Choosing Not To Have Children

More than one friend in my age group has told me that their grown children do not intend to have children which will mean no grandchildren for my friends. Even my oldest son has expressed some doubts that he will. What is going on here ? Very real concerns about how climate change will make the future very difficult for today’s children and their children and much sooner than I had previously heard – like by like by 2050.

Because I think daily about issues at least tangential to adoption, that is the first place my thought goes and in an article in The Guardian titled Should I have children? Weighing parenthood amid the climate crisis by Megan Mayhew Bergman I read – Ellie at age 23 wrote the author, “While I don’t believe the changes we’re seeing have to signify end-of-days, I do believe there are incredibly thoughtful solutions at hand which – if we can pull them off – would bring about a world I’d very much want to have children in. But I also think my generation may have found itself at a unique moment in which more people isn’t the answer, and alternatives like adoption represent more eco- and ultimately, human-conscious choices.” And to be certain, more than 100,000 children have been born in refugee camps in Myanmar and in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, the largest refugee settlement in the world, which is vulnerable to extreme flooding and landslides.

Recent polling reveals that four in 10 young people are “hesitant to have children as a result of the climate crisis” and “fear that governments are doing too little to prevent climate catastrophe”.

An article in Vanity Fair last year by Tatiana Schlossberg titled How Should a Climate Change Reporter Think About Having Children? She goes on to say – Reproduction is a fundamental feature of life on earth, but a morally fraught decision for anyone who has the choice. And there’s not even a right answer. She mentions a drive through a scenic passage in Colorado but that “I felt so angry at our species. Angry because we are willing to destroy all of this and to do so knowingly, because we seem to value no life other than human life, and I’m not even sure how much we value that.” I would have to agree with that last bit somewhat.

She goes on to share – when you are a married straight woman in your 20s and everyone wants to know when you’re going to have a kid, it turns out to be almost impossible to avoid thinking about the future.

In answer to that, she shares – There are two familiar arguments about not having a kid when it comes to climate change. The first one is that it is unkind and irresponsible to bring a child into a world whose future is uncertain at best and apocalyptic at worst. The second one is that, as a privileged, white American with a sizable carbon footprint, any child of mine would be another person with a similar environmental impact, both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption. According to those two lines of thinking, having a child is unethical, both because of what it would do to the child and because of what that child would do to the world.

Realistically, she goes on to admit – As both a reporter and a person in her child-bearing years, I don’t know what the right thing to do is—and I don’t think that there is a right thing to do. I find myself feeling much the same way. I do believe humanity will continue to exist and on some level I feel that raising a reasonable number (like 1 or 2) of children to be highly aware and ethical will be valuable to whatever the future will bring.

She also acknowledges that – not having a child is not the same as becoming a vegetarian or buying an electric car. Having a child, becoming a parent, can be a defining feature of life on earth—the reproduction of aspen trees is not necessarily parenthood, but it is part of the same drive to pass on genetic material; it is hardwired in us, and we share it with all other lifeforms.

A dear friend of mine is involved with Project Drawdown, a climate-advocacy organization, that has ranked the 100 most effective solutions to climate change, and found that together, education and family planning for women and girls is the second-most effective way to reduce emissions (after reducing food waste, which includes shifting to a plant-rich diet and preventing deforestation), because when women are more educated, they generally have fewer children, and also add to the economic and cultural success of their communities.

The Vanity Fair article author notes – The birth rate in the United States and much of the developed world is declining. When people express concern to me about there being too many people on earth, they don’t seem to be saying there are too many Americans; they are, knowingly or not, talking about limiting the growing and increasingly young nonwhite populations in the global south. Throughout American history, anxiety about population is almost always linked to race or national origin, so what I always want to say in response is, “Who are you talking about when you ask me that question?”

I do feel lucky to have the female freedoms I do because of the time in which I have lived. I acknowledge that I am indebted to the work of so many women which has given me choice (and currently, that is highly under threat). Support for reproductive freedom is a core part of my own political identity, as is support for climate action as an environmentalist. We try to raise our sons to value the same things as well.

I will also admit to a certain degree of arrogance in that kind of thinking. That my having kids is okay because my kids will be a good persons and who knows ? One of them might solve climate change. OK, so the latter idea is probably not the most likely outcome, nor is it the most powerful argument in defense of my having children. Any person could say as much. True, I di think that my children are special, geniuses, perfect in their own ways, but I also realize that my children doesn’t necessarily have a greater right to be born than anyone else’s. I am sad for the youth of today. Even back around the 2000s when my husband and I decided to have these two boys, the concern was not as urgent as it seems today (and I say seems because it should have been more urgent then and even in the early 1970s when I had my daughter).

