I have 3-4 recurring nightmares. One is related to heights – airplane crashing, free falling in elevators etc. The second is a wedding. Ok, my wedding. And the third is having a child in my care. I love kids. They are cute, obviously but they are innocent, forgiving and resilient. You can lose patience at them sometimes and drown in guilt, but they forgive you and forget it. However, being responsible for a child scares me.
I think having a child is the nightmare of mother earth too. Global population is growing at a rate of approximately 83 million per year. Life expectancy at a global level has reached 72 years. Total fertility rate, the number of children that would be born to a woman in childbearing age, has fallen from 5 in 1960 to 2.4 in 2016. These statistics are also being attributed to millennials, the generation already responsible for killing romance, the diamond industry and cable tv. The most obvious reason to explain the declining birth rate, especially since the 1990s is modernisation. We are moving towards a phase where women are far more educated and know their choices (other than being baby-producing machines) and where both men and women understand the urgent need to ease off the planet’s burden. With increasing urbanisation and a constant fight for resources, even the most unaware have begun to see the need to have fewer kids.
The less obvious reason is economic. Global birth rates have dropped sharper between 2005-2015 as compared to 1995-2005. Global recession had a statistically significant impact on global birth rate. Aside from recession, economic uncertainty is present in major economies of the world, especially in developed countries. China, the world’s most populous country is expected to have a negative population growth in the near future due to the decline in “fertility desire”.
A declining will to have children is being felt almost globally. Rising number of couples who can afford having children and are fertile are consciously opting not to have children at all. Their desire is not limited to economics. They are concerned about the environment. They do not wish to burden an already overburdened earth. They are neo-Malthusians. Malthus’ theory stipulated that population growth would outstrip agricultural growth resulting in catastrophic famine. However, technology has largely prevented that. Any hunger today is due to bad policies and unequal distribution, not production. Neo Malthusians are more concerned with the environment, there may not be any going back on damage already done but they wish to prevent more damage by bringing in more people. They see adoption as the only responsible way to have children.
Theoretical arguments aside, I think having children should be a choice, made freely and with full understanding. People should have kids only if they want them, whether biological or adoptive. As simple as that. Once a kid is born, there is no going back. There is no way out if one regrets it. People can and do walk out of bad marriages but once a parent, always a parent.
A growing number of people are opening up about having such regrets. Some anonymous answers on Quora and reddit and private groups on Facebook are centred around people who regret having children. They love their children dearly but given a choice to go back and be childless, they would take it. The reason for regret are many. The most prominent cause of regret is the sacrifice involved in giving birth to and raising a child. Your life is not yours alone and it will never be. Not only does one have to share their life, they have to prioritize children first always. Not everyone is imbibed with this maternal instinct.
The sanctity around motherhood has pushed many women who are on the fence to become mothers. Today’s woman is expected to do it all and do it all while looking good, thanks to Instagram. Even the mothers that acknowledge how difficult child rearing is, end with the sacrifice and guilt being worth it and for most women it might be. We cannot know for sure because the guilt associated with regret is a taboo subject. Women that have opened up about it have been subject to online abuse and offline shunning.
The guilt spares no mother. Even mothers that have no regrets, have some regrets. Indira Nooyi, one of the richest women in the world, who can afford any number of care givers and trips to Disneyland has summed it up as “I don’t think women can have it all…we pretend we can have it all…If you ask my daughters I am not sure that they will say that I have been a good mom. I try all sorts of coping mechanisms.” She goes on to say how the biological clock and career clock are in complete conflict with each other. We can be progress and science can progress with freezing eggs, but we cannot override biology, we can only slow down the clock.
The decision to have children is thus fraught with complications but at the end of the day, it should be a decision taken by not only women for themselves but also by every prospective-parent without the influence of societal expectations.