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.

 

When Parents Age, Who Supports Whom?

Last Sunday evening we had dinner with another childfree couple. The four of us got into a discussion about various parents who are acquaintances of ours who, over the years, have challenged our choice to not procreate. From time to time the question, “Who will care for you in your old age?” had come up.

          All four of us had more or less the same response. It goes something like this: “How do you know that you won’t need your elderly parents’ financial help? And how do you know that you will survive until old age, or that you will outlive your parents? How can any parent know that their adult children won’t be living far away and thereby be unable to care for them?”

          In fact, we (the authors) know adults who want nothing to do with their parents.

          We deal with many of these issues in Chapter 9, “Caring for an Aging Population,” of our book Enough of Us.

          In a study by Merrill Lynch in conjunction with Age Wave, which describes itself as a  “thought leader on population aging and its profound business, social, financial, healthcare, workforce, and cultural implications,” came up with some illuminating, if not startling, revelations about roles older parents may play in their adult children’s lives.

          For example, “Sixty-two percent of people age 50 and older have provided financial assistance to family members during the last five years. However, the vast majority have never budgeted or prepared for providing such support.” We wish the study had stats for retired parents.

          More than 55 percent of people in the study believe that a member of their family is the “Family Bank” because that person is the one most likely to be tapped for financial assistance. The upshot is, the more financially responsible people are, the more money they have, the more approachable their personalities, the more likely they are to be viewed as the Family Bank.

Grandparents

Grandparent. Photo – Wikimedia Commons by Steve Evans

         Heaven help the prudent, good-hearted soul who has relatives with few qualms about extending their palms. And get a load of this: Half of folks over age 50 who have not yet retired say they would make sacrifices that could negatively affect their retirement in order to help family members, including retiring later and returning to work after retirement. We wonder if that could mean money lost to adult children might have otherwise enabled older folks to pay for long-term care insurance, assisted living, or retirement village expenses.

          As one focus group member who participated in the study put it, “I thought I would be supplementing my grandchildren’s college funds. It turns out I was the college fund.” But more than a third of those who parted with their hard-earned savings in order to help family did not even know what the money would be used for.

          So while many older pre-retirees and retirees were being supportive of family members, they were undermining their own capacity for remaining independent and self-reliant.

          For younger generations, the anxieties about a long life center on exhausting financial resources. But for older Americans, just as important is the fear of becoming a burden to their families. It seems that the irony occurs at the nexus of being the Family Bank and of becoming a burden when that burden is due to a paucity of financial resources.

          The greatest “burden” fears are:

  • Having family members physically take care of me;
  • Taking my family away from their own lives to care for me;
  • Needing money from family to help pay bills;
  • Being responsible for stress and worry among family members;
  • Having to move in with family members.

          Two-thirds of study participants say they have done nothing to preclude the necessity of moving in with family, if unable to live on their own. The concept that offspring will be available to assist their elderly parents is at best a hit-and-miss proposition. In fact, the reality can frequently be nothing less than a tragic irony. When older parents bail out their progeny, they may be jeopardizing their sustained independence.

          Add that to the aforementioned possibilities of children pre-deceasing their parents, parents dying before attaining old age, children and parents living far apart, plus the possibility of estrangement, broke offspring, and parents not having enough resources because they had been generous to their adult kids, and the answer to the question addressed to the childfree and childless of “Who will take care of you in your old age?” can be turned around and asked of parents as well.

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.

Have a Good Laugh About Parenting

This being Thanksgiving week, we have decided to take it easy.

Just in the nick of time, Jessica, a member of the Childfree Network passed along this link to a YouTube video on parenting. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFQfylQ2Jgg&feature=youtu.be.

 

Comedian Michael McIntyre

Michael McIntyre

Comedian Michael McIntyre shares his views on why parenting is so exasperating. Whether or not you have kids, we know you’ll have a good laugh.

Happy Holiday.

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?

 

Help a doctoral candidate by being interviewed for her Ph.D. thesis.

We have agreed to post this request for interviewees in order to assist a doctoral candidate with her thesis. If you have the time and the inclination, the info is below.

