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US Birth Rate Drops to Record Low—Why This MD-Mom is Bucking the Trend

Sean Dreilinger
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My children are the best gift I have for society. Children bring hope for the future and model unconditional love. Have we forgotten?

Editor’s Note: Aleteia is very pleased to welcome to our virtual "pages" today Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD, who will be writing a column on medical and other issues related to health. Dr. Berchelmann is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and a mother of five young children. Her column will appear every other Tuesday. 

The US birth rate is at a record low, according to an announcement this week from the CDC.  Not surprising, given Time magazine’s recent cover story about having a “child free life.”  But as for my husband and me, who have just had our fifth child, we’re bucking the trend. Here’s what our friends and colleagues had to say when we announced our pregnancy:

“Do you hate money?”

“Do they all have the same father?”

“Are you done now?”

“Are you crazy?”

“Was this planned?”

“Don’t you know there are things you can do to prevent this?”

“You must be Catholic or Mormon.”

“Is the quiver full of arrows?”

Critics of large families mention the burden that our children will be on society and the planet.  We hear about the health care costs our children will generate and the size of our family carbon footprint.  Others simply express concern for my husband and me, that we will be too tired, have financial stress, or not have enough time for each other.

Here’s my question: why can’t we look at children as future contributors to society rather than burdens?  My children are the best gift I have for society.  Children bring hope for the future and model unconditional love.  Have we forgotten?  It is the sign of a dying society when we see our children as burdens rather than beacons of hope and future innovators.

The National Center for Health Statistics says the over all birth rate in 2011 is the lowest in this country since 1920. As a college-educated Caucasian female, I am predicted to have 1.6 children per 2011 statistics.  America’s overall fertility rate is 1.96, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1. The replacement rate refers to the number of children each woman needs to have to maintain current population levels, or zero population growth.

We do not have an overpopulation problem in the United States, but a low-birth-rate problem; furthermore, experts predict that global population is also slowing.  This trend is likely to continue as contraception becomