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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