“So, do you think you will have any more kids?” It’s a common enough question for a young mother of two but it doesn’t make the uncomfortable-ness of it any easier. This is a new question in history, one both posed and contemplated only by fortunate couples of the last few birth-control decades. It is a weighty question, taking into account family dynamics, finances, size of house and capacity of vehicle. It’s a question, once given to fate, now on the shoulders of discerning couples.
I am from a family of just two children, myself the elder, my dear sister two years younger. We played together seamlessly and are often, to this day, asked if we are twins. But I remember asking, nay, begging, my mother to have more kids. She laughed me off, saying if it were up to her she’d have a few more but that dad said two was enough. I couldn’t understand this, more siblings just felt like a guarantee for more fun.
A decade or so later, I’ve got two lovely children and I think that’s it.
As I daydreamed of starting my own family, again, I thought big. 3 kids at least, to satiate my childhood wants, possibly 4 and if my not-yet-real husband was a trooper, maybe 5. I imagined an imaginative, art-filled house, kids piling out of bathtubs, kids stacked up in bunk-beds. Soccer teams, house-bands.
A decade or so later, I’ve got two lovely children and I think that’s it. Motherhood turned out to be a hell of a lot of work but that’s not really the kicker. In fact, I still daydream of what a large family could be. We homeschool and when I see families who have a whole little one-room-school-house spill out of their passenger van, I feel jealous. I think of when I’m older and how nice a large bustling household of grown children and grandkids coming joyfully to visit for holidays could be. Consider it even a security plan for old age.
But I think we are done. It’s not a decision that comes lightly, at all. But, and this might stir up a hornet’s nest, I do feel it’s my social responsibility. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs recently released estimations that our world’s population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100, up from 7.2 billion people alive today. Our carbon-count is reaching 400 parts per million and rising exceedingly high from the safety of 350 count. You cannot argue that excess people had not to do with that. Allan Weisman, author of both The World Without Us, and most recently, Countdown: Our Last, Our Best Hope for a Future on Earth? recently spoke with Orion magazine about population awareness. He states, “I think, in the twentieth century, when our population quadrupled, we got to the point where we kind of redefined original sin. Just by being born, we’re part of the problem. There’s also no question that the most over-populated country on earth is actually the United States, because we consume at such a ferocious rate. We may not be as numerous as China or India but our total impact is huge.”
Does this discussion stink of eugenics? We’ve seen theories of population control and sterilization pop up again and again throughout history, from Dust-bowl days to Nazi regime to Native American reservations. It has never been a kind idea. These dark spots in history, however, all had a fatal flaw. In almost all of these scenarios, certain groups of people were encouraged to have more offspring (read: white, well-to-do, educated, of Christian faith etc) while other people were asked, or not asked, to be sterilized (read: of color, uneducated, poor, not speaking the language, of handicap etc). The dilemma we are facing in the 21st Century is a different one, concerned not with class-ism but with the saving of the human race. We are all in this thing together.
The Center for Biological Diversity is one current group addressing population concerns. They describe themselves as “working through science, law and creative media to secure a future for all species, great or small, hovering on the brink of extinction.” Recently the organization distributed condoms with colorful images on the packaging stating: “Wrap with care, save the polar bear,” and “Wear a condom now, save the spotted owl.” That argument does it for me, yes, I will hold back my reproductive yearnings for the sake a beloved species. When feeling swayed by the thought of sweet little baby breath, a conjured image of a polar bear will do the trick. Many beings, precious.
Still, there are times when the reality of this decision hits me in the gut, keeps me awake at night. Are my pregnancy days, my nursing days, my baby days really behind me? Then I start daydreaming about just one more baby who would prolong inevitable empty nest for just a few more years. But all signs point to too many people. There isn’t a magic population number that will bring solace to this injured place, but a consciousness in our decision making will surely only help. In his book, “Maybe One,” Bill McKibben argues “We need to get over being so shy about it. We need to get over thinking about population as an abstract issue, a matter of “birthrates,” Population is a matter of how many children each of us chooses to have, and at the moment that choice is as likely to be influenced by the nagging of grandparents (“she needs a playmate”) and the nagging of myth (“only children are SPOILED) as by careful, steady thought. No decision any of us makes will have more effect on the world (and on our lives) than whether to bear another child. No decision, then, should be made with more care.”
This is an age where we must make personal decisions with a planetary conscious. With an American insatiable hungry for “bigger”, let us make a few steps towards “smaller.” Its go-time on planet earth and this is one simple yet conscious sacrifice I can make toward a healthier future. It is a sacrifice but of course it is not the only sacrifice. For some of us, we will choose to live without a vehicle, for others, to live multi-generationally within a household, still others forgo meat or grow their own vegetables. Each in our own way, we make our gestures of earth-care.
With two kids, I already have a lovely and manageable family, I wish the same for my dear planet. I choose to bear less children if it means that they can live happily and safely on a balanced planet than more children feel the stress and suffering of a strained biological system. I want for my children, clean air. I want for my children, unpolluted night skies so that they can see the stars. I want for them, hiking trips where they will not see another soul, but may, possibly, see a spotted owl.
Decter, Midge. The Nine Lives of Population Control, First Things. December 1993
Meilaender, Gilbert, The Meaning of the Presence of Children from: Things That Count. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Inc.
McKibben, Bill. Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families. 1999.
Sullivan, Colin and ClimateWire. Human Population Growth Creeps Back Up : New U.N. estimates suggest 9.6 billion people by 2050. June 2013.
The Center for Biological Diversity
Weisman, Alan and Blechman, Andrew, Crowded Planet, Orion, October 2013.
Photo credit: Tatiana Vdb