When I became a pediatrician, I envisioned helping parents take care of sick children. I never figured I’d be spending so much time teaching adults how a diaper works. Yet as fewer and fewer of us have children, sometimes the first baby a 30-something encounters up close is her own.
What used to be fodder for ’80s comedies about clueless single men or frigid career women is now the lived experience of the few children who escape the infertility-spreading medical establishment. These kids face an uphill battle: life with fewer friends, fewer siblings, and fewer child-friendly spaces. And that’s just the half of it: If current birth rate trends hold up, they might be facing the end of civilization as we know it.
Last week Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter and award-winning novelist, penned the first in a promised series about dropping birth rates around the world — because, as he puts it, “nothing less than the future of humanity is at stake.” In response to an email I sent, Berenson said the worrisome effects of the Covid mRNA vaccine on fertility piqued his interest in the matter. Yet he said the matter speaks to something globally far more pressing than polarizing immigration or vaccine debates: “Humanity’s faith in itself is at stake.”
Demographers and pundits have been blaring alarm bells about this for decades, and that future is finally here. Mark Steyn had a birthrate bestseller nearly 20 years ago with America Alone. When Christopher Hitchens asked then-U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair whether Steyn’s warnings were part of the conversation among world leaders, “The PM shifted nervously and said it was part of ‘the subterranean conversation.’”
What keeps this existential crisis from getting the same alarmist coverage other crises do? An answer can be found with Steyn’s fellow brave Canadian, Jordan Peterson. In a wide-ranging discussion with renegade feminist Camille Paglia six years ago, Paglia laid the blame for the shrinking family on the chaos of the sexual revolution. It has become “heresy” for women to put children ahead of their career, she explains, as the feminist movement has enshrined abortion and denigrated motherhood.
These remain forbidden topics as long as feminists and their allies control our cultural conversation. That indefatigable defender of marriage and the family, the University of Virginia’s Brad Wilcox, echoes Paglia’s verdict:
The problem facing liberals, then, is that too many of them have embraced the false narrative that the path to happiness runs counter to marriage and family life, not towards it. They think independence, freedom and work will make them happy, which is why significant portions of the popular media are filled these days with stories celebrating divorce and singleness. […] The secret to happiness, for most men and women, involves marriage and a life based around the family.
It seems our joy — not to mention our civilization’s demographic survival — finds itself hostage to a false narrative peddled by deluded ideologues hooked on copium. The narrative, though false, is extremely well-defended.
Berenson said in his email he likes to pursue stories when he perceives them as “both important [and] undercovered by the bulk of the media.” He said he doesn’t care about his corporate media credibility or whether he’s persona non grata as long as the story is true — as illustrated, in the pre-Covid era, by his work on the dangers of cannabis.
“[T]he baby bust is a worldwide crisis, and it is worst in East Asian countries […] Japan and South Korea have no migration, no one is replacing them,” he notes, explaining he thinks birth rates and high foreign immigration are separate issues.
Berenson writes in his Substack that the depressing reality of our demographic death spiral hit him most recently at the nuptials of a couple who vowed never to sully their wedding bed with procreative sex. News of a wedding brought that reality home to me, as well. In this case, the ceremony was one I did not attend, as the invitation made it clear that children were not welcome.
My wife and I have no shortage of babysitters (another benefit of a large extended family), but we’re not going to use one to help celebrate a contradiction in terms. Child-free wedding? One might as well send out invitations to a prayer-free Christmas. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes… selfies from Ibiza?
Ominously, child-free weddings are a growing trend. Account after account emphasizes that children might distract attention from the bride’s “special day.” What differentiates a wedding party from the average kegger, however, is not the amount of money the bride spends on hair and makeup. It’s the joy of a community coming together to celebrate the birth of a new family — with the hope of many future blessings, clad in baby blue or pink, to come. God established marriage for the procreation of children, not the celebration of self.
There, in the first blessing God speaks to the first man and the first woman — “be fruitful and multiply” — lies the answer to Berenson’s question of why so many wealthy, privileged couples worldwide are refusing to have children. It is not that humanity is losing faith in itself. It’s that we have faith only in ourselves.
As Dennis Prager puts it in his invaluable commentary on Genesis, secularism is the most important explanation for the modern world’s low birth rates. The poem “Epithalamion,” Edmund Spenser’s famous ode to his bride, ends with a fervent prayer that the Heavens bless their marriage, “that we may raise a large posterity” and increase the count of the blessed saints.
Yet in a world without prayer or Heavens, the world too many of us now inhabit, Spenser would be loathe to put a ring on it. More likely he would have gifted his wife not a poem but a hot tub she could smoke pot in to her heart’s content
The future, Steyn likes to say, belongs to those who show up. I do not know who, if anyone, will end up living in the lands our society increasingly has no children of our own to bequeath to. But I bet they’ll know how to change diapers.