My Thoughts on Childlessness

Perhaps it’s only within my circle of friends, but the subject of childlessness seems to be a hot one lately. This happens to be an issue that i regularly give a lot of thought to, so i decided i’d weigh in on it a little bit—although i don’t think i can quite put everything into a single blog post (even an extremely long one). A recent article by one Christine Overall entitled Think Before You Breed implores possible someday-parents to really think about and weigh the reasons for having children before deciding to take that plunge, rather than just procreating because “it’s what people do” or because they “just want to.” Reproduction is an ethical issue and no longer merely a fact of life. Well, believe me, this is one i’ve been thinking hard about for quite a few years.

I don’t seem to have the infamous “ticking clock.” I have no particular dislike of children, but no great fondness for them, either. The fact is that there’s no aspect of parenthood that doesn’t sound pretty much awful to me, except maybe sending the kids off to college finally and watching them become wonderful adults. “But it’s worth it,” people tell me. “You can’t know how great it is until you have a child of your own.” But research shows (and i don’t have a source to cite, i just remember reading about this, so feel free to prove me wrong) that when all is said and done and people are approaching the end of life, whether or not they had children doesn’t make a difference in their overall level of satisfaction. Parents experience higher highs but also lower lows, so it seems to be pretty much a wash. This argument could also be turned around, however, and i do realize that it means having a child would not in fact ruin my life.

And as a side note, lest you think i’m just a weenie about destroying my body giving birth, let me assure you that that is the least of my hesitations. I think pregnancy is amazing and horrifying and wonderful and extremely intriguing, but that aspect of becoming a parent doesn’t even factor in to the decision of whether or not to do that which follows giving birth, namely being a parent. If i wanted to be a parent i would definitely consider adoption, not because i’m afraid of bearing a child but because—why make a new child when there are already so many of them that need loving homes? But that’s a debate for another time. What i want to explore is the question of whether or not to bring a child into the world. By remaining childless am i doing the world a favor or a disservice?

It’s interesting to note that i’m one of the first generations of women for whom childlessness, not motherhood, is essentially the default, rather than the other way around. For most of the women who have ever walked the earth, motherhood was an inevitability. But for me in my privileged First world, birth control is so effective and so easy to come by that there is almost no way that i could get pregnant accidentally. If i ever get pregnant, it will be because i have made the conscious decision to do so (or to “not try not to,” as an increasing number of my friends are doing).

There are a few reasons for which people like to tell me that i ought to have children. “They’d be so cute!” is obviously the worst reason (and the easiest one to be tempted by). That people like me who are smart enough to take parenthood so seriously are the kind of people who ought to continue on the race is more compelling. It’s a conundrum, isn’t it, that so many relatively intelligent people think better of passing their genes on, while so many others can’t even stop to consider using birth control? (And, to be fair, there are plenty of people who would love to have birth control but can’t get it, and they certainly can’t get the education that would lift them out of those conditions, either.) It’s a real, dire problem, but it’s also really fun to poke fun at. Can you imagine a world in which the smart people have been completely flooded out of the gene pool? An actual Idiocracy?

But even if i did have children just to make sure that my decent brain genes continued on in time, who’s to say that those children would in turn decide to have children? I’d have to have at least a few to secure the chances of that—and SCREW THAT! I can’t even fathom that. Having one child is admirable. Having two is brave. Having three is borderline crazy, and having four or more is simply ludicrous, if you ask me. (And i suppose i should be grateful that my mother didn’t see things that way, since i’m her baby number four.)

I do think Nathan and i would be pretty damn good parents. This isn’t a situation that i think someone could objectively look at and immediately say “well, since they don’t want kids they’d be awful parents and therefore shouldn’t have kids.” If i did wind up with a child, you can bet your ass i’d do the best job i could possibly bring myself to do of giving that kid a good life. But for one thing, i think probably everyone thinks the same of themselves, and the psychologists of the world know that many of them are wrong, and for another, that’s still no argument for creating a new child. If anything, the fact that we could give a child a good life and bring her up happy and well-adjusted is an argument for us to adopt.

