March 20, 2017

You have to have kids!

You have to have kids!

You have to have kids!

I just enjoyed a quick reflection by Melissa Myer called “Childfree: is it really a choice?” that struck a familiar chord. Myer harkens back to her younger years, transporting us to the sort of awkward conversations puberty so often catalyzes. She relates an unsettling quip from her friend Sandy who was baffled by her disinterest in becoming a mother.

Marriage equals procreation. And since I had no interest in having kids, I had no interest in marriage.

“If you get married, you have to have kids.” ~ Melissa Myer (Source: The Unwitting Raconteur)

It’s an unsettling but not altogether unfamiliar perspective. Marriage equals procreation.

I admit that much of my own disinterest in marriage in early adulthood hinged upon my perspective that marriage equals procreation. And since I had no interest in having kids, I had no interest in marriage. Simple. Obvious.

It took my now-wife’s mostly patient, painstaking tutelage to gradually amplify my understanding of marriage.

You Have to Have Kids?

Children were simply the next step after marriage. Period.

Discovering that marriage sans progeny could be a thing — and could be an amazing thing — was like unearthing a magical mystery. My bride and I have been married for over a decade, and today I can confidently assure readers that childfree marriage is a very real and totally wonderful experience. It’s spontaneous and passionate and adventurous and sexy. It’s interesting and ever-evolving and carefree. Childfree marriage is the core of our lives and lifestyles.

But just as I didn’t fully grok this in my teens and twenties, I know that many others still lump marriage and procreating together. And many simply take for granted that growing up means inevitably transitioning from school to career to marriage to having kids.

My own father recently conceded that he’d never really stopped to question (or even consider) alternative to marrying and parenting. Children were simply the next step after marriage. Period.

I Was Born This Way

Myer’s post resonated with me mostly because of this important uncoupling of marriage and procreating. But she also teases out another intriguing idea, that of childfree choice. She challenges the notion that childfree adults choose to be childfree. Certainly we’re all familiar with unintentionally childless adults and couples. Pregnancy was impossible. Or fate intervened.

But Myer is actually talking about something else. Rather than a reasoned choice not to have children, she was born a “NotMom”. Growing up simply helped her accept that she was not destined to be a parent.

“I never needed reasons, and those of you who ‘chose’ to be childfree don’t need them either. What thankfully isn’t artificial, and what will never be, is that I am who I am — a NotMom since I was nascent. Childfree by a choice I never actually made. I was born this way.” (Source: The Unwitting Raconteur)

I’ve written in the past about not having a burning urge to procreate, no need to have a child or be a father. I think that this is basically what Myer means. I was born a “NonDad” by virtue of the fact that I didn’t ever want or try to have a kid. I’m not sure that my own experience warrants this conclusion, as if I were predestined not to become a father, but it’s an interesting twist. Some of us are born to reproduce; others are not. Nulliparity as hardwired…

Motherhood: Decision, Not Destiny

Motherhood: Echoes of RNC 2012

Motherhood: Echoes of RNC 2012

American culture… assumes that all women want to become mothers. And the best kind of woman — the best kind of mother — is portrayed as one who puts her maternal role above everything else. (The Washington Post)

Did you get that, childfree women? You’re dropping the ball. Tarnishing the ideal. Betraying your gender.

Jessica Valenti‘s (@JessicaValenti) hard-hitting but sage op-ed, “Are all women born to be mothers?“, takes a deserved swipe at the regressive (and increasingly deafening) womanhood-equals-motherhood rhetoric attempting to drown out a century’s progress in gender equality.

Republicans’ efforts to woo women [which] have become fever-pitch pandering as the party tries to undo damage from comments such as Rep. Todd Akin’s remark that a ‘legitimate’ rape victim can’t get pregnant and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s advice to women who object to invasive ultrasounds before an abortion: ‘You just have to close your eyes.'” (The Washington Post)

The founder of Feministing.com, Valenti’s article was adapted from her new book, Why Have Kids?, which delves into the relationship between motherhood and happiness and is described as “a book for parents who can handle the truth.” If this op-ed is any indication, Valenti doesn’t shy from the gritty and grimy. I’m adding it to my WNK reading list. Expect a review sooner (if it’s great) or later (if it’s not so great!) In the meantime, here’s a glimpse at what she explores in the book.

