October 25, 2014

WNK? Religion (Part 1)

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I have been married for 12 years and had plenty of time and practice to help me complete and refine the list of reasons I choose to be childfree. There are things I want to contribute, create and achieve. There are plenty of predicaments, contradictions, risks and duties that I hope to avoid for eternity.  I have concerns about the environment (this video is also worth revisiting), economics, my community, and vessels carrying my genes. I want to be brave and free enough to seek the best version of me, and leave more than my DNA as a legacy…

I hope to admit and articulate my childfree motivations honestly and clearly, yet, when answering “Why No Kids?” I have barely burrowed into my own psychology, insecurities, personal history or religion. It’s complicated and scary, and the opportunity to offend so many, including my family, is not exactly enticing. Nonetheless, I think it is important, and hope readers might be inspired to share some personal stories that influenced their thinking.

My own experiences with religion have certainly contributed to my decision to remain childfree. I will offer more detail in future posts. in the meantime, the following personal essay may offer some hints about my psychology and beliefs? Thanks in advance for indulging.

SPIRITS – Part 1

We were saved. My mother made sure of it. She took my younger brother and me to churches all over Denver to find the correct way to pray and give praise, and the best places in town to do it.

We had to know the right words to say so God or the devil would listen. We learned that good prayers began like letters to God. “Dear Lord,” we would say. That was the best way to do it if we were asking for something. At the end, we had to politely remind God that “we ask these things in Jesus name” to make it more powerful. If we didn’t pray right or do the right things, God wouldn’t answer our prayers. I didn’t understand, but I thought I should.

If the Devil tried to tempt or scare us, we were supposed to be mad. When I had nightmares, mom would sit down on my bed and squeeze my hand and tell me to repeat after her. In the same loud and angry way I would say “Satan, I demand, in Jesus name, that you leave me NOW. I am saved, and I am not scared any more, in JESUS name, amen”. It worked, but a week or two later I would have another dream about “The Incredible Hulk” or “Fantasy Island”. Friday night TV scared me, but my mom blamed Satan and soda pop for my sleeplessness.

Some churches were better than others. Saint Thomas Moore was only a short drive from our blue house in Acres Green, but we only went there a few times a year. That church had good aerobics classes and free tennis courts and my dad drank beer while he played softball there in the summers; but my mom called the Catholics pagans. She said they didn’t read the bible the right way and that she couldn’t be a Catholic anymore. She couldn’t say it to my grandparents though. When they came to visit, even my dad came to church. We all pretended to be Catholic, and mom told us not to tell them about our other churches or how we learned to speak in tongues.

We learned at my mom’s favorite church, which wasn’t really a church at all. It didn’t have a name or a building or little books to tell us what to say or sing. The leader of the small group was a skinny man with dirty shoes. He was young, about the same age as my mother, but glasses and baldness, and the way he knew the bible, made him seem older. He said that a church was about people and not place, and promised that God would always find a place for us to worship Him.

In the beginning, God found us a dark empty room in an office building near the Denver Tech Center. I think one of the members worked there, but we had to enter through a side door and keep most of the fluorescent lights off. About 40 people attended regularly, but some skipped the service for Broncos games or good snowstorms.

We sat in a broken circle of folding metal chairs, facing the center and each other. The leader read the bible and led us in prayer before he sat down and waited for the Holy Spirit to inspire someone to start a song, any song. “He is the king of kings” was my favorite. When a song ended, another would start spontaneously, and the singing continued like that until the Holy Spirit filled the room and someone started speaking in tongues.

It was God’s language. That’s what we were told, that God knew exactly what we were feeling and saying, even if we didn’t. As others joined the prayer, the volume increased. Eyes closed and some stood and raised their hands in the air like they had just scored a goal. “They were getting as close to God as possible,” my mother explained later. I wondered why they didn’t stand on the chairs.  Some fell to their knees. Others bent their elbows at the waist and opened their hands to the sky as if they were carrying a lunch tray on their forearms. I followed their lead, moved my lips silently, peeked through squinty eyes to see if anyone was watching, and wondered if God would forgive me for faking.

My mother had her head tilted back, smiling at heaven. She looked happy there, something I didn’t realize until we got home, or I got older.

Her face changed when she carefully pulled her old white Volvo into the garage next to my father’s new blue one.  My dad was rarely happy to see us on Sunday. If he was awake he was angry or hungry or both.  He said he went enough when he was a boy, or stayed out too late the night before. He held his head and drank tomato juice and gin and stared at everything but us. When the shouting started, we were simply ordered to go upstairs and read our Bibles. We were saved.

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From Birth Rates to DINK Perks

‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Bill og Melinda Gates unde...