Sometimes, if i’m thinking about it too hard, i start to wonder whether my only actual purpose in this world isn’t to create babies. The feminist in me says “excuse me?! Of course not!!” but the wannabe-scientist in me says “yup. Everything you are is for the purpose of procreation.” But, thinks my novice inner-philosopher, the biological imperative is rarely the right answer in questions of ethics. Technically every horrible thing humans have ever done has brought us here, alive and well, and that doesn’t make those horrible things right. So the fact that i am biologically a baby maker doesn’t mean that making babies is the right thing for me to do. And i like Elizabeth Gilbert’s (perhaps fanciful) idea that childless women are actually essential for the success of a society because we’re able to accumulate the resources to help children out when they need a hand. She wrote in Committed, “In this way, I, too, foster life. There are many, many ways to foster life.”

There is the argument that fewer babies from my generation will mean a massive economic collapse as the more populous preceding generations get older and need to be supported by the dwindling working class. That’s a fair point, but i see it as a short-term problem. The alternative—keeping our numbers as blindingly, unsustainably high as they are now—is in my opinion a far worse scenario. We’re burning the candle at both ends in terms of using up our resources. I don’t think that means that everyone ought to stop breeding and we should let ourselves die out. But i think it means that we need to reduce our numbers in order to live on and live well as a collective, so why shouldn’t i bow out to further the eventual greater good?

The one remaining thing that gives me pause on this issue is extremely short-term and small-scale, but so personal that it’s impossible for me to ignore. It’s the fact that there are two other people whose lives will be greatly affected by our final decision on whether or not to have children, and those two people are my father and my mother-in-law, who might never get to be grandparents if my husband and i decide to remain child-free. I consider that to be a big, weighty consequence of my course of action, and i do think of it as an ethical issue. We owe our parents everything—is it possible that we owe them this? Whenever i bring this up, people tell me that it’s absolutely not a good reason to have kids, and i mostly realize that they’re right. It just makes me feel guilty sometimes that i’m probably denying them a huge amount of joy. Luckily, however, Nathan and i each have an older sibling who could potentially fill that void in our parents’ lives, so i’ll be crossing my fingers and staying on the best reversible birth control i can find for at least a few more years, because nothing so far has presented itself to me as a good enough reason to put aside my own wishes for a child-free life. To quote Why Wife & Mother Do Not Have To Go Together, Part II, “We regret not being ourselves, we don’t regret not living the life we were expected to live.”


Can’t Stop the Serenity

Yesterday evening Nathan and i attended an event called Can’t Stop the Serenity. (Here’s the page for the Des Moines Chapter.) Basically, it was a showing of the cult movie Serenity down at the Fleur, but it was so much more than that.


The first time i saw this movie was about three years ago and I pretty much hated it. I was told that without the context of the Syfy show Firefly on which it’s based, it probably wasn’t as good. So this spring when Nathan started watching episodes of Firefly on Netflix Instant Play, i wasn’t very interested at first. However, unlike Stargate which failed to interest me even after several chances, the show soon drew me in and Nathan and i finished up the one and only season together in no time. Afterward we watched Serenity, which was SO MUCH BETTER the second time.

So then a couple weeks ago i heard via twitter about this event called Can’t Stop the Serenity. There are a lot of Firefly fans out there (called “browncoats”) whose love for the series has only been fueled by the fact that it was canceled so early on and by their hopes that it might be revived again some day. These fans get together once a year in quite a few different cities around the world to watch Serenity on the big screen. I figured the event would probably be a nerdfest and thus a pretty awesome time. I had no idea.

