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.

Anyway, 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.

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T is for Talk: Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About Childlessness


T is for Talk: Couples need to talk about whether or not they want children. Back in my parents’ day, having children was assumed. You got married, you got pregnant, and you made babies. But now there are so many ways to avoid having children. Here in the U.S., birth control is plentiful and easy to obtain, and abortion is legal. People are getting married later in life and putting off parenting until it’s almost too late. Men and women going into second or third marriages often find that at least one of them has already had children and doesn’t want any more.
But when and how do you talk about this stuff? It’s not like you can say on the first date, “Hi, I’m Sue and I want three kids.” Or, “Hi, I’m Peter, my teenagers from my first marriage are bleeding me dry, and I never want to have any more children.” Or, “Hi, I’m Jennifer, and I never really saw myself as a mother. I don’t want to be tied down.” Well, you can, but you might want to start off with a less explosive topic.
As a relationship progresses, when do you bring it up? Before you have sex? Before you move in together? Before the wedding? I don’t have the perfect answer, but I do know it needs to come up sooner rather than later. Day after day, I receive comments here from readers, mostly women, whose partners went along with the baby plans for a while, then dropped the bomb: I don’t want to have kids. Ever.They’re devastated. They don’t know whether to leave and look for someone who wants children or stay and give up their dreams of being parents. It hurts my heart to read these things. And then there are the ones who delayed childbirth for years, only to discover they have fertility problems.
All too often, once that bomb has been dropped, couples stop talking about it. They try to hide their hurt and anger from each other and from the other people in their lives. But it doesn’t go away. Dear friends, you have to talk about it. It will just fester and make you sick if you don’t. Talk with each other. Talk with your friends and family. Talk to your minister, your shrink, or your hairdresser. It is not something to be ashamed of. And don’t assume that your loved ones who have children won’t understand. They love you. They want to help.
It’s okay to talk about the fact that Mother’s Day makes you want to hide in a cave and never come out. It’s okay to say that watching a new mother cuddle her baby makes you want to sob. It’s okay to say, “We don’t have kids and I wish we did.” It’s also okay to say, “We never had children, and I’m happy.”
I feel like I’m giving a sermon here, but I wish I had talked more about it with Fred when I had the chance, instead of just crying in secret.
T is for talk.
We’re heading into the final week of our April A to Z blog challenge. My alphabetical posts are distributed among my Unleashed in Oregon, Childless by Marriage and Writer Aid blogs. Visit Unleashed in Oregon tomorrow to find out what U stands for, and come back here next Wednesday to find out what Z is going to stand for. (Anybody got any ideas?)
Talk to me in the comments.