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Sterilizing Hope

We’ve thought about children quite a bit at Public Discourse, and in this Featured Collection recall previous essays on the theme. No one here pretends that having children is easy, or inexpensive, or endless bliss. Yet, we also know that marriage and having children ought not be quickly rejected.

In a recent essay, “First Comes Love. Then Comes Sterilization,” Suzy Weiss interviews several young women who do not plan on having children, and who have taken action to permanently sterilize themselves. Their reasons vary: one woman reports “it’s morally wrong to bring a child into the world,” another wishes to avoid “the ways that our parents traumatized us,” while another is wary of the racism she believes her children would encounter.

Whatever the reasons, childlessness is on the rise, and while early sterilization may still be uncommon, marriage and birthrates are in decline. The Guardian—always reliable for such things—hosts an entire series on the subject, entitled “Childfree.” Because it’s The Guardian, climate change is often mentioned. Environmentalism also pervades the so-called Voluntary Human Extinction Movement which calls on us all to “voluntary ceasing to breed.” How romantic.

We’ve thought about children quite a bit at Public Discourse, and in this Featured Collection recall previous essays on the theme. No one here pretends that having children is easy, or inexpensive, or endless bliss. Yet, we also know that marriage and having children ought not be quickly rejected.

As Christians are waiting for the Feast of the Nativity, the Advent Reflection of Graham Dennis and Harrison Kleiner is worth another read. Mary says yes, fiat, and in her receptive openness to life provides more than a child, but hope in the face of the refusals and dissolution of our time. Speaking of hope, Haley Stewart counsels against despair. Of course there are fears, and against this we “must bear witness to the inherent goodness of existence.”

Existence is good; it’s also messy. Anthony Davies recounts the joys and travails of having a large family, including the “blessing of acquired immunity that guarantees each kid will only get the disease once.” That is, until “you discover pink eye,” which never seems to go away. Moreover, to adopt is also to parent, we’re reminded by Mariana and Alfredo in their personal story, one with fears and struggles and gratitude. They also said yes to life.

Saying yes to life demands that we support each other, for we do not live in isolation. Patrick Brown explores pro-natalism on the left, as well as concrete policy suggestions if we would like to “restore American vitality” and growth. Susan Martin criticizes the rhetoric of family planning and “wanted” children, which, she argues, leads to “conformism” and “a rigid perfectionism based on achievement.”

For all those without hope, wracked with fear, or who believe that children just aren’t worth the trouble, I’d encourage you to give these fine essays a glance.

Best wishes from Public Discourse. As always, thanks for reading.

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