Valenti drops up a couple of disturbing retro-feminist motherhood bombs before offering a glimmer of hope:

In 2006, the term “pre-pregnant” was coined in a Washington Post story about a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that all women of childbearing age care for their pre-conception health… The CDC was asking women to behave as if they were already pregnant, even if they had no intention of conceiving in the near — or distant — future. For the first time, a U.S. government institution was explicitly saying what social norms had always hinted at: All women, regardless of whether they have or want children, are moms-in-waiting. (The Washington Post)

Rebecca Kukla, a professor of internal medicine and philosophy at Georgetown University and the author of Mass Hysteria: Medicine, Culture, and Mothers’ Bodies said at a recent seminar, “Do lesbians, women who are carefully contracepting and not interested in having children, 13-year-olds, women done having kids, really want their bodies seen as prenatal, understood solely in terms of reproductive function?” (The Washington Post)

And now for the glimmer of hope. Valenti cites a 2010 study from the Pew Research Center which found that the rate of childfree women in the United States had almost doubled during the previous three decades which amounts to approximately 20% of the female population. This is interesting and surprising, especially given how little media attention has been brought to bear on the growing rate of women opting not to reproduce.

Valenti’s op-ed concludes with Laura Scott, author of Two Is Enough who believes that motherhood/parenthood is no longer the assumption for many couples.

Laura Scott, the author of Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice, says the No. 1 reason women give for not wanting children is that they don’t want their lives to change… The other reasons they gave: loving the relationship they were in “as it is,” valuing their “freedom and independence,” not wanting to take on “the responsibility of raising a child,” a desire to focus “on my own interests, needs or goals,” and wanting to accomplish “things in life that would be difficult to do if I was a parent.” (The Washington Post)

As we brace for a national election cycle increasingly drawn to divisive wedge issues we can expect to witness more placating and more pandering, but I hope that we won’t get sucked into a time machine where women are represented primarily as walking, talking reproductive organs. I hope that 20% of the US female population who’ve opted to remain childfree will feel proud and confident as they re-frame “family values” in a less Neanderthal context. And I hope that childfree men will stand up and own our half of the childfree movement. This is not about feminism, gents; it’s about humanism. Time to stand by your woman!

[Hat tip to The Washington Post for providing the source images for the much distorted and contorted collage at the beginning of this post.]

My Bestie is Having a Baby: Green Baby Gifts

For the millionth time, just because I don’t want kids doesn’t mean I don’t like kids or don’t support my friends having kids. I have three amazing and perfect godchildren and I’m a children’s author – I need kids!

Still, when my besties started having babies I can’t say I wasn’t worried about things changing – I knew that they would. I’m genuinely excited and nervous about our new roles and how I will fit in. I want to be a loving “auntie” and hope that my childlessness isn’t a cause for concern.

While I’m trying to be a good prenatal buddy, I’m just not sure if I doing it right. Do I ask too many questions about pregnancy? Not enough? Am I offering too much help? Not enough? Is it bad if I still want to talk about reality shows instead of strollers? I’m afraid that I can’t still be myself and admit that I’m little jealous of junior.

But my biggest fear of all is: What if the babies don’t like me?

My solution? Buy the best baby gift! At WNK we promote an environmental agenda and prefer when people decide to have children they consider their carbon footprint by having green babies. In the past I’ve mentioned buying cloth diapers for my favorite green mama. And I just bought a personal website for a Christening gift. Unusual? Yes. Green? Absolutely!

For other green ideas check out environmentally friendly baby products from celebrity eco-parents like Jessica Alba and Soleil Moon Frye: Green gifts.

Of course nothing says you care like a signed book by your favorite kid’s author.

Hey WNKs what is your favorite baby gift?

