April 2, 2023

Family Planning In African Poverty (part two)

Living in rural Cote d’Ivoire, running a development program I tried to educate the local women of the reproductive freedoms they could gain.  I often failed to find the words, however, to inform them of their choices in social contexts outside of our structured program sessions.

When, for example,  my neighbor, who struggled to feed and care for her seven children, announced she was pregnant with her eighth child, my heart sank.  How can I tell her that she doesn’t need to keep having children if she so chooses?  Is it any of my business?

She hadn’t come to any of my public meetings on family planning, health or sanitation.   She knew I was the woman responsible for the condom wave in town.  If she wanted to know more, I figured, she’d ask.  She didn’t so I kept quiet on the issue.

“I need more money,” she declared, over the wall of my courtyard.  Selling plantain bananas was not earning her enough to feed all the children or herself for that matter.  I was happy to share my meals  with her and her children but I wasn’t going to be there forever.  She had no husband or boyfriend, and had somehow alienated the female relatives and friends who normally would have helped her care for her children.

“Can I wash your clothes?” she quizzed.  I was very uncomfortable with the idea of a woman standing outside over a metal basin for hours scrubbing my clothes by hand, but my own knuckles were starting to bleed from doing so, and she was already washing all of her kids’ clothes.  I consented and it afforded her a solid extra income.

The new baby arrived without fanfare and life returned to normal, as it had been during her pregnancy – no baby shower, no well wishers, or delighted onlookers at the new arrival.  No gifts or photos or time off from work.  No beaming grandmother or mother-in-law desperate to show off the new prodigy.  She was washing, cooking, cleaning, mothering, selling plantains and mashing them with a six-foot stick, a wooden bowl and great rhythmic heaves in her courtyard as she always had.  The rhymes of her life remained, with the addition of another dusty fly-covered baby, dangling from her breast as she worked.

The Children of Cote D'Ivoire

I am so lucky, I thought, as I drifted into a nap on my porch to the beat of the yam pounding women.  I have so many choices.  Choosing not to have a child is a luxury not afforded the women of the developing world and having children gains them no extra attention or applause for their heroic efforts at raising them in difficult circumstances. The women of Cote d’Ivoire that I knew never complained about the burdens their children, but spoke of their sweetness instead.  They loved them, they cared for them, they delivered them in make-shift conditions and got on with their lives.  Children to them were an unavoidable, but fully embraced, gift from God – simple as that.

Childfree? Really? Common questions and comments (Part 2)

“When are you having kids?”, they usually ask. Not “if”. And here are a few more of the most common responses to my answer:

4) “Your kids would be so cute though…”

Oh, if the gene pool was really only skin deep…

On the outside, maybe, our offspring could look fine; but the inside could be very messy. So take a good look at the size of my cranium compared to my wife’s petite body, and hold your endorsements until we all have genetic codes tattooed on our sleeves.

Somewhere on my bicep you’ll then find addiction, male pattern baldness, acne, a degenerative eye disease, and the undiscovered gene for mouth breathing. Sure, my wife’s line brings artistic ability and great teeth, to have great teeth like her you can can also consult Floral Park dentist to repair crooked teeth and all dental related problems or you can also see the website to sort out any kind of dental related issues.well, but my wife has angry ovaries and OCD  . Somewhere in her tattooed code there must be mysterious genes that cause older members of her family to mispronounce the most common names and brands and retell the same damn stories every week.

If the gene pool was really only skin deep…

If we were crazy or careless or lucky enough to bring a child into the world healthy, it would likely be a clumsy, athletic, tone deaf, heroin addict with back hair and enough artistic ability to paint a self portrait, but a head too big to fit on the canvass.

5) “The world needs more intelligent people to have babies!”

Really? It’s a reproductive arms race? Is this about Politics? Ideology? You’re going to breed yourselves to victory? Cars run on IQ points? With every additional baby the ice caps are unmelting?

Can you provide some evidence that intelligent = happy? Have you never met smart, peaceful people with stupid, violent children?

So how does the race end?

