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.

Parents can be Hurt by Their Offspring in More Ways Than One

              Thirty-year-old Margo Steines wrote an achingly personal essay in the October 27, 2013 Sunday Review section of The New York Times. “Recalling Painful Lessons in Forgiveness” begins with Margo ministering to her mother’s wounds after Margo’s Rottweiler attacked her. Apparently, Mom had reached her hand into the car and the dog bit it, but good. The result was a bloody mess. This incident is a lead-in to the daughter’s guilt over the pain she caused her mother through the years, triggered in the present by her failure to warn her parent “not to reach her hand into the car.”

            By her own admission, Margo was a problem child.  She recollects a “scrap of loose-leaf paper” on which her mother wrote “You were our dream,” during a family day at one of her rehabs.  Far from being a dream, the list of Margo’s nightmare behaviors is daunting:

  • Stealing from her mother before the age of 10
  • Running away from home at age 17, leaving no trace
  • Hanging out at New York’s  S-and-M clubs with “hookers,” “johns,” and “addicts”
  • Becoming a drug addict and alcoholic
  • Attempting several drug overdose suicides

            It’s clear in the essay that this Marlboro-smoking daughter is conscious of her own wish to have a “beautiful child who will love me and grow strong, proud and capable. . .  .” Isn’t that every would-be parent’s vision?  Things do not, and will not, always work out that way, however. That is a message we promulgate in our book, Enough of Us.

            Having a drug-addicted, acting-out child is a “smasher” as Steines describes it. She remembers her mother searching for her in downtown S-and-M clubs; at home on her hands and knees “scrubbing up my messes, wondering if I’d ever be O.K.”; dealing with the frustrations of the insurance system related to “the fancy Connecticut rehab center she sent me to”; and her mother arriving at the hospital “while I was getting an overdose pumped from my stomach … knowing I had tried to throw away the life she had given me.”

            This story is not uncommon. Considering the most recent statistics, more youngsters seem to be turning to drugs and therefore to some seriously dysfunctional behaviors.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported this development in the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of 2012 in the article, “Drug Facts: High School and Youth Trends.” The report states: “Marijuana use by adolescents declined from the late 1990s until the mid-to-late 2000s, but has been on the increase since then.  

Kid smoking pot

Photo: Marijuana-addict.com

           “6.5 percent of 12th graders now use marijuana every day, compared to 5.1 percent in 2007.” Furthermore, 22.9 percent of twelfth graders used marijuana in the month prior to the survey, compared to 14.2 percent in 2007.

            Nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter medication is also on the rise among teens and contributes significantly to their drug problems. The most commonly used prescription drugs by young people are Adderall (stimulant) and Vicodin (pain reliever).

            And while fewer teenagers smoke cigarettes, other forms of tobacco used in hookah water pipes and small cigars continue to raise concerns about high-schoolers. More than 18 percent had smoked a hookah in 2011 and almost 20 percent had smoked a small cigar, both of which exceed the percentages of those who smoked cigarettes.

            What does all this mean? The underlying message is that bearing and raising children can cause great strife, especially in an age where drug use is common; and especially during a time when medical marijuana, although helpful for the sick, is not great for young people whose brains are still developing. Would-be parents who believe that bearing children will make their dreams come true should think twice, and then think again. While their kids are likely to bring more pleasure than pain, the odds are not overwhelmingly in their favor. They need to ask themselves: Am I really up to the task?

 

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.

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.

The Latest Trend in Risks to Newborns – Part II

Last week, in Part I, we began this discussion of Judith Shulevitz’s The New Republic article, “The Grayest Generation,” in which she lamented the societal and biological risks of older parenting.

 

Men over 50 are three times more likely than men under 25 to father a schizophrenic child.

Fertility doctors do a lot of things to sperm and eggs that have not been rigorously tested, including keeping them in culture media teeming with chemicals that may or may not scramble an embryo’s development.

Commonly used, “Clomid . . . came out particularly badly in a recent New England Journal of Medicine study that rang alarm bells about ART [assisted reproductive technology] and birth defects,” reports Shulevitz. “ICSI (intracytoplasmic) sperm injection shows up in the studies as having higher rates of birth defects than any other popular fertility procedure.”

A child with trisomy-18

Trisomy-18 child. Photo: Emilyscookiemix.com

While she recognizes that women do not want to cut their careers short for the sake of having kids, Judith points out that if they don’t have children, they’re denying themselves s full life.

