The choice of having children: The Nuts and Bolts

One of the things that has been on my mind a lot lately was inspired by article that talked about why women aren’t choosing to have children in our society.  I was originally going to write about that first, but in my mind I ended up always going into the topic of abortion, and given how much the defunding of Planned Parenthood is being talked about today, I thought I would talk about this controversial subject first, and then follow up with a piece about wanting or not wanting to raise children, because ultimately much of what I will talk about here feeds into that.

Recently my wife and I had our first night away, together, from our child who is now 19 months old.  It was a weird place in both our minds because it felt like we were fighting some primal urge, vs some rational thinking machine.  One was very emotional and was worried about the stress on my wife’s parents who were watching him, worried about whether he would wonder if we just left him, worried that he was crying helpless wondering where mommy and daddy was.  The other part of us was thinking how good this was for him and us.  He was with people who loved him and quite capable of taking care of him.  And it was healthy for us to have some time away together, because it certainly is a good thing for a baby who have parents who have a strong friendship and love and some time away certainly helped that.  Also in the long run this was beneficial for healthy sleep patterns, gaining independence and trust.

The trap in the thinking here, is that we often believe that these are almost two separate parts of us.  One might criticize us for being too emotional, and another would criticize us for being too rational about it.  Of course both are evolved and necessary parts of what makes us who we are.  Those strong emotions we feel are extremely important for protecting and bonding with the child.  That rational part of us is there to make sure we do it in the best way possible.  It can be a see saw at times and we all vary in how much we let one side take a hold over the other.  The point is that regardless of the emotions you feel, it is also sensible.  It is sensible to be emotional, and it is sensible to be rational.

This leads us to a very uncomfortable thing that few of us want to admit about child rearing.  It really boils down to a lot of math.  We need both the emotional and the rational, but the one that win depends a lot on circumstances.  It could be circumstances of the environment, culture, family values, etc, but there is natural state of a human that favors one side or the other.  My mom told me once that she couldn’t accept that I was just a biological thing that happened, and that part of her belief in religion is founded on the fact that she sees things as much more than the sum of their parts.  The thing is, I feel the same way, but I also know that it is part of our biology to do so.  And all of that to me is amazing even if it is explainable.  But our brains are constantly working to make decisions that ensure both our survival and our genes survival, and the emotions we feel, and the rational decisions we make support that drive in us.  It gets even more confusing given that the rational part of us tends to actually make us feel like our emotions are rational.  “I really want that piece of cheesecake, but am trying to lose weight.”  Suddenly you start to rationalize…well I’ll just have a small piece, or so-and-so makes such good cheesecake it would be rude not to have some…I’ll spend an extra half hour at the gym tomorrow.  We’ve all been in this situation before, even if not about cheesecake. 🙂

So let’s take a look at some of the math of having children.  But before we start let’s remind ourselves that while we may live in a modern world where we have smartphones, cable TV, and airplanes, but from an evolutionary standpoint our brains haven’t progressed much from the stone age.  A couple hundred thousand years ago, when man was relatively what is today in terms of brain size and structure, is really a blink of an eye on the time scale of evolution.  Now we know that we are a social creature, but we didn’t live in populations like we do today.  As hunter gatherers we searched every day for food and lived in groups of around 200 people.  If you or someone you know has been pregnant and you’ve seen them go through it, you know a lot changes in them.  They tend to have less energy on average, and they tend to require more resources.  More water and more food.  In a group of 200 people where everybody has to pull their own weight, having less to give to the tribe in terms of energy, and you are taking more energy away from them as you require more resources.  You are a drain to your group.  Now certainly a necessary one, and I’m sure no one minds since in egalitarian groups such as hunter gatherers the ability to help as a community was strong, and of course later you’d be expected to do extra duty to help out other women who were pregnant.  But that doesn’t change the math one bit.  So one woman getting pregnant wasn’t too bad, but if all the women got pregnant at the same time, that would probably be bad.  Once the child is born of course resources get even more drained, because that new member will need calories as well.  Hunter gatherers needed to practice population control making sure the group didn’t get too big and also not too small.  Furthermore, small children were a strain on mobility.  My son at his age, still requires being carried a lot, and even though he sometimes likes to walk it’s not overly fast and, more importantly, not the direction you want him to move in.  His cousin however who is 4 and half and can keep up quite well, and will respond to voice commands even if somewhat reluctantly. 🙂  Anthropological evidence shows that women spaced their children apart about 4 years apart at minimum so make sure that their child was old enough to keep up with a tribe.  Most hunter gatherer tribes were not sedentary for very long.  After using the resources in one area that had to move until that previous areas recovered.  And depending on the environment, they may have had to make very long treks.  The luxury of having children at will, would not come until the age of agriculture.  An important theme that I will by discussing throughout this series, is to remember that our evolutionary advantage is our intelligence.  Everything reproduces, but we found a way to make having one children at a time work and make smart decisions about how many children to have and when to have them.

