A conversation I had, yesterday, with The Urban Princess, really got under my skin. In the process of solving all the world's problems (theoretically, anyway), we briefly touched on family planning and the politics of family size.
As you all probably know, I'm pregnant with my third child.
Many of my demographic of breeders (environmentalist, quasi-liberal, feminist, politically-active types) found themselves entering their child-bearing years with a quandary: Knowing what we do of the burden a booming human population is weighing on the planet, is there any justification for bringing more people into the world?
When I was younger, I assumed I would not have children. Then I grew up and had to admit that I really wanted a child. When it became clear that getting pregnant might not be as simple as boy-meets-girl, I looked into adopting from third world countries and from foster care environments, domestically. Those seem to be acceptable bleeding-heart sources of baby fixes for my ilk. One uncomfortable truth I had to face, when considering such things, was that no agency would even consider me in a fostering position - let alone adoption. According to the standards of the world, a child would be better off starving in the streets, aborted, or spending their lives in a series of temporary homes than being entrusted to someone like me: a less-than-wealthy white woman with a history of emotional instability. Looking at it that way, I had to wonder if they were right. Do I have any business raising a child?
Fortunately, for that particular argument, I've come to realize that my years of therapy and intentional efforts at building my personal stability have probably left me more capable of controlling myself and my emotions (and often the finances/debt reflect exactly those issues) than 75% of the American population. Yes, I'm a little arrogant about that.
A few things have shaped my current views on the overpopulation issue. The first was probably the event of my older sister having her first child. As I saw her change from a self-absorbed teenager to a selfless mother and watched her son grow into a brilliant (if small, at the time) person, it was clear to me that caring and careful parenting could offer a gift to the world that no other work could. Before this, I had lofty hopes of offering a great intellectual magnum opus to the world. I would write the Great American Novel. Or I would solve some great medical conundrum. Having kids was something any peasant could do. My sister opened my eyes and I realized that, when my life ended, no worldly accomplishment would gratify me like knowing I'd created a strong and loving family.
As years have past and I've refined my political views and ideals, I've had to see a lot of realities I hadn't noticed in my youth. One of which is that people who believe very differently than I do, and would mold the world to fit their moral standards (though often they do that molding without conscious will), are having children. All over the world people are having children - hence the booming population - but huge percentages of these up-and-coming generations have no access to education. Religious fundamentalists (not just Christians) and warring tribal factions who place very different value on human life are outbreeding people like me. A great many of the people I like, admire, agree with, etc. are opting to go childless. A few more have one child. The wild-and-crazy ones might have two, expressing the justification that they are only replacing themselves, not being so indulgent as to actually add to the population.
So when I look at what I can do to save the world ('cause that's what bunny huggers like me are always trying to do, after all), the most obvious answer is to raise the next generation of problem solvers. In order to teach them my values, I still have to do my personal best to demonstrate how I want them to live - things like reduced consumerism, increased recycling, gardening, organics, supporting renewable resource development, placing high value on education and creative thinking, personal responsibility, healthy physical habits, critical thinking, kindness, compassion... All that I do reflects my values and teaches my children while (hopefully) improving my little corner of the world for those who are here...
But what my children learn and create will go on beyond anything else I might envision. My current little corner of the world is only mine for a short time. As my children grow, so does the pocket of the world I vicariously shape. For all I know it will be my kids (or theirs after them) who develop new technologies for feeding the world with less burden to the environment. It might be my kids who cure AIDS. Or discover the gene therapy that eliminates bipolar disorder. Or develop a new technology that permanently frees people from their dependence on fossil fuels. Pretty lofty thinking, I admit - but is stuff like that more likely to come from my kids or from the child soldiers in Africa? Or from the meth-crippled masses here at home? Or from the jihadists? Or trust fund babies with their tiny accessory dogs and senses of entitlement?
So I believe that as long as I am capable of caring for the children I bring into this world and raising them to be the kind of people I think this world needs, I am doing my greatest work. Sure, I'm still a little nervous that there are some people who are looking down their noses at me, or judging me ignorant for adding to the population. But I can't live my life worrying about everyone else's approval. Ultimately, I just have to decide what is right.
And then do it.