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Championing ‘Choice’ Doesn’t Include Choosing Fecundity

It seems it’s not enough simply to disagree with people. Some find it necessary to slam – with malice – those who make different life choices. Today’s case study: couples who choose to have a larger family. Mollie Hemingway has written a piece that eloquently questions ”fecundophobia.”. 

She points out that the bias is sneaking in everywhere. An ESPN reporter posed this “question” to an NFL star: “Six kids? Regardless of your profession, it’s impossible to be a good parent to six kids. Not enough hours in the day.” Though the player had a nice response, I like what Hemingway added.

What kind of question is that? Seriously. Who asks a question like that? And who, knowing anything about human flourishing throughout history, would think that it’s impossible to be a good parent to six kids? Since when did having kids become something that Americans irrationally fear and loathe?

The media remind us regularly that the most important cultural value relative to family life is what’s euphemistically called “choice.” The choice of whether to have kids or not is held so sacrosanct that our laws permit the decision to be made many months after a new human life begins…. So why the weird reaction to people receiving children as a blessing instead of fighting them tooth and nail with hormones, chemicals, surgery and scissors? Do we need some remedial courses in how babies are made? It’s entirely natural, of course, for babies to be conceived when men and women have sex. Treating the entirely expected procreation of children as something to be avoided at all costs — and an unspeakable atrocity if one has, say, three children already — would be weird even if our culture weren’t obsessed with sex at all times, in all places, in every context, at every moment.

She goes on to mention a story in the Washington Post that declared the “smug fecundity” of the Romneys and Santorums. (Hmm, do you think the Post has a problem with the procreative habits of the Kennedys?) The Post article also suggested that women who choose to have several children do so at the expense of their intelligence, their careers, and their independence. Hemingway’s reply is perfection:

There is much more than a whiff of the misogyny in denigrating mothers of multiple children as brainless, in stating that mothers who are homemakers are inferior to those who “earn” their living, or in attacking women for prioritizing fertility above independence. It’s not just that nobody on planet earth could be truly independent — which is to say completely self-reliant or free of any other human support. It’s not just that we each depended on others from the moment of our conception to birth, but all of society is comprised of individuals who work with each other and depend on each other throughout their lives. Or healthy societies are, at least. It may be impolitic to suggest that men and women are in any way different, science be damned, but many women have a particular specialty in cultivating relationships and family. To denigrate women who acknowledge and accept this as a good thing rather than fight against it is not exactly life-affirming.

The examples she then lists of the types of comments that are made about bigger families are truly unsettling. It’s hard to believe people think that way. My husband and I have been pretty lucky that our own experience has been limited to a few nasty folks on Twitter. Most folks are pretty supportive of the fact that we have seven children. I can’t be certain of what everyone we know thinks behind our backs, but we both are fully prepared to defend our choice — without denigrating anyone else’s.

Also on the “choice” front:  I was thoroughly enjoying an article on children with Down syndrome that was suggested by an organization that assists families in adopting children with special needs.  It points out the misinformation that still exists about children with Down syndrome, and how overwhelmingly doctors suggest and women choose an abortion. But just as the author is wrapping up her heartfelt plea for parents to give these special kids a chance — wham! There it was – she declares, “I believe all women have the right to end a pregnancy for any reason.” The disconnect was head-spinning. But maybe it was still a step in the right direction for the Huffington Post. 





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