February 16, 2010

To Procreate, or Not to Procreate?

I recently read a controversial article by Anne Kingston in Maclean's called, The case against having kids. The question of whether or not to have children is pretty prevalent in my life lately. I currently have six friends who are pregnant, one who recently had a miscarriage, and a couple who are trying to conceive. I am 32 and have a partner, but I am still negotiating through my thoughts, emotions, and fears surrounding procreation. I know that deciding not to have children is a valid option for any woman or couple nowadays, but there is still a social stigma associated with this decision, or moreover, the potential reasons behind such a decision.

In the Maclean's article, Kingston refers to a growing collection of essays, literature, and cultural movements aimed at helping "child-free" individuals and couples feel validated and supported in their choice not to have children. British Columbia poet, Lorna Crozier, asserts: "Children were not a way of ensuring happiness or endowing my days with meaning. That hard task was mine alone." In a similar vein, author and analyst Corinne Maier writes: "Children are often used as an excuse for giving up on life without really trying. It takes real courage to say 'Me first.'" (from No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children). Maier's statement could easily be taken the wrong way, but I believe she is referring to those people who choose to sacrifice their personal goals in life for those of their children. I don't believe this ever has to be the case (at least I hope not, or I am definitely not cut out to be a mother).

There is also the issue of overpopulation and sustainability. The world's current growth rate of approximately 1.14% represents a doubling time of approximately 60 years. This is simply not sustainable for the human species. It's not sustainable as it is. When I listen to these kinds of statistics, it seems as though (if I decide that I want to raise a child) exploring the option of adoption would be the most responsible and ecologically sound decision. But adoption has it's own minefield of bureaucratic hoops to jump through and considerations of the child's racial and cultural background and the most sensitive way in which to handle the inevitable questions that will arise with regards to their origin.

All of this being said, I have also witnessed the miracle of motherhood, and this is something that Kingston's article does not discuss. I have seen my friends discover a form of love they didn't know was possible until this being passed through their bodies into the world. I have held my cousin's baby in my arms while she slept and was reluctant to let her go, and I have experienced the awe of watching her grow into a tall, spirited child that has no conscious recollection of her first year on earth--being breastfed, comforted, cooed at, loved, and protected. But none of this is enough--I need to feel the desire to be a mother in my bones, my cells, my heart. I need to know what the ticking "biological clock" feels like. I haven't felt it yet, and this is not a decision that I trust to be made with my head, or social and cultural expectations, or the pressure of an extended family that is ready to embrace grandparenthood.

No, this is my choice. I wholeheartedly agree with Kingston's assertion near the end of her Maclean's article, which concludes: "what any happiness appears to stem from is not children or their absence but rather the ability to make the choice." In order to be at peace with any decision I make in my life, I need feel that I had the freedom to make that choice. Ideally, I would also live in a cultural climate in which that choice was respected.

Are we there yet?