Here is the letter I sent off to the writer of the Ask Amy column in the Chicago Tribune this morning.
I have been following with interest the responses to the letter from the young girl who was convinced that she never wanted children and desired to do something permanent in that direction. I was pleased that others chimed in with their experience. At 19 we think we know what we will be like 10, 20, or more years down the road, but really, there is no way to know what forces will shape our lives and how we will change. The respondent's tone was understanding of where she saw herself now, yet tried to communicate how limited her life experiences and views of the future really were at this young age.
And then came the letter from the woman about never having wanted to be a 'breeder'. How very "Handmaid's Tale". I cannot even begin to describe how extremely distasteful I find this phrase. To describe a fellow human being as a 'breeder' is to reduce that person to less-than-human status. It implies that anyone stupid or selfish enough to actually bear the children which are the result of their sexual conduct are no better than animals. It sets up a hierarchy in which the child-less are a step or two higher than those with children. It also effectively shuts down any sort of dialogue as name calling in place of actual discussion often does.
Now in full disclosure, I would be among the group of women to which she so charmingly refers to as a 'breeder'. I have 10 children, 7 of whom I gave birth to. I would never say to someone that I am better than they because I have children and they do not. I would never imply that they should have children if they do not desire them. But I also cannot change the fact that I love my children and that I know that by having these children I have been changed into a far better person than I would have been otherwise. Just because I share these details of my life does not say that I expect others to choose my exact path. Too frequently as a society, we tend to assume that if someone shares a personal experience different from our own, they must be passing judgement on us. Just because I say I love having a large family and I love being a mother... that I have experienced joy and personal growth as a result of being a parent... it does not mean that I am saying anything about another person. Too often it seems that if I say, "Having a large family is a wonderful thing," that other people hear, "Clearly, having a large family is a better choice than your two measly children. What's wrong with you people?" when really, all I ever intended to say was, "I love having a large family." We take personally what was never meant to be personal.
I think this is the error that those who choose to use the 'breeder' term fall into. They are surrounded by people who do indeed have children. And that's actually a really good thing. Other than the obvious of dying out as a species, there is everything that the new generation brings to society that we would miss. This is not only the sheer economic necessity of younger workers in the work force, but the creative energy as well. Each generation will create things which will aid society. Of course, there will also be people who will do things that are not so great as well, but that is the nature of humanity. So, whether others like it or not, people will have children. They will fall in love with those children and be changed by them and never once (OK, perhaps once or twice) regret having them. And they will share with others about this extraordinary experience. What they are not doing by sharing their parenting journey is saying that others must follow in their footsteps. On some level, they are so enamored of the process that they quietly think everyone would be better for it, but only because they have had such wonderful experience. It's not a value judgement, but just a desire to share something wonderful with another person.
Thanks for your time.