“Contraception is critical to achieving healthy families.” I definitely believe that this is true. And it’s not just about preventing ovarian cysts or regulating menstrual cycles or any of the other secondary uses of contraception.
It’s about not becoming a parent until you’re ready.
When I was reading The Feminine Mystique earlier this year, I was very rattled by Friedan’s accounts of women who had babies and got married in high school, and began to raise children while still being children themselves. This was in the fifties, barely a generation ago. They did this because there was little else for them to do. Yes, women were now welcome in academia and swelled the ranks of higher education–but the message coming from the specialists, the psychologists, the sociologists, was that a woman’s place was in the home, serving her husband and children. Here, they said, was where a woman would find fulfillment.
Needless to say, she didn’t, and that’s why we had a second feminist movement in the sixties and seventies.
Today women go to college to find careers, not husbands. Often, this means putting off family until the mid-to-late twenties. And because we live in a sexually enlightened age, where it’s common knowledge (except with the extremists) that women enjoy and have as much right to sexual pleasure as men, putting off family means employing contraception in our relationships.
This is all fairly simple.
There are two main reasons why I believe in putting off making a family until later in life: personal stability and social stability. Personal stability means that you have a good sense of self, your beliefs, your values, your dreams and goals. The things that make you who you are. This is crucial, because think about it: if you don’t have a solid sense of yourself, how are you going to help a child gain one? How are you going to teach them and help them navigate a world full of contradictory messages? If you don’t know what’s really important to you, how on earth can you help your child find out what’s important to him or her? Obviously, it takes a lifetime to gain and maintain true personal stability. It’s an ongoing process (something else you’ll have to impress upon your child). But you’ve got to have a foundation.
Many people gain this foundation in college, and the years following college. Imagine trying to steady yourself AND raise a child! Some people may say you have a few years before the child really begins to “understand”, but I disagree. And even if that were the case, wouldn’t you rather have something solid to start from, before the child is even born?
Social stability means having gainful and adequate employment, being fairly settled in one location, and hopefully in a committed, long-term relationship. I have a lot of love for single parents, but there’s no denying that taking care of any small life is easier when there are two people to share the load. Children are expensive. I think the figure is upwards of $23,000 spent between ages 0-18, before you even get into college costs. I don’t even know what’s included in that, but I’m sure it’s an estimation of basic costs like food, clothing, school supplies, etc. It breaks down to about $1,000-$2,000 a year, which doesn’t sound like much unless you’re only making $20k per year, or $12k like I was when I graduated from college.
Moving isn’t such a big issue before the child starts school, but once that happens moving gets a lot harder on the child. My brother and I switched school districts twice, and while I adapted well enough, my brother had a lot of trouble. He didn’t like the new teachers, and he resented the other kids for not being his old friends, so he had a really hard time making new ones. Sometimes, moving is necessary, but if it’s possible to stay in one place at least through K-12 schooling, I think it’s better for everyone.
I feel that I’ve learned a lot about what parenting could be like with my puppy, Jay, and my roommate Chelsea. We got him last November when he was seven months old. Our lives changed. We’d been living pretty independent of each other, and honestly barely hung out together. When we adopted Jay, we began to do what parents do: we coordinated our schedules, made sure we knew when someone was going to be home. We had a lot of discussions about what kind of food we were going to give him. And the training! Lots of talking about how we were going to train him, how the training was going, what was working, what we should do differently. And we took a lot of pictures. We still do.
The really important parts to me were coordinating our schedules and discussing the training and his behavior. I have two very long days of work every week where I’m out of the house for 11 hours. Imagine paying a babysitter for two 11-hour days every week, including the other days I work. It’d be a huge chunk of my paycheck. But because Chelsea only works until mid-afternoon, if Jay were a baby, we wouldn’t have to have a babysitter in the evenings. And once human-baby-Jay started school, we’d only need a daycare or sitter service for maybe an hour before Chelsea got home. Things like that are very nice.
When it comes to disciplining a child, I believe it’s best to have a foil–a partner with whom you can discuss things, someone who tempers you and someone for you to temper. Say my child was playing too rough and broke some priceless vase. My initial reaction, hypothetically, might be very severe. But my partner might remind me that it was a first offense, or something like that. They could calm me down, and then the two of us could sit and explain firmly but calmly to the child what he or she did wrong and what the consequences were going to be. This is assuming, of course, that both me and my partner are reasonable, which, hopefully, we will be. Because then, we can also avoid falling into the parental default “because I said so.” If one has another adult to say “but why?”, then it holds both more accountable to themselves and the child. At its best, it’s a check-and-balance system.
The point is that until you have these things (or whatever you personally deem necessary prerequisites to child-rearing), you should not undertake to become a parent. To that end, though, you should not have to sacrifice physical intimacy with someone you care about, which is the context in which most people use contraception. And if you’re not having sex as part of a committed relationship, but as simply an occasional, fun experience, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice that in order to avoid becoming a parent too soon. Because you know what? It’s your life. Once you reach a certain age, you’re the only one who is responsible for your behavior. If you choose to remain abstinent, that’s great. But someone else shouldn’t be forced to do the same just because they know they’re not ready for parenthood. That’s their choice. Not yours. Not Rick Santorum’s.
Unfortunately, that’s what many of these politicians are attempting to do. By stripping women of access to contraception, they are forcing us ladies to abide by their sense of hyper-morality, advised by religious beliefs that not all of us subscribe to. But not only that–they are removing our ability to make decisions about our lives. Do I want to have sex? Do I want to have children? Under these bills, the answers to these questions must be the same. If you want to have sex, you must want to have children. If you don’t want to have children, you can’t have sex.
But the thing is, women’s lives no longer revolve around their husbands and their children. We don’t have to decide between careers and families anymore. Our mothers have paved the way for us to do both, one or neither if we want to. The ability to make that decision is truly empowering. Having access to contraception compounds that; it gives us the means to realize ourselves sexually and still wait to have children until we’re ready. It means that we really have a say in our own lives. These bills will take that away.
Luckily, Senate tabled the bill the people in the video are talking about. Huzzah!