Childfree: from a personal decision to a duty

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Duración lectura: 10m. 42s.
No tener hijos - Childfree

Sterilization is becoming an increasingly viable choice to ensure a childfree existence. Fear of losing one’s freedom, economic hardships or concern for the environment are some of the reasons given for not having children. Among the childfree, there are also those who not only fight to ensure their own choice is respected but also to convince others that this decision is the correct one.

Sophia is a 19-year-old Communications major in Canada, and when Suzy Weiss spoke with her for her article “First Comes Love. Then Comes Sterilization“, she had just made an appointment with a doctor to be sterilized. Her motives? She wants to travel the world, visit all seven continents, and she already knows that she’ll never want children.

Rachel Diamond had her tubes tied half a year ago. She had grown up thinking that one day she would form a family of her own but, after a “progressive” turn of events and going to a psychologist who opened her eyes to the childhood trauma she’d suffered, she came to the conclusion that she would never have children.

Among the young women interviewed by Weiss, there are also those who give other reasons for their decision: Isabel, 28, calls herself an anti-natalist; that’s to say she is not only proudly childfree, but thinks that “it is morally wrong to bring children into the world” because they will suffer.

Motives

Social inequalities, racism, delinquency, poverty and fear of passing on a genetic disease are among the reasons cited for renouncing offspring when considering a hypothetical child. And the climate crisis. To this last point, depending on the individual points of view, the child they don’t want to be born would either be a victim to an apocalyptic world or another one of our planet’s executioners. “Many people believe it’s their duty to have children, but for me, the opposite is far more accurate. I feel it’s my responsibility not to have children, as part of a collective effort to respond to an unsustainable population size,” one Huffington Post contributer wrote.

There’s a tendency among 20-somethings to believe that humans are the problem, says Clay Routdledge, a psychologist at North Dakota State University, not just in the sense that we pollute the oceans and launch trash into space, but that there’s something inherent in us that makes us incapable of making things better.

Other times the reasons are mixed: one woman confessed to the Huffington Post that she was worried about climate change, but also spoke of the lack of support from the United States government and her fear of how motherhood would affect her career. There are also those who allege that they didn’t find the right person, financial problems or that having children only serves to feed the capitalist system.

Sterilization as an “act of love”

A recent study shows that 39% of zoomers, or Gen Z, are hesitant to have children due to fear of a climate meltdown. Another, carried out by the Institute for Family Studies, reflects that the desire to have children among adults has decreased by 17% since the beginning of the pandemic. A Funcas survey found that 12% of millennials claimed that they would not have children. In this case, the reasons cited did not seem as altruistic as in some of the previous examples: children “cause a lot of problems” (70%), “limit free time a lot” (67%), and “require a lot of income” (64%).

According to an increasing number of people, the choice not to have children is not only respectable but also worthy of admiration

The media reflects – and sometimes seems to promote – this trend. In recent years, El País has published articles with headlines such as “The loneliness of the pandemic spurs pet boom and multi-million dollar market in Brazil”, “Having a second child worsens parents’ mental health” and “I didn’t have children so I wouldn’t be tied down and now I have to take care of my parents”. As for The Guardian, since 2020 the news organization has had a “Childfree” section, which centers on women’s opinions for choosing not to have children.

Wanting to be sterilized isn’t only a growing trend among women. In the United States, although there is no official data, numerous clinics that perform vasectomies have seen an increase in their clientele. From clinics to statewide actions, there has been significant campaigning to promote vasectomies. “A small cut for man, a giant leap for humanity”, or “A vasectomy is an act of love” are some of the slogans used by clinics. “A vasectomy doesn’t take away from your masculinity; in fact, it makes you a better man,” one of the doctors involved in these practices affirms.

But sterilizations can have serious side effects, which seems largely overlooked by flippantly promoting the practice as just another form of risk free contraception.

A 2015 report from the World Health Organization stated that 20% of women who were sterilized at a young people regretted their decision. And an Institute for Family Studies article which analyzed numerous studies pointed out that regret among young women regarding their decision was deeper and more painful. Four out of ten sterilized women between the ages of 18 and 24 experienced such intense remorse that they requested information on tubal ligation reversal operations within fourteen years of the procedure.

From “I don’t want children” to “you shouldn’t have them either”

Antinatalist moralism tends to classify those who have children as selfish: for solely worrying about leaving behind a legacy in the world, for having children of their own when there are children up for adoption, for not thinking about the planet, etc.

In an IF Studies commentary on the book “Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids,” Julia Shaw discusses the reasons the writers provided for their choice. Through real-life testimonials, the set of essays defends that the choice not to have children is not only respectable but also worthy of admiration. Last year, the organization Population Matters gave Prince Harry and Meghan Markle an award for their decision not to have more than two children to take care of the planet, because “they are a role model for other families,” according to the institution’s spokeswoman.

