A recent article in the Washington Post focused on the relationship between the down economy, the decreasing American birthrate and the struggles of couples experiencing infertility. We meet Melissa and Rick, a couple who experienced job losses, financial insecurity and infertility. Feeling frustrated with the costs of infertility treatment, Melissa asks, “Why should the economy play into my family planning?”
On one level the question is startling. The economy plays into having a baby because everything from infertility treatment to raising children is expensive. The current declining birthrate is the likely due in part to some people feeling they cannot provide adequately for their children. They are delaying childbearing or downsizing their family planning until their paycheck is upsized or stabilized. The situation is ironic (painful?) in light of those who do not have the economic means to raise children by most standards and actively continue to have them. But the question and the situation are simply sad for those with good intentions and an unstable paycheck.
When infertility treatment is involved, conceiving children is absolutely an economic decision. It’s expensive. Unfair? In many ways yes, for others arguably not. And that gets to the true pain that Melissa is articulating with her question. Why are there financial factors in Melissa’s family planning? Why are anyone’s dreams of having a child – something that is what most people take for granted, something we think is just natural and the universe just works that way, something that everyone does – why should it be so hard to do or to afford? Those are not economic questions at heart even if they are in reality. At heart they are questions about shattered dreams that we never knew where so tenuous or complicated. The question points out the unfairness of infertility compounded by the economic reality of the situation.
The article continues: “What if we never have children?” Melissa asks her husband as they sit at the kitchen table. “What are we going to do, go on vacation all the time?”
The article provides good information about infertility and more of the story of Melissa and Rick, but there was no need to read any further. The vacation question hits one of the most fundamental issues that infertility raises. Children heighten are awareness of everything – our mortality, the future, our morals, the context of our lives, our limits, our hopes and fears. And many of us need that reminder. Taking part in the living chain of life that we imagine childbearing to be taps into our deep seeded humanity.
For sure there are other ways to link to that chain, to determine our future, to keep our moral compass in check and ultimately to provide a context for giving our life meaning. However for many people, having children was going to do that. Naturally. And when children are not there and not coming, everything else comes into question. So what now? When the direction for our sense of purpose, the next generation, is not there, do we just not have purpose? Do we project onto other children? Do we just go on vacation and have a self-fulfilling fun time? Perhaps the question represents the craving for simplicity and answers when infertility uproots lives. Dealing with infertility in the long run is a process that often includes big questions about life and meaning. The process can lead to deeper self-knowledge and purpose, but it is uninvited and often painful.
I have heard many stories of infertility and the two questions in this article highlight reoccurring themes of people’s experiences. Infertility and economics are indeed related and infertility hits our sense of life purpose and meaning. Most of us grew up thinking the process of making children was supposed to be free and fun. For those who have experienced infertility, we know quite well it is far from a vacation.