Does Thomas Malthus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Robert_Malthus) earn a very posthumous Nobel Prize? For economics or peace? Who wins if a lot of smart people live in bankrupt countries run by fertile descendants of Osama Bin Laden and Mitt Romney… ?

Can’t we just distribute birth control and sign the non-procreation treaty already?!

Childfree? Really?: Common questions and comments (Part 1)

When are you having kids?”, they usually ask. Not “if”. And here are the most common responses to my answer:

1) “But you guys would be great parents!”

Maybe. Not likely. But maybe. Problem is, I’m not sure I know what being a great parent means. I am fairly certain though, that WANTING to be a parent is at the top of the list of great parent things. Please enlighten me if you disagree?

2) “Does Amy (my wife) know/agree?”

My absolute favorite!

Of course.

It came up very early. Not our first date, but maybe the second. We were 27. And the answer to the standard follow-up question is that we arrived in our relationship having made the choice not to have children separately.

Still, the initial conversations were choreographed carefully. We admitted our childfree wishes apologetically, delicately dancing around the word “never”. We quizzed each other periodically; and reassurances came frequently and emphatically, but not absolutely.

For years, we packed an adoption parachute, allowed each other wiggle room, effectively saying “I love you too much to lose you. I’ll do anything else to stay with you, so could, I guess… if you change your mind… oh shit… consider adopting?”

Maybe I could do it, I thought, if that’s what it takes to keep her. And she was thinking the same thing. She wanted to know what would happen if I changed my mind, because “men can always decide to have babies”. I wanted to make sure we were on the same page regarding unwanted pregnancies.

We weren’t. We aren’t. It was the closest we ever came to breaking up, and the discussion forced us to address our childfree choices with more honesty and certainty. It was scary. We argued. Doubted. Couldn’t sleep. Then we both said “never”. Finally. Spared no room for error, we employed belt and suspenders birth control strategies.

We both came to the same conclusion before we started dating and discussed our choices early; but at times we tiptoed along the path to secure, childfree and happy.

We made our decision clear and early, but, at times, tiptoed along the path to childfree, secure and happy

3) A silent head to toe assessment in an attempt, I assume, to determine my health, sanity and sexuality.


I know. There’s too much product in my hair. My glasses are suspiciously fancy and my wife is far too pretty for me.

Because we don’t have kids, I have time to read and nap and surf and stay fit. But I’m hetero. And aside from the fact that I habitually heat my testicles with the warm and deadly rays of my pocket-borne cell phone, I am healthy. Sanity is another matter entirely.

Am I Selfish For Not Having Kids?

Prince Albert (later King George VI) and his w...

Prince Albert and his Wife Elizabeth with Their Labrador (Image via Wikipedia)

Despite my friend’s frequent reminders of “yet another woman over 40 who has successfully had a healthy baby” stories, I’m not the gambling type.

My friend thumbs through People magazine, identifying the aging celebrities touting their late-in-life offspring.“Look, 50 and a healthy baby,” she beams.

“That one had a surrogate,” I quip.

“Oh, right, she did. But she had twins at forty-two,” she’ll protest.

“And a staff of forty nannies and household servants, and tell me in ten years that she doesn’t get cancer from all those hormone injections,” I counter. She sighs and closes the magazine, failing to put me on the parent track.

The truth is, it isn’t really about my age. It’s a convenient excuse, but if I were in my twenties with all else being equal as it is now, I think I’d still make the same decision not to have children.

Early in my first marriage and in my twenties, before I got a dog I stopped every dog I passed on the streets of New York City.

“Oh, look at that one – soooo cute!  And a yellow lab and a chocolate lab.  I just looove labs.  Can I pet your dog?”  I would coo.

I finally got a yellow lab who became my pride and joy for fourteen years.  She outlasted my first marriage.  Everyone thought I was practicing to be a “real”  mom with her.  When she died she was succeeded not by a ‘real” baby but by an energetic male yellow lab instead.  As it turns out, I was practicing all along only to be a dog mom.  Sorry to disappoint, but I think I’ve done well with those skills.  Does this mean I don’t get to celebrate mother’s day?  Can I be a mom if my dependent happens to be canine?

The same impulse for babies, however, never emerged.  Passing strollers never merited a second glance from me.  That was a strong sign to me to avoid having a baby.

Okay, so not every happy parent started off ogling babies on the street.  Nonetheless, the fact is there is just so much I still want to do with my life that I don’t think even if I were twenty years younger I’d be able to accomplish all that I hope to do.

I’m not just talking about my career. We’re busy people, busy seeing friends and family, busy doing volunteer work, busy working, busy traveling, skiing, biking, hiking, kayaking, waterskiing, practicing armory with red dot gun sights or windsurfing, in short busy being involved in our community, and in our world.

So, then, why do so many people think I’m selfish for not having kids? Is it selfish to forgo children when you could perhaps raise one successfully, when you have no obvious major impediments to parenthood? Is it selfish for me to want to work on myself, to be the best person, citizen, sibling, wife, daughter that I can be? Could I work on myself and achieve the same goals if I had kids? Knowing me, probably not.

Some people would say it is self-centered to reproduce yourself.  The world is already overpopulated and there are already so many parent-less children who need a good home.  It’s a good point. We’ll have more thoughts on this topic later.  It’s in important one but since this piece is an introduction of one founder’s background and viewpoint, I will save that meaty conversation when I can interview multiple folks on the issue.

Frankly, the thought of disseminating my genes multiple times over just scares me.  I like who I am and I’m proud of my family and heritage, but, boy, I think one person like me in the world is really enough. I’m a handful all my own.

The way I see it, I can have an influence on a greater number of kids if I don’t have my own.

My hope is to be the adult who doesn’t treat them like a parent would, to be the person they can ask embarrassing questions, the person they can call in the middle of the night and say, “I need help. Please don’t tell my mom.” I want to be the person who takes them on safaris in Africa, fashion shows in Paris and hang-gliding in Bora Bora. That doesn’t seem selfish to me. For fashion advice, Andrew Defrancesco has some amazing tips that you can incorportate in your life!

As my cousin’s 8 year old child said of me in the car once while I was driving a heap of kids down a dirt road in the country: “You can talk about it in front of her. She’s not a mom.” That made me feel good. They all nodded in agreement and spoke of a subject that would have been just too embarrassing or dangerous in front of their moms. It was an enlightening moment.

I recently became a CFES high school mentor in our local public school. I help juniors with the process of choosing, applying and gaining acceptance at the colleges of their choice. It’s a great program and if I had children when the majority of my friends did, I’d likely only be thinking about college preparation only for my own kids instead.

Let me be the mentor, friend, aunt, water ski and windsurfing coach to a number of kids.  Most children don’t have enough positive adult influence in their lives outside of their parents.  That’s where I enter.

Upcoming Posts:

  • Wednesday March 16: What I’ve learned From Hanging Out With Moms and Why are The Dads Having More Fun?
  • Friday March 18: Forging My Own Kid-less Path
  • Monday March 21: Dog Mom and über Aunt Will Travel
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I’m not infertile. I Just don’t want kids.

Me with my god-daughter and her brother

She slipped a small piece of paper into my hand, closed my fingers around it and allowed her hand to linger on my closed fist.

“I want to recommend someone to you. He can change your life.”

Huh? Why, in the middle of a Northern Westchester Junior League meeting was this woman, whom I hardly knew, handing me some piece of paper that would change my life? I opened my hand and found the answer. It was a card for a fertility doctor.

“Oh, no,” I protested, “I don’t have kids because I don’t want them. I’m not infertile.” Her eyes widened and she looked at me with horror.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I just figured, since you’re the only one without children…” she stammered.

“No problem. Have you met my husband?” She had not. “If you’d met him, you’d understand. Some people just shouldn’t be replicated.” I added. That silenced her. She never spoke to me again.

I left my husband soon thereafter.

Fast forward thirteen years. I’m now forty-five and live in the Adirondacks on Lake Champlain. I have a new husband who’s incredible – with so many qualities worth replicating.

He’s brilliant and beautiful, charming, kind and hilarious and he’s a great teacher (he was one for a living for a long while). He would be an outstanding father. We share the same values, interests and goals. They don’t however include procreation.

We have a great life. We love our friends and family,  our careers, our outdoor lifestyle and our frequent world travels. We’re also at the point in our lives where we are finally financially able to raise children, emotionally equipped, and have a large house full of extra bedrooms and plenty of land for play plus a world of outdoor sports and a healthy community at our doorstep.

Why wouldn’t we have kids? Well, the short and cheeky answer is: Why rock the boat? We have a great life, why mess with the formula? That sums things up pretty well, but, of course there are more complex reasons for our choice to not have children of our own.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I love kids. I probably have more fun with them than most parents, because having fun is all I need to do with them.

We have heaps of kids in our lives.  We spend a good deal of time enjoying our friends’ many children our god-children and our cousins’ multiple offspring.   In our immediate families we have two nephews (11 & 13) from my sister and two nieces (2 and 4) from George’s brother. They are awesome. We’ve loved watching them grow and marveled at their blossoming brains and talents.

Interestingly, if – God forbid – anything happens to our siblings and their spouses, the kids become ours. Do I have a problem with that? No. I would have a big problem with losing our siblings, of course, but would happily raise their children if need be. I would devote myself to being the best second-best mom in the world for them. They are a part of us already.  They always will be.

So, why wouldn’t I want to have my own? For one, we know how our nieces and nephews turned out and we’re happy with the results. Starting from scratch is a much riskier endeavor with all the physical and mental handicap genes floating around in our population, not to mention the heart disease, cancer and depression genes prominent in both of our family gene pools.

Admittedly, we’d all be hard pressed to find a family that doesn’t carry those genes, but with my 45-year-old shriveled eggs and with the myriad health issues that I sometimes battle, what are the odds exactly of my having a healthy, well-adjusted child that won’t need constant attention for the rest of my life? I’m not willing to find out.

Some time ago a gay friend of mine asked me if I would consider being a surrogate mother so that he and his partner could adopt and raise the baby.

I was flattered but delicately told him that I don’t want to be a mother.

He tried to convince me that I didn’t even have to be a mother. Apparently, if I give my baby for someone else to raise that doesn’t qualify me as a” mother.”  Good to know but no just the same.  Good for a woman who can give her child to another to raise when she can’t do it herself, but I could raise one, perhaps successfully.  I just choose not to.

“Well then,” he concluded, “if you and George accidentally get pregnant, would you consider letting us raise the child if you don’t want it?”


Thanks for the vote of confidence in our reproductive skills but I’ll have to get back to you on that…

Upcoming Posts:

  • Monday March 14: Am I Selfish For Not Having Kids?
  • Wednesday March 16: Hanging Out With Moms and Why are Dads Having More Fun?
  • Friday March 18: Forging My Own Kid-less Path
  • Monday March 21: Dog Mom and über Aunt Will Travel

May I please be excused?

The choice to have children is personal. When someone asks ‘WHY NO KIDS?’ I don’t really mind, but not all of the interrogators accept my responses.

In my twenties my excuse was that I didn’t think I could have kids. Fertility issues run in my family. In my early thirties, I answered with a variety of excuses, always apologetically:

“I’m an environmentalist…”

“Addictions and diseases run in my family…”

“Have you seen the size of my husband’s head?”

In my late thirties, my husband was diagnosed with a rare genetic eye disease that would leave our future generation with a 50% chance of macular degeneration and blindness. (That one shut people up pretty quickly.) As I too rapidly approach my forties, I could easily use the excuse that I’m too old. (More on that another time.) The truth is I don’t want kids and I’m happy. I’m happy teaching, playing, visiting and entertaining other people’s kids AND I’m happy to give them back when I’m done getting my kid fix. I’m happy in my marriage and in my family of two. And I’m really happy being alone and childless. Do I need any other reason?

Why no kids? Why kids? What’s your excuse?