Pregnancy is a social magnet. Complete strangers want to look at you, talk to you and touch you. Usually, I like the attention. I don’t even mind those who want to place a hand on my belly, especially if they are women or little old men from the “old country.” But when the conversation turns to, “So is this your first?” I wish that maternity burqas were in style so I could have some portable privacy and peace. I’m not ashamed of being pregnant. It’s just that I’ve been down this path before, and I usually end up at home crying into a bowl of pistachio ice cream.
When I confess that this is not my blessed first child, my acceptable second nor even the tie-breaking third, but an unacceptable fourth, fifth or worse, my questioners’ attitude can become positively boorish.
“You must be brave—or crazy,” chirp the polite ladies.
“You do know how this happens, don’t you?” wink the witty men.
“Was this planned?” ask the concerned women in hushed tones.
Crass men give me tips on different sleeping positions or effective methods to ward off my husband.
“Better you than me!” hoot some friends and relatives.
You may feel I am too sensitive. At least I have an excuse for my erratic behavior: I’m pumping hormones for two. Since I passed the third-child level, however, the gloves are off and no holds are barred. Somehow being pregnant for the fifth time puts me outside the protection of common courtesy.
I can’t imagine commenting to a complete stranger about his sexual habits. Haven’t we all learned that it is a social faux pas to ask a couple why they have no children? Would you ask parents if they stopped at one or two children, because the first ones were “mistakes”?
Part of this phenomenon stems from human beings’ fascination with sex. Pregnancy is an obvious sign that one has been sexually active. It follows logically that if you are pregnant lots of times you must have lots of sex. Consequently, you don’t mind ribald jokes from strangers on the train, on the buffet line or in the grocery store. What a misconception. Just ask any couple with children. They are too tired to have lots of sex. You need only a little bit of sex to get very pregnant. You could be pregnant for the 10th time and still be too shy to discuss your sex life with people you hardly know.
Another cause for the “Say Whatever Pops Into Your Head” syndrome is incomprehension. Kids are a pain in the neck, so why have so many? I love my kids and believe one of the best gifts I can give them is brothers and sisters. Some may never comprehend the joys of large family living, just as I don’t get people who mow their lawns every Saturday at 8 a.m., comb some really long hairs over a bald spot or have more cars than people who can drive at their house. Unless you break the law I say “Live and let live. It’s a free country.” There is no law dictating the number of children a family may have. They can have as many as they can care for.
Which leads me to my most serious critics.
“That’s irresponsible!” say the men and women who worry that my children will be a burden on them and the Earth.
Most large families in the United States house, feed and clothe their children with their own resources. Out of necessity, they are avid recyclers of clothes, cars, furniture, toys, books and food, better known as hand-me-downs and leftovers. Their cars are almost always high-occupancy vehicles averaging more than 100 people miles per gallon. Their average-size houses shelter, warm and cool nearly twice as many people each day. All in all, large families are an efficient bunch.
The literature on world population is vast, so I will pass along a few facts. Economic studies have shown that the prices for the basic necessities of life have not grown faster than inflation. The demand for food, clothing, water, shelter and energy has not outgrown the supply. Nearly all famines and other shortages have been caused or sustained by political policies, not global lack. Countries that have attained the Zero Population Growth mark coveted by some population theorists have discovered it to be a nightmare. Their economies are toppling over on themselves. The younger generation is too small to support the booming number of retirees.
Those who worry about the “Small Earth” see children as consumers, mere mouths to feed. In the same children I see strong hands to defend and care for you, quick minds to solve your problems and warm hearts to love you as their neighbors.
Forget the maternity burqas_. I’m going to get an XXXL unitard and flaunt my next pregnancy.
_Kathleen Whitney Barr is a freelance writer who lives in Newark, Delaware, with her husband and their five children.