Which is worse, no kids or a dozen?

The novel I’ve been reading, A Place of Her Own by Janet Fisher, takes place in the 1800s. It’s based on the true story of a woman who came to Oregon by covered wagon and settled not far from where I live. The heroine, Martha, married at 15, has one baby after another, 11 in all. She’d probably have had more, but her husband died. I almost want to add “thank God.” He was an abusive SOB.

But that’s not my point. The story takes place in the 1850s and ’60s. Martha has no access to birth control, abortion doesn’t even occur to her, and there is no such thing as a vasectomy or tubal ligation. If you have sex–and her husband isn’t going to take no for an answer–you have babies. She spends the 21 years of their marriage either pregnant or nursing. Think about that. One baby after another, with no way to stop them from coming.

There comes a point in the novel where she has had two babies die in infancy and discovers she’s pregnant again. “I don’t want to have another baby,” she cries. She already has so many to take care of and she can’t stand the thought of losing another one.

Her husband treats her horribly, at one point beating her with a whip. She leaves him for a while and tries to divorce him, but discovers the laws at that time  allow him to take all of their seven living children away from her. So when he promises never to hurt her again, she goes back. She has two more babies.

Why am I telling you about this when you and I don’t have any babies at all? Think about how few choices women had back then, long before they earned the right to vote. When Martha, as a widow, went to buy land, the guy selling it preferred to deal with her 11-year-old son because he was male.

Only in recent times have we had any say about whether or not we would get pregnant and have babies or when we would have them. When I was born in the 1950s, abortion and birth control were not legally available. Nor did women have many career options. Most became wives and mothers. They started their families young, long before age-related infertility might be a factor. We never heard about spouses refusing to have children. I’m sure it happened but not nearly as often as it does now.

Today we have so many choices it’s frightening. We make those choices and then we wonder if we’ll regret them later, whether it be birth control, abortion, vasectomy, or committing our lives to someone who is not able or willing to make babies with us. In these days when divorce is common, we’re often the second or third spouse, and our partners have already created families with their exes. They’ve had their children, but we have not. They want us to be happy taking care of their children, but it’s rarely enough.

Sometimes I wish we didn’t have so many choices. Life was less complicated in the 1860s. But to be honest, I would no more want to have 11 babies and have two of them die than I would want to have none. Also, considering the lack of choices back in the 1800s (when my great-great grandmother had 13 children who lived), why would any of us let anyone else decide this most important life choice for us now?

What do you think about all this?


Last week’s stepmom post has created quite a hot discussion. Take a look at https://childlessbymarriageblog.com/2017/01/12/he-already-has-his-kids-but-i-dont/.





4 thoughts on “Which is worse, no kids or a dozen?

  1. Wow! What a life for that poor woman. I suppose if she had a loving spouse, she might have enjoyed and welcomed as many children as possible. Certainly I’ve known people who have had no interest in children, only to divorce, remarry and suddenly have a large family with the new dreamboat hubby. These sorts of things make me feel like if you have a good spouse you can enjoy or endure most anything.

    I’ve always been hesitant to take the baby plunge. With my first hubby I just don’t think I loved him in the right ways in order for me to ache to have his baby. With my second (and current hubby), our first years were so difficult that I got a little scared about building a family. Then it got even worse and there was no question that I’d be waiting to have children. And now things are beautiful between us and I think–if only I were 10 years younger. I’d be taking the plunge, I’m sure.

    Anything is still possible for us, but at this point in the game those choices are really there. Do we accept things as they are and regret the coming years? Do we work hard to have a child and risk an older pregnancy and regret the outcome of a late in life baby? Do we pour money into adoption and hope for the best?

    Choices are hard when we know we have them. I wonder if it was easier 100 years ago to just do the things you were expected to do and carry on?

    Recently I read the Facebook posting of a casual acquaintance. She has a special needs baby who is doing fabulously well and having a birthday. My FB friend posted about how glad she was that she decided to not abort the child. She was so matter of fact about it that I was shocked. She wasn’t saying it as if she had struggled with a moral dilemma. She was saying it a bit casually that she was glad she hadn’t chosen to terminate the pregnancy. Looking at the photo she posted of the beautiful child hit home for me. At one point in her life she had a choice to KILL this child or allow it to live. And she was sharing that she had no regrets. Considering I do not believe in abortion for any reason, I found it to be a strange post. She didn’t garner many comments or likes. Seems that maybe her post didn’t sit well with others either.

    Things that are simply choices to some are a passionate NO for others. Things like fertility treatment is the next obvious step for some but for me it’s not even something to have a conversation about. Some choices I have cleanly ruled out completely. And that does make life simpler in some ways.

    Anon S.


  2. Thank you for this suggestion. While babies don’t die at the same rates now, there is a movement you may have heard of called Quiverfull, where the couple has double digit families or close to it. A ‘quiver’ is supposedly six or more. The goal is to out-breed “heathens,” whatever that means. The Duggars are an example and an exception since most of these families live in poverty or near poverty. The Duggars’ last baby Josie was born three months early and spent weeks in ICU. They miscarried a baby at five months gestation. Andrea Yates was another follower (the one who drowned her kids because she wanted to save their souls). Their friends the Bates also have as many kids. I think the worst part is they expect the kids to follow suit.

    I don’t get bringing back the times where women had kids with no options. As much as I would have liked kids, I can’t see taking on more than you can handle, yet they believe God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Any prevention is seen as sin. I bet women from that time would have given anything for birth control. As far as what’s worse, I think being without any option is worse.


  3. Surely it has got to be worse to HAVE to have them, endlessly. Especially when combined with the situation of possibly being unable to feed them all, trapped in abusive marriages and no health service to provide pre-natal care and maternity services? Lots of children were orphaned due to maternal deaths. Maybe that’s where childless women would have stepped in? Having said that, we should not forget that this is still the case today in many countries around the world.


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