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/.