Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reproduction as Deviance

I've come across many online opinions that suggested that being childfree is at worst some sort of deviant behavior or at best some sort of rebellion against society. In some cases that may be true, but I would add that being childfree is more about continuity than anything else. It's not necessarily rejecting, deviating, rebelling, or making a sharp turn away from something. Quite the opposite, in fact. Making a conscious, thoughtful decision not to change one's life in a certain way is not really veering off, but staying on course.

Being childfree by choice is not straying off course or stepping off the “normal” path. It’s actually staying on a path that everyone starts on. Everyone is born childfree. We’re not tribbles. No one is born pregnant. People who become parents are altering the reproductive trajectory of their lives. They are changing their status. I am not.

This is one of the reasons why childfree people are assumed to be immature and irresponsible, while parents are assumed to be more grown-up and wiser. By not having children, I am in continuity with something that goes all the way back to my birth. I can see how breaking a trend that you’re born with seems like a rite of passage, so therefore someone who doesn’t go through it has not really grown up.

But, obviously some things you should grow out of as you mature, like being unable to put yourself to sleep, but other things you really can’t grow out of, like breathing. I started breathing right after I was born. I don’t know if I can go through a rite of passage where I don’t breathe anymore. (Well, I could, but my life after that seems overly brief….)

This is also one of the reasons why parents may feel perfectly comfortable giving advice about a childfree lifestyle but not comfortable hearing advice from childfree people about being a parent. All parents were at one point people without children, so parents are people who have experienced both a life as a non-parent and a life as a parent. It’s sort of like the way that the oldest sibling has experience as an only child AND as the oldest sibling, but a younger sibling has no experience as an only child. I think a parent’s perspective can be quite valuable as a kind of “before and after” picture of parenthood, assuming the source has some degree of objectivity. But, someone who is a parent at 35 can’t really say firsthand what it’s like to be 35 and NOT a parent.
One counter to my argument is to point out the ways in which the human body is geared for reproduction, all the eggs and sperm and sex hormones and all the other biological foundations to having kids. You might say, sure we’re not born parents, but most people are born with the possibility to be parents, and nature sure does push in that direction. But again, there is nothing preprogrammed here, and it’s the nature of civilization to use free will and rational agency when looking at our own biology. Our bodies are also set up to be quite violent, even murderous at times, but we should not just give into those impulses just because they have a physiological basis.

Even if we just look at the physiology of it, anyone who’s gone through infertility treatment can tell you what a crap shoot it is to produce another human being. Even if you were completely fertile and had as many kids as humanly possible, 99.9% of women’s eggs will never be fertilized, and 99.9% of the sperm never fertilizes an egg. The vast majority of the human reproductive system “goes to waste” anyway, even without any birth control of any kind. (In a way, onanism is nature’s rule, not the exception.) If being childfree is some kind of waste of biological potential, it’s a 100 % waste instead of a 99.999 % waste. Not much difference. That's like saying my car is a gas guzzler because it gets 30 mpg and yours is a miracle of efficiency because it gets 30.01 mpg.

Of course, when you reproduce, you are creating a human being whose reproductive potential will be mostly wasted as well. Having a kid means over time that even more sperm or eggs will go unused for reproduction, a cycle of biological waste passed on to generation after generation.

By being childfree, I’m sticking with a course that has worked very well for me so far, and one that has the odds on my side. Biologically and mathematically, being childfree is not a deviant behavior, but quite consistent with the way that all humans are born.