Thus Spake Zuska

On The “Choice” Of Having A Child

Last month I wrote about children, academic careers, and moms. Lively discussion ensued. Here’s something you should read for a follow up, and hat tip to Sciencewoman for the link:

Let me reminds you, once again, that people do not “choose” to have kids. A lot of people choose *not* to have kids–birth control, wealth, and modernity certainly contribute to this decision, which is perfectly irreproachable, by the way–but reproducing is not a conscious decision. It is something that the bodies of living creatures simply DO. It is, in fact, part of the definition of “living.”

If Bitch, PhD’s post isn’t enough to straighten out the knickers you got in a knot over the discussion on my post, then read this one, too.

Later on someone says, “I thought that people who have children do it largely because they want to.” No. People have children because if you fuck someone of the opposite sex, chances are that sooner or later you (or, if you are a man, your partner) will get pregnant. It’s lovely that we have ways of avoiding this, and tragic when people who want kids find out they can’t, but let’s not be stupid: having children is not the choice. NOT having children is the choice.

For god’s sake, read both posts before you write something stupid here about how having a child is too a choice and people should just deal with the choices they make.

Comments

  1. #1 acmegirl
    March 7, 2008

    Those are two excellent posts, good on you for sharing them!

  2. #2 Cherish
    March 7, 2008

    Thanks for posting these. The second one, in particular, really resonated with me.

  3. #3 HCN
    March 8, 2008

    I chose to have kids. Except circumstances did not turn out as I expected. What I wanted were perfect children who were as brilliant as their parents. I assumed that because both parents were engineers, that our kids would be brilliant.

    Yeah, right.

    My oldest son had seizures when he was 48 hours old. I spent his first year (after quitting work) taking him to neurologists, other doctors, keeping him protected from pertussis (he was not vaccinated against, county having an epidemic of pertussis), and trying to stay sane.

    I went from dealing with nonlinear second order differential equations using multiple state of the art computers (okay, it was the 1980s, one was a VAX… and I’ve been known to use a Cray) to sorting out health insurance with ambulance, hospital and medical specialist bills.

    But I still played German language tapes to jump start his foreign language experience.

    Little did I know he would not be able to speak, even his native English. Especially after a year on phenobarbital and another very nasty seizure after he was weaned from anticonvulsants.

    He was, and still is disabled. Speech did not come easily for him. He learned to use sign language before he used to use speech (which requires very complex motor skills). After ten years of speech therapy, he does speak, but it is still not indistinguishable for “normal” speech. But it is better.

    After almost 20 years, I am taking classes to go back to work. Though I did a great and valuable education from my first born. I would have been one of those irritating parents demanding stuff for my brilliant child… instead I had to deal with the special ed. system, and pay for many hours of private speech therapy. My younger children benefited by me putting them in play centered preschools, and not bothering to test them for advanced classes (they both actually did that themselves, younger son worked himself into honors math, and took classes at the community center to advance in science… and daughter independently tested into honors math — I had nothing to do with it. But I am still proud, but trying to not be obnoxious).

    I wanted children. Little did I know that my world would completely change.

  4. #4 HCN
    March 8, 2008

    Oh, and my signiture on the JREF forums is: “I used to be intelligent, but then I had kids”.

    Read into it what you will… but they are all teenagers. The younger boy excels in driving my nuts, and I am just trying to make sure he gets a driver’s license (I really can’t help it if his girlfriend’s mother tells me that when he went to their house and was put to work cutting tomatoes that they found his ineptitude very amusing!)…. and daughter is upset I found her new DeviantArt page (she forgets I am willing to dye her hair different colors, I posted a pic on JREF, but you have to be member to see… but the magenta was just wonderful… if you are a member just check on: http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=93934& )

    By the way, she is now using dandruff shampoo to get rid of the latent green semi-permanent dye so that we can next dye her hair Flamingo Pink.