Bill and Melinda Gates (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you haven’t been active on the Why No Kids? Facebook page lately, then you’ve missed out on some good childfree reads. But don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Here’s the recent hit parade:

  • Melinda Gates’ New Crusade: Investing Billions in Women’s Health “[Melinda] Gates made a decision that’s likely to change lives all over the world… she has decided to make family planning her signature issue and primary public health a priority. ‘My goal is to get this back on the global agenda,’ she says.” (The Daily Beast)
  • Teen Birth Rate Hits Historic Lows “The teenage birth rate declined 9 percent between 2009 and 2010, hitting an all-time low, according to new data released by the National Center for Health Statistics.” (US News and World Report)
  • Growing Number of Women Want to Become Moms to Get Out of Work Apparently pregnancy is looking more and more appealing to British woman, who, according to a new survey, are more likely to want to get pregnant these days so they can score the 52 weeks of maternity leave that is standard in England. Yes, you read that right: Women want to have babies to avoid working for a year. (Glamour)
  • Procreation vs. Overpopulation “In ‘Fruits of Philosophy,’ Knowlton took up the subject of sex… Knowlton was worried about the hazards of fertility… Unlike Malthus, who saw no remedy except plague or abstinence, Knowlton believed that a more agreeable solution was at hand. What he called the “reproductive instinct” need not actually lead to reproduction.” (The New Yorker)
  • Why I Love Being A DINK Although this article trots out rather inane seed answers to to the following question, we know that you can do better! Why do you love being in a dual income no kids relationship? (Business Insider)

Thanks WNKers for your reading recommendations. Please keep them coming!

Barren in Iran

Leila (film)

Image via Wikipedia

I recently watched Leila, a mesmerizing Iranian film that debuted  by Persian film director Dariush Mehrjui. It chronicles the story of a young married couple (Leila and Reza) living in modern Teheran who can’t conceive a child.  More exactly, the couple learns that she, the wife cannot have a child. Trouble ensues.

In one of the earliest scenes the viewer meets the young man’s mother, who, while celebrating her daughter-in-law’s birthday announces that she can’t wait to meet the couple’s son (only they don’t have one).  This woman, so insistent that her only son have a child to carry on the family’s lineage (never mind her handful of daughters who might procreate) soon learns, that her wish won’t be possible.  The couple jumps through some fertility hoops to no avail, and the Reza consoles his wife by insisting to her that he really has had no interest in having children all along.  Leila seems to believe him, and they resolve to enjoy each others’ company without the distraction of children.

Then Reza’s mother intercedes.

Leila and Reza’s love is palpable. Their connection and mutual admiration seem strong. But their love and ties are harrowingly tested in a tug-of-war between their modern marriage and Islamic tradition, between their dreams and Reza’s mother’s dreams.  The film offers a glimpse into the complexities of living in contemporary Iran and the complexities of giving back to one’s parents.

Leila’s mother-in-law persistently, deceptively convinces her that Reza is desperate to have a child. She harasses Leila incessantly until Leila agrees to permit her husband to marry a second wife who can give him a child. Though adamantly opposed to the idea, Reza eventually yields to his mother’s desire and to the traditional Islamic expectations of him.

We watch the heart-wrenching process of selecting a new bride through Leila’s eyes. We witness and understand her anguish.  Ironically, it is Reza’s sisters and father who try to convince Leila to refuse the second marriage. (Ostensibly polygamy is legal in Iran provided previous wives agree.) Leila’s family is horrified when they discover Reza’s plan to remarry.

Leila’s doubt that Reza would be happy without a child and her decision to encourage a second marriage inevitably proves devastating to her union with Reza.  She signs her fate away to external factors and concludes: “God has not given me a child.  He has given me the gift of eternal patience and endurance.”  Her choices test the limits of that endurance (and the viewer’s).

I won’t spoil the plot, because the film is worth watching. We never really know why Leila consents to her insipid mother-in-law’s wishes. Does she hope this will make her a better Muslim and wife? Does she simply wish to please her new family? Does she too desperately desire a child even if impossible through her own DNA? Or does her self sacrificing decision reveal unconditional love for her husband?  Perhaps all of these factors are in play, but the film is so compelling precisely because we never learn the answer.

Happy Conception Day

Conception Day

Hat tip to starsspinningdizzy for the link to this conception day cartoon by Zach Weiner.

Fatherhood Diminishes Testosterone

Caveman Training

Image by hall.chris25 via Flickr

According to a study reported in the New York Times and delicately recapped in The Art of Manliness, dads suffer from diminished testosterone.

after a man has a kid, his testosterone levels drop, and the more involved he gets in child-rearing, the lower his T levels fall… This reduction in testosterone is thought to help men commit to their families and stick around to rear their progeny. (Fatherhood Leads to a Drop in Testosterone)

In a big-picture kind of way, I get it. By the time junior arrives on the scene testosterone has already put in a hard day at the office. It is largely responsible for making a man big, strong and virile which may (or may not) be why a woman is drawn to him. Testosterone is also tied to aggressive behavior, ostensibly valuable for courtship and defending the female from other aggressive suitors. And then there’s that testes part, also important if junior is going to get started. And then suddenly, testosterone is less relevant. In fact, it might even get in the way. Time to cut the T levels so daddy can focus on hearth, home and juniors. No more chest thumping or wayward adventures. No need for testes. Time to change diapers and make airplane noises while trying to plug rubber-edged spoonfulls of mush into junior’s mouth. And then clean it up from his chin. And the floor.