But older parents have emotional disadvantages. “Procrastinators” become members of the “sandwich generation,” caught between toddlers tugging on one hand and elder parents sharing the latest updates on their ailments. Elderly grandparents provide less support than their younger counterparts.

What haunts her about her own kids is the gamble of dying before they’re ready to set out on their own.

And these problems could proliferate if  “aging parents are, in fact, producing a growing subpopulation of children with neurological or other disorders who will require a lifetime of care. Schizophrenia, for instance, usually sets in during a child’s late teens or early twenties. [British psychiatrist] Avi Reichenberg sums up the problem bluntly. ‘Who is going to take care of that child?’ he asked, ‘Some seventy-five-year-old demented father?’”

The birthrate has dropped by a significant 45 percent around the world since 1975. By 2010, the average number of births per woman had decreased from 4.7 to 2.6.

While Shulevitz is making compelling arguments about older parenting, ones with which we agree, the goals of her arguments are where we part company. She makes the case that society needs to reform itself so that parents become parents at earlier stages of life. That way there will be fewer disabled children, more individuals to care for older generations, and enough workers to replace the aging people who will be better able to adapt to new technologies. She concedes that fewer people means less demand for food, water, land and energy.

Let’s start with the latter first. As we have written on several occasions, when societies move into the middle classes, their per capita consumption of food, water, land and energy skyrocket. Bigger homes, conspicuous consumption, wasted water, cars, heating and air conditioning; you get the picture.

It seems to us that there are three choices for the career-focused. Have your career or your kids. If you want them both, do as many others have done, and burn the candle at both ends earlier in adulthood. But making kids in order to provide preceding generations with a support system is selfish, reckless, and the world’s ultimate Ponzi scheme. We have to stop at some point. Are the projections of 10 billion-plus devourers of natural resources, clean air, and water by the end of this century not enough to scare the bejeezus out of us?

 

The Latest Trend in Risks to Newborns – Part I

The average age of first-time mothers has increased by four years over the past half century, according to science editor Judith Shulevitz in the December 20, 2012 issue of The New Republic. Many professional urban couples are postponing making babies until their 30s and early 40s. The downside is, as Shulevitz herself has experienced, recent rises in developmental disorders.

            Some examples: The average new mother from Massachusetts is 28; in Mississippi it is 22.9. The Asian American first-time mother is 29.1; African American 23.1. A college-educated woman has a better than one-in-three chance of having her first child at 30 or older.

           Shulevitz decries late-in-life reproduction, due to the amplified risks to the child and because delayed childbearing will result in a shortage of younger people to support, and replace, their progenitors. While we agree with the former, we dissent from the latter because of its societal self-serving motives. 

Judith Shulevitz

Photo: jtsa.edu

           Judith and her husband weren’t ready for parenthood until she was in her mid-30s and her husband was “forty-something.”  The doctor started her on a regimen of ovulation-stimulating hormones. The most popular fertility drug is clomiphene citrate, marketed as Clomid, or Serophene.

            If the Clomid didn’t work, she might move on to: IVF (in vitro fertilization), ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer), or even ZIFT (zygote intrafallopian transfer). The Clomid and IVF worked.

            “My baby boy seemed perfect. When he was three, though, the pediatrician told me that he had a fine-motor delay.”  He needed occupational therapy for his mild case of “sensory-integration disorder.”

            She soon found what she describes as, “a subculture of a subculture: that of mothers who spend hours a week getting services for developmentally challenged children. It seemed to me that an unusually large proportion of these women were older.”

            Subsequently, the couple had a “natural” daughter. But Judith found herself meeting women of approximately her age with kids who had Asperger’s, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit disorder, and sensory-integration disorder.

            As we have previously discussed on this blog, and in our book, Enough of Us, according to the Centers for Disease Control, learning problems, attention-deficit disorders, autism and related disorders, and developmental delays are on the rise.  Between 1997 and 2008 there has been about a 17 percent increase in these disabilities. According to Shulevitz, one in six American children had a developmental disability between 2006 and 2008. That’s about 1.8 million more children than a decade earlier.

