catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 17 :: 2008.09.26 — 2008.10.10


To breed or not to breed

I don’t think my parents planned on having six kids. Moreover, I highly doubt that they banked on all six of their babies thrusting forth with two eyes, ten toes and no “Y” chromosomes among them. I’m sure even the most confectionary person can get sick of “sugar and spice and everything nice” when that’s all that’s all that’s on the menu, day in and day out. I wouldn’t drag my head in shame if I were to overhear my father praying for “snips and snails and puppy dog tails” either. A little escargot can go a long way for a man drowning in a sea of strong-willed women. I’d understand.

Of course, I’m speaking from the perspective of the baby, the last born, the tail end, the caboose. The thirteen-year span between my next older sister and myself is a chasm vast and wide, one that gulps up dirty secrets and devours embarrassing truths. What I know of the early lives of my five older sisters has been gleaned mostly from third-hand stories and old yearbooks. Beyond that, I have only the facts that my parents and adult sisters deemed shameless enough to pass along. In short, I’ve been given the censored version of “The Gipson Family: 1957-1980,” when what I really want is the director’s cut, deleted scenes and all.

By the time I was born, my father was four days shy of his 48th birthday, and was nearing the 25-year mark at his job as principal of Maxi Training School, which is an obfuscated way of saying that he spent his days dealing with so-called “juvenile delinquents”-all of them boys. Did my father intentionally choose to work at this testosterone-laden institution in order to escape the ocean of estrogen that surrounded him at every turn on the homefront? I don’t know. If so, I wouldn’t blame him. On the other hand, he was never the kind of guy to swill down brewskies while watching the Big Game, or to initiate any sort of sporting event at all. He was quite happy to highlight his tattered copies of Hegel and to perform myriad sociological experiments upon our family (perhaps I will devote a column to my many escapades as the subject of these experiments, but that will come at a later time). Let’s just say that my dad doesn’t seem too bereft for having missed out on the stereotypical “father-son” exchanges.

And then of course, there’s my mom. You have to wonder about a woman courageous enough to brave childbearing at the age of 44. You’ve got to pause at the gumption-and perhaps naivety or blind faith-that would make such a scenario possible. At a time when many women are opting to wait longer to have children, 44 might not sound so crazy anymore, but in the good ole’ year of 1980, popping one out of the oven post-forty wasn’t a major pastime. In our family, however, this late-in-life motherhood has become somewhat of a trend, beginning with my maternal grandmother Frances, who birthed my uncle Louie at age 45, and moving on through my mother to my two oldest sisters, who both went from “child-free and proud to be” to adoptive mothers in their mid-40’s.

You may have noticed that, until this point, I have focused on the idea of family as it relates to my parents, my sisters, my relatives. You’re a healthy 27 (nearly 28…), you might say. You’re married. You might add. So-why are you talking about your parents; where are your kids? Well folks, I’ll tell ‘ya. I don’t have any children yet, and as much as I love my nieces and nephews, the thought of having kids still freaks me out a little bit. Don’t get me wrong; we’re planning on it-although I certainly don’t believe that a person needs to have kids for any sort of psychological, sociological or religious reason-just…not yet. I will admit though, while the fear is still there, it is no longer the dark terror that once burdened my heart at the prospect of being forever responsible for another human being. Instead, the thought of motherhood, and of parenting in general, while fraught with potential for disaster and ruin and drama, is starting to become more and more appealing to me. I can see the eyes of some of my liberal counterparts now, and they are rolling. Stereotypical late 20’s female: thinks she can’t be whole until she’s had a baby. Well, maybe. Chalk it up to my biological clock or the flurry of “It’s a [insert gender/sex here]!” cards in my mailbox. Throw a theory at me or explain away my longing. Regardless of how others evaluate about my womb, it’s still that-mine. And no matter what global warming or overpopulation or Hilary Clinton or Sara Palin say about it, it’s still the magical bowl inside of me, a wildly miraculous place that defies politicization.

Such is my reality-I apologize for a lack of children on one hand, and defend my right to remain childless, at least for a time, on the other. In both cases, I am keenly aware of “what others are thinking” about me, whether or not these “others” are in any way significant to my life or the life of my family. As divided as I am, I know I am not alone. As selfish as the “womb question” (that is, “to breed or not to breed?”) might be, it is inherently a very personal one, regardless of what century or decade you find yourself in. Whether you see yourself as part of a community (a society, a church, a nation, a family) or an individual apart from social construction, the question remains, and it inevitably comes down to one person-the one with the uterus. This is not to negate the importance of, or the relationship with, the male half of society. Without fellas, obviously, the whole idea of childbearing is moot. It is simply to say that, when the world is questioning one’s desire/ability/decision to have-or not to have-children, they are usually posing that question to the person from whom that child slips (or claws) out of.

I would venture to guess, based on my experience, that many women of my age are equally torn by the prospect of motherhood. Despite the fact that we are living in a (post) postmodern world, where we are inundated with evidence of humanity’s interconnectedness in every Hallmark commercial and “New Physics” book, and scorned for acting in ways that don’t take into account a global mentality on every socially-minded billboard ad, I would gladly risk political correctness to defend the intimate relationship between a woman and her womb. Yes, we are political creatures. Yes, we are social animals. Yes, what we do with our bodies affects the rest of the world, both macro and microcosmically. But, speaking of cosmic, the womb and its inherent mystery make it a place in and of itself. Sacrosanct. A repository of cosmic knowing, so to speak, when a child takes up space in that sacred place-and perhaps, even before then.

So, fellow feminists and peaceful pro-lifers, friends who believe in the right to choose and folks who defend the womb as the last frontier of the global economy: to you I say, thank you. Thank you for your input and your opinions and your ideologies. I will take them into consideration. For those of you who planned your families and for those whose children suddenly sprung up around them like so many volunteer wildflowers-I am grateful. You all have experiences and beliefs that I will take into account. But in the end, well…I don’t know. If there’s anything my parents taught me, it’s never to presume upon a mystery. Thanks, Mom and Dad. I love you.

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