Another show of anti-natalist moralism is how, among certain childfree groups, derogatory terms have been coined towards families: there’s talk of “mombies” (or “zombie moms”, emaciated from child-rearing), and “daddiots” or “daddicts” for dads who drool over their children

The authors of “Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed” are perhaps right on one point: “No one has a monopoly on selfishness.” Someone can have children for the wrong reasons: thinking that it will make them whole, of marking one more check on their list, to simply leave their mark on the world… We know that that’s not why you have children, but in recent years parenthood seems to have moved towards an adult-centric perspective, where it’s worth asking ourselves if we’re having children for ourselves (to fulfill our own desires and expectations) or for their sake; and, in the same way, if we’re giving up having them for their (hypothetical) sake or for ours (our comfort, our plans, our freedom…).

Living for others

But you can’t conclude that “being a parent is as selfish as not being one”, as an article by Aloma Rodríguez defends in The Objective. Motives and intention matter, yes, but there’s something more.

“Humankind has existed this long because people have borne children under radically difficult circumstances” (Ross Douthat)

In an article titled “The Case for One More Child. Why Large Families Will save Humanity”, Ross Douthat confesses that he gets and sees a certain coherence in people who choose to be childfree out of fear of the climate impact of overpopulation (although he deems this approach towards the environmental crisis erroneous). But people who claim to renounce their paternity or maternity for the sake of their offspring are another story. “Humankind has existed this long because people have borne children under radically difficult circumstances, amid famine, war, and misery on a scale we can’t imagine,” he writes.

In the article, Douthat rounds up some of the consequences, from a pragmatic point of view, for a society with a decreasing population due to low birth rates: lower economic growth, less entrepreneurship, sclerosis in public and private institutions, greater inequality. And as for the longer-term effects: “The attenuation of social ties in a world with ever fewer siblings, uncles, cousins; the brittleness of a society where intergenerational bonds can be severed by a single feud or death; the unhappiness of young people in a society slouching toward gerontocracy; the growing isolation of the old.”

But, beyond the practical reasons of why a higher birth rate is praiseworthy, Douthat defends that raising “a bunch of kids” (he and his wife have four) “is the form of life most likely to force you toward kenosis, self-emptying, the experience of what it means to live entirely for someone other than yourself.” And this lands you far from selfishness.

Fascination with large families

As Douthat also highlights in his article, “our pop culture manifests at least as much fascination with large families as it does with overpopulation fears,” referring to the success of mommy bloggers and Instagrammers with thousands of followers.

“If you look at the most typical tips on ‘How to be eco-friendly at home’ or ‘Learning to take care of the environment as a family’, you’ll see how big families would win the eco-friendly awards” (Mar Dorrio)

Loreto Gala –27,000 followers on Instagram– has just given birth to her fourth child and is the creator of a trend she’s called “austerism”, a movement that, as she describes on her website, is based on austerity. “It is the virtue through which we have learned to manage the resources we already have with common sense, social sense and foresight. We began to give things the value that corresponds to them, it’s a responsible care for the common good”. In her life, caring for the environment and her family are intertwined without clashing, what’s more, it’s a way of life.

“If you look at the most typical tips on ‘How to be eco-friendly at home’ or ‘Learning to take care of the environment as a family’, you’ll see how big families would win the eco-friendly awards,” says Mar Dorrio, who has 8,000 followers on her Instagram account “Why not twelve?”, in an article published in Aleteia. And she laid out some of those points from her experience as a mother of twelve: giving toys, clothes, etc. a “second life” (siblings who get hand-me-downs from older siblings); saving water (“Nothing makes you shower quicker than someone yelling ‘I need to get in!’ on the other side of the door”); not running half-full loads of laundry or dishwashers…

While some present as motivation for their childfree lives that their hypothetical offspring would suffer (or aggravate) the environmental situation, others understand that thinking about their children’s future serves as inspiration to do things better. Lucie Brown, a mother of two and climate activist, told the Huffington Post: “Maybe having children and experiencing that grief and fear for the future is what spurred me on to find the power within myself and a community of other parents to say actually we can — and we have to — change the systems that we’re living within.” A similar idea came through in an ad last Christmas under the tagline #ibelieveintomorrow.

Kids are not vampires

There are also testimonials of people who, after being very sure that they didn’t want children in their lives, changed their minds. Christopher Kaczor spoke a few years ago in First Things on “the myth of vampire children”. He had always thought that they were drains (both financially and emotionally) and that they killed your dreams, that they sucked the life out of their parents. But when his wife and their first daughter nearly died in childbirth, his perspective changed.

Furthermore, the desire to experience parenthood, far from being a social imposition, is a natural desire that arises from how we’re designed. Jaume Vives told El Debate that “parenthood is irresponsible because when we parent a child we’re thrust the responsibility of always being there for them, and no one is ever prepared for that. But […] it’s an indispensable irresponsibility […] because we need to give of ourselves, die, transcend and, if our hearts are normal, they need to give love.” In addition, he added, parenthood also is a school unto itself: “Having children helps to establish criteria, helps to see reality much more clearly […]. A child is a reality check like no other. […] and that, perhaps, will help us to be more responsible parents”.

Translated from Spanish by Lucia K. Maher

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