            Scientific evidence indicates that aging bodies of potential parents should elicit more cautious behavior than they apparently do. Would-be parents consistently underestimate how sharp the fertility drop-off can be for women after age 35. Inversely, the chances that children will carry a chromosomal abnormality, such as a trisomy—which includes Patau and Edwards syndromes—increase.  Patau syndrome gives children cleft palates, mental retardation, and an 80 percent likelihood of dying in their first year. Edwards syndrome, features oddly shaped heads, clenched hands, and slow growth. Half of all Edwards syndrome babies die in the first week of life. In previous posts we have given the examples of the unfortunate offspring of politicians Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin.

            The risk that a pregnancy will yield a trisomy rises from 2–3 percent when a woman is in her twenties to 30 percent when a woman is in her forties. When born to an older mother: spontaneous abortion, premature birth, being a twin or triplet, cerebral palsy, and low birth weight—leading to chronic health problems later in children’s lives—increase.

            Researchers suspect a link between the 78 percent rise in autism over the last decade and the rise of parental age. One theory “is that the same wised-up, more mature parents have had longer to absorb airborne pollution, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, and herbicides.”

We will continue this discussion next week in Part II of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Sandy Shows Floodgates Needed—Population Floodgates

            John Seager is the president of Population Connection (you may have known it by its former name, Zero Population Growth), a nonprofit that seeks to mitigate, through family planning, the problems inherent in overpopulation . We are long-time members of the organization.

John’s update on global human impacts is an eye-opener. We reproduce his insights with the permission of Population Connection. Its web site is www.populationconnection.org.

Population Connection President Jon Seager

Population Connection President Jon Seager

  As people along the East Coast struggle to recover from super storm Sandy, there has been serious talk of building giant floodgates to protect parts of New York City from the next such event.

 Giant floodgates might be part of a long-term solution, but we need to find others that address the looming consequences of climate change, and recognize that family planning is part of the mix.

 As weather threats have grown, so has our world population. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, last year the United States suffered a record 14 weather events, each costing at least $1 billion in damage. And every year, more than 80 million people join our human family. That’s like adding another New Jersey every six weeks.

 Rapid population growth and fossil fuel emissions are two leading characteristics of our modern age. Since 1800, world population has grown sevenfold, while per capita CO2 emissions have increased 150 times. Put the two together, and you have about 1,100 times as much in terms of emissions.

 It’s taken about 200 years of carbon emissions to create our current climate crisis. Barring miraculous technological breakthroughs, it’s going to take centuries to set things right again.

 At first glance, it is hard to see how population growth in less developed nations is linked to climate change. After all, people who live in places with the lowest carbon emissions tend to have the largest families. Residents of the African nation of Chad have about six children each, yet their annual per capita carbon emissions are less than 1 percent of those of the average American. It would be unfair to blame climate change on people in less developed nations who seek the same creature comforts many of us take for granted.

 But we can’t escape this fact: A 2005 London School of Economics study concluded that, if each of us living in a highly developed country reduced our carbon footprint by 40 percent over 40 years, all of that would be cancelled by our present population growth rates alone. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that emissions will rise dramatically if and when billions of people are able to escape from poverty.

 What sort of future do we picture for people in the poorest places on earth, where most people live on less than two dollars a day and where people lack access to clean water and basic sanitation? Many now-impoverished people in Africa and elsewhere would like to have – as many in the developed world do – central air conditioning. And cars. And air travel to other continents. All of these luxuries will increase per capita emissions.

 Rather than assume long-term poverty for billions of our fellow human beings, we must cut our own emissions even as emissions of the poorest people increase to a level that yields a decent quality of life. To insure that the reduction of emissions in the developed countries is not cancelled by increases from the developing world, we must slow the growth rate of our human family.

Today, more than 222 million women in developing nations would like to limit their family size, yet they are unable to do so because of a host of obstacles. Lack of information about modern contraception and cost are important factors. But the most serious barriers are often more subtle and complex. They include misinformation about side effects of birth control methods, including the false notion that they lead to sterility. In many societies, women – especially young brides – have no power over their own lives. Husbands, clerics and even mothers-in-law occupy the positions of authority. Failure to procreate can have violent consequences for women, some of whom are barely into their teens.

 If the United States were to invest one additional dollar per American per year in awareness-raising and education campaigns, we could help break down these barriers in partnership with other nations. Added to our current investment in international family planning, this would amount to one billion dollars per year.

 Meeting the challenge of climate change is likely to take dedicated efforts over many generations. We also need a plan that will help lift out of poverty people in the developing world. Family planning should be a key part of that plan.