Tolerance

After seeing this, I went looking for some background on Christianity and LGBTQ issues. I found this – Cultural backlash: Is LGBTQ progress an attack on Christianity? – from Washington University in St Louis Missouri. PS – FD is Foster Daughter. From that linked article –

“Many Christians have come to see themselves as being on the losing side of the culture wars,” said Clara L Wilkins, principal investigator and associate professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences. “Christians may perceive that an America where same sex marriage is legal is one in which they have lost their sway and are now victimized.

“This is especially common among conservative Christians, who also are more likely to believe that Christianity is a defining feature of being American. As a result, they see themselves as being at odds with LGBTQ individuals, who are perceived as having increasing social influence.”

The root causes and consequences of “zero-sum beliefs” or ZSBs— these are a belief that social gains for one group necessarily involves losses for the other – are most common among conservative Christians, and are shaped by their understandings of Christian values, the Bible and in response to religious institutions.

Christians saw the decrease of LGBTQ bias as corresponding to more bias against Christians. ZSBs are driven by symbolic threats, not realistic threats. White Christians are concerned recent social changes threaten their social influence, namely their ability to instill and enforce their notions of Christian values upon broader society — not realistic threats, such as loss of livelihood. Simply reminding white Christians about a changing cultural climate in which their influence is waning was sufficient to increase their perception of Christians’ victimization and perceived conflict with LGBTQ people. “The church is a strong moral authority with the potential to shape norms and attitudes toward sexual minorities like court rulings have shifted attitudes on same sex marriage,” the study authors wrote.

Momentous changes such as the Biden Administration’s appointment of Pete Buttigieg as the first openly gay secretary in the presidential Cabinet and Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender federal official as well as the electoral win of Delaware Sen Sarah McBride (the first openly transgender person in that role) have sparked outrage by opponents. They argue that the growing acceptance of LGBTQ individuals impedes the ability of Christians to practice their faith — as if gains for one group necessarily involved losses for the other.

While the number of white evangelical Christians has decreased significantly in recent years — from 23% in 2006 to 14% in 2020, their political influence continues to grow. Mass media has enabled white evangelicals to disseminate their messages of Christian nationalism, culture wars and cultural grievances and political conservatism to a far-reaching constituency. The Human Rights Campaign predicted that this will be a record-setting year for anti-LGBTQ legislation with as many as 250 bills introduced in state legislatures in 2021 alone.

I Try To Stay Humble

Before I began to know who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted) – adoption was the most natural thing in the world. How could it not be ? It was so natural both of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption. So, in only the last 3+ years, my perspective has changed a lot. I see the impacts of adoption has passed down my family line, ultimately robbing all three of my parents daughter’s of the ability to parent. Though I did not give my daughter up for adoption, finding myself unable to support myself and her financially, I allowed her father and step-mother to raise her without intrusion from me. To be honest, I didn’t think I was important as a mother. I thought that a child only needed one or the other parent to be properly cared for. Sadly, decades later, I learned that situation was not as perfect as I had believed. My sister closest to me in age actually lost custody of her first born son to her former in-laws when she divorced their son. He has suffered the most damage of all of our children and is currently estranged from his mother’s family, viewing us all as the source of his ongoing emotional and mental pain. I love him dearly and wish it wasn’t so but it is not in my control nor my sisters.

I realize that not every adoptee has the same experience. We are all individuals with individual life circumstances. Right and Wrong, Better and Worse – such exactness doesn’t exist. Everyone heals in different ways. We all begin where we begin. I began where I was when I started learning some of the hard truths and realities about the adoption industry as it operates for profit in this country. I also know that the adoption practices of the 1930s when my parents were adopted are not the same overall in 2021. There are only a few truly closed adoptions now and many “open” adoptions. I put the “open” into quotation marks because all too often, the woman who gives birth and surrenders her baby for adoption because she doesn’t feel capable of parenting, just as I didn’t feel capable in my early 20s, discovers that the “open” part is unenforceable and the adoptive parents renege on that promise.

Those of us, myself included, have become activists for reforms going forward. Society has not caught up with us yet. Certainly, there are situations where the best interest of the child is to place them in a safe family structure where they can be sufficiently provided for. No one, no matter how ardently they wish for reform, would say otherwise. The best interests of the child NEVER includes robbing them of their identity or knowledge of their origins. In the best of circumstances, I believe, adoptive parents are placeholders for the original parents and extended biological family until their adoptive child reaches maturity. Ideally, that child grows up with a full awareness and exposure to the personalities of their original parents.

Any parent, eventually reaches a point in the maturing of their child, when it is time to allow that child to be totally independent in their life choices, even if they continue to live with their parents and be financially supported by them. It is a gradual process for most of us and some of us are never 100% separated from our parents until they die. Then, regardless, we must be able to stand on our own two feet, live from our own values and make of the life that our parents – whether it was one set with a mother and a father or two sets of mothers and fathers (whether by adoption or due to divorce) – made possible for us as human beings. I do try not to judge but I do try to remain authentic in my own perspectives, values and beliefs. Those I share as honestly as I can in this blog with as much humility as I have the growth and self-development to embody.