the more he gets involved in caring for his children — changing diapers, jiggling the boy or girl on his knee, reading “Goodnight Moon” for the umpteenth time — the lower his testosterone drops. (In Study, Fatherhood Leads to Drop in Testosterone)

Perhaps the perfect papa is virtually testosterone-free? This study might generate interesting hypotheses about men’s mid-life crises. Kids are packed off to college and Viagra is floating around. Maybe long hibernating T levels start to awaken…

But, fathers, take note. Subgrade testosterone levels don’t make you a wimp. Really.

“Unfortunately,” Dr. Ellison added, “I think American males have been brainwashed” to believe lower testosterone means that “maybe you’re a wimp, that it’s because you’re not really a man. “My hope would be that this kind of research… would make them realize that we’re meant to be active fathers and participate in the care of our offspring. (In Study, Fatherhood Leads to Drop in Testosterone)

Active fathers, yes. Wimps, no. Sensitive, caring, nurturing dads who are less likely to be distracted by that sexy new associate who joined the firm. Which isn’t to say that your mojo’s totally shot, just diminished. A bit…

The lowering of their testosterone did not prevent the men in the study from having more children. “You don’t need a lot of testosterone to have libido,” Dr. Kuzawa said.

“If guys are worried about basically, ‘Am I going to remain a guy?’” Dr. Worthman said, “we’re not talking about changes that are going to take testosterone outside the range of having hairy chests, deep voices and big muscles and sperm counts. These are more subtle effects. (In Study, Fatherhood Leads to Drop in Testosterone)

So you can keep your bark, but you might lose your bite. Or something. Go, dads!

An Unmet Need for Family Planning

Undecaplets

Image via Wikipedia

I’m reading a magazine to pass the time in my gynecologist’s office when I stumble upon the incredible “historical record” of one 18th century Russian peasant woman who reportedly gave birth to sixty nine children between the years of 1725 and 1765 (without fertility aids, of course).  Apparently, she did this with 27 multiple birth pregnancies and with only two lost in infancy.

“Not possible,” says my gynecologist when I share the figure with her.  That was my reaction too.  Nonetheless, even if the figure was doubly exaggerated, that still leaves a staggering number of children that the human body can create, and a puzzling question as to why any woman would want that many children.  Was she looking to start her own sports league or productive work force for the family business?

According to Yahoo, the “modern” record for the most number of children born to one woman goes allegedly to a Chilean woman (now in her mid 60’s) who delivered 64 babies, though the article qualifies that Chilean birth certificates are “something of a less-than-serious concern in Chile.”

Most number of children to one father, you ask?  The last Sharifan Emperor of Morocco, Mulai Ismail(1646-1727) reportedly sired somewhere around 800 children with 500 wives – a busy man indeed.  One wonders how he had any time to run an empire and one can well imagine many other legendary rulers throughout history who must have had impressive fleets of children as well.

Here are a few more staggering reproduction figures:  The youngest woman to give birth was, in fact not a woman at all but apparently a five year old Peruvian girl who delivered her baby boy by cesarean in 1939 in a small Andean village.  The community thought she had an abdominal tumor.  A pituitary malfunction was speculated to have caused the onset of her menstruation at three years of age.  The baby lived and welcomed his brother thirty three years later.  If this story is true it is disturbing by so many accounts but what I wonder is did they find  the man who molested her and cut off his nuts?  Unfortunately not -  the father remained a mystery.

The youngest father on record?  A twelve year old boy from England who had a son in 1998 with his fifteen year old girlfriend.

Oldest Father? A ninety three year old Australian man who died at one hundred. The oldest mother was a Spanish woman who had fertility assistance in producing twins at sixty seven in 2006 (which of course sparked international controversy).

Here’s another disturbing statistic:  According to Guinness World Records, in 2010 the “youngest identified group of drug addicts:” Unlucky babies born to young mothers in rural Afghanistan who are addicted to heroin and opium from the abundance of poppy crops in their country.  In addition to passing the drugs along to fetuses in-uteri, mothers are known in rural regions to blow heroin spoke at the babies to calm them and relieve pain.  The U.S. State Department “has categorized them as the youngest drug addicted group ever found for which there are no established treatment protocols.”

Finally, according to Nicholas D. Kristof in an Op-Ed article of the New York Times this past Mother’s Day, “215 million women worldwide have an ‘unmet need’ for family planning, meaning they don’t want to become pregnant but aren’t using effective contraception.”  He continues: “The Guttmacher Institute, a respected research group, estimates that if all the unmet need for contraception were met, the result would be 94,000 fewer women dying of pregnancy complications each year, and almost 25 million fewer abortions each year.”

I ask you:  Do these figures not call out a need for affordable birth control and accessible family planning education worldwide?