 

 

Facebook Adds “Expecting A Baby” Option

Expecting a Baby: The Facebook Way

Expecting a Baby: The Facebook Way

Facebook seems to be feeling its biological clock ticking… another sign that Facebook is maturing as its original user base of college kids from 2004 start hatching little ones who can join Facebook 13 years from now. (TechCrunch)

I’ll be honest. I’m not a huge fan of Facebook. I use it. More than I’d like to. Especially when I know it’s the best, fastest, cheapest, most efficient way to connect with some family and friends. Which used to mean, “my Facebook friends” but increasingly means, well, everybody. As in, the world!

Facebook and the Mall

Facebook is sort of like the mall. I’d rather clip my toenails and pay bills than go to the mall. Really!

But I still end up going to the mall. Sometimes it’s the best way to get things done. So I suck it up, put on my Hazmat suit and goggles and wade into the madding crowd to buy, buy, buy…

Well, Facebook just became even more like the mall with it’s new parent-friendly “Expecting a Baby” option.

Malls are synonymous with kids. And so is Facebook. Which is funny if you consider it’s conception as a digital college “meat book”. It’s called evolution. On speed. From coed catalog to digital babyland.

Single, in a relationship, engaged, married and now, expecting a baby? Facebook is now encouraging people to share that next big life event — pregnancy — by adding “expecting a baby” as an option on timelines. (Huffington Post)

Is Facebook Expecting a Baby?

I’m not thinking this little nod to parents makes a terribly big difference since most every parent and grandparent on Facebook already opts for junior’s mug instead of (or at least, in addition to) the one they’d be stuck with in a police line-up. But it is certain to strike a chord with the childfree population already a bit perplexed with why our friends became their kids, already a wee bit tired of the baby play-by-plays inundating Facebook. Or maybe not… I’m wondering how this plays with you.

Do You Like Facebook’s “Expecting a Baby” Option?

Newly married Mark Zuckerberg may not be interested in your opinions, but we are. As a proud member of the childfree tribe, how do you feel about Facebook’s “Expecting a Baby” update? Is it time for a “Childfree by Choice” Facebook option?

Pregnant Women are Smug (Officialy)

Check out the video here: Pregnant Women are Smug by Garfunkel and Oates: The Official Video (if it didn’t automatically load above.)

Last year we posted an early version of this Garfunkel and Oates video. But now it’s OFFICIAL, meaning some new lyrics (?), gruesome graphics, high production value and a cast of characters that includes funny girl Arden Myrin from MadTV and Chelsea Lately.

Pregnant Women are Smug (Update)

Garfunkel and Oates at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater

Garfunkel and Oates at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater

Garfunkel & Oates’ song/video, “Pregnant Women Are Smug” continues to have legs. No surprise!

Here’s what Huff Post had to say:

When they’re not singing about getting older, their love of marijuana or the ever-baffling hand job, Garfunkel & Oates (a.k.a. Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci) are probably somewhere being relentlessly annoyed by mothers-to-be.

OK, probably not. But now we can see exactly what that would look like with this new video for their instant classic, “Pregnant Women Are Smug,” a song about (you guessed it) how irritatingly precious women can be during their nine-month stints. (Huff Post)

And here’s a Jezebel weigh-in for good measure:

Listen, the “miracle of life” is amazing and all that, but hundreds of thousands of women give birth every day. And surely we all know women who act normally when knocked up. But there are the others, the ones who behave in a holier-than-thou, self-satisfied manner, those who comport themselves as though they have suddenly become royalty, and make it clear that they’re doing something incredible and you and your empty uterus are not worthwhile… Should we put women on a pedestal and treat them as untouchable bastions of goodness just because some sperm managed to find an egg? Or are we allowed to make fun of the fact that sometimes, pregnant women are smug? (Jezebel)

Want to lead a “Pregnant Women Are Smug” singalong at your next baby shower? Learn the lyrics at LyricsMania. Here’s the refrain to get you started:

Pregnant women are smug
Everyone knows it, nobody says it
Because they’re pregnant
Effing son of a gun
You think you’re so deep now, you give me the creeps
Now that you’re pregnant (LyricsMania)

What are we missing? Keep this clever song/video aliiive… 🙂

 

When Kids Have Kids: Teen Pregnancy

Smoking and drinking during pregnancy

Smoking and drinking during pregnancy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I live in one of the poorest counties in this nation.  Teen pregnancy occurs at an alarming rate here.  People tell me in my rural community about some of our local high school young women who are actively trying to get pregnant, and they are not even in committed relationships.  It seems that any old dad will do for some of these young lasses.

