Yesterday was my youngest child’s 4th birthday. She followed me around all day, asking for details on her cake, ice cream, and presents. To each response, she would squeeze my leg and say, “You are the best mom EVER!” Her siblings came home from school and bounded in the door excitedly, yelling “Happy birthday!” She gave them each a hug, in turn, and said, “You are the best sister (or brother)…ever!” We had a wonderful evening celebrating our enthusiastic, loving, and intelligent little girl. She is our fifth child, and despite my children’s pleas for more siblings, my five c-sections and general weariness demands she be the last.
Babies as a scourge.
As I saw this image on my Facebook and read the caption, I couldn’t help but think of my sweet little 4-year-old. What would life be like if, like a scene from The Avengers, we snapped our fingers, and she and three of her siblings vanished – leaving us with only our oldest? Life, for us, would be instantly transformed.
We are told that our earth is dying, and each new baby is hastening it’s destruction. There is no doubt that greed and materialism produce waste and pollution that harm our environment. However, would the world be better off if my family of 7 became a family of 3? I don’t think so. Our family would have much more money – more resources to buy new cars, a bigger house, and more trips. It seems likely that our now smaller family – with our excess – may end up being a bigger strain on the environment. Our demands always seem to exceed our supply. All the resources my four additional children consume – mostly in the form of peanut butter sandwiches and second hand clothes – are unlikely to equal the burden to fulfill the desires of a bored and wealthier family of three. Children help us be content with less stuff – we made the trade for more life.
The other thing that struck me from this billboard was the image of that sweet black baby. It took me back to my days working with cute babies in Eastern and South Africa. While doing my research and service work, I encountered many pregnant women or new mothers, often in the most destitute circumstances. I would sometimes question the wisdom of these women’s choice to have a child in such conditions. “Isn’t it irresponsible to get pregnant when you couldn’t even afford a floor for your shack?” However, despite my reservations, these African women took a different view. They would always refer to their babies as a blessing. A new child is always met with celebration in African villages. In contrast, we, in the West, produce billboards featuring black children with a caption encouraging fewer children. I only pray those of African ancestry stick with the culture of abundance, rather the culture of scarcity we find in the affluent West. (Talk about Neocolonialism and exporting bad ideas…)
The reality of life with our fifth child seems a direct contradiction to the popular idea of today – “humans are a parasite on the earth”. The earth, they say, is at risk of collapse. This makes children messengers of destruction. But often, environmental concerns hide our real motivations for having fewer children. We live under a flawed philosophy – “there is not enough”: not enough time, love, attention, wealth, compassion. The scarcity-doctrine” has convinced many to either have no children or very few.
China went so far as to limit each couple to one child. They came close to creating a sibling-less, cousin-less, aunt and uncle-less society. Is this the path to stability? It hasn’t proved to be for China. When children are devalued, we seek other, often destructive, remedies to fill our new lack. A world that sees new life as a curse is spiritually and emotionally dead.
“With each new baby, the whole universe is again put on trial”G.K. Chesterton
In America, we recently saw Amy Coney Barrett, a woman with seven children nominated to the Supreme Court. Rather than feminists celebrating in the streets at this momentous sign of societal progression, we see questions about her choice to have a large family. Some call her irresponsible for having so many children; others question her motives in adopting children from Haiti. The concepts of “love” “goodness” and “self-sacrifice”are starkly absent in such perspectives.
Does each human soul detract from the world or enhance it? Michelangelo, one of five children, did consume materials from the earth to build the dome of St. Peter’s, but is the world worse off for it?
“Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.”Vietnamese Proverb
I am the youngest of seven. My eldest brother still recalls my dad lining up all the kids after my birth and introducing them to their new little sister. He told the children, “This baby is perfect, let’s try not to corrupt her.” They did – and I reveled in the corruption. We had a great childhood. Now, we seven live all over the world, but we have a cherished bond that still stabilizes me.
“Children of the same family, the same blood, with the same first associations and habits, have some means of enjoyment in their power, which no subsequent connections can supply.”Jane Austen
Is the world collapsing?
We certainly need to carefully consider if and when we should have a child. But, according to Prince Harry, he, a happily married prince, would be irresponsible to have more than two children…“for the sake of the planet”. But is all this panic and guilt-tripping about population growth actually based in fact? No. The truth is that our world is headed into a demographic winter. The population is decreasing at a rate that is not sustainable. The choice of how many children a couple should have is very personal and should not be dictated or judged by outsiders. However, from society’s point of view, responsible and loving parents should be having more children, not less.
The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is the surplus population ; or if he is not, how he knows he is not.GK Chesterton
It is, of course, true that more people will eat up more resources. This is something we should be aware of and adapt to. My university degree is in Environmental Studies. Sustainable development and conservation are topics I am passionate about. The environment should be protected, and parents need to be the primary educators of their children in how and why we care for the earth. Landfills are crowded with parenting excesses – toys, clothes, and baby gadgets – we need to simply our lives and stop filling it with “stuff.”
However, the idea that we are headed towards population disaster is only true if you mean we will have too few people to support the existing ones. We don’t need any encouragement to have fewer babies. We are already choosing not to at alarming rates.* Ultimately, the difference between those advocating for a sibling-less society and those, like my African friends, that see each child as a blessing, is perspective. One says “Humans are the scourge of the earth”, the other “Humans are the caretakers of the earth.”
The reality of love.
In order to live in the truth, we can not allow ourselves to become detached from the spiritual and emotional realities of life. If we exist in a purely material world, reality becomes warped. Statements like “humans are a parasite” don’t sound horrific anymore. Love and goodness are mythical because a material world only runs on power and envy. Such a materialistic life will only lead to misery. We need connection – the more we get, the better life becomes.
Our lives are only full when we have love and a purpose to which we can dedicate our lives. Children fill our lives with love. They are the reason for our striving. They do not take our time; they are the reason we were given time. Every day with my youngest child is a day I get to experience more of life. Her laughter, cries, and the unfolding of her personality are priceless. Her siblings are more emphatic, considerate, wise, humble, and entertained because she exists. As a mother, I teach my children to care and protect the earth and be the solution to environmental problems. They will not be a source of scarcity but contributors to the abundance of this planet.
So, in answer to this ad, I say – less joy, less excitement, less life, is not the gift you want to bestow on your child. Give them a sibling and see the Earth flourish as a result.
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Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, “The most merciful thing a large family does for one of its infant members is to kill it”.
More People, More Ideas, More Innovations, More Value Created. https://www.humanprogress.org/julian-simon-was-right-we-create-faster-than-we-consume/?utm_content=bufferfe8d6&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer&fbclid=IwAR3Z9Y8Oyvsj9PxTOgcWW4477o7vBcPFPvOxNyMml6E3N1R043qNOGgqIJw
Demographic Winter. https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/demographic-winter-here/
GK Chesterton, “In Defense of Baby Worship” https://www.chesterton.org/babies/
Babies and Climate Change https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/09/millennials-babies-climate-change/620032/