Abortion is by far not a new thing, but it is at the very least a more advanced process considering what life was like pre-civilization.  Despite the cool rational population control practiced by hunter gatherers, mistakes were going to happen.  Sex after all is pretty fun, as it needs to be, in order for us to want to reproduce, but the best laid plans go awry.  They do today and they did back then.  For them it could have been not as many people got eaten by lions that year, or not as many of the older people in the tribe died and populations were approaching critical.  Likely they would still try to survive, but the wild card that likely created the most population pressure was the environment (A great book on the impact of the medieval warming period on aboriginal tribes throughout north america and Europe can be found on Amazon here).  Perhaps it was a long term climate trend, drought, or some geological catastrophe blocked a passage they normally took to areas where they knew food was, or some other resource was scarce.  Whatever the case, evidence also indicates that infanticide was common.  It’s likely the rates were around 15-20% (I’m sorry the source is wikipedia here under the paleolithic and neolithic sections, but references are given on the page), which is extremely high given that even the worse abortion rates now are at around 5%.  Despite the emotional trauma the parents must have went through, with abortions not possible, this was the only way to make sure that a larger portions of the group didn’t starve to death.  And in an extremely cold and rational way, the truth is, the mother can always have another baby when situations allow, but an extra member of the tribe, until early adulthood, was a drain on resources.  We are made of finite energy, and we have to unfortunately look at ourselves as an energy budget, a tribe or group as the combined energy budget, which while more efficient is still finite.  So if anything, human history has helped us not only have more children, but see less overall (as a percentage) die.

I am going to end this here with the thought of our finite nature, and continue in my next post to talk about some of the more modern day points about abortion, and why people who are anti-abortion aren’t helping (and in fact making things worse), and give them some realistic suggestions about how they can actually help reach their goal of an abortion free world.

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13 thoughts on “The choice of having children: The Nuts and Bolts

  1. I’ll be interested in your next blog. You’re writing about a very touchy topic. I’m very pro life and find abortion procedures very barbaric. As a woman, I’m embarrassed that we pay doctors to suck, rip, or poison our children inside of our bodies!
    I’m not a fan of protesting in front of clinics, threatening doctors or women and I am for birth control. Most abortions are done because she accidentally got pregnant not because of rape, incest, or the life of the mother.

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    1. I agree with you in a lot of ways in the sense that I think we live in a world that shouldn’t need to have abortions, but that world is not perfect, and the world also need children who are raised well and who can be productive members of society. The amount of children floating through the foster system is good evidence of the consequences of not having the environment necessary to raise children. I week be addressing this in my next post. But take a look at the support mothers have in countries with low abortion rates and you will see how we really fail mothers and children.

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      1. That’s my main issue with abortion… Even tho I feel it’s not needed considering how easy it is to get birth control…. The procedures are horrible!! We execute murderers in a more humane way.
        I have family members that are foster parents, so I know the horrible stories of what these kids go through, but I don’t think abortion is the answer. People have to learn to be more self efficient and not rely on others or the government to take care of them their whole lives. We have generations of people that have children because they get more money from the government. So getting pregnant, no big deal… I’ll get money from the government or I’ll just abort it. Why not prevent the unwanted pregnancy… That’s the responsible and humane thing to do.

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  2. I feel that tug of war between my emotions and my rational mind when it comes to my girls all the time when my husband and I do get a chance to go out alone (which is rare and that’s ok) I knew what I signed up for when I got pregnant and had children 😉😄Im glad I’m not alone and think it’s awesome that you admit your softer side 😎 breaks are good but feeling that worry when you’re away is totally normal and means you really do love your children like you should. With all the birth control options in this day and age people have no excuse for “accidental” pregnancies etc- granted if it does happen I think one must own up to their “mistake” and raise a child properly with love and affection. I’m not anti-abortion or pro-abortion; I’m somewhere in between with “choice” and dealing with the decisions one makes in life consequences and rewards- that’s how we learn…though I don’t think the government should ever tell a woman what to do with her body- I also don’t think we should condone repeat abortion offenders either…I have a very mixed feeling about all this to be quite honest

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    1. I understand your feelings. It seems unthinkable that someone could have accidental pregnancies, but birth control methods aren’t always perfect and some parents angry communities can be so against pre-marital sex that the obtaining of birth control can indicate some sort of “sinful” behavior. Some parents literally don’t have an open talk about sex with their child. I had a student who got pregnant at 19 because she literally believed it when a boy told her that she couldn’t get pregnant if it was her first time. So I think it’s very hard to judge how accidental pregnancies could happen. Some parents seem to bridge that the more they shelter and the more they hide the realities of sex from their children the better off they will be. The opposite seems to be true.