Moreover, in my community I’ve heard too many stories of teen pregnancy further complicated by the abuse of synthetic marijuana, tobacco and alcohol.  How do they justify these activities while pregnant to those who inquire?  They are all legal activities so therefore they don’t see the danger they are imposing on their own bodies or those of their fetuses.  Moreover, many justify the practice of using dangerous substances while pregnant by retorting that their mothers did the same and every thing worked out okay.

How, I wonder, can we claim that the young people in our nation are remotely educated when so many of them cannot prevent an unwanted pregnancy, are actively seeking pregnancy as single young teenagers, or are abusing substances that harm their fetuses when they do become pregnant? When teen pregnancy occurs, parents must take some responsibility, but local schools and community have also failed.  Isn’t learning how to control one’s fertility as important in the grand scheme of life as the skill of, say, arithmetic?

Moreover, with the luxury that young people have today in their ability to find any kind of information on the internet, why can’t more young people learn the basic facts about pregnancy (having one and preventing one), even when their parents or schools are not providing that useful information to them?  I suppose along with their ability to learn on the internet, they also have the unfortunate ability to purchase substances like synthetic marijuana and to hear testimonials about how harmless the product is and  to get step by step  instruction on how to smoke it.

Teenagers learn most by example.  When a teenager’s parent or community members are  modeling unhealthy habits of continuing to have children when they don’t want or can’t afford more, and of abusing substances during pregnancy, who are they to break that pattern?  Additionally, with popular television shows that pay pregnant teenagers gobs of money to reveal the banal routines of their lives to a camera, how can teens get the message that being pregnant at 13 or 14 or even seventeen, is not fashionable?

Call me old fashioned, but teen pregnancy will never be fashionable to me.

I did, however  have one glimmer of hope when I recently spent time with a lovely local ten year old girl who is raised by multiple family members who fill in for her  young mom who is continually in and out of drug rehab.  She was talking excitedly about her new cousin that she can’t see because he is premature and in an incubator for a few months (his teenage mother, her aunt, reportedly smoked the synthetic marajuana, “Spice” during her pregnancy).

“You don’t want a baby for a long time, right?” I boldly ask her.

“Oh, no,”she quickly retorts. “Not for a very long time.”  My heart soars.

“I’m going to be a singer,” she proudly exclaims.

“You can be anything you want, you know,” I say as I brush aside her pretty blond hair.  She is a happy, sharp-witted, and outgoing child despite the difficult environment in which she lives, and she has an earthy beauty.  I can well see her on stage.

“Yeah, I know,” she concludes and reverts back to the drawing she’s making of me, her mom, her aunt and new cousin in the plastic box.  Way to go, I think.  Good for you.

Childfree Women Lack Humanity

Childless women lack an essential humanity. (Miriam Schaer)“Childless women lack an essential humanity.”

Embroidered across the front of a delicate white toddler’s dress in scarlet letters, this searing slander offers a 21st century modern twist on the proverbial “scarlet letter”. Miriam Schaer a multimedia artist and teacher (Columbia College, Chicago), directs her creative wizardry on childfree women in her online installation for the International Museum of Women‘s MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe.

New York artist, Miriam Schaer, has created a series of almost disturbing pieces about the perceived value of a woman who chooses not to reproduce… I think you’ll find Schaer’s toddler dresses embroidered with expressions of both confusion and disdain, hurled at women who choose not to have children, both unsettling and thought-provoking. (Strollerderby)

Almost disturbing? I’d suggest that these images are disturbing.

