“That’s awful,” said a new acquaintance this spring when she found out I had four sisters. “Seriously, your mother is destroying the earth. Five kids is, like, way too many.”
She was sitting on my couch, downing my chocolate-chip cookies, and calling my existence “awful.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like the earth, and I’d hate to be associated with a family unilaterally destroying it. And, along with most people birthed into fruitful families, I often receive odd quips from strangers about my family size.
Strangers’ reactions include “Didn’t your parents use birth control?” [I’ll ask about my parents’ birth-control habits over my own dead body], “I bet you had to wear hand-me-downs,” [yes, but wearing hand-me-downs is like a lifelong special of “Who Wears It Best?”], “I bet your parents couldn’t give each of you individual attention” [that was rarely the problem…], and the somewhat less typical “We were going to start a neighborhood fundraising drive to get your father a vasectomy” [good luck with that].
When strangers find out I have only sisters, they also offer the vaguely sexist, “So they just kept trying for a boy?” and “Aren’t there constant cat fights? I could never deal with that drama.”
These comments are excellent fodder for awkward conversation, which is how I spend my spare time. But some strangers offer far more hostile reactions to the number of kids in my family. Revved up by David Attenborough’s condemnation of big families as “irresponsible” and Salon’s headline announcing “Not even a global pandemic can solve our overpopulation problem,” these strangers’ reactions cross the line between petty commentary and eugenic edicts. (For the purposes of putting readers to bed on time, I leave the debunking of the overpopulation alarmism to Jonathan Last, who has written extensively on the global impact of plummeting fertility rates.)
This year alone, three different young women in three different contexts have argued to my face that the world would have been better had I not been born. Inchoately fuming about overpopulation and my mother’s poor decision-making, they shrugged off the niceties usually paid to strangers. They apparently felt quite strongly that my mother should not have borne me, and they felt quite strongly the need to share.
Rudeness to Mothers Apparently Knows No Bounds
Now, I don’t think I’m alone when I suggest that running about warning strangers that their mothers are in fact unscrupulous breeding machines intent on destroying the whole earth with their wombs is rather passé. Most liberals—and indeed, most feminists—can agree that this is not a particularly winsome way to make friends.
But there is apparently a sect of people—I will arbitrarily call them “Warriors Against Child Overpopulation,” or WACOs for short—that invests considerable energy in proselytizing against large families. How do these conversations go? Let me provide an excerpt from a conversation I had last week with a young woman I had never before met. She is 24 years old, upper-middle-class, predictable in her affiliations with the far Left, and totes a designer pouch. She knows nothing about demography but lives in gripping fear of that menacing specter of overpopulation.
WACO: “Hey, Rachel, c’mere. I heard your mom had an absurd number of kids.”
Me: “Oh, hi. Um, I wouldn’t call it an absurd number.”
WACO: “How many does she have?”
WACO: “That’s an absurd number.”
WACO: “What’s the difference between two and five? What do three more kids get you? Why can’t you just be happy with one?”
WACO: “And that’s way too many girls in one house.”
Me: “Oh, I love all my sisters. I wouldn’t give up a single sister.”
WACO: “Well, I’m sure they’re all loooovely people, but think about your impact on the earth. Your family is destroying the earth. Should have cut her off before it got to that point.”
Me: “Should have cut off my mom?”
WACO: “Yeah, should have cut her off before you all got there.”
Me: “Should have cut off my mom before my sisters and I were born?”
WACO: “Yeah, of course. That many kids destroys our earth. Think of our water. Besides, who needs that many? There are too many [kids] running around already.”
Me: “Uh, who should have ‘cut her off?’”
WACO: “There should be some law for that. Definitely need to cut her off.”
Is it just me, or does the law this particular WACO proposed sound awfully similar to China’s one-child policy? As you may guess, this WACO and her two kindred spirits are pro-choice, with liberal views on marriage and sex. But they are not mainstream liberal feminists, picketing for reproductive choice. No, they are WACO feminists, picketing against reproductive choice.
No Reproductive Choice for You
Feminism as practiced by these three women is a disingenuous form of snobbery. They demand freedom to make their own choices—not because of principled commitments to freedom or choice, but because they think their choices are right. As soon as other women make different choices—in this case, choose to have multiple children—they are more than willing to toss choice, freedom, and sisterhood to the wind.
Lest you think these women must be pioneers of amorphous childless, marriageless lifestyles, I add that all three are in committed relationships headed toward marriage with plans to have children in these marriages. Their own personal choices are oriented toward eventual motherhood; they are more anti-woman and anti-child in theory than in personal practice. But in theory, they are very anti-child indeed. Content to bear their own children, they avidly seek to restrict childbearing for other women whom they apparently deem less worthy of free choice.
WACO feminists villainize other mothers as planet destroyers, shabby breeding machines, or just plain stupid women who couldn’t get their acts together to do anything besides mother broods of noisy dullards. Needless to say, these classifications aren’t very classy, and they insult the choices, dignity, and intellects of America’s mothers.
Dear Government: Welcome to Other People’s Bedrooms
These women think the government should have no say in people’s bedrooms, sex lives, and marriages. They are fiery members of the “get government out of my bed” crusade. But they make a big exception: all women who choose to have more than the “correct” number of children. That is one. Or two. Or may fluctuate depending on whether it’s a Wednesday.
These women would kick the government out of their own bedrooms straight into my mother’s bedroom. In fact, they argue the government has a moral imperative to intervene in my mother’s bedroom and control her birthing choices. Instead of supporting my mother’s right to plan and control her births as she so chooses, they argue the government should force on her not just birth control but sterility and potential abortion.
No conservative radical can meddle in the bedroom half as powerfully as these radicalized feminists. Declaring that women like my mother should be “cut off,” they dictate to women exactly who can be born, why, and in what circumstances. They moralistically tell women how, when, and why they should have sex (while calling some conservatives moralistic authoritarians for suggesting sex best belongs in marriage).
But what strikes me more than all this age-old anti-child nonsense is the rudeness it takes to tell someone that they shouldn’t have been born. My mother would never have allowed me out of the house if I were going to walk around telling other girls that they shouldn’t have been born. I may have gotten in trouble for telling other girls that they couldn’t share the toys I played with, but I never got in trouble for telling other girls that they couldn’t share the earth I lived on.
The world needs more—not fewer—women like my mother and my grandmothers, who chose to bring daughters into the world, then taught them to wisely make their own choices, actualize their dreams, and respect the dignity and humanity of other women around them. My own mother has helped make the earth a more beautiful place for women, and to my knowledge, she has not once destroyed it.
To the women I gratefully share this earth with: Have all the babies you want. And thank you.