Purpose:

This study examines the work experiences of American women who choose to have no children.  The purpose of the study is to understand job loss and unemployment from the view of women who are childless-by-choice.  From this, an understanding of the role work plays in their lives will also be gained.

Participation:

Taking part in this study is voluntary.  As a benefit, the women who are studied will receive a summary of the study’s results.  To be in this study, women must:

1)     Be living in the United States

2)     Be married to a man for any length of time

3)     Have no children, not want children, and plan to have no children in the future

4)     Have never had any medical treatment to help them bear children

5)     Have experienced job loss for reasons outside of their control between 2008 and 2012

 Procedures:

The researcher will talk over the phone at an agreed upon time to women in the study.  Topics discussed include the choice to have no children, work and career topics, the job loss event and period of unemployment, and the meaning of those experiences.  The interviews will likely last 1 to 2 hours.  The talks will be recorded and then typed.  Afterwards, each woman will have a final opportunity to review, clarify, or add to her responses.

 To participate or get more information, please contact Jana Berghoefer at jb2021@capellauniversity.edu or #815-975-4482.  To protect confidentiality, please do not reply publicly to this posting.

 

True or False: Population Growth is Necessary for a Healthy Economy

Let’s answer the title question this way: If population growth is necessary for a prosperous economy, we will one day prosper ourselves into oblivion. If we must grow in order to prosper, we will either have keep populating until we all stand shoulder-to-shoulder, or decide to regress back to a less-wealthy state.

          As to whether we need population growth, let’s consider the broader picture. Automation is eliminating the need for workers. Technology improves worker productivity. We live in a society in which production is becoming more efficient. Costco, Amazon, Lowe’s, and the like are turning warehouses into stores. So while corporate profits and stock markets hit new highs, engineers are forced to drive school buses and work at Wal-Mart at the same time the Federal Reserve Bank buttresses a lagging economy. It sounds like an economy run by the Mad Hatter.

          All of these apparently contradictory indicators lead us to believe that we don’t have enough jobs to keep a growing population employed. Sooner or later, it seems, those corporate profits will sink away as we have an ever-growing segment of people struggling to pay their bills.

          But, hey, we’re not economists. In lieu of that status let’s look at a study from Population Connection (PC) that aims to refute the allegations of those it describes as “questionable characters” who are trying to “guilt American women into having more children.”

Population Connection logo          The organization asserts that while Americans will have to make some adjustments as baby boomers age, we can definitely have a healthy economy without increasing our population.  “Economic growth does not depend on population growth.”

          According to Population Connection President John Seager, researchers he describes as independent interviewed scores of economists and academics in related fields. The researchers concluded that economic growth is not dependent upon population growth. Considering the world’s limited resources it is a bad idea to rely on a growing workforce to compensate for an aging population. “Increasing productivity, boosting female participation in the labor force, and providing incentives for older workers to stay on the job longer if they want to, can offset the effects of an older population.

          “U.S. productivity can increase with a smaller workforce, but not unless we invest in education and address age discrimination.”

          Among the insights provided by the academics are:

  • Gross Domestic Product measures monetary value. It does not include leisure, volunteering, family time, and other productive activities.
  • Natural resources are limited. Humans are consuming renewable natural resources faster than the earth can replace them,
  • There is a culture in society of “education-work-retire,” which needs to be re-imagined. We need to adopt the concept of continuously educating ourselves, making us more adaptable.
  • Older workers should be open to—and should be accepted as—being able to do work that typically had not been thought of as suitable after “typical” retirement age.

          Seager makes the case that, “Unfortunately, in today’s media environment, panicking over ‘birth dearths’ and other ‘baby busts’ always seems to get more airtime. The message ‘We’re gonna (sic) be just fine,’ isn’t sexy so it doesn’t sell.”

          With so many environmental, quality-of-life, civil strife, and threatened species problems to be concerned with, all of which are exacerbated by mushrooming human population, “It’s nice to have at least one thing—too few babies—that we don’t have to worry about,” explains Seager.

          You can read the entire report upon which Seager bases his case right here.

          Our book makes the case that there are enough of us. The truth be told, there are more than Enough of Us.  And with fewer of us, our economy and planet can thrive. Hence, the answer to our question is a resounding, “False.”

 

 

There is a Good Chance the Earth Will Warm Beyond Current Predictions . . . and Soon

Unless the continuous emission of greenhouse gases subsides in the near future, the Earth’s surface is going to get hotter than a Habanero pepper in the Sahara in July, according to research based in part on projections at the University of Hawaii. And the record-breaking heat, on an ever-increasing upward slope, is likely to commence about 10 years from now.

            For the most part, greenhouse gas emissions come from the burning of coal, oil and natural gases, as well as from forest destruction and livestock. Even a significant mitigation of consumption will only delay the inevitable for perhaps 20 years.

             The highest worldwide average temperature occurred in 2005. According to the studies headed by Camilo Mora and Ryan Longman, the entire world will pass the point of permanently-increasing record temperatures by 2047. The rollout, according to the study, will look approximately like this:

  • Kingston, Jamaica                 –  2023
  • Cairo, Egypt                           –  2026
  • Singapore                               –  2028
  • Mexico City                            –  2031                       
  • Phoenix, AZ and Honolulu    –  2043
  • The whole world                     – 2047

           Most greenhouse gases are caused by a variety of human behaviors. As world population grows and larger numbers of people move into a consumer middle class, the demand for the above-mentioned sources of greenhouse gases grows as well.

          According to an Associated Press article of October 9, 2013 by Seth Borenstein, Mora, a biological geographer (who knew there is such a thing?) and his colleagues “ran simulations from 39 different computer models and looked at hundreds of thousands of species, maps and data points to ask when places will have ‘an environment like we had never seen before.’

Researcher Camilo Mora

Climate Researcher Camilo Mora, Photo:- University of Hawai’i

         “‘One can think of this year (2047) as a kind of threshold into a hot new world from which one never goes back,’ said Carnegie Institution climate scientist Chris Field, who was not part of the study. ‘This is really dramatic.’”

          According to Mora, by 2043, 147 cities will have shifted to a range of temperatures that is beyond historical records. The first U.S. cities to experience this shift will be Honolulu and Phoenix, followed by San Diego (so much for having America’s best weather), Orlando, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Detroit and Houston. Ironically, Seattle will get hit before Dallas. Anchorage comes in dead last among the 265 U.S. cities in the study. And that won’t be until 2071. The study allows for a five-year margin of error.

          One variable that sets this study apart from most, if not all, others is that it includes the tropics. Since tropical temperatures don’t vary as much as those closer to the Earth’s poles, even a small temperature variation can have dramatic consequences. Mora says that a temperature variations of as little as three degrees in the tropics have dramatic outcomes in the part of the globe that contains most of the world’s biodiversity.

           “The Mora team found that by one measurement—ocean acidity—Earth has already crossed the threshold into an entirely new regime,” says Borenstein. “That happened in about 2008, with every year since then more acidic than the old record, according to study co-author Abby Frazier.” Ocean acidity, like global warming, is partially a consequence of CO2 absorption. (For more on ocean acidification, click here.)

          Adding credibility to the study, a Georgia Institute of Technology climate scientist who frequently clashes with mainstream researchers gave support by comparing the study with a study sponsored by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which came out in September.

          So, while we seem to be crossing human-caused thresholds of environmental abuse, every day, humanity rushes headlong into increasing its numbers. Already more than Enough of Us are upsetting the Earth’s atmosphere with as-yet-unseen major consequences. The question remains: Will we stop before the consequences become catastrophic?

          We invite the reader to search this site for more information on the consequences of climate change.  Search “climate change” and “global warming.”

           

 

On Parenting, Pestering, and Pickleball

[Jerry Steinberg is a member of the Childfree Network. Almost 30 years ago he founded the international social club “NO KIDDING!” We invited him to tell our readers the story of a recent encounter with someone who objected to Jerry’s lifestyle. You can access NO KIDDING! at http://NOKIDDING.NET, where you may be able to find a local group. Please note: The term “childfree” refers to folks who do not have, and do not want, children. “Childless” refers to folks without children for any other reason, such as they’re being not-yet-ready, infertile, or having tried and failed.]

I wear a wide-brimmed Tilley hat with “NO KIDS? NOKIDDING.NET” embroidered on the front and back. At (55+) pickleball last week, a woman (let’s call her Sheila) asked me what my hat was about. I told her that NO KIDDING! is a social club for childless and childfree couples and singles that I formed in 1984. She said, “Wow, what a great idea!” I asked her if she had ever had kids and she said that she hadn’t, and would love to meet other childfree people. 

Jerry Steinberg

Jerry Steinberg and his infamous hat

           Another woman (let’s call her Ernestine) overheard our conversation and piped in, “What a selfish thing to do!” I asked her whether she meant not having kids or forming a club for people who have never had children. She answered, “Not having kids!” Then she just had to add, boastfully, “I have four kids, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.” 

          To which I just had to retort, “Wait a minute, Ernestine, you’re telling me that because of you, 14 people are taking up space and using up limited, dwindling resources on our planet? And you call us selfish?”

          She answered, “But I don’t live in China!”

          Sheila slipped in, “Maybe not, Ernestine, but you do live on Earth, don’t you?”

          “And how many trees, ” I asked rhetorically, “have been cut down to make room for, and homes for, your 14 additions? It’s too bad that you won’t be around to see your descendants living in overcrowded, polluted conditions just like in China, India, and many other countries today.” The conversation ended there.

          I was back at pickleball a day or two later, and Ernestine was back at it.

Jerry returns a low shot

Jerry playing pickleball

          She all but demanded to know why I had never had children (I’m currently 68), and I told her that I cherish my freedom, I love peace and quiet, that I have other things to spend my money on, that I prefer to work part time (instead of overtime), that our overcrowded planet cannot sustain an infinite number of consuming polluters. I added that if I felt  I needed to have children of my own, I would adopt a child, or two, who is desperate to have a loving family, instead of adding to overpopulation problems. She insisted that everyone must have children, that it is our duty to procreate to continue the species, and that children will take care of their parents in old age.

            I replied that there are many people who should never have had children. We read about them every day in the newspaper, neglecting, abusing, and abandoning their kids.

              It’s my contention that if she truly believes that Earth can accommodate an infinite number of people, she should imagine herself standing in a room, any room–even this large gymnasium—and the number of people in that room doubling every few seconds. “Wouldn’t it start to become uncomfortable at some point?” I asked. “Wouldn’t people have to start fighting for space and air? Well the same is true of our planet. We have seven billion people taking up space and using up resources, and the land portion of our planet isn’t increasing (in fact, as oceans rise, the land is decreasing). There are regions of our planet–Antarctica, for example–that are truly uninhabitable, there are areas that are extremely dangerous to live–next to volcanos, flood-prone areas, earthquake and hurricane zones, etc.–and farmland and forests are being lost to housing and shopping centers, so we have to slow down and reverse the growth of our population before even more people die of starvation.”

          As for children caring for their aging parents, I told her that there are no guarantees in life. Your children could be living on the other side of the planet, have children or other responsibilities of their own, be mentally or physically handicapped, be destitute, or be selfish, greedy bastards who do nothing but fight for every last crumb of your estate.

          And as for procreating to ensure the survival of the species, I told her that humans are populating themselves into extinction.

          Then she told me that I’ll regret my choice. I responded that I very well might someday, but if I’m going to feel remorse about my decision, one way or the other, I’d rather regret not having children than have children and regret it, because once you have children, you’re legally responsible for them until they become adults, and morally for the rest of their lives. Besides, I have many children in my life including nieces and nephews, friends’ kids, neighborhood kids, and my students.

          Finally, she condemned me for founding NO KIDDING! I told her that in my thirties I was running out of friends as they started to have children, and that NO KIDDING! enabled me to make new friends, friends who could talk about things other than kids, that the thousands of NO KIDDING! members around the world would agree with me, and that joining a club for childfree people can give you a new circle of friends who can share in helping you in your dotage.

          I told her that everyone has to make the choices they hope will be the most positive for them. 

          I finally shut her up by saying, “Children are too precious for just anybody and everybody to have them.”

          She agreed.

 

 

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.