Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Mum-o-phobia

Lest we get too caught up in babies and firearms, David Curp dropped me another tip on an interesting editorial in the Guardian about the UK's baby gap:

A seven-month pregnant woman - her belly vast - was at a supper with a friend. He, being of the family type, told her she was very lucky to be expecting a baby. He was the first person who had said such a thing, she told him.

It's a jarring anecdote because it so sharply puts into focus how pregnancy has become the occasion not for congratulations, but for anxious questions about childcare, leave and work. Watch how the announcement of a pregnancy among women is followed within minutes by the "What are you going to do?" question. We've replaced the age-old anxiety around life-threatening childbirth with a new - and sometimes it appears just as vast - cargo of anxiety around who is going to care.

This anxiety is the backdrop to the 90,000 baby gap - the number of additional babies that women would like to have had - identified by a recent Institute of Public Policy Research report on how the birth rate is falling below replenishment levels. How is it that in cultures all over the world pregnancies prompt congratulations rather than anxious questions about childcare? How is it that in a culture equipped, materially and medically, to ease child-rearing, we are so reluctant to enjoy new life?

The answer, I would argue, is that a bias against having babies has permeated our culture. This phenomenon needs a new word - anti-natalism - and it is this that prompts a good part of that pregnancy trepidation. The only consolation to my mind is the spectacular everyday acts of rebellion by which thousands of babies still manage to get born in this country.
This is one of the serious regional differences I've noticed moving out from Los Angeles to Texas (even comparatively liberal Austin, TX.) When we were flying out here to buy our house, we had to navigate LAX with a one-month-old and a seventeen-month-old in a double stroller. Security seemed like they gave us six kinds of hell, and several people took the time to glare at our two offspring and make comments like "I bet you learned your lesson" and "That must be worse than twins!" Then, when we got off the plane in Austin a woman came up to us while we were still in the airport and said, "Awww. They're going to have a great time playing together be so close in age. My two oldest were fourteen months apart." Which is not to say that we've never got "are you done yet?" comments in Texas, but it does seem like a much less anti-natalist atmosphere.

You can read more about the study that the editorial refers to here. One interesting section reads:
IPPR has calculated that if women in their 40s had been able to have as many children as they say they want in their 20s, there would be an extra 13 per cent more children born in Britain each year. The report shows that British women face a ‘fertility penalty’ if they have children earlier in life and that almost a third return to a less well paid job than before they give birth. The average woman forgoes £564,000 in earnings over her lifetime if she has her first child at 24 compared to a similarly educated childless woman; but if she waits until 28, she will forego £165,000.
The policiy suggestions the report offers, however, strike me as deeply wrongheaded.

1 comment:

MomLady said...

I can testify from personal experience. When I was pregnant with my fourth child only one person sponataneously congratulated me upon hearing the news. Everyone else had ambivalent "um," remarks or rude questions about whether this had been an accident. ("No, I think we've got the procedure down pat now..."