THE CONVERSATION around babymaking is high stakes. Not the conversation around the act of making babies, but about the ethics. When we move from talking about gettin' it on to whether it's actually a good idea to procreate, suddenly the (metaphorical) room gets very quiet.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a cover story about young people who had decided to never have children and were sterilized in their 20s ["We Have Enough Humans, Thanks," Feature, Nov 10], and it got a bigger response than I thought it would. I know people feel strongly about their own decision to have or not have children, but seeing the wave of feedback about how someone else's decision to have kids is either right or wrong surprised me.
I feel like I'm in a relatively small group of people in the gray area. I know I don't want kids within the next 10 years... but never? Yikes. I don't even have any tattoos or piercings. So getting my tubes tied is a long way off.
Part of what makes my own decision difficult is that mainstream society refuses to discuss the possibility of baby regret. People with kids can complain about losing sleep, losing money, and losing their personal lives, but it's absolutely taboo to utter regret about having kids. Now that we have the technology and the societal freedoms to allow young people to never pop out a kid, my generation is making that life-altering decision in a conversational void. When we can only talk about the positives of bearing children, no wonder people who opt for a childfree life get flak for being weirdos.
That's why I was happy to have a friend show me advice columnist Dear Abby's recent survey of baby regret. According to the venerable, very vanilla advice giver, 22 percent of her readers said they regretted having kids. Though it's not a remotely scientific survey, it's worth noting that there are many, many people out there who regret having kids. A scientific study found that 20 percent of women who were 30 or younger when they were sterilized regretted the decision. Both having kids and getting sterilized are major permanent decisions—but ones we're not allowed to talk about.
I'm not sure how we go about having this conversation, but it would be nice to acknowledge in everyday babymaking discourse that regret goes both ways. It seems that for every woman who regrets getting her tubes tied, there's likely a woman who regrets having a baby.
Sadly, the decisions around having kids also tie into political and class issues. Permanent birth control in the form of sterilization is expensive: Tubal ligation costs at least $2,500. For women who don't have insurance, federal Medicaid covers them during their pregnancy. But it runs out six weeks after they give birth. Because there's a mandated 30-day waiting period before Medicaid patients can get sterilized, Dr. Paula Bednarek, director of the family planning clinic at Oregon Health and Science University, explained to me that many low-income women who want to get their tubes tied after their first pregnancy wind up running out of Medicaid coverage before they can get the surgery.
"It's a daily occurrence. It's a huge, huge problem," says Bednarek. "It's turned into a major barrier for low-income women."
Every baby may be a wee little miracle, certainly. But when are we going to be able to acknowledge that many are also forced on parents by politics?