Is It Really ?

One hears this a lot from people who want to adopt a baby – “I applaud you for your courageous choice to give your daughter a chance at a better future. There are so many women with infertility issues like myself who would love to adopt a child. Please keep me in your thoughts if you know of other women in your situation. I have a lot of love to give.”

One cannot really say if being adopted gives anyone a “better life”. Both of my parents were adopted. They both would have grown up with some degree of poverty had they remained with their original mothers. And the truth of the matter is, my dad still grew up with some degree of poverty. In fact, he actually experienced food insecurity and hunger as a child. We always had more food on our table at dinner than we could eat. My mom told me that was the reason why. And my dad was so obese as an adult, he relished his nickname Fat Pat.

I do appreciate his adoptive parents. My granny was hugely influential in my life. We often spent days and weekends with her. A word from her that was very serious about some issue had the power to change the direction I was traveling in. Having learned my parents more or less full background stories, I believe had it not been for my granny, my teenage mother who conceived me out of wedlock, would have been sent away as so many girls in the 1950s through 1970s were, to have and give me up. I believe my dad’s adoptive parents insisted he do the right thing and quit college and go to work, after quickly marrying my mother so I would be born legitimate. And my nuclear family experienced hardships but we knew we were loved, even though our parents were strangely detached, having had their own familial bonds broken before the age of one year.

And how about my mother ? Her dad was the vice president at a large bank in downtown El Paso Texas. Her mother was a socialite and charity do-gooder. She was also influential in my own life for different reasons than my granny. She modeled for us good manners and good taste in home decor and clothing. However, my mom – while wanting for nothing of a financial basis – struggle with her adoptive mother. My grandmother was always thin and trim (she would starve herself if necessary, her mother and sister were quite rotund) and my mom’s body type was never going to be that – big boned Scottish farm girl stock that she was. My grandmother also dangled her wealth as a carrot and a stick over my mom.

My mom’s father was very poor and her mother’s family was also poor. My grandmother lost my mom when she gave birth while separated from her lawfully married husband during a massive flood on the Mississippi River. Unable to contact him for support or reconciliation, Georgia Tann along with her enablers the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley and the Porter-Leath Orphanage supervisor Georgia Robinson (to whom my grandmother turned for temporary care while she tried to get on her feet financially without family support) exploited her financially precarious situation and coerced her into surrendering my mom for adoption. She tried to undo this 4 days after signing the papers but Tann was not letting my mom loose as her soon to be adoptive mother was already on her way from Nogales Arizona by train to Memphis Tennessee to collect her. My grandmother had previously adopted a son from Tann.

One cannot actually say my mom had a “better” life either. The truth about adoption is – the child has a DIFFERENT life from the one they would have had with their original parent(s). Better is a subjective concept that adoptive parents like to believe in order to justify taking a child, due to their own infertility, from another woman. It honestly is that simple.

In Defense Of

I do believe in all the reforms I have previously written about – retaining identity and family history information, not changing names or birth dates and not listing adoptive parents as the original parent.  Beyond that is a consideration for guardianship rather than permanent adoption.

All that said, from direct experience, adoptive parents have been a part of my own family’s life in positive ways.  First of all – my grandparents by adopting each of my parents.  On each side, they were a positive influence on my life and the lives of my siblings as well as on my parent’s lives.  They were good people who meant well.  What we now know about the wounds suffered by adoptees was not known at the time they took possession of my parents.

My mom’s adoptive parents modeled financial security for us and affirmed the value of advanced education.  My dad’s adoptive parents modeled faith and uncompromising personal values for us.  My dad’s adoptive parents may even have been responsible for keeping my parents together by getting married and preventing me from being given up when my teenage mother found herself pregnant.  I am grateful for that much.

Each of my sisters gave up a baby to adoption and these two children are fine adults.  In one case, my niece is showing us what a good and consistent mother she can be.  Even though she has been reunited with my family, she has remained steadfast in her appreciation for the people who raised her.

My nephew could not be a higher quality person.  His adoptive mother has gone the extra mile to answer the identity questions that evolved as he matured.  It appears that even my sister either didn’t know who his actual father was or chose to name the person who had the financial resources to help her make what has proven to be a quality choice as a substitute mother.  Given my sister’s very evident mental illness, it is for the best that she didn’t try to raise him.

All that to say, while I remain firmly of the opinion that there are better ways to provide for the welfare of children than adoption, it is not that the adoptive parents in my own family’s life were to blame.  It was naive ignorance and the intention to do good – which all of them have.