Sociology of Style on The Procreation Debate

The topic of procreation is one that , as a woman in her thirties, has been a front and center in my world the last several years.  Friends having babies, my wife feeling like, even though she would have loved to have children, that she is too old and has too many potential health risks to do so and gets all weepy every time she sees a toddler.

We talk about how, maybe, I could carry a child (if you are “new” to the blog – it’s time to catch up – your narcissistic anthropologist is also a narcissistic lesbian) if we really wanted to have a family. We have even talked to near and dear male friends about the idea of insemination and co-parenting.

It brings up all kinds of issues, however: the physical trauma, the impact in my / our career, the change in lifestyle (for better or worse or just plain different), the lifetime commitment to another human being and on and on.   And the more friends of ours (gay and straight couples) that have kids the more we think we should “get on it” so our child can have an instant peer group and we can have that support group.   And the more we talk instead of doing, the older we get and the panic sets in and we revert back to planning a beach vacation and buying a new car and vowing to “talk about it later”.

I really appreciate this article from the sociology of style on the modern debate around procreation: the physical, psychological and sociological implications. And I think many of my friends and readers will appreciate the perspective as well.

Your Bumpin’ Body:
The Procreation Debate

 

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Samantha: Frankly, I think it’s sad, the way she’s using a child to validate her existence.

Carrie: Exactly. Why can’t she just use sex and a nice cocktail like the rest of us?

–Sex and the City

I don’t currently have children, but I hope to someday.  I have several female friends, however, who don’t have and/or don’t want children. Marie Claire recently did an article on Jen Kirkman, a happily child-free comedian who wrote a book on the topic, and whose decision is often greeted with antagonism (and answered with humor: her response to strangers who ask who will take care of her when she’s old? Servants!)

Why do people care so much about the reproductive lives of others? Why are the childless guilted about their decision?  When a single woman “decides” not to have a child, it is sometimes socially “forgiven,” but when a couple decides to forgo pregnancy, they are often looked at with suspicion.  What’s wrong with them? Why don’t they want ‘more’? (And are/will same-sex couples be looked at with equal suspicion?)

Just as there’s a strong argument for having children (i.e. difficult-yet-rewarding, companionship-building, a biological urge), many women choose not to have children for equally compelling reasons: Some simply don’t want the responsibility or lifestyle adjustments (newsflash: they’re expensive and time-consuming); others prefer to focus on their careers; some make the “decision” by default, due to timing and partnerships; still others may make a more political statement with their reproductive choices — avoiding childbirth in an effort not to contribute to our growing global population crisis.

One other looming factor many women consider (perhaps less openly) involves the major transformation of their bodies, not just during pregnancy, but after: Large, full breasts due to the milk production (this may seem like a dream for some, but can also be uncomfortable), an expanded uterus (that should shrink back after about 6 weeks), a larger belly that doesn’t bounce back as easily, especially after multiple pregnancies, and (most devastatingly?) no longer fitting into your coveted footwear (this can be permanent). As Susie Orbach puts it in Bodies, the post-pregnant body is marketed as a body “in need of restoration, conveying a sense that the body is damaged by reproduction.” An ironic image for a life-giving process.

While we like to think that once you make the choice to have a child, EVERYTHING becomes about the child, many women feel that until they lose their “baby weight” and look “normal” again, they aren’t really themselves — which can have significant psychological and emotional consequences. (Fortunately, our bodies are pretty amazing: breastfeeding can be a near miraculous weight-loss plan, not only while you’re actively breastfeeding, but residually, for decades to come.)

Not every woman laments the body transformations of pregnancy.  Some women actually become addicted to pregnancy as a means of seeking attention, feelings of insecurity, or to compensate for parental abandonment. Being pregnant can literally fill a void. It’s even been dubbed the “Octomom syndrome” after the infamous, eponymous example.

FOR MORE on this, including tips on dealing with the physical and mental ramifications of the pregnancy topic or to share your experience (as well as other great content from Sociology of Style click here

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