The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘Disgusting’ Childbirth?

Posted on | February 19, 2011 | 23 Comments

Megan McArdle hasn’t had any babies yet, but she knows women who have:

The women I know who have given birth, whether pro-life or pro-choice, do not romanticize it. They speak, of course, of the miracle that it is. But they also speak, often rather too frankly, of how difficult and often disgusting the process is. If a substantial number of pro-lifers are women who have given birth–and they are–then we pro-choicers can’t simply tell ourselves that it’s because they haven’t really thought about what birth entails.

Pundette is a mother of seven and permits her husband to respond to McArdle:

So this is what is at the bottom of the pro-choice argument — they are “disgusted” by pregnancy and birth? I thought it was supposed to be the crazy fundamentalists that hated the human body and feared sex. How sick do you have to be to be revolted by the process that brings new life, that brought your life, into being?

What accounts for these differences in attitude? Anti-natalist sentiments are a natural byproduct of the Contraceptive Culture, which propagates the belief that sex without pregnancy is normal, and where pregnancy is considered a rare medical anomaly.

This way of thinking — nowadays so common that we don’t even recognize it as an ideological phenomenon — is an inversion of nature.

From a strictly biological point of view, procreation is the only purpose of sex. People who like to condemn conservatives as being “anti-science” because we don’t go along with the global-warming crusade ought to be asked to explain why they are so hostile to the scientific purpose of sex, i.e., making babies.

Ah, but for the past half-century, Big Science has been in the business of preventing childbirth, you see. So the anti-baby industry has diligently promoted all the arguments and attitudes necessary to the marketing of contraceptive products and services. And this marketing campaign — for that’s what it was — has succeeded so phenomenally that the Contraceptive Culture is now nearly ubiquitous, and people don’t even stop to ask themselves: “Why do we think this way?”

A little history: In 1957, at the peak of the Baby Boom, the U.S. total fertility rate (TFR) — the average number of births per woman, over the course of her lifetime, based on annual rates — reached 3.74. As any student of statistics should see, this number meant that the typical American woman was far more likely to have four children than to have only three.

Today, the U.S. TFR is about 2.1, which means that the typical woman is about equally likely to have only one baby as to have three.

And it also means that U.S. women now are about as likely to have zero babies as to have four.

Whenever you discuss such demographic trends, you can expect to be met with arguments that socioeconomic changes explain the trend: More young people are going to college, couples are delaying marriage, divorce is more prevalent, more women are working, etc.

Yet all of those factors — attending college, marriage, divorce, working — involve individual choices. The conjuring of trends to explain these decisions requires us to believe that we are mere puppets dancing on the strings manipulated by impersonal forces beyond our control, and that our individual choices are pre-determined.

I do not believe that. Rather, it seems obvious to me that personal beliefs influence people’s choices and decisions, and that personal beliefs have shifted as a result of a nearly unnoticed process of indoctrination, the rise of a belief system called the Contraceptive Culture.

Revulsion toward the thought of childbearing — an averse response to giving birth as “difficult and often disgusting” — is exactly what we would expect such indoctrination to produce. One need not “romanticize” childbirth to see that those in whom an anti-natalist attitude has been carefully inculcated would dwell on the messy, painful and sometimes hazardous aspects of the process.

Why? Because childbirth is now viewed as a choice, merely one optional outcome of sexual activity, rather than as a routine and natural consequence. (Childbirth is almost certainly more “difficult” in Mali, yet the average woman in Mali will give birth to 7.34 children in her lifetime.)

What bothers me most about unthinking acceptance of the Contraceptive Culture is that it reflects a failure of imagination, and a death of hope. When I tell people that my wife and I have six children, the reaction is often disbelief: “How can you possibly cope? I can’t imagine it!” And yet we do, somehow.

We have never been rich and have often been quite poor, but we have hope, a hope informed by the knowledge that other people have overcome hardships far more difficult than our own, by a sense of duty to fulfill the obligations entrusted to us, and by the belief that God will give us no burden that we are incapable of carrying.

You may believe otherwise. But you ought to ask yourself why you believe what you believe.

“In the hands of a skillful indoctrinator, the average student not only thinks what the indoctrinator wants him to think . . . but is altogether positive that he has arrived at his position by independent intellectual exertion. This man is outraged by the suggestion that he is the flesh-and-blood tribute to the success of his indoctrinators.”
William F. Buckley Jr., Up From Liberalism (1959)

UPDATE: Via Twitter, Amanda Read calls my attention to a 2009 article she wrote about demographic trends, which she subsequently expanded in a blog post. The upshot of all this can be summarized succinctly: The future belongs to the fertile.

For the benefit of young bachelors out there, I should point out that Miss Read is a student at my alma mater, Jacksonville (Ala.) State University. She is a devout Christian, the daughter of a retired Army officer and the eldest of nine — yes, nine — homeschooled children.

Amazingly, Miss Read is still single. Get moving, fellows.


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