The Other McCain

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

He’s 36, She’s 33

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!


72 Responses to “He’s 36, She’s 33”

  1. tbill
    October 28th, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

    A couple of observations.  I am in my 40s and my Russian wife is 16 years younger than me, yes I am bragging.  Why don’t women look for older established men when they are young, have their kids, and then start their careers in their late twenties/early thirties?  Why do they have to follow the same career track that men follow?  Oh yeah, they want to party like men.

    Two, I think that the solution to this will be an artificial womb that allows women to have children at any age.  I am not a medical scientist but I can’t think of any obstacles to this.  The demand is there.  However, one consequence of this will be that men will be able to have children without women.  That will profoundly change society.  Already women do not need men for most major life obstacles.  If men did not need women to reproduce that would dramatically change the battle of the sexes.  I imagine it would turn the tide against feminism. 

  2. bfwebster
    October 28th, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

    My wife and I both started having kids (separately) relatively early (particularly by today’s standards), so that when we married each other at age 33 (2nd marriage for both), we had between us 9 kids under the age of 14. It was rough, but on the other hand, we became empty-nesters when we were both 52, and we’ve been having a great time since. We now have 14 grandkids as well.

    But, yes, my wife had her first child at age 20 and her last at age 30, and she’ll tell you that there was a tremendous difference between them in the physical toll of pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a child.

  3. Sherrytex
    October 28th, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

    Guys, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage.   Someone tell Rachel, kids keep you you young.  No one is “ready” for motherhood, that’s another myth created by the contraception culture, that there’s some sort of degree or training or moment when you are suddenly old enough to have and care for children.  Who you are is what you bring to your children, and whatever that is, is sufficient if you are simply willing to love and care.  It’s not about money or the perfect school district or whathave you, but because people are now so fearful of having children, they don’t allow for the reality of their parenting being anything other than honor roll worthy and think that somehow, because they’ve waited this long, they will be perfect or at least, more perfect than all the millions that have come before.  

    My 2 cents, earned by 18 years (and ten kids) of parenting. 

  4. Tx
    October 28th, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

    Very true ! 

    “The incidence of Down syndrome rises with increasing maternal age. Many
    specialists recommend that women who become pregnant at age 35 or older
    undergo prenatal testing for Down syndrome. The likelihood that a woman
    under 30 who becomes pregnant will have a baby with Down syndrome is
    less than 1 in 1,000, but the chance of having a baby with Down syndrome
    increases to 1 in 400 for women who become pregnant at age 35. The
    likelihood of Down syndrome continues to increase as a woman ages, so
    that by age 42, the chance is 1 in 60 that a pregnant woman will have a
    baby with Down syndrome, and by age 49, the chance is 1 in 12.”

  5. Should women think more carefully about age and fertility? « Wintery Knight
    October 28th, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

    […] is an excellent, controversial, interesting post from Robert Stacy McCain. He critiques a feminist who has postponed becoming a mother, and she is now age […]

  6. Joy W. McCann
    October 28th, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

    There’s a lot of truth in here, Stacy. It might ring more clearly if it weren’t laced with a nasty dose of apparant schadenfreude. 

  7. CalMark
    October 28th, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

    Even if there is schadenfreude here, I don’t object to it.

    We can’t change the consequences of people who did stupid, even vicious, things over the years.  Most of us would rather not watch them self-destructing from their bad choices, but we have no choice.   

    They haven’t really given up their poisonous feminism, but arejust looking for a way to overcome its effects so they can continue holding on to it.  Pity is in order, maybe.  But not sympathy, because as Mark Twain said, “Confession without penance is just braggin’.”

  8. jerry
    October 28th, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

    do you have any facts to back up your bullshit?  “Major impact people”?  Yeah, everyone thinks their little snowflake is going to be special.’
    If you’re complaining about illegitimacy and the disintegration of the black family as causes of crime and imprisonment, that’s obviously caused by the same Culture of Death that Stacy is complaining about here.

  9. Joy W. McCann
    October 28th, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

    How is it “stupid, even vicious” for people to be concerned about bringing innocent people into the world without first being relatively certain that they will be able to look out for them–emotionally and financially?

    I had thought that was simply being responsible, and conservatives would laud that, even if they were concerned about low birth rates among some populations, and even if they wanted to caution some couples that one can most certainly wait too long.

    I see that you know a lot about “confession without penance.” Good for you.

  10. Itstheorientation
    October 28th, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

    I think AIDS actually is syphillis and a gay doctor was the one who finally pointed it out – which is why fear of AIDS dropped like a rock and now all the cool liberals are pushing gay marriage to cover up their stupidity in being afraid of it. 

  11. CalMark
    October 28th, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

    Wow.  Someone’s on a hair-trigger, I see.  I must have hit a nerve.

    “Stupid, even vicious” refers to the way liberated young women treat men nowadays, the same way they complain bad men treat them:  as appliances, action figures, trophy checklists, not people. 