But they also are provocative in their simplicity and their “scarlet letter” resonance. No audio guide is needed to engage the viewer or to invite reflection. These quotations are familiar to the childfree, and they drip with prejudice and downright hostility. But rather than hurt or defensiveness, they trigger a more profound (and more important) question: Why? Why are childfree women threatening? Why do childfree women lack humanity? Why do childfree women meet with intolerance?

Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, addresses the question of why the existence of women who choose maternal independence over child-rearing angers or offends so many people and institutions. The work presented here is part of a continuing exploration of our culture’s pejorative views about women without kids. For Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, I hand-embroidered representative negative comments on baby dresses using red thread to create scarlet letters. Gathered from interviews with childless women, online research, and personal experience, the statements taunt and accuse, and are typical of an endless flow of critical statements that seem to be growing bolder even as non-traditional families are gaining greater acceptance. (Miriam Schaer)

Each image vibrates with smug intolerance, but collectively the images tell a different if somewhat elusive story.

I detect a theme of fragility, of an almost desperate attempt to denigrate and disempower women who have not chosen to be mothers. I detect fear, fragility, urgency, desperation and intolerance. I detect an unquestioning, un-curious, bullying theme. And why? I suspect it is because childfree women are actually gaining respect and acceptance.

Prejudice increases in proportion to the perceived threat, and the perception that more women are choosing not to have children threatens the beliefs and biases of many. In short, the prejudice is a barometer of the increasingly mainstream conversation about a woman’s reproductive freedom. Childfree women are increasingly visible, respected and vocal, so it is inevitable that their detractors will grow louder, angrier. But underlying these images of intolerance is a message of hope, a message of tolerance and perhaps even growing acceptance.

Do you share my optimism? What is your reaction to Miriam Schaer’s images?

Saving Birth Control for the 99%

1926 US advertisement. "Birth Control"

Image via Wikipedia

From the Ms. Magazine blog Twitter feed:

“Half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended–how would making birth control less available solve this problem?”

There are some interesting points to this discussion and WNK would love to hear from our readers. Why should we pay for contraception for those who can’t afford it? Why should contraception be available and inexpensive? Would you rather pay for children that people can’t afford? Do you think people should be more responsible in making family planning choices?

“Contraception obviously is a deeply held value by American women. But the fact that in the United States a startling half of all pregnancies are unintended makes clear that birth control is used only sporadically by some. There are a number of reasons why this is so, but a chief one is that so many women cannot afford contraception, especially the most expensive—and most effective–methods, such as birth control pills, and long lasting reversible contraception, for example, the newer (and far safer) models of IUDs (intrauterine devices). In short, the same economic disparities that pervade every other area of American life manifest here as well: poor women depend on publicly-funded programs for their contraceptive services, but, according to the Guttmacher Institute, only a little more than half of the 17 million women who need these services currently receive them.”

Check out the rest of the article here.

 

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Too Old to Have Kids?

I’m obsessed with the television show Teen Mom and the five sixteen year olds that MTV has followed over several seasons. Watching the show is an excellent example of not only why we should have abundant, low-cost and available birth control everywhere, but also why sixteen is too young to have kids. So how OLD is too OLD to have kids?

Like many people, I was stunned to see a recent cover of New York magazine with a naked, albeit Photoshopped, grandma-looking pregnant woman. In their article “Parents of a Certain Age” NYMag asked the question, “Is there anything wrong with being 53 and pregnant?” Most readers agreed: YES! Including one reader who was so repulsed he threw the entire magazine in the garbage without reading a single word.

“The age of first motherhood is rising all over the West. In Italy, Germany, and Great Britain, it’s 30. In the U.S., it’s gone up to 25 from 21 since 1970, and in New York State, it’s even higher, at 27. But among the extremely middle-aged, births aren’t just inching up. They are booming. In 2008, the most recent year for which detailed data are available, about 8,000 babies were born to women 45 or older, more than double the number in 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Five hundred and forty-one of these were born to women age 50 or older—a 375 percent increase. In adoption, the story is the same. Nearly a quarter of adopted children in the U.S. have parents more than 45 years older than they are.”

