Posted on | October 27, 2011 | 72 Comments
“Most women who think they can wait until their mid thirties or later and have a baby without medical intervention really can’t. . . . If you’re a healthy woman, most likely your fertility will peak in your mid-twenties and start to decline at about age 27.”
— American Fertility Association, “Infertility Prevention Handbook”
This post has nothing to do with politics, and instead has to do with smart people out-smarting themselves. Rachel Birnbaum has written an article about her unwillingness to become a mother . . . right now:
I was confident that postponing parenthood now promised the two of us, and our unborn offspring, a brighter, more satisfying future. That waiting until I was ready to be a mother meant I’d be a better mother. I only hoped that when I finally was ready, my body and my husband wouldn’t tell me it was too late.
You really need to read the whole thing to get the full weight of her rationalization: She’s not ready for motherhood at age 33, therefore she will dismiss biological reality and common sense as irrelevant to her situation. And her defense of this attitude is sufficiently elaborate that you get the sense her glib arguments are covering up a good deal of emotional turmoil.
Her story begins when her husband, on his 36th birthday, says: “Ya know, I always thought I’d have a kid by now.” They had been married a couple of years, and he was ready for fatherhood. However . . .
It’s a delicate dance when a desire belonging to your significant other is entirely dependent upon your cooperation. The decision to, say, bring another human being into this world required my total support and collaboration. Not to mention the use of precious real estate. But our timing was off. My partner tried pushing me forward, I pulled back. . . .
At 33, my biological age, slightly old for prime procreating, didn’t match my much younger state of mind. Although I possessed such grown-up attributes as a mortgage, a decade-long career and a medicine cabinet full of anti-wrinkle serum, I was a late bloomer who wanted off the conveyor belt traveling toward adulthood.
“Slightly old for prime procreating”? As a matter of scientific fact, she’s far more than “slightly old,” as prime childbearing age is 18-24.
It is strange that secular moderns, who constantly lecture us religious traditionalists about our alleged aversion to science, are themselves often ignorant of (or hostile toward) the actual science they claim to revere. Fertility begins to decline after a woman passes her mid-20s and, by the time she is 33, she has a much higher risk of infertility than she would have faced 10 or 15 years earlier.
This is simply a fact and, while all statistics about health risks are based on averages that include exceptions — i.e., Rachel Birnbaum might experience no difficulty whatsoever becoming pregnant at a later age — she probably wouldn’t choose to defy the odds if she really thought carefully about it. But her reference to her “much younger state of mind” and her expressed dread of “the conveyer belt traveling toward adulthood” suggest that her ideas on the subject are not entirely rational.
God help her husband if he ever said something like that, huh? A man who accuses a woman of being irrational is inviting the counter-accusation that he is a sexist swine with a head full of ignorant stereotypes. And in a situation such as that involving Rachel Birnbaum, her husband’s desire to become a father is also at odds with the feminist dictum that reproductive choice is entirely a female prerogative. Men’s parental preferences are as nothing, when weighed against four decades of Women’s Movement rhetoric about female sovereignty in these matters.
An Artificial Separation
Rachel Birnbaum’s description of parenthood as a “decision” reflects a basic premise of the Contraceptive Culture: Human fertility is presumed to operate like a light switch that can be turned off or on, according to our own choices at any given time. This presumption — a consequence of the relatively high effectiveness of oral contraception — has given rise to an attitude and a lifestyle, of which the situation described in Birnbaum’s article is but one example.
The Contraceptive Culture involves an artificial separation, both actual and psychological, of things that naturally belong together: Sex and procreation. For thousands of years of human history, these two phenomena were so closely correlated that their connection was as obvious as the passage of the seasons. Prior to the mid-20th century, a life devoted to the hedonistic pursuit of sexual thrills — “The Playboy Philosophy” — was a practical impossibility, not because people were uptight puritans, but because without reliable and convenient contraception, any young woman’s time on the pleasure circuit was apt to end very quickly in pregnancy.
Sociological studies tell us that the typical young American woman nowadays has at least six pre-marital sexual partners, which would have been a mind-boggling thought in my grandmother’s youth. Oh, there were always “fast” girls and fellows prone to two-timing or “gallivanting,” as Grandma might have said, but . . . six premarital partners as an average? No, this was an impossibility prior to the advent of the Pill.
Rachel Birnbaum, born in the late 1970s, likely cannot imagine Grandma’s world and the realities of sexual culture in the pre-Pill era. Nor, for that matter, has Birnbaum likely ever given much thought to the health consequences of promiscuity in the millennia before the development of modern antibiotics and other medical advances that made most sexually-transmitted diseases treatable or preventable. Anyone who pursued “sexual liberation” prior to Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin was taking a grave risk indeed.