    Oh, wait… have you all dealt with teenagers? That is a very amusing age. Even after I have had to deal with younger son hiding his vegies in odd places to avoid eating them, of the incident where Grandma forgot to put the Costco Vaseline jar out of reach… and daughter found it — she smeared herself and the kitchen wall with the stuff. Have you ever tried to pick up a well greased two year old? It also took several days to wash it out of her hair (though her eczema cleared up nicely). Oh, then daughter decided to paint the bottom of her feet with blue paint and walk up the beige carpeted stairs.

    Children are “fun”. Starting next week we will finally paint the main floor of the house. We will get rid of the pencil drawing of the rocket in the entry hallway, the crayon scribbles in the kitchen… but NOT the toddler hand prints in the basement made by daughter just after that room was finished.

  5. #5 bill
    March 8, 2008

    reproducing is not a conscious decision. It is something that the bodies of living creatures simply DO

    The argument from biological drives is drivel — it’s essentially the same as the one used to “excuse” rape, or “explain” war, or any of a dozen other idiotic Social Darwinist tropes. (That paragraph doesn’t have much to do with the central argument of that post, and if it were deleted I’d agree with the post.)

    having children is not the choice. NOT having children is the choice

    Prof B seems to be claiming that the majority of children in existence are here simply because their parents couldn’t do anything about it. That may be largely true in developing or pre-industrial societies (where I doubt that you hear a lot of people complaining about “privileges for parents” anyway!), but here in the US you can get condoms for free and birth control pills — wait, are they covered by health insurance? They should be. My point is, I doubt the data are on her side here. In countries affluent enough to have significant numbers of people making the arguments to which she is responding, I would guess that most parents chose to have children: when to have them and how many to have.

    Pre-emptive defense: none of this is to say that the “parents made a choice and I, who have no children, am not required to deal with that choice in any way” argument is not idiotic. It’s just that there are better counter-arguments than the idea that we are helpless automatons in the grip of our selfish genes. (Prof B adduces several such arguments in the quoted posts, in fact.)

  6. #6 bill
    March 8, 2008

    That should read “…most parents chose to have children: whether to have them, when to have them and how many to have.” No idea how the first phrase got deleted.

  7. #7 Interrobang
    March 8, 2008

    Bill, I think that’s a good point. Exactly what is the difference between that and any other biological-essentialist argument, most of which feminists rightly reject? After all, it’s not as though the blind forces of natural selection give a damn about whether a given individual reproduces, as long as the population as a whole continues.

  8. #8 Haydin
    March 10, 2008

    Bill:
    Condoms break. Birth control fails. Sometimes, the morning after pill is difficult to get, and it too is not 100% effective. In many areas in America, abortion is difficult to get, (not in major metropolitan areas, but out in the boonies). EVERY time you have sex, you risk a pregnancy.

    If sperm meets an egg and the fertilized egg successfully implants, a pregnancy has occurred. Neither partner has any say in stopping this process. It is a chemical reaction. The only way to prevent it 100% is to not have sex. Is that realistic?

  9. #9 LG
    March 10, 2008

    No matter if we think of it as a choice or biology, it is what someone has done with her life and if women are to truly get equality in this lifetime we must be respectful of each others’ decisions. We must understand that although this is not what I want for my life, it doesn’t mean that her life is wrong or immoral or ‘strange’. Children, no children, married, not married, high powered career, housewife – all those choices need to be respected if you agree with them or not. Don’t look down on me because I’m 30, unmarried, and don’t have children and I won’t look down on you because you talk a lot about your kids and they are the center of your life (unless of course you are driving me off the road in the SUV you don’t seem to have a handle on ;). I don’t think you are any less intelligent or have any less meaningful work, and please don’t think I am not a ‘normal woman’ because I don’t have little ones to look after. Once we women can respect each other, stand up for each others choices, and embrace the different paths our lives take, then perhaps, leading by example, the world can too.

  10. #10 RP
    March 11, 2008

    I’ve never quite understood this argument. Say you have one or two children, like most people. This is the non-choice, while having zero is some scary choice? How much difference is there between avoiding full-term pregnancy all of one’s reproductive years, or all but a couple of years during that time?

