Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Questioning the Existence of Maternal Instinct

Many of the people I interviewed for my book Two is Enough: A Couple's Guide to Living Childless by Choice told me they remained childfree because, "I just don't have a maternal/paternal instinct." So much so that when I had a chance to interview human fertility expert Dr. S. Philip Morgan for the Childless by Choice Project documentary I asked him if there was such a thing as a maternal instinct. He replied, "So we were wired to have sex.  And once we had kids, we were wired to fall in love with our kids.  But there is this sort of contemporary challenge; I don't think we’re wired to have some certain number of kids, so there's a big question mark about whether, where does the motivation come from having kids?  And right now, it may come, as you say, from this really unbalanced portrait of parenthood as being better than it really is.  But it may be good for our society that it is painted as better than it really is because if we, if people had all the facts up front, maybe they wouldn’t do it. I think once they have kids, most people do the best they can." 

Dr. Morgan didn't think maternal/paternal instinct compelled humans to have children, rather that children where the result of the instinctive desire to sexually couple and maternal and paternal bonding happened only after humans take on the role of care giving for an infant, either their child or an adopted child, and do the best to care for that child and meet the societal expectations and personal aspirations of what they think a "good" parent should be.

We see this sexual drive for coupling in the animal kingdom too. Scientists have observed male seals trying to mate with penguins because these testosterone fueled lower-ranking males have not been able to mate with their own species and they have no other "outlet for their sexual excitement" according to this article on cross-species mating attempts. Zookeepers will often give a baby animal to a female of a totally different species if the mother of the baby animal doesn't show any interest in caring for that baby. And it works, as the adoptive "mother's" nurturing behaviors prompts the feel good brain chemistry in both the cared for and the care giver, bonding them in a relationship of trust that evolves over time.
But mother/child bonding doesn't always happen, which is usually why the baby animal was removed from it's natural mother in the first place. We humans have a tendency to assume that every mother is predisposed to nurture her biological child but even that is a social construct according to Gillian Ragsdale:

“Social conformity has tremendous power,” says Gillian Ragsdale Ph.D., a biological psychology professor at the Ronin Institute (and mother), who describes the expectation that women are natural born caregivers as an outgrowth of patriarchal thinking. “I can’t tell you how many times people have tried to hand me babies, and I tell them I don’t really do babies. They react like I’ve said something really obscene and shocking.” 
If we hold on to the assumption that all women or men instinctively feel compelled to care for and nurture their offspring, then we have to ignore any evidence to the contrary and stigmatize those who don't conform to the norm, including mothers suffering from post-partum depression. The above quote was from an interesting article published by Fatherly calling the maternal instinct a "myth", noting that: A study published in 1980 concluded that 40 percent of first-time mothers felt indifferent the first time they held their babies. The researchers noted that mothers who had difficult births were more likely to feel a lack of connection and that they felt more affection after a week, however. But a 2018 study also noted that many mothers felt disillusioned after giving birth and were still struggling to love their babies months later.
If maternal or paternal instinct is truly a myth then the drive to be a parent is likely more of a desire or aspiration or a societal expectation than a biological urge. Perhaps there will be less stigma attached to those who decide to remain childfree, or to those who struggle to happily nurture the children they have, if we let go of the maternal/paternal instinct myth and just let true desire and longing drive the decision to parent and to nurture.

As I have seen with many of the childfree couples I have interviewed over the years, humans are not hard-wired to have our own brood and given the number of "furry" children I saw in my research cross-species caregiving and nurturing is more common than we care to admit, enhancing well-being and happiness for all involved!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Melinda Gates wants 200 million women to have access to the contraceptives they need

Rachel, I woman I interviewed for Two is Enough: A Couple's Guide to Living Childless by Choice reached out to me and alerted me to the fact that the November issue of National Geographic magazine has an interview with Bill and Melinda Gates about their philanthropic endeavors. "I saw this quote from Melinda and thought of you":

"Family planning is crucial anywhere, in any community around the world,
because if a woman can decide if and when to have a child, she's going to behealthier and her child is going to be healthier. That's one of thelongest-standing pieces of research we have."
Then when asked what one thing she would fix if she could (poverty,malnutrition, education, HIV, etc.), Melinda said:
"So if I could wave a magic wand, 200 million women who are asking us forcontraceptives today would have them."


