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Happy Mother’s Day. What birth control are you on?
What kind of celebration is Mother’s Day when our culture is geared toward preventing motherhood? When I read policy analysts theorize that culture dictates fertility norms, I can only wholeheartedly agree. Western fertility rates are notoriously low. Even when countries or provinces manage to push an uptick, those new higher fertility rates remain below replacement.
Come election time, we are all treated to political ploys, policies and rhetoric from the left and the right that are supposed to help families. In some, albeit rare, instances these policies even touch on our need for more people; read: higher fertility.
Yet for decades, we’ve been told not to have children.
It starts early. Sex education, whatever the controversy around it, is not geared to a celebration of the joys of bringing new life into the world, to put it mildly.
I had to do “the egg project”—probably in grade 10 or 11 some 25 years ago—whereby one carries an egg around at all times to drive home the point that babies are both fragile and a burden. (I quite often left mine in my locker; not childcare at its finest.)
Of course, it goes without saying that teen pregnancy is a burden. Even having a baby under absolutely perfect conditions is ultimately very taxing. But the admonishment to avoid having children never stops. There’s always something better, bigger and more important to pursue.
If perfect conditions exist for having children in our cultural thinking, it could be that I am near living them. I have two degrees, good health, financial stability, have worked for 20 years, have pretty good community and, never forget it, a husband without whom I would have been institutionalized by now. (Please don’t think I’m joking.) We have friends close by who we have called on countless times.
Yet we are typical westerners. Our closest family members live four hours away by car. Many more are thousands of miles away. I have no experience with babies. I hired a wonderful woman to help with breastfeeding. She came into my life as a replacement grandmother. She said straight up: breastfeeding is not supposed to happen this way. By that I think she meant in a vacuum, by yourself.
Our advanced, wealthy culture has failed us all when it comes to what matters most: creating the communities that help raise new people. It does take a village, which contrasts with a government sponsored community centre. What I as a new mother needed does not exist, and that includes the witness and experience of other women living as mothers in community, not as the last descriptor in a lengthy bio that includes languages, travel, degrees and titles.
Babies are a time for all loving hands to be on deck. (Spellcheck made “loving” into “living,” and that might also work here.) But with dispersed families, waning religiosity and dwindling community of any kind, we have to work incredibly hard to create community. Many can’t and thus motherhood is a burden, not a joy.
When government tries to help us with our families, there is always an ulterior motive. Maternity leave—a great gift—exists to ensure mothers return to work. Consider the human resources department of a private company offering benefits of various kinds. Employees may enjoy free massages, but their purpose is still to maximize profits for the company. So it is also with government benefits. Addressing our culturally-driven low fertility will not change with tax credits, government money, or childcare systems.
And mothers will not be valued when we consistently insist it is normal for all women to have fewer children as a matter of routine.
Low fertility rates may change when we—men and women together—have more children, and declare without hesitation, that this is the most valuable and meaningful enterprise we have ever embarked upon.
Until then—Happy Mother’s Day. What form of birth control are you on?
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