Having a third child in a world of scarcity


Whenever I approached my husband, I would have to think of the right way to phrase things. Rehearsing in my head, I'd stumble again and again on the word "want." I might have been saying "I want a new sweater." Or "I want to have pizza for dinner." But I was almost 40, and I was saying, "I want to have another baby."

I felt petty and pedestrian, like I was making a to-do list. But it kept coming up — get the kids new gym shoes, dust the top of the fridge, have a third baby.

Everything I'd ever been taught about population genetics, every war and famine I'd ever seen on television, every news story about consumption of resources, energy crisis, and global warming — the whole glob of messy behavior of human beings — especially my selfish self, weighed on me. This was the terrain of my dear and personal neurosis, and even with years of familiarity with the map, I wasn't navigating well.

I didn't feel justified in having a third child. It would be indulging in more than my share, like sneaking an extra slice of the pie from the kitchen after dinner. But for three years, the feeling refused to go away. Finally, I thought I would die of grief if I didn't have another child.

"That actually sounds healthy," a friend said on the phone.

He's a biologist and a professor who taught me 20 years ago. He was in Washington, D.C., getting ready for a meeting. In Colorado, I was staring out the window at our chickens picking at the morning's compost.

"No, no," I said. I'm 40 years old and have two kids. You must know there are more than 6 billion people in the world already. Haven't you seen what's happening in Niger? And besides that, our roof leaks and we haven't been able to fix it."

"Well," he said, "maybe you need to accept that things don't make sense." It's a Jungian idea, the notion that there is accuracy to what we feel, that we should submit to the movement of life rather than trying to control everything and always relying on thinking. But I always want to steer my emotions into compatibility with statistics about the world. And it turns out, intellect and instinct aren't always the best of pals; that's the problem with being an animal but also being human.

I'm not saying that everyone should go ahead and have a big bunch of kids. This business of children is terribly dangerous. People bow freely to the tyranny of a newborn. Then the child grows. Maybe he does something weird and enchanting, like trying to put his sneakers on backwards, shoving his toes into the heel part of the shoe with the kind of concentration that makes him stick his tongue out the side of his mouth and cross his eyes. After that, your heart becomes large and utterly captive. It's a little humiliating, and totally undignified; people don't talk about it much.

I know my third child will be part of population growth and almost every other problem faced by humanity. But being paranoid isn't helping anything, and logic has long since jumped my ship.

Maybe I've taken the fate of the world into my own hands, but that seems easier to me than trying to graph, say, the effects of fossil fuel emissions or polar ice cap melt against the weight of dumb, knee-buckling love. I'm going to have a baby. Eight months into pregnancy, I sway with every step, my belly round and vulnerable, its own little aching, uncertain planet.

Kate Krautkramer is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She writes in Yampa, Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.