    True life:  a half-dozen dates with women who made it clear they were VERY motivated to get married FAST to have their own children.  What were they doing for the 15+ previous years?   Doubtless, learning to be responsible adults, as you say:   

    We’d go out on a date to church followed by a restaurant.  They ran me through their checklists.  Then tried unsuccessfully to get me to into bed (following church, remember).  Then dumped me after enthusiastically agreeing to another date.  The dumping being done via voice mail, email, or even Yahoo IM.  

    You think “stupid, even vicious” is too strong for behavior like that?  I doubt I was the first man they’d treated like that.

    “Apology without penance”:  refusing to admit they did things wrong and behaved badly.  (The way a man is expected to, groveling, “getting in touch with his feminine side.” )  No, they want to make things right by finding a way to make their past decisions not matter.  And it can’t be done.

    My circumstances may not make me the world’s greatest catch. But I know quite a few nice, successful guys, 40-ish/single/never-married, who ARE great catches.  And the childbearing-aged women treat them like dirt and date creeps.  Hmmm.

  12. Joy W. McCann
    October 28th, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

    I’m really sorry that that happened to you, but I didn’t know about it. (No, I’m not going to read three pages of comments–I saw only your response to my comment.)

    It sounds like you’ve known some classless ladies, and I’m really sorry that that happened to you.

    But not every woman who put off childrearing is like that. It sounds like your perspective might a little skewed because of all these bad experiences.

    Most people–male and female–who put off having kids are doing it because they don’t want to be irresponsible. I think society has probably gone a bit too far in that direction, because if we “look before we leap” too much, some of us will never leap.

    But the answer is NOT to make fun of other people’s heartaches.

  13. Elam Bend
    October 28th, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

    Ground Zero for the no-vaccinations-because-they-cause-autism nonsense is non other than Marin County California (wealthy bay area).  Not coincidentally it is also a heavy zone of late born children.  A buddy of mine in San Fran told me one time that his friend and wife were the youngest in a first-timers lamaze class by 10 years…and my buddy’s friends were 35.  

  14. A Serious Post about Waiting to Have Kids « Aliens in This World
    October 28th, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

    […] The Other McCain points out an obvious, but increasingly forgotten, fact: if a woman doesn’t decide fairly early that she’s ready for pregnancy and kids, she’s fairly likely to be out of luck. Men can drag their feet a bit, though not forever; but women can’t. […]

  15. Dave
    October 29th, 2011 @ 2:51 am

    I’m adopted. My mother’s father, and all of the males that are know of her genetic line, had blindingly, brilliant, pure white (white, not gray) hair by the time they were 25.  44 year old, brunette, uncomfortably graying me wishes that that was a gene I could have inherited. White hair is virile!

  16. Dave
    October 29th, 2011 @ 2:59 am

    As I said, I’m 44. My wife is 40. We have 2 kids, 17 and 6. Little was a surprise, but I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be able to say to big “Mom and I are going out. Watch your brother”.  If this was twitter I’d probably use a dirtyparentingsecrets hashtag. 😀

  17. Dave
    October 29th, 2011 @ 3:04 am

    When I walk in the door from work and 6 year old little yells “DADDY” and runs to hug me….God forgive me but it’s better than sex.

  18. Dave
    October 29th, 2011 @ 3:08 am

    Interesting thesis. Tell me, what do the other Martians think of it?

  19. Dave
    October 29th, 2011 @ 3:13 am

    All of my comments wound up down here at the bottom. Try to figure out what comments I actually replied to. Think of it as a blog jigsaw puzzle!

  20. schizoid
    October 29th, 2011 @ 4:34 am

    “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.”

    Yes, they go together like age and tooth loss, sickness and death, drought and famine. Fortunately we now have technology to separate the two.

  21. Roxeanne de Luca
    October 30th, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

    Did you notice that Antonin Scalia has NINE children, many of them very “major impact”?

  22. Roxeanne de Luca
    October 30th, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

    But I know quite a few nice, successful guys,
    40-ish/single/never-married, who ARE great catches.  And the
    childbearing-aged women treat them like dirt and date creeps.  Hmmm.

    As a woman of child-bearing age who gets hit on by a LOT of 40-something men, let me explain something to you: I spent my teens working, studying, and playing sports, my twenties getting my education and getting dumped for being a nice Catholic girl, and my early 30s being hit on by older men.  Older men who spent their twenties dumping women like me for not putting out.  Treating women like me like dirt because we didn’t get drunk and hook up with men.  (One of my best friends became my best friend not long after she reamed into a few of my male classmates at a law school party: “Do not make fun of that nice girl because she has the dignity to go to a party and leave sober and alone!”  Funny, those same men will spend their 40s hitting on women like me.)

    So when Mr. Former Playboy Party Boy wants to settle down and ignores women his own age, instead prowling around my nice ovaries?  TO HELL WITH HIM!

    (The one exception I made was for “Dr. Too Old For Me,” a man 15 years my senior, who didn’t do much dating while graduating summa, becoming a doctor, and doing residency.)