command. “They argue on the basis of the created order (sometimes called natural law) and Scripture that God has actually commanded married people to have children.”  These Christians, he says, “argue against birth control.” Van Leeuwen concludes that “Within the limits of marriage, sex is one of the good gifts of God’s creation . . . whether or not it seeks in every instance to be fruitful in a procreative sense.” This debate about the concepts of blessing vs. command opens the way for Christians to exercise free choice by not bearing children “provided they are wise and serve God.”

            An anonymous childfree Christian blogger posts her views at childfreechristian.blogspot.com/2009/06/is-childfree-christian-oxymoron.html. She is in her early thirties who has never wanted children. She quotes from 1 Corinthians 7, which the blogger believes is “the most powerful support of being childfree.” The Apostle Paul is a single man and in giving his opinion about the unmarried state. He appeals to others to remain single in order to “free them from anxieties” so they can give “undivided devotion to the Lord.” The blogger says that Paul condones a married couple’s abstention from sex for spiritual reasons, and that “there is nothing to say that pregnancy prevention couldn’t be one of those reasons.” She also makes the point hat Jesus, “the center of our faith,” never had children.

            Of the many responses to this blog, two expressed by women in their thirties stand out:

            “I get questions too, and I want to scream at them IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. I am so happy I have been Googling, and seeing other married Christian couples out there with the same heavy heart about kids.”

            “. . . I felt relief wash over me. I am not alone! I am 34, happily married and have never had a desire for children. I am also a devout believer in Jesus Christ, and I have struggled over whether my lack of desire is sinful.”

            A blogger who identifies herself only as Debi (Twiga92.wordpress.com/on-being-christian-and-childfree) writes about Life as a Childfree Christian Missionary Kid. “There seem to be a lot of Christians out there that think it is wrong for a Christian couple to choose not to have children. . . . Yet the reason God created a wife for Adam was to be a helpmeet (sic), a companion, so that he would not be alone.  Obviously they had to have children in order for the human race to exist, but I think we’ve pretty much taken care of the “fruitful and multiply” aspect! . . . . Reproduction is a benefit of marriage, not a requirement.”

            There have been Christian sects that supported being childfree such as the Shakers and the Cathars. Nineteenth century Shakers were not marriage-oriented and therefore did not procreate. The Cathars of the 12th and 13 centuries, judged procreation as undesirable and had no objection to contraception.

            Clearly, some Christians struggle with being childfree, even with the more liberal interpretation of “Be fruitful and multiply.”             In a Yahoo! contributor network essay “Why I Choose to be Childfree in Church,” Hillari Hunter, expresses frustration about being judged in church and said that parishioners send “puzzled looks or out-and-out disdain” to the childfree churchgoer. (http://voices.yahoo.com/shared/print.shtml?content_type=article&content_type_id=826017).

            There is help for the guilt-ridden at www.christianforums.com, which is designed for couples who choose not to have children.  We applaud their courage in thinking twice before making more of us.