 

 

Poor Parents May Encourage Failure in Their Children

                Should low income families have children? Many would say it’s unfair, even un-American, to preclude would-be parents from having kids before they climb a socio-economic ladder to the middle class. Should those who yearn for children be penalized because they might never earn a decent wage? There is no easy answer. But we, as a society, need to consider several issues.

            In a column entitled “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy,” in the December 9, 2012 New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes about anti-poverty programs in the Appalachian hill country of Kentucky that, ironically, work against children. If a child who qualifies for a monthly $698 Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) because of an intellectual disability, attends literacy classes and learns to read, the youngster’s family will no longer collect that check. As a result, some poverty-level parents obviously don’t “go for broke.” Instead, they pull their kids away from their only hope for a successful future – the reading program. 

            Because of illiteracy, many kids from poor families remain unproductive as they reach adulthood. Instead of joining the military, which offers an opportunity for some young adults to escape the poverty of rural America, they stick around in “them thar’ hills” and depend on food stamps and disability payments. 

Appalachian cabin. Photo – SUNY Geneseo

           Kristof points out that about forty years ago, SSI was designed to aid children with mental retardation and/or severe physical difficulties. As time went by, the diagnosis that qualified young people for SSI became “fuzzier,” and less related to specific disorders. The resulting problem is that 8 percent of all low-income children in America now receive SSI payments. This amounts to $9 billion-plus and creates quite a burden on taxpayers.

Columnist Nicholas Kristof

The real shocker is that low-income families with questionable scruples have a stake in their children failing at school. Consequently, many of these kids become failures in life. They transition from the SSI dole they receive until age eighteen to collecting adult SSI benefits, and they become  stuck in a cycle of poverty. Due to their parents desperation to keep the SSI cash cow “milk” flowing, 1.2 million children across this country have essentially “learned” to fail.

            Adding insult to injury, because SSI is means tested – meaning benefits depend on family income – some parents avoid marriage in order to qualify for higher benefits. Yet, single-parent families produce five-fold as many kids growing up in poverty as do two-parent families.

            A mother of two who lives in the hill country told Kristof, that “her $500 car had just broken down and she had to walk two miles each way to her job at a pizza restaurant.” He says,“That’s going to get harder because she’s pregnant with twins, due in April.” Is it fair that she’s voluntarily bringing two more children into the world when their chance for failure might well trump their meager chance for success? Everyone must decide for themselves in this free country of ours. But there is much our society can do to stem this behavior to the benefit of all.

            We believe that government programs should be more proactive in discouraging poverty-stricken  young adults from making kids in the first place. Consider this:

  • Children from low-income families tend to do more poorly on tests, have lower graduation rates, and are less likely to attend or graduate from college than their middle-class counterparts. 
  • Poverty affects a child’s brain. When comparing the brains of children ages 9 -10, from both low- and high-income families, the prefrontal cortexes showed that the “poorer” brain was akin to that of a person who had suffered a stroke. Poverty also affects a child’s IQ and behavior.
  • Children who live in a low-income family usually suffer from malnutrition. In this case malnutrition means not eating enough healthy foods, or eating too many unhealthy foods. Parents stretch their precious dollars by buying cheaper, processed groceries. The results are obesity, vitamin defiency, and myriad health problems for the kids.

Let’s boil this down to a simple mathematical formula: poverty + illiteracy + single parenthood = stupidity. We agree with Nick Kristof – some of SSI funding should be diverted to programs like Save the Children, which work in areas where kids aren’t going to school and where parents are unable to read to their children. But we also believe that schools should be teaching our formula to kids before they’re old enough to get pregnant.

Not Having Kids Equals Degenerate Behavior? You Probably Won’t Believe

  Imagine deciding to take a gamble, but if you lose, that is if the bet goes wrong, an innocent party has to pay. In addition, just placing the bet is almost guaranteed to impact the planet negatively. Well, in his column, “More Babies, Please,” in the December 2, 2012 New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat (pronounced DOW-thut) exposits that by virtue of not making such bets American society is on the road to decadence.

Douthat is worried about America’s declining birthrate. “The retreat from child rearing is, at some level,” he proposes, “ a symptom of late-modern exhaustion – a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich

Ross Douthat, photo- New York Times

societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be.”

This is flip-flop reasoning. And it most certainly is not “conservative” thinking. Douthat’s reasoning would make the Ponzi scheme of population growth the savior of the US economy and quality of life. He feels that because our nation has had a higher fertility rate than France, Japan, China and Brazil it is a superior economic powerhouse.