First there was a costume contest which we missed and which we realized once we got there that we probably could have won if we’d dressed up. There were door prizes which included Anime box sets, chopsticks-and-pocky combinations and Firefly fanclub memorabilia. We won some fake Firefly universe currency – w00t! There was a showing of Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which we discovered is a short musical starring Neil Patrick Harris that was directed by Joss Whedon, the same guy who did Firefly (and a lot of other stuff, it turns out). That was pretty enjoyable. And then, of course, there was Serenity. (Which was STILL BETTER the third time around.)

But besides all of the delightful nerdery, there was a really good cause for all of this. I knew that the proceeds were going to be donated to a charity, but i was excited to learn that Equality Now is an organization that essentially fights against the things i hate the most in this world: rape, domestic violence, reproductive rights violations, trafficking, female genital mutilation, and gender discrimination. Unfortunately, i didn’t learn about this until after the silent auction had ended or i probably would have ponied up at least fifty bucks for a graphic novel to benefit this organization right then and there. (I can still donate, of course, but i won’t get a sweet comic book out of it.)

The main aim of Equality Now is to facilitate awareness about the atrocities being committed against women every day all over the world. It upsets me enough that i find it hard to write about, but this is something i think is really important so please check out their website and be sure to like them on facebook!

So nerdy sci-fi love + proceeds going to a great cause = a really awesome event that i’m already planning to attend again next year. And with that, i’ve just destroyed whatever “cool points” i may have gained with my big bro by drinking IPAs with him over the past couple of weeks. 😉

“Vanity” Sizing

The top story on today is entitled “As nation gains, ‘overweight’ is relative.” And the title pretty much explains the gist of the article – Americans today perceive themselves as being less overweight than they did a decade or so ago, despite the fact that the average person has gotten a little larger. We see our body size as it compares to the people around us, and heavy is becoming normal.

They start off the article with a discussion of “vanity sizing.” They say size 10 is the new 14, and retailers are enlarging their sizes to make us feel as though we were shrinking, when in reality our waistlines are expanding. Case in point: i’ve been shopping at Express for jeans since high school. Back then, i wore a size 3/4. Toward the end of high school, i’d moved up to a size 5/6. But then in college, the 5/6es in the store started to seem baggy, and although my body hadn’t changed i moved back down to the size 4. By the end of college, again although my body hadn’t really changed, i was wearing a size 2 at Express, as i am today.

Now, i saw a photograph of myself that someone had taken from behind me a few weeks ago, and i said to myself “that is not a size two butt!!”

So, i launched into a Google search for the history of dress sizes and what my actual measurements would have translated to in the days of size-fourteen-Marilyn-Monroe. Alas, i could find no such size chart, but feeling incensed that Express had so misled me, i researched vanity sizing and found that it isn’t some manipulation of our collective psychosis, but a practical measure that the fashion industry has no choice but to take.

This article i came across on Fashion Incubator explains that each retailer has number or relative (S/M/L) designations which range across its garments from smallest to largest, and each retailer has a different range depending on who buys the garments. For example, if you make tutus, your “large” is still going to seem tiny to the average person, because ballerinas are necessarily tiny people. It would be impractical to have standardized sizing across all garments and retailers, because then ballerinas would have to choose among XS, XXS, XXXS. Makes sense, right?

So, the retailers aren’t just stroking our egos by making their size twos as big as sixes used to be. People are getting bigger. If you’re Express and people stop buying your size zero because nobody is that small anymore, and you start getting harassed by people for not carrying size fourteen (discriminating!), doesn’t it make sense to make all the garments bigger, but keep the old number scale?

Maybe we’re pointing the finger at the wrong industry. Maybe we should take exercise and nutrition into our own hands and stop claiming to be victimized by pop culture and the fashion industry that is supposedly slave to it. Or, just maybe, we could stop judging one another and ourselves and start to just be comfortable with the bodies that our culture produces. I think there are a lot of forces at work in this problem, but i’ve come to realize that perhaps the least of them is so-called vanity sizing.