This may seem like a digression from the main theme, but it is not. Antibiotics greatly ameliorated the perilous health risks posed by gonorrhea and syphilis, but . . . Well, let a famed eyewitness to the 1960s recall the unexpected consequences of sexual liberation:
“At the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, there were doctors treating diseases no living doctor had ever encountered before, diseases that had disappeared so long ago they had never even picked up Latin names, diseases such as the mange, the grunge, the itch, the twitch, the thrush, the scroff, the rot.”
— Tom Wolfe, Hooking Up, 2001
The AIDS pandemic that arose among gay men in the 1980s was an example of how medical advances in treatment and prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases fostered a false sense of safety. AIDS never became a major threat to heterosexuals (at least not in the United States, although the situation is different in Africa). Nevertheless, since the 1960s there has been a general increase in promiscuity that resulted in many people becoming infected with “minor” diseases like herpes, chlamydia, HPV, et cetera. Among these are diseases that can damage the reproductive organs in ways that inhibit or destroy fertility.
Unnatural Ideas Have Consequences
It is one of the bitter ironies of the Contraceptive Culture: Many women spend years scrupulously using birth control — making what they have been told was the only safe, responsible decision — only to discover that when they decide they are finally ready for motherhood, they can’t become pregnant. Unknown to them, their fallopian tubes were so badly scarred by some long-forgotten infection during their youth that, for many years, they have been as sterile as if they had undergone tubal ligation surgery.
“Chlamydia . . . can go undetected for years and can cause permanent sterility. The top four [sexually transmitted infections] that affect fertility are Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, and HPV. PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), caused by STI’s will cause more than 100,000 women in the U.S. to experience infertility annually.”
— American Fertility Association, “Infertility Prevention Handbook”
The genuinely important thing to realize is that the ways we think about sex, romance, marriage and parenthood are shaped by our culture and society. And the dominant ideas associated with the Contraceptive Culture have become so deeply entrenched in our society that most people (especially most young people) are incapable of understanding how profoundly unnatural these ideas are.
Postponing marriage until you are 30, and then imagining that you have plenty of time to wait around deciding when you want to become a mother, is not a natural way of thinking. To a greater extent than Rachel Birnbaum or her young readers may understand, this way of thinking is an artifact — or perhaps we might call it a side-effect — of the Contraceptive Culture, which fosters the belief that the procreative process is infinitely subject to human control. Yet while it is true that childbirth can always be prevented, by contraception or abortion, the logical obverse is not equally true: Pregnancy and childbirth cannot be magically conjured up in compliance to human will.
Ideas have consequences, and the ideas of the Contraceptive Culture result not merely in attitudes, but in lifetyles reflecting those attitudes. How many thousands of Rachel Birnbaums are out there, living their 20s and early 30s with the idea that they want to become mothers eventually, but not now? And how many of these women are destined to discover that, when they finally decide they are ready for motherhood, the decision has already been made for them by their own bodies, and that the decision is an irrevocable “no”?
Whenever I write about subjects like this, it provokes strong reactions, many of them from people who accuse me of judgmentalism, or of trying to “tell women what to do.” Such responses — and they are often quite vehement — indicate how firmly rooted the ideas of the Contraceptive Culture have become. People simply are not used to hearing these ideas examined in a critical way and, having become accustomed to thinking and living in accordance with such ideas, feel that any criticism of the ideas is a personal judgment, a moral condemnation of their lives and beliefs.
Those who criticize the dominant culture are treated as pariahs and oddballs, because they dispute what “everybody knows” to be true. Yet if the ideas of the Contraceptive Culture are false and misleading, as I contend, what explains their dominance? How do lies becomes so widely believed? Part of the answer is that those who propagate these lies hold positions of influence in academia, publishing or broadcasting. And part of the answer is that those who know the truth are afraid to speak out against lies, for fear of offending others: “How dare you . . .?”
Rachel Birnbaum shares the intimate details of her life in a 1,500-word article, and how dare you suggest she’s en route to an unhappy ending?
Birnbaum may well live happily ever after, and I certainly have no reason to wish harm on someone I’ve never even met. But her arguments are made on the basis of bad ideas that are seldom criticized in any deliberate manner, and I felt compelled to try. Now let the angry wrath of the offended rain down on my head.
UPDATE: Joe’s right. We must include this:
So, please, you highly intelligent, well-educated and sensitive people offended by my troglodytic arguments, remember: I’ve got six kids, and if you want to even the balance, you’d better start popping out some babies — or the future belongs to me!