Rachel added, "I love that she said "IF and when to have a child" and that this is her #1 concern!" I love that too! I think we are finally moving away from the assumption that all women will choose to have children just because they can. The research mentioned by Melinda Gates confirms that health outcomes improve for both women and children when women are in control of the number and timing of births. If you would like to read more about the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, click here for the full article.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

To What Degree Does Childhood Abuse or Trauma Influence the Childfree Choice?

Danielle Corcione, writing for Hellogiggles.com, recently posted an article on her wish to remain childfree titled:

I want to be childfree because I'm still working through my own childhood trauma — and I don't think I'm alone

Yes, apparently she is not alone! As soon as I posted this article on my Two is Enough FB pages a flurry of comments followed; people citing parenthood neglect, abuse, school bullying, and general family dysfunction as one of the primary reasons they decided to remain childfree. Clearly, many years, or decades, later they were still struggling with this trauma and didn't feel ready to entertain the idea of being a parent.  "Why would I go ahead and have a child when, some days, I can barely take care of myself ?" was the question that many of them had asked themselves, or their friends--who wondered why they hadn't yet jumped on the parenthood wagon.

It's a good question because gosh, parenthood is stressful enough. Do we want to heap on a pile of steaming parent stress on the top of unhealed trauma? No, that is certainly not ideal. Yet we see it happening all the time and many who shared their childhood abuse or neglect stories saw that their parents were clearly traumatized, or had mental health issues, as well. They observed how much of a struggle it was for their parents to succeed in the role of parent. They admitted that they were choosing not to have kids because they didn't want to take the chance they too would try, struggle, and fail as parents. Many felt that their own unresolved trauma meant that the odds were stacked against them.

I can sense some parents reading this are inclined to shake their heads and sigh, poo-poo, or resist that idea because they too had a less-than-perfect childhood and yet they cast their doubts aside and jumped on board, odds be damned, because they wanted to break the cycle. They were going to be different and perhaps they are. So I extend a hearty congratulations to those brave souls who beat the odds and raised healthy kids despite the scars of trauma. Yes, it's possible.

However, it's only possible if you really, really want kids, in spite of your own experience, and take actions to heal your trauma or otherwise protect your kids form the sharp edges of your pain. This heartfelt desire, and the ability to choose and embrace the role of parent, is probably the one thing that distinguishes the traumatized parents-to-be from those of us who are opting out. Most of our parents and grandparents didn't choose parenthood consciously, it just happened. The stork delivered babies and he didn't distinguish between those who were emotionally and mentally ready for parenthood and those who where not.

Now that we have the agency and ability to forgo parenthood, if we choose, I trust that our families, friends, and communities will accept that is our choice to make, based on our own self-assessment of  our ability to parent, our desire, and our sense of what is right and healthy for us at this time in our lives.

So the next time a friend or family member says, "I don't think I will make a good parent" don't poo-poo them. Just acknowledge that it's their decision to make. Have the courage and candor to admit that parenthood is not always a bed of roses; that under those blossoms there are thorns and a mulch pile of poo-poo.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Scared to Have a Vasectomy? Bring your Bro!

Snip! Snip! Why is it that these two simple words trigger fear and loathing in the most manly of men?

It's a simple procedure, taking less than 15 minutes with very little pain or down time, yet some men cringe just at the mention of it--even though studies show that guys who get snipped get laid more often than guys who haven't undergone the procedure. Click here to read more from Men's Health mag.

The GMA journalist who interviewed the good Dr. who performs "Brosectomies"--vasectomies for guys who want to "share" the experience, finding safety in numbers--noted on air that he had unconsciously crossed his legs during the entire interview.

