There it was: slosh, slosh, slosh, slosh — a quadruple or octuple-time rhythm reverberating through my lower abdomen. It was the sound of a tiny, vibrant being camping out inside of me. My eyes widened. Patrick’s filled with tears. Seamus — now almost 14 months and a full-fledged toddler — was nonplussed. He was more interested in the large drawer full of plastic gloves and gowns. Here we are: a 31-year-old husband, a 39-year-old wife, a big first grader who lives with us half-time, the world’s most charming and confounding toddler, and a 5-month-old fetus. Life is about to get very interesting.
It was not planned. But it wasn’t a total accident either. I’ll let you figure out what that means in practical terms. Patrick and I were both surprised by the blue lines on the pee stick though. Seamus still nurses — a lot. But I should know better than most — considering I have a brother who is one year and two weeks younger than me — that nursing is not a prophylactic.
Before we were married, we used to talk about having five kids — at least five. Now that I am looking down the barrel of “two under 2,” I am less enthused. When Seamus and I are having a hard day — like when he is teething, feeling lousy, on nap strike, and desperate to be physically connected to me all day, or I am on deadline, feeling lousy, have four projects that I want to finish and the house is a mess — I stop and breath and say to myself: “At least it is just the two of us.” I can say that for a few more months. But then everything changes.
We have a big house. It was a foreclosure that had been empty for at least two years. The former owners installed a Jacuzzi bathtub and neglected to repair the roof. We bought it for less than some people pay their nannies. It has four bedrooms, a little study, a full attic, a full basement, a nice yard, and a back and front stair case. We thought we would never fill it — not even with the five kids. Well, guess what? We are not sure where the baby will sleep once he or she graduates from the co-sleeper — especially if we still want to have a guest room (and we tend to have lots of guests).
Still, not the worst problem in the world. But our little where-will-the-baby-sleep quandary made me think about a much larger and more intractable problem: overpopulation and our family’s small contribution to it. There are more than 7 billion people on Earth today, with another 375,000 born every day. The United States is the third most populated country in the world and although China and India have more people by orders of magnitude, each U.S. citizen out-buys, out-eats and out-drives each Indian and Chinese person by orders of magnitude. According to Facing the Future, the average person living in the United States uses 300 shopping bags worth of raw materials every week.
Overpopulation keeps a lot of scientists and policy makers up late worrying about the global food and water supply, deforestation and global warming. Today, hundreds of millions of people are hungry and tens of millions do not have regular access to an adequate supply of clean drinking water.
Here in the United States, overpopulation is not a can’t-sleep-a-wink kind of problem. Like Western Europe and other developed countries, we have a relatively low birth rate. Until recently, immigration has kept us from noticing that fact. But a December 2012 report from the Pew Research Center found that “immigrant births fell from 102 per 1,000 women in 2007 to 87.8 per 1,000 in 2012, bringing the overall U.S. birthrate to a mere 64 per 1,000 women — not enough to sustain current U.S. population.”
The issue in this country is not so much too many births, but too many unintended births. Nearly half of the births in this country are unplanned, unwanted and unheralded with trumpets, banners and parades. But I’m not talking about our kind of unintended oops-that-happened-sooner-than-we-thought-it-would pregnancy. I mean something more like, “Wait, what was that guy’s name again?” Or, “What am I going to tell my mom, I’m only 15?” Or, “How could I ever love and care for the child of rape/coercion/incest?”
In 2006, the last year for which I could find full data, at least half of these pregnancies ended in births (at a cost of more than $11 billion a year to taxpayers). As a mother who loves her kids and is excited to welcome another one into the world, I worry over their future. What will the world look like when they come into their own? What issues and problems will they face? What can their dad and I do to prepare them? And, the most fundamental question of all: Is it right to bring more children onto a planet that cannot provide for all the people who already live here?
I guess that the best Patrick and I can aim for is to really, really love our kids and to really, really want them in our lives and in the world. We are trying to raise them to be people who will consume fewer bags of raw materials, not rattle sabers for war, and help foster resilient and sustainable communities of people. Hopefully, they will play a part in resolving, rather than exacerbating, the problems of the world. But all of that can wait a few months. Today, I will just say: Hurray, I am pregnant!
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