Practical Natalism: A conservative approach to fertility

Every few months there is a fertility discussion somewhere on the internet.  It is generally either “lalalala women can pop out babies on demand after age 35/40/45 and anyone who says otherwise is sexist!” (liberal flavor)  or “lalala women’s ovaries dry up instantly at 30, better marry at sexy 17 to be on the safe side girls!” (conservative flavor).  Once in awhile a vague gesture is made in the direction of male fertility having a time limit, but the main show is the endless binary battle between the delusions of liberals and conservatives regarding female fertility.

The truth is that both the liberals and the conservatives are a little bit right about the nuances of female fertility, and a whole lot wrong about what normal female fertility looks like.

It is certainly the case that we women cannot expect to conceive in our 60s or later barring explicitly Divine intervention.  But at the same time, women are not all granted the same level of fertility.  Some have a more robust baseline than others.  There are women who can start at 35 and have one each year until 45, while others can struggle to have three or four starting at age 21.  Obviously we shouldn’t give advice to young women based on the first case, because it has such a high margin of error if a young woman is not so blessed in the fertility department.  But neither does it really do much good to expect all women to start at 20 in a world that mostly doesn’t support young marriage.

We should instead be honest with women about the number of children it is reasonable to hope for at different age ranges assuming decent health. Start at 25, having 5 in 15 years is not unlikely.  Start around 30, having 5 in 10 years is much less likely.  Better to expect 3.  Not all women want more than a couple, but my experiences with women who sincerely seem to think it’s reasonable to start at 35-38 and still end up with 4-6 kids by 45 suggest that they are clearly not getting the best information on what’s reasonable at that age if that’s the family size they hope to have.

And honesty about how much more physically demanding kids can be after 35 would also go a long way towards honest fertility information.  Natalism, properly understood, is about more than just having babies.  It’s about having energy and time and a loving community to raise them so that at the margins, women do have that extra child or two.  So what if it’s possible to conceive and birth healthy, term babies after 40 for the first time? You may not live to see that kid or kids have their own children, and that’s profoundly self-centered.  You may not even live to see that kid reach adulthood.  The very act of conceiving for the first time at such ages comes with its own problems, since women are designed to be optimally fertile from 18-35, as far as the balance between growing babies and being able to wrangle them too.

And fertility should be whole-body, not just about getting pregnant over and over again.  Breastfeeding the kids for at least the first year of their lives, and ideally for some portion of their second and third years provides time for mother to recover physically and adjust to the demands of each new infant more smoothly than trying to get pregnant within seconds of the previous delivery.  This can produce breastfeeding-related temporary infertility, but simple consideration by husbands to not try for more in rapid succession is also part of whole-body fertility.  I know that for many women, there is pressure to closely space due to marrying in the late 20s or early 30s and wanting more than two kids, or a fear that if you aren’t constantly pregnant, he won’t let you have more than one or two.  Or pressure from the guy to build up the family as quickly as possible.  Some men count coup in how fast they can get their women to conceive again after each delivery.  This is a terrible thing, but it’s usually related to men not having proper outlets for healthier masculine expression.  But whatever the reason, it breaks the female body down faster and leaves her less to give to the raising and tending of the home and family in the medium and long term.  A lot of those historically fecund multi-great grammas keeled over promptly after finishing up with number 12 or 14 in their early 40s.

ETA, 5/2015: This guy writes a long book review concerning a book about the birth control debate among Protestants from 1870 to 1970.  The book review is not why I linked though, I linked for note at the end of the article, where he describes his fellow professors at a private Christian college as being fecund and gives the total number of children for 13 of them, totaling 63 children.  He boasts that the average is 4.84, but misses that the mode (most common number) is 3.  This isn’t the best post to tack this onto, but it is about natalism.  Part of practical natalism is understanding statistical reality as it reveals patterns of human behavior.  His colleagues are having one extra kid much more often than they are having 11 (one family).  Six of the thirteen professors have but three kids apiece.  This is more than the usual two, but it also means the average of about 5 is a bit misleading.  Also, related, the private Christian college in question has had a number of appalling scandals attach to it, ostentatiously left out by this smuggerson mcsmuggypants.  That link doesn’t cover the Ayn Rand acolytes peopling the college, but I can’t find that reference right now so I’ll just end here.

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