Friday, May 29, 2015

I Was Hoping They Wouldn't Breed

In his book How Civilizations Die, David Goldman notes the curious fact that while demographics have hit death spirals for most of Europe and Asia, within these countries there are significant differences in the birth rates of religious conservatives versus godless liberals. This is not something that Goldman invented--demographers had been aware of this trend for years. (See, e.g., the documentary, Demographic Winter). Goldman theorizes that there is something unique about religious faith that tends to encourage couples to have multiple children, particularly in a day and age where there are no economic benefits to doing so. The consequence is that liberals have to hope that they can indoctrinate the children of conservatives faster than they die off in order to perpetuate the "liberal species."

So it was with a bit of dismay that I saw this piece, entitled "I Was a Proud Non-Breeder. Then I Changed My Mind," from Michelle Goldberg at Salon where she found the least tiny bit of faith to have a child. Goldberg admits from the get go that she was one of Spengler's Ibsen women:
My husband, Matt, was ambivalent, too [about having children]. We were pleased with our two-person family, with our consuming careers, constant travel, and many tipsy nights out, all the things people tell you that you lose when you become a parent. We met very young, the summer after my freshman year of college, and we’d never grown bored with each other. Sometimes we puzzled over what people meant when they said that marriage is hard work. We assumed it had something to do with parenthood.

From the start, we’d bonded over a desire to see as much of the world as we could, and we ended up traveling a lot. Once, seven or eight years ago, I was in London for a conference before heading to Uganda for an assignment. My husband flew in, took me to dinner, stayed the night, and flew home in the morning; it was the only way to avoid going several weeks without seeing each other. A little while later, I mentioned this to a cab driver. “That’s something you do for your mistress, not your wife!” he said. Exactly, I thought.

I don’t mean to imply that our life was all insouciant jet-setting, or that that was the only reason for my hesitation about becoming a mother. As happy as I am with my marriage, I’m not by nature a cheerful person. Like a lot of writers, I’m given to tedious bouts of anxiety, depression, and self-loathing. I am introverted, and feel shattered if I don’t have time alone every day. Worse, from a parental perspective, I am impatient, easily undone by quotidian frustrations. As much as I love to visit faraway places, I’m often reduced to tears by the indignities of air travel. When I’m stuck in a taxi in traffic, I unconsciously shred my cuticles until my fingers bleed. I imagined parenthood as a clammy never-ending coach flight, the kind that used to leave me feeling like I’d give 20 years of my life for an hour alone in a clean hotel room.

Also, there was my work. As a little girl, I had never imagined myself with babies, or, for that matter, with a husband. My vision of the future had involved an apartment in New York City, a cat, and a typewriter. I was sure children would get in the way of my ambitions — and, worse, that I’d poison them with my resentment. In Caroline Moorehead’s biography of the swashbuckling journalist Martha Gellhorn, she describes how Gellhorn adopted an Italian orphan after World War II. At first she was smitten, but before long she felt trapped, writing that her son was, “through no act of his own, but because of a careless, inconceivably frivolous and selfish act of mine, making life untenable.” She was a distant and sometimes cruel mother, and her child grew up to be a great disappointment to her; she once described him as “a total loss, a poor small unwanted life.”

Chilling as this was, I took a bleak sort of comfort in it, since it confirmed that I was right not to take the leap. I started looking online for other stories about people who’d had children and then wished they hadn’t. I read about a famous Ann Landers reader survey from the 1970s, undertaken in response to a letter from a young couple who feared, as I did, that parenthood would ruin their marriage.“Will you please ask your readers the question: If you had it to do over again, would you have children?” they asked. She did, and received 10,000 responses. To her dismay, 70 percent answered no. A 40-year-old mother of twins wrote, “I was an attractive, fulfilled career woman before I had these kids. Now I’m an exhausted, nervous wreck who misses her job and sees very little of her husband. He’s got a ‘friend,’ I’m sure, and I don’t blame him.” This helped shore up my faith in our decision.
Unfortunately, Goldberg yearned for a bit of the immortality that having children imparts upon us. She got pregnant. That pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, which only strengthened her desire to have a child. Soon she was pregnant again and gave birth to a son (I can imagine feminists everywhere gritting their teeth in anger over that!). Later, she had another child--a daughter (I can imagine the LGBT crowd gritting their teeth that she would be so insensitive so as to label her children a particular gender instead of letting them discover it for themselves). And Goldberg is happy for her decision.

While Goldberg has bred (to borrow her own phraseology), we can look forward to the fact that most of her fellow liberal cohort have not.

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