    This is not to minimize all the obstacles people have to surmount to get adequate contraception – money, crazy right-wingers, allergies and intolerances, and on and on – but I honestly don’t see how having only 1 or 2 kids is any less of a choice than not having any.

  11. #11 acmegirl
    March 12, 2008

    Bill,

    I don’t think that acknowledging what the default in nature is (sex between a man and a woman leads to pregnancy) means that “the majority of children in existence are here simply because their parents couldn’t do anything about it”. It is important to remember that it takes an active choice to NOT have children when you discuss issues involving rights of women, both those who do have children and those who do not. I get annoyed all the time at people who say that I “chose to have those kids” and part of it is because of the ignorance of that stance. It would be nice if women could choose when and how many children to have as if ordering fom a menu, but alas, the best we can do is try to prevent pregnancy at certain times, and hope it will occur at the “right” time.

    I find Dr. B’s perspective refreshing because it acknowledges the having of sex as the default – which I think many, if not most, adults will admit is a realistic starting point.

  12. #12 Luna_the_cat
    March 12, 2008

    acmegirl nailed it, I think.

    The default setting is that at least a few % of the time, sex results in pregnancy. It takes active decision-making and planning and the acquisition of necessary materials in order to decrease that % as much as possible. This is something that people in the modern, Western world ought to be able to do, now, but that does not make it less a matter of choice, and yes, it’s true that we need to be aware that it is not a choice universally available to all. It’s not the default that happens when we do not or cannot make that choice. Do you understand that, bill? You talk about it being the modern woman’s choice when and whether to have kids, but that choice (to have kids, that is) is really the choice of when to suspend the deliberate actions taken to minimise chances of pregnancy.

    Off topic somewhat, I feel like I ought to share one of the few times I look back on my early career with a warm glow of utter joy. I was occasionally working on the offshore oil platforms at the time, as a technical troubleshooter. On one of my first trips out, as I was waiting in the lounge for the helicopter to come pick us up, I was chatting with the other riggers and engineers. On learning that I had been married for a couple of years, one of the engineers demanded to know why I was “wasting my time out [here], when I ought to be home having kids”! The part that overjoyed me — before I could even get the first word of a reply out, the other engineers in the lounge were jumping all over him, and let him know in no uncertain terms that nobody had to stay home raising kids unless they wanted to, and I had as much right to be out there as any of them did, and anyway, it sure wasn’t up to HIM to tell me what to do.

    It wasn’t that I felt that I needed Big Strong Men to defend me. What thrilled me to bits was that I honestly did not get the impression that they were doing this to comply with company policy or to butter me up; from the manner of their response, I actually got the impression that they thought this. I mean, Scottish rig and drill engineers. Not classicly PC types. Damn. Now THAT is progress. I’m not saying they weren’t a bit neanderthal in other respects, but they had at least internalised the view that it was up to me whether or not I wanted kids, and whether or not I should be at home with them, and that if I could hack an offshore job then I had a right to it.

    The irony is that I was getting more respect from them, there, than I did from my own computing colleagues. Of course, we weren’t competing directly, in the same field, in the case of the drill engineers. But, still — it was heartening.

  13. #13 Liz
    April 4, 2008

    You actually agree with that position? The top quote the exact reason I stopped reading Bitch, PhD. I simply could not comprehend how a reasoning adult could come to this conclusion. Certainly for middle-class North American women who comprise the bulk of her readership, the argument is just… I have no words.

    My panties are not in a knot. I am just shocked. Am I so far out of the mainstream here?

  14. #14 Zuska
    April 5, 2008

    Yeah, I don’t think Bitch, PhD is saying anything radical or distressing here. She’s simply stating biological fact, albeit perhaps in words you aren’t familiar with. Human beings are live animals; part of what it means to be alive is to reproduce; reproduction is the default option unless you actively choose to do something to prevent it. This doesn’t seem very radical to me, merely a statement of fact. What in this is so distressing???

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