Wanted by the Fertility Police
A Catholic mom copes with public scolds.
Stop the Fecundism
A Buddhist scholar critiques the Pope's "Gospel of Life"
"Be Fruitful and Multiply"
Command or blessing?
Can We Be Too Fruitful?
We should care for the earth, but multiply as well
It got so bad that this year that we decided to take our family vacation in an R.V. so that we could be assured a place to rest our heads at night. We drove across the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, where each night we met families, large and small, sharing space and earth and sustenance around a great fire. Most of these families were not rich, but they were clearly happy. So why can they accept large families, while the privileged vacationers of Martha's Vineyard or the Hamptons cannot? What are they scared of?
But look at African nations like Uganda, at 47.52 births per 1,000, or Niger with 50.68 births per 1,000. That is five times the rate of Japan. Fertility like this frightens us. Thus, we conclude, only the "uncivilized third world" would ever venture to have more than three kids.
As a sex and marriage writer, I cannot help wondering, is it the idea of abundant fertility that scares us about large families? When we see a couple with several children we know that they have had an active intimate life. When we see families with many children, and especially young children, we know that somewhere along the line they must be making love. Is this too much intimacy for our Western sensibilities where passion is increasingly missing from marriage? Maybe they miss what these other couples clearly have: a passion and desire for each other that remains years after the honeymoon has ended. Or perhaps it is simply that children are seen as burdensome without the blessing, difficult without the deliverance.
The second prejudice that seems largely overlooked is a cruel disdain against people deemed unattractive by society's standards-or at least those who aren't well-groomed and beautiful. Often the two prejudices come together, as if only those who are ugly or unconventional-looking would be dumb enough to have lots of kids.
I laid down the ultimate sacrifice. "Go ahead," I told her. "You take the business seat." But she wouldn't have it. The economy seat was at the bulkhead, the only place a baby bassinette could be installed. So we made a deal: I would hold the baby for takeoff and landing (when the bassinette could not be used), and my wife would look after him for the remainder of the flight.
Have you ever tried to infiltrate business class holding a baby? Had I arrived with something actually ticking that said "BOMB" in big, bold letters, I would have been accorded a more pleasant reception. Everyone looked at me as if I had boarded with an obvious contagious disease. The baby, coupled with the fact that the guy bringing "it" on board had a yarmulke and an unruly beard (i.e., obviously one of those religious fanatics who is far too fertile by half), had most of the passengers ready to trade in their expensive business-class tickets to fly cargo.
Next, the official persecution began. After great efforts on my part to get settled with my baby into my seat, while maintaining access to the thirty books that I needed to research my next book, the flight attendant walked over. "Is that your seat?" she asked, skepticism oozing out of every well-powdered pore. I confirmed that it was. "Are you sure?" she asked. I confirmed that I was. "I'm going to have to see your boarding pass."
I was indignant. "Let me get this straight," I said to her. "There are thirty passengers in business, and you single me out and demand my boarding pass?"
"If you don't immediately present your boarding pass, I will have you removed from the airplane."
Fast forward, two weeks. I am now traveling first class on a flight from Newark to Dallas, courtesy of a TV station. I have no baby, just a laptop. They announce that First Class passengers may board. I start ambling forward when, pushing through the crowd, I am scuttled aside by a very tall, leggy blonde. Her arrogant demeanor says one thing: model.
Within a few minutes she is ensconced in her bulkhead seat, a pristine white poodle by her side, which she hugs and kisses and shares her drink with. First I have to witness the nauseating spectacle of all of the female flight attendants queuing up to pet the dog. "Oh, is this yours? She's just gorgeous. Oh, Stacy, come and look at this beautiful little furry thing." How my baby and I had earlier been treated immediately comes to mind. Later I notice that the flight attendants pretend not to see when Missy Long Legs holds the pooch during landing when "it" should have been put in its container.
The hypothetical scoreboard high in the clouds reads, Beauty: One, Beard: Zero. Dog: One. Baby: Zero.
I was frankly flummoxed by the degree of attention that was heaped upon this passenger, and how the other women treated her as their natural superior. In 1996, nearly 700,000 Americans underwent plastic surgery for aesthetic purposes. In the U.S. people spend more money on beauty than they do on education or social services-a good illustration of our priorities.
There is something seriously wrong in the world when children are treated as a nuisance while dogs are treated as love objects. And there is something seriously amiss when appearance, rather than actions, can dictate likeability. There is something dangerously off track when men and women who love children, and aren't afraid to have large families, must feel apologetic and guilty for doing so. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, we await the day when our children will be judged by the content of their character rather than the comeliness of their skin. And we await the day when the fact of our children's existence is not judged at all, but seen as the embodiment of infinite blessing.