Before leaving San Francisco, I also managed to meet up with Laura Carroll. She’s a childfree advocate and author of The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a Better World. I’d read it back in New York and was kind of blown away. In it, she writes about an issue that was new to me: Pronatalism. Pronatalism is an attitude or policy that is pro-birth and exalts the role of parenthood. I was pretty sure this pronatalism thing had infiltrated my brain.
On the phone, she had said that somewhat unfairly, our society views parenthood as the be-all-end-all of why we exist. Carroll believes that our country is drenched in this pronatalism stuff — it’s everywhere from church to state. If pronatalism didn’t exist, then in the tabloids, Shiloh wouldn’t always be smiling hand-in-hand with Angelina Jolie, but rather depicted in other phases as well, like biting her mother’s chin because she’s going through her violent phase. Becoming a parent would be just as respected and lauded as becoming a park ranger. I can’t be sure, but it’s possible that new perspective would result in a substantial birthrate decline.
I met Carroll at Garibaldi’s, a restaurant in Presidio Heights. She’s 53 years old and well groomed — coiffed hair, smooth skin and her pantsuit even had the creases ironed in. I wondered if not having children was good for the complexion.
We both ordered dishes that were impossible to eat while maintaining any air of professionalism. I’m never conducting an interview again while ingesting melted cheese and green leafy vegetables.
“Millennia ago,” Carroll said, “as man evolved from a monkey, they didn’t have that level of consciousness. Now we have that level of consciousness, but we are still thinking that we are blindly supposed to have kids when that’s just not the case.”
She posed the overpopulation problem as one good reason we should reconsider our willy-nilly tendency to procreate. That made sense. If you want to go green, but like really green, there’s no better way than to not create another consumer who will beget yet more consumers, until one day Target and Wal-Mart go extinct. Then again, having a kid might be good for Earth’s longevity; with more of them, we can destroy our environment a little more quickly, and eventually rid the planet of its human destroyers entirely. It’s a tough call.
Carroll’s book lists all the ways the culture may be influencing our baby desires. “One of the many messages we receive is that we are supposed to grow up and become mothers and if we don’t then we are missing out on something in life,” she said. “To fulfill our destiny as mothers is what true fulfillment really means.”
Our society might not be ready for some of Carroll’s more extreme views — like that potential parents should have to take a battery of tests or that sex offenders should be temporarily sterilized. But then again, it is trippy that to get a license to drive, we have to have hours of training, yet to be responsible for a human life, all we have to do is have mediocre sex, one time.
Carroll basically said The Man makes us have babies. “Baby-making is big business,” she said, “It helps government. It helps religions. It sells products. It keeps our society running the way it does. The more people who think it’s the be-all, end-all, the better off the people in power will be.”
So at times it was hard not to view her as a conspiracy theorist, but a lot of the things she said were really making sense.
She explained that after thorough research, she couldn’t find any scientifically proven biological basis for a baby desire. “We know, psychologically, that the clock is ticking,” she said, “and the choice will be taken away from us, so the closer we get to that choice being taken away, the more grrrrrrrr you’re going to feel.”
To a lesser extent, I imagined that getting a hankering for a baby as we near our egg expiration date is like seeing that a really amazing Groupon deal is minutes from expiring and even though you aren’t sure you’re going to make it out to New Jersey for the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, you buy the all-inclusive pack for four anyway, because you don’t want to have lost the opportunity. As time runs out, our buying temperature goes up.
“Instead of starting with the idea that kids will bring you purpose,” she said, “figure out what your purpose in life really means to you. Envision what would be rich in meaning and then figure out how kids may or may not fit into that picture.”
This woman made me wonder if having a child was something I truly wanted or if it was something I’d been told over and over again that I wanted. Then she made me wonder what my meaning was and then — good thing at that moment — I had to figure out how to get a big leaf of romaine into my mouth without showing her my tonsils or else I would have gone down the rabbit hole, into the grips of existential horror.
“People want to be a parent, but they don’t think about what experience they want out of it,” she went on. “Do they want a connection? Do they want to feel a belonging with others? What is it from a deep feeling place.”
Carroll suggested that I try to isolate my feelings from all the pressure and the friends with strollers and the movie stars on “bump watch” and the American image of two kids playing soccer on the lawn and the mom and dad who’d like nothing more than to become grandparents and that cute baby on the Pampers commercials and and… and…
“Be naked about your feelings,” she said. “Is having and raising a child the only way you can get the experience you want? Many times, the answer is no.”
Now that Carroll was giving me so many reasons not to procreate, I felt a bit combative and came up with reasons I should. “But maybe having a kid is the only thing that’s real and authentic,” I said. “I like my autonomy, but what if going out for a cocktail with friends, staring into my computer and taking a nap whenever I want gets boring. What if I want something with more depth eventually?”
“We feel that whether or not we become parents,” she said, “Your child will be 18 and leave. It’s just a matter of time before we ask ourselves these same questions. What gives our life meaning? To expect your child to be your everything, to give you meaning, is unfair to the kid.”
Of course, Carroll was one of those women who was always certain. She never dealt with ambivalence, and identified herself as one of those young girls “who never wanted to play with baby dolls.” I thought it was easier for her to say these things.
It reminded me of another childfree woman I had spoken to earlier, Mardy Ireland. She’d wanted children, but could not have them. Ireland was also a psychoanalyst who wrote Reconceiving Women: Separating Motherhood from Female Identity. I’d been reading lots of books.
“Instead of framing childlessness as a deficiency,” Ireland had told me, “that space can be transformed into something generative.”
Ireland thinks childfree women can find an alternative way to be creative and give back to the world — such as becoming teachers, artists and volunteers — but it’s difficult because motherhood is so embedded in the culture. “To be a woman is very tied up with being a mother,” she admitted, “so tied up and expected that to be grown up can mean to most people that you’re going to become a mother.”
Maybe I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a grown-up yet. Sometimes I worried that having a baby would make me feel anachronistic. You’re a mom, a thing of the past, because you’ve birthed the future. You know?
After about an hour of lunching, Carroll and I finished. We’d gotten kind of tight over that chat — we’d shared intimacies beyond the vision of spinach-wrapped molars. Somehow, I felt like if I had children eventually, I’d be letting her and her whole movement down.
“Would you be pissed at me if I had a baby?” I asked.
“If you did your soul searching and it felt right to you,” she said, “if you were able to stop worrying about what other people thought, could push that mindset away and say, ‘This is what I want my life to be about,’ then I’d say bravo for not letting the world around you make the decision for you. You’re making it for you.”
I wasn’t sure she meant it, but I have to admit, I liked the idea of doing something that would make this woman look at me and say, “Bravo.” (Obviously, I really needed to work on that whole not-worrying-about-what-other-
What did Mara decide to do? You’ll have to order her kindle single to find out.
Mara Altman is hot and hairy. And we mean that in the best ethnic-girl-to-ethnic-girl/ “who is your waxer?” kind of way. She’s the author of Bearded Lady, a Kindle Single and her first book, Thanks For Coming, was published by Harper Collins and was optioned by HBO… so she’s hot, hairy, and brainy.
Tags: Angelina Jolie, babies, baby steps, Bearded Lady, childfree, childfree advocate, childless, Feminism, Feminist, feminist having kids, Garibaldi’s, kindle single, Laura Carroll, Mara Altman, mardy ireland, Mothers, parenting, Presidio Heights, Pronatalism, Reconceiving Women: Separating Motherhood From Female Identity, should i have kids, singlehood, Thanks For Coming, The Baby Matrix, The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a Better WorldPin It