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      1. Yeah now in that scenario I can totally see how accidental- and luckily there’s a small part of the population that holds those fundamentalist views on sex etc but granted it’s enough to make it frustrating and hard to make a blanket law on abortion because when it comes to pregnancy, abortion, etc there are so many grey areas it’s hard to say oh it’s this way- or it’s that way- because people come from such a wide array of experience and background. My sister had an abortion and I think because I watched the repercussions to this decision it hits home for me and I have such mixed feelings on it in general- not to mention I have friends that can’t get pregnant and can’t have kids and would LOVE to have kids and I see these unwanted kids an opportunity for those friends I have to adopt them ❤️ The universe has a way of balancing itself out (methinks) lol
        Excellent post and discussion btw 😎

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        1. I too know couples that can’t have children and it’s so sad knowing potential adopted children are aborted.
          This topic has always been one that’s bothered me. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t even let me mom abort the kittens!! My mom got pregnant with me at 17. My paternal grandfather was not happy and set up an illegal abortion in a hotel (abortion wasn’t legal at the time) he went to pick up my mom. Luckily my maternal grandfather was home and ran him off the property with a rifle. If my mom was alone that day, I wouldn’t be here. Neither would any of my 6 children…. Nor any of their future kids.

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          1. Yeah it’s definitely a super touchy hot button topic because it hits home for so many people in different ways. My problem with abortion is with women using it as birth control after the fact one is already pregnant. I know a couple people from High school that had several abortions and I wanted to say to them “didn’t you learn the first time how this happened and how it can be prevented if you didn’t want it to happen again?” 😣😕 that being said I still don’t think we should make it illegal because like what your mom was going to do- going to an illegal non-medical and non-sterile place to have the procedure performed is unsanitary and could have killed her if done in that setting- that’s more dangerous than just making it legal and keeping the option for a sterile and safe environment for those that choose this route for unwanted pregnancy. Now do I think there should be a limit on abortions one has? Maybe that- but beyond that I don’t like the idea of the government having any say so over anyone’s choices when it comes to their bodies- that opens Pandora’s box of all sorts of things they can dip their hands in for control and that scares the shit out of me 😨 lol the people who need to be held accountable in this are the repeat offenders- maybe their option would be on the second unwanted pregnancy to have all care paid for to maintain pregnancy and visits and the child be assigned to a family upon birth and then the woman provided a free tubal ligation after the birth. Cheaper on tax payers and safer and holds them accountable for their actions second time around. Just some random thoughts that rolled around in my head once about this 😉😊 personally I wouldn’t choose abortion as an option for an unwanted pregnancy if I were in that situation but I wouldn’t force my opinion on someone in same scenario because I have no idea what it’s like to walk in their shoes. 😇❤️😎

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  3. I’m looking forward to the rest of these posts. I’m really torn on the issue of abortion. On the one hand the thought of it is sad. Sad for the people involved and sad that we could extinguish the possibilities for a human being so easily. On the other hand, not allowing people to make their own choices to do what is best for them is equally sad. While I know that abortion is not an ideal answer(that better sex education and access to effective birth control are better options) I don’t think that taking away the rights of women is ideal either.

    It’s seems contradictory to me to say that people need to learn to be more self sufficient and take care of themselves and not depend on the government or others and condemn them for being in that situation while at the same time condemning them for making decisions that we find abhorrent because they don’t want to be a burden.

    I wrote a couple of posts about this a year or two ago, here and here. It’s easy to say that the answer is “just don’t have sex if you can’t afford a baby” or “take birth control, what’s wrong with you”. It just isn’t that black and white.

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    1. I feel the same way. Thank you for your comment. While I don’t see it as murder, it is killing. And the ending of life should always be taken seriously and with respect. Regardless of whether it is human life too in my opinion. I think we could all do a better job, and so playing the blame game doesn’t work. Women also deserve respect and autonomy over their bodies. And I think there are solutions that show that respect to both the unborn child and the mother that I shall talk about next post.

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  4. Pingback: The choice of having children: Not having children | Cloak Unfurled

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