Watch the interview on Good Morning America for a good chuckle and see how two friends turned their vasectomies into a party! Share with a friend!

Any vasectomy stories you want to share?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Why People Feel Compelled to Challenge Your "No Kids" Status

Anna Goldfarb, writing for the New York Times, shares her experience of people asking "intrusive" questions about her childfree status after she married her boyfriend of many years. Most of us who are childfree have experienced this when we partner up and reach the age where most couples choose to have a family (usually the 30's in the United States) and it always made me wonder, "Why do they care so much if I choose to opt out?" Who am I hurting by making this very personal choice?"

Anna believes that when we make this alternative choice, it challenges a very primal belief system, and people become upset. I agree. It's a clash of values and beliefs. You think having a kid is an important milestone, critical to your maturity and happiness, and I beg to differ....

Here Anna's thoughts from the NYT article titled: "What to Say When People Ask Why You Aren't Having Children." 

For some, staying childless contradicts their worldview

When people push back about it, they seem to be more upset at having their sense of order questioned. Sometimes that can lead to interactions that feel hostile. 
Many people assume that having children after marriage is the natural progression of life. They may even see my reluctance to have kids as a personal affront, as if I’m criticizing their choices. 
Not only is it exasperating to justify myself to people who have no stake in the process, but people have rarely been enthusiastic about my decision unless they’ve decided to be child-free too.

As far as how we might respond to these intrusive inquiries. Anna responds with some restraint, particularly with people she doesn't know well:
When strangers ask about my plans for a child-free life, it can come off as if they’re really asking what kind of person I am. 
It takes effort to keep my cool. After a few deep breaths, I run through my usual answers in a measured tone: Yes, I love children, but I don’t feel an urgent need to have my own. No, it’s not because I’m a selfish jerk. Then politely assert that my husband and I are making decisions based on what’s right for us as a couple. I don’t elaborate more than that if I don’t want to.
Personally, I usually make light of it and say "Most of my friends couldn't imagine a life without kids, and I couldn't imagine a life with them!" and then laugh.

How do you respond?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Need a Kid to Leave a Lasting Legacy? Not if You are Dolly Parton!


People assume that if you are not a parent you are not a contributing member of society. Yet, I regularly see news reports of childfree people making a profound difference in their communities. A recent example is the generous help singer/songwriter/entrepreneur Dolly Parton offered families who had lost their homes in the devastating wildfires in her home state of Tennessee.

When I interviewed couples for my book Two is Enough: A Couples Guide to Living Childless by Choice, I noted a similar desire to help people and all living things. Scratch the stigmatized veneer of a childfree person and you will find a volunteer, philanthropist, pet rescuer, mentor, coach, activist, or advocate.

Childfree people may not be nurturing their biological children but they are finding ways to make a difference in their worlds using the time, energy, and resources they are grateful to have; they are finding ways to share these resources with others.

Think back on your own life and recall all those who have helped you--teachers, coaches, youth ministers, mentors, neighbors and relatives. I suspect there is a childless or childfree person among them. Just like parents, we want to leave a legacy, but our legacy justs looks a little different.

What legacy are you creating?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Why 1 in 5 German Moms Regret Parenthood

Many German women feel they have to choose between career and raising children and when they choose children, one in five feel regret. A recent study exposes just why Germany has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe and cites many factors, the most noteworthy being, "Lack of satisfaction from parenting."

This challenges the whole notion, "Oh, it different when they are your kids!!" No, it's not. It's harder because society, especially German society, assumes that every woman wants to stay home full time to raise their babies and provides little or no day care or support for women raising infants and toddlers who may want to work part-time or full time after giving birth. This the hard choice: Kids or Career?

Apparently 1 in 5 German men also regret parenthood and the reasons for the regret are often shared by both partners. The study authors are going back to the male respondents to drill down further on the males' regret but my guess is that they cite the change in the relationship dynamics. As we say in the south, "When Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"