“Are you sure?” asked my urologist, inquisitive professional wrinkle in his brow. “Thirty is young. This procedure is probably irreversible.” I nodded: “Knew since I was eleven. Snip on.” The doctor shaved me where I don’t shave. He made an incision, retrieved two half-centimeter sections of vas, and threw on a stitch or two. Weeks later, I gave a sample. A bored nurse peered in her microscope. “Zero count. Good to go.” It was 1984. I was sterile.
I have no children. Yet, I love children. I have spent years educating, playing with, and parenting children—the children of others. Some big reasons I chose childless parenting are:
First, overpopulation. In 1800, the planetary population reached a bit less than one billion persons, twice Earth’s carrying capacity, apart from mass production of grains and livestock. Today, almost seven billion humans live; population has more than doubled since my birth. Crowding hobbles humans. Problems wax: poverty, disease, deforestation, pollution, species extinction, unsustainable economies, military adventurism, resource depletion and scarcity, to name a few. Thomas Robert Malthus (British, 18th century A.D.) believed that population waxes inexorably to the limit of sustenance, at which limit follows misery in premature death (An Essay on the Principal of Population). Ingenuity forestalls Malthus’s dystopia. But his vision grips much of Africa.
Second, freedom. Procreating is not mandatory. Every human needs to parent. Not every human needs to copy herself. Oral contraception (and vasectomy) makes childlessness a serious option. Many imagine fulfillment lies in child-bearing. For some, it does. Others (far too few) imagine living without offspring; they embrace riches beyond gamete mix and match. Still others never consider childlessness, but should. I am no mathematician (so, doubt this calculation). If only one in every ten couples rears two children to adulthood, human population would plummet under one billion, a sustainable number. Biological parents could then open their families to parenting support from others. Every child might have three or four or five parents. Raw arithmetic demands we open the arms of family wider than genetic contribution.
Third, responsibility. Many, including many with children, do not want children. They bore babies because their parents wanted grandkids, or their spouse sought pregnancy, or their contraception failed, or they never really considered alternatives. Persons who yearn to parent and have capacity for parenting should bear children. Peter De Vries (American, 20th century A.D.) said, “There are times when parenthood seems like nothing but feeding the mouth that bites you” (The Tunnel of Love, 5). Parenting is a decades-long, often unrewarding, road. Parenting requires all day, every day attention. Those devoted to other endeavors should not procreate.
I have not mentioned government; laws won’t help. Rather, we need parenting conversation. Habits change when values change. Our values grow when we ponder possibilities in fond friendship. Population control is on the horizon, a few billion conversations away.