Z is for zero, which is how many children we have

I’m struggling with illness and the need to write a “Z” post for the completion of the A to Z blog challenge. But here goes. Z is for Zero. Also zip and zilch.

First, there’s Zero Population Growth, a movement to limit reproduction for fear of overloading our planet with more people than it can handle. Ideally people would have just enough children to replace themselves, so population would neither grow nor decline. This is not a new idea, but in the late 1960s, it really took off with the publication of Paul Erlich’s book The Population Bomb. Erlich warned that overpopulation would cause widespread starvation and misery.

The birth rate has declined considerably since the 1960s, with at least one-fifth of American women not having children and similar numbers in other countries. Fear of overpopulation is just one of many reasons for this, but I do come across quite a few men and women who say they’re not having children because there are already too many people in the world. It’s hard to argue that when you’re stuck in commute traffic or waiting in line at the pharmacy.

But zero is also the number we find ourselves writing on forms, especially at the doctor’s office. I hate those forms which ask, “How many pregnancies have you had?” or “How many children have you had.” They assume that all women have children. It almost feels like I’m failing some kind of test when I write down “zero.”  The rest of the questions, things like “Did you breastfeed?” or “Did you have a C-Section?” I leave blank. Nope, nope, nope. See answer to first question: Zero.

It comes up in conversation, too, at least among women my age and older. People don’t ask whether you have children. They ask how many you have. Once again, the answer is “zero.” Usually I’ll say, “I never had any children” and change the subject as quickly as possible.

Perhaps among younger women, motherhood is not assumed. Not only are 20 percent never having children, but more and more women put off trying to get pregnant until they’re approaching 40. So maybe someday the answer “zero” won’t feel so wrong, just one of many options.

Z is for Zero, and that concludes the A to Z blogging challenge. I will continue to blog at Unleashed in Oregon on Mondays, Childless by Marriage on Wednesdays, and Writer Aid on Fridays. Come visit as often as you can, and please feel free to comment and share.

7 thoughts on “Z is for zero, which is how many children we have

  1. I have no plans yet of having a child, but I do want at least one. We are 8 in the family and we're noisy and happy. We just had a reunion last night at home, crowded at 35 degrees.


  2. Congrats on finishing the challenge; I enjoyed reading the posts that I did. I understand why the healthcare providers ask the questions they do, but it would be nice if the reminder of not having children wouldn't be prevalent all around. I know my two came through adoption so I have to write zero too for pregnancy-related issues and then they deal with having to answer at the doctor that they are adopted and don't know much about their family history.I'll look in on you as I can. :)betty


  3. Thanks, M, D and B, for sharing your sides of the story. Betty, two of my stepchildren were adopted, but I never thought about the headaches for them answering questions at the doctor's office. It sure gets complicated, doesn't it?
    See you all beyond the A to Z.


  4. So funny that this is your blog entry title. Today I uttered the exact words, “Zero” when a high school classmate’s father asked me how many children I have.”Zero. We have dogs.” is what I proudly said.The father looked crestfallen and apologized, saying, “Oh, I'm sorry. I always seem to ask the most stupid thing.”I reassured him that it was a fine question and then launched into a funny antidote about how another classmate just announced (on Facebook) that she is about to be a grandmother. We're 39 So this just blows my mind.He then carelessly joked that I “needed to get busy” if people my age were becoming grandparents.I assured him that with 23 nieces and nephews, I do not lack children in my life.While thinking about it later, I realized that his apology for his question made me feel far worse than his actual question. The question, “How many children do you have?” was a simple one. Perhaps the assumption that I should have children was a bit rude, but in this small town life, almost everyone has children. So the question didn't offend me, and answering the question wasn't painful. However, his apology made me feel like I SHOULD be sad or ashamed to be in my childless state. He felt bad that I was forced to utter my “sad situation” out loud. Zero.I am zero not ashamed, not sad, not anything. Today I turned a corner. This is my life – a damn good one. Pity from a classmate’s Dad is not what I'm collecting.My husband and I had a good talk after a recent birthday party. One of the mothers there brought her foster children to the party. One boy in particular was a foster child she was watching only for the weekend while his usual foster family were away. I helped him get some snacks and went along my way. Later he found me and asked me if he could sit on my lap. Of course I let him, and my heart melted when he snuggled right in and talked to me. I imagine the poor little guy was missing his birth family, or the foster mother or someone. Maybe it has been awhile since someone wanted him on their lap. A child so desperate for love he climbed into a stranger’s arms and pretended he belonged.While I don't know if I could handle being a foster parent (at least my current lifestyle doesn't allow for it) I did feel as if God was tapping me on the shoulder.


  5. Anon S., Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story. Sometimes other people are more uncomfortable about our childless state than we are. And kids, they don't care. They just want to be loved.


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