The closely-held belief known as antinatalism – not that having kids is merely inconvenient, but morally and ethically wrong – has been steadily increasing in popularity in recent years.
Whereas our mothers and grandmothers had the excuse of making the countercultural Sexual Revolution a success by eliminating children and allowing women to stay in the workforce, the apparent logic of 2021 antinatalism is both predictable and apropos to our modern times: climate change. Not only is our planet speeding swiftly into environmental decline, at our own behest, but our own children are apparently directly proportional to how fast we meet that decline.
The result is an overwhelming obsession and diehard defense of all the tactics that prevent children from existing – abortion, birth control, and the recently introduced theory that adoption is somehow more traumatizing for children than their death in the womb. Antinatalists and climate change apologists needn’t worry, though. Our birth rate, since the onset of the pandemic, has begun to noticeably decline. Not only that, but more and more couples are choosing the most permanent form of birth control: sterilization.
America’s Alarming History of Sterilization
From a technical standpoint, it seems contradictory to refer to sterilization as a form of birth control, though it’s widely regarded as such. Male or female sterilization is a permanent medical procedure rendering the individual incapable of procreating, which seems far removed from other more popular forms of birth control, like the Pill, condoms, or other medical devices used for preventing pregnancy. Nevertheless, sterilization is categorized as a contraceptive method – one that is 100% effective.
America has a long, storied relationship with sterilization, and a history that hasn’t always factored in the personal decision of the individual undergoing the procedure. In fact, prior to 1981 (when the last documented forced sterilization procedure was performed, in Oregon), sterilization was more closely tied to eugenics than it was an individual’s personal choice of contraception.
The last documented forced sterilization procedure was performed just 40 years ago.
Sterilization in the U.S., from the 1850s onward, was the preferred practice of politicians, medical professionals, and supposed egalitarian philosophers who believed in essentially neutering undesirable populations and removing inherent biological capabilities. As you can probably guess, the demographics most often subjected to these forced procedures were the mentally handicapped, criminals, and minority women.
Somewhere along the way – it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where – sterilization as a practice lost its deservedly negative connotations and became the favored choice of contraception for young Millennials and their partners.
The Next Epidemic
A recent report from the Pew Research Center indicates that more and more adults – ages 18 to 49 – do not expect or plan to have children in their lifetime. The exact numbers have increased from 37% in 2018 to 44% in 2021, and share basically no difference by gender.
The reasons are varied, and some of them are understandable (others less so). Some respondents gave medical reasons, financial reasons, or not having a romantic partner as to why they’re not having kids. Others point to climate change, racism, or “the state of the world.” These reasons in particular bear the bulk of the antinatalist narrative. When you look around at the world, how could anyone possibly justify bringing children into it?
It’s one thing to eschew having kids for fear of passing on mental or physical impairments onto them. But self-sterilization?
44% of childless adults plan to never have children.
Even if an individual, especially a woman, wants sterilization, she might have a hard time finding a medical professional who’ll do the procedure with no forethought. And for good reason. A 2015 report from the World Health Organization reveals that “20% of women sterilized at a young age later regret this decision.” Not only that, but “young age is one of the strongest predictors of regret.” In short, younger and younger women are convincing themselves that this permanent procedure is the right decision to make at an age like 23, and are then forced to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives.
As pervasive as overt antinatalist content is now, thanks to the pandemic, there was also another, less talked about consequence of the forced self-examination and reflection many underwent during lockdown. Many older adults are reporting, all over the internet, that the last two years have changed their minds about not wanting kids. One Huffington Post contributor sums it up succinctly: “I never wanted kids – until I did.”
While failing fertility and birth rates are the current rates we’re seeing, it’s not improbable to surmise that the next epidemic facing young adults as they age will be an epidemic of regret.
Making the Family Obsolete Is Peak Postmodernism
The marriage rate is falling. More and more Millennials live with their parents. 39% of Zoomers don’t want kids because of the impending climate apocalypse. So what is the case, if any, to be made for having children?
No parent espousing the joys of children will tell you they signed up to be parents for 3 a.m. feedings, messy diaper changes, screaming tantrums in public, or difficult toddlerhood and angsty teenage years. The overwhelming consensus from the wise and experienced though is that as your family expands, so does your happiness.
Why have kids? For one, because bearing children in and of itself goes against everything the modern age wants for us. Having children changes your body, your relationships, your family, your home, your work-life balance, your career, your future aspirations. Modernity wants nothing else for us but the fulfillment and satisfaction of the moment. Having children ensures fulfillment and satisfaction long after we’re gone and our kids are grown.
As your family expands, so does your happiness.
A common thread of antinatalism, which demonstrably seeks to make the family as a unit obsolete, is that having kids is an act of selfishness. Again, as any pregnant woman or parents of newborns will tell you, that couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, procreating is not an act of selfishness but an act of selflessness and self-preservation. Many of us will never mature and grow up – but having kids effectively secures our legacy and our evolution into adults through self-gift and loving someone more than ourselves.
Independence, freedom, liberation, and no responsibility. Childlessness promises these things to all of its subscribers. As with any ideology that sells its doctrine to individuals, there’s no mention of the potential pain, heartache, and crippling, lasting regret.
Any parent would likely say that having children changed them, and that’s what many of us are really trying to avoid – the idea that an outside force other than ourselves will have the most crucial impact on our lives. This is why we’re seeing such intense, fervent worship of birth control and abortion, and commitment to irreversible procedures like sterilization. We refuse to let inconvenience or responsibility change us.
But we will be changed by things we can’t necessarily control (whether it’s kids or regret), and we will have to live with our decisions. Either way, we can do that alone or surrounded by those we helped to create.
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