A forum thread this week brought up the common belief that not having children is unnatural - especially for women, naturally. The idea that an action, any action, can be deemed either natural or unnatural is senseless. Obviously, if a person commits an act, that act is within the realm of human possibility – therefore natural. However, childfree people - people making reasonable, deliberate decisions to not reproduce - are often accused of living lives that are, somehow, unnatural.
Women are considered especially abnormal they don’t display a tendency to dote on babies. I never enjoyed cuddling infants particularly, but I learned as a kid to fake it. I pretended infant-sitting gigs were exciting. Many of my friends loved holding and feeding the little ones, but I always hoped they’d sleep away the evening peacefully in the crib.
Maybe I wasn’t attracted to babies because I didn’t have younger siblings. Whatever the reason, I learned that I must appropriate the behavior of my friends – squealing and cooing over babies – or I’d be considered a “weird kid.” In the same way, I always pretended to love the baby dolls I’d get for gifts from unknowing relatives, later giving them away to friends.
Not much has changed in adulthood. When a friend appears at an event with an infant, I still find myself compelled to join the line of women waiting to hug and hold the charming little baby-bundle. And really, I don’t dislike babies or kids - not at all. I teach art to little ones and find them fun, funny and frequently very insightful. I just don’t want to have any of my own. And, like most childfree people, I feel the accusation that I am somehow “unnatural” lurking under the surface in all my interactions with parents.
But, what exactly is this concept of the UnNatural? Because someone is physically equipped to reproduce, does that mean that bypassing reproduction altogether is unnatural?
Humans tend to separate themselves from other species, giving behavior observed in Nature more latitude. People often use religion as a regulatory system for determining the naturalness of human behavior. Religions are ringleaders in accusing childfree people of abnormality. Yet, if it were valid to rate human behavior on a scale of natural to unnatural, religion would certainly be at an extreme end. What could be more unnatural? No other species are cognizant of supernatural beings and worlds.
I’m not a biologist, but in reading about animal behavior, a common phenomenon is reduction of reproduction when a species is threatened or environmentally stressed. If food and water sources are scarce the reduction of new beings makes sense – adult animals can focus on relocating to a more abundant environment without being burdened by offspring that need constant protection and move slowly. Obviously, Nature prefers the survival of the collective group above the individual.
And, in looking at birth rates statistics by country, it’s clear that developing and agrarian countries still have very high birth rates (averaging 7 children per women) based on need: family-based farm support and higher infant death rates. Naturally, more industrialized, crowded and/or westernized countries have lower birth rates: the US (2.05 per woman), Ireland (1.96) and Japan (1.21.) Even if most people don’t want to admit it, Nature does limit human breeding based on environmental conditions and collective need.
It is more difficult to argue that choosing a childfree lifestyle is unethical when we are facing problems caused by overpopulation and resulting environmental degradation. Yet, people are perennial optimists. As a tactic to deny the practicality of childfree living, because people want to have kids for what amounts to selfish reasons, the political is replaced by the personal in criticism of reproductive choices. Personal criticism is used divisively when people are accused of being cold-hearted for not wanting kids and is used as a defensive cover-up for selfish reasons people do choose to reproduce.
As I observed as a kid myself, women are invariably considered unnatural if they don’t display an urge to cuddle and physically nurture babies.
While I may not line up with enthusiasm to hug a baby, I go nuts running to cuddle a puppy when I see someone walking one down the street. Nature seems to imbue most people, not all, with the need to nurture and care for helpless beings –my nurturing instinct just happens to hone in on dogs. And, this generalized nurturing trait makes best sense for the survival of the collective, not just human beings, but the entire planet and all its inhabitants.
People are not hurting anyone by choosing to live childfree, and are very capable of nurturing and comforting other beings, without producing resource-depleting offspring. A quote passed around on Facebook from the animal rights organization No-Kill Nation summarizes this point very well:
To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded." - Ralph Waldo Emerson