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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Is population control a good reason not to have babies?

The world’s population has reached seven billion and is still growing. In her new book, The Baby Matrix, Laura Carroll insists that if our culture keeps encouraging people to have babies we will destroy the planet. People who care will not have children, or if they must, they will have only one biological child. If that’s not enough, they will adopt additional children. The overriding theme of this book is that our “pronatalist” society’s belief that having children is the right and natural thing to do is wrong, wrong, wrong.

For baby boomers like me, Paul R. Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, published in 1968, was required high school reading. In it, he predicted that if we didn’t do something about our ever-increasing population, the world would become so overpopulated it would self-destruct. This book became the bible for the Zero Population Growth movement. It started about the same time as birth control and abortion became legal for most people in the U.S., so people really did start having fewer kids. The average family produced two children instead of three, six or a dozen.

Still, Carroll says we need to cut back even more. When I talk to people who are childless by choice, many mention overpopulation as one of the reasons not to have kids. It’s rarely their main reason, but it’s one of them.

All of this makes me uncomfortable. Weren’t our bodies designed to make babies?

I was happy to find some articles that report the population has started decreasing, that maybe we’re not headed for disaster. This one from Slate, “About That Overpopulation Problem,” explains that some countries, such as Germany, have already lowered the birthrate so much that the overall population is going down.

With couples waiting until they’re older to have kids, with birth control being available to most people, and more and more choosing not to have children at all, it would seem likely that our population would stop growing. If not, I suppose the natural methods of population control that work with non-humans–predators, natural disasters, lack of food–would eventually balance out the numbers.

What do you think? Do you believe we should limit births to keep the population down? Has anyone in your life suggested this as a good reason not to have kids?