He takes no notice that our planet is going to an ecological hell in a handbasket, fueled by a population soaring toward 9 billion-plus in this century. Wealthy countries like the United States are the worst offenders because of their profligate consumption of materials and energy.

He makes the case that today’s babies will grow up to be tomorrow’s workers, entrepreneurs and taxpayers. But with fewer people, we would not need as many entrepreneurs and workers. Douthat is concerned about the worker-to-retiree ratio. He is worried about who will pay taxes in the years ahead. Let’s project this into the distant future. Will we need more babies or immigrants to feed the insatiable retiree hunger, ad infinitum? This is the essence of a Ponzi scheme. The global community of humanity will need to stop growing before we doom our own survival. If not now, when?

Human beings are currently consuming renewable resources like lumber and water at unsustainable rates. Mankind is depleting fossil fuels that will be unavailable for future generations without knowing whether today’s babies will have the know-how to develop non-fossil alternatives for airplanes, ships and a variety of other concentrated energy demands. With climate change wreaking havoc on weather patterns we cannot – at least for now—reliably predict water supplies and shortages.

If we limit our thinking to shortsighted issues like US economic competitiveness and producing future generations for the financial benefit of current retirees, we are doomed to fail. Ideally what would benefit Americans, along with everyone else, is enlightened political leadership that is willing to look the elephant in the room in the eye and ask, “What are we going to do about this thing – this enormous, ever-growing, ever more-consuming mass of humanity that is cannibalizing its own home?”

Certainly there are enough of us. In actuality, there are way too many of us. But let’s go back to that bet that an innocent party has to pay for. We are referring to the very act of procreating. It’s a gamble. One percent of American adults live incarcerated and six times that many spend time behind bars in the course of a lifetime. One percent have disorders on the autism spectrum. Add in mental illnesses, childhood and adult diseases, the expectation that one-third of Americans will have diabetes, and dysfunctional families raising unhappy kids. In other words, parents roll the dice and if the resultant baby comes up craps, it’s the kid who is the primary loser of the bet. We wonder how Douthat can have the chutzpah to call America’s decreasing fertility rate “decadent.” The decision to not reproduce is anything but selfish.

 

Men Can Parent Older than Women. Ain’t that Grand? Maybe Not!

Photo: CommunitiesForAutism.org

There is no news in the knowledge that men remain fertile almost indefinitely. And in this blog, as well as our book, Enough of Us: Why we should think twice before making children, we discuss the jeopardies for babies of older mothers.

Now, research is indicating that being an older dad has its substantial risks as well. It turns out that because men generate new gametes (cells that unite with other cells to produce the fertilized egg—oh, what the hell—sperm) for each fertilization, the chances of the sperm having gene mutations increase as the years pass.

You may know that in the United States one of every 88 newborns is inflicted with one of the disabilities on the autism spectrum. That number has been rising dramatically over the past few decades. While it’s true that some of that increase is due to improved diagnostic capabilities —Cheryl’s own brother being an example of that—there are other contingencies that need to be considered.

Researchers in Iceland analyzed the genetic makeup of 78 families in which offspring had been diagnosed with schizophrenia or autism. It was random mutations in the DNA of the fathers’ sperm that were the primary source.

Women develop their eggs very early in life, so there is not a significant ongoing opportunity for mutations. But since men are constantly producing new sperm, the opportunities for mutation present at each occurrence of genetic copying that is part of the sperm production process.

The study found that a 20-year-old father typically produces 25 mutations in his child’s genetic makeup. By the age of 40, that average rises to 65. The Icelandic geneticist who conducted the study tells the Los Angeles Times that the trend toward later fatherhood is “very likely to have made meaningful contributions to increased diagnoses of autism in our society.” The University of Iceland researcher, Kari Stefansson, attributes between 15 and 30 percent of all incidents of autism to genetic mutations from older dads.

Even so, the risk of a man in his 40s producing a child with genetic disorders remains a relatively low one in 50. That liability grows with the father’s increasing age.

The questions remain, is gambling on the wellbeing of a newborn—or the adult it is to become—ethically responsible? At what odds is the gamble worthwhile? And isn’t it an increasingly problematic ethical question if the father takes that gamble to ever-higher levels by inducing pregnancy as he ages?