It seems logical that as the average age of the world population continues to rise the age of first time parents will also rise:

“Among the countries currently classified by the United Nations as more developed (with a total population of 1.2 billion in 2005), the overall median age rose from 29.0 in 1950 to 37.3 in 2000, and is forecast to rise to 45.5 by 2050.” (Wikipedia)

So why is there a trend of older parents? Couples are getting married later, and it’s taking longer for wannabe parents to feel financially stable to provide for children. Also, we live in a world where it is possible to have children at a later age through advances in science and medicine. But just because we can reverse menopause and make moms and dads out of senior citizens does it mean that we should?

As a woman on the cusp of forty, I am relieved that I have almost aged out of my fertile years. People ask when I am having kids less and less. My joints are starting to creak and my short-term memory stinks. I am aging, and as my body changes I can understand why it would be difficult to have a baby later in life. I respect that it is a parent’s choice to have kids or not, but I do feel uncomfortable about the risks associated with older parents on both parents and their children.

From the article:

“After 40, a pregnant woman is likelier to become afflicted with preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and hypertension—the worst outcomes of which can result in the death of the fetus and occasionally the mother as well. It is also after 40 that the risk of having a child with autism increases—by 30 percent for mothers and 50 percent for fathers, says Lisa Croen, a senior scientist at Kaiser Permanente. Advanced paternal age is likewise associated with miscarriage, childhood cancer, autoimmune disease, and schizophrenia and other neuropsychiatric disorders.”

My grandfather once told me that the most embarrassing day of his life was his high school graduation. His forty something year-old mother sat in the audience with her white hair piled high in a bun and a bun in her oven, she was eight months pregnant. So maybe I have good genes and maybe I have science on my side. For me, still, maybe does not equal baby.

WNKies: Can you be too old to have kids?

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Open Letter to a Green Mama

A landfill in Poland

Image via Wikipedia

Dear Green Mama,

I just bought diapers. They are for your new baby. As a childfree woman this is an exceptional and eye-opening day for me. Thank you for taking the time to research the environmental impact of having a child and choosing to use cloth diapers instead of disposables. And thank you for educating me on the new technology of the old standard cloth diapers. Gone are safety pins and saggy rubber pants. Cloth diapers are now made of wool, bamboo, unbleached hemp, and cotton with snug waterproof covers in every color in the Crayola box. You also told me about the burden of disposable diapers on our landfills:

“An average child will go through several thousand diapers in his/her life. Since disposable diapers are discarded after a single use, usage of disposable diapers increases the burden on landfill sites, and increased environmental awareness has led to a growth in campaigns for parents to use reusable alternatives such as cloth or hybrid diapers. An estimated 27.4 billion disposable diapers are used each year in the US, resulting in a possible 3.4 million tons of used diapers adding to landfills each year.” (Source Wikipedia)

There has been much debate over landfill for disposable diapers vs. water usage for cloth diapers. Which is better for the environment? Bleached industrial cotton is terrible for the environment and so is using a washing machine and detergent. However, if you use a full load (pardon the pun) and green laundry products they are better both baby and the world.

Fact: The use of cloth diapers goes up in hard economic times. Parents will spend between $2,000 and $3,000 before potty training on each child vs. $300 for cloth, and the cloth diapers can be recycled and reused for additional children. (Or how about skipping that next child to save some money and the environment?)

But are the cloth diapers better for baby? Many experts believe that potty training is easier for kids with cloth diapers because they can actually feel when they are wet. The fabrics are also free of chemicals and are relatively easy to use.

Back to Green Mama. Thank you also for having a “green shower” free of wrapping paper, decorative paper bags, and plastic bows. Instead, presents will come in reusable baskets and “wrapping” will include cloth diapers with reusable bows. Just during the holidays alone wrapping paper makes up four million tons of waste. I love the idea of eliminating wrapping paper and using cloth instead of disposable. This is one idea that we can all make part of our routine. Just a suggestion, you may not want to wrap your gifts for the childfree in cloth diapers.

Dear WNKers, What do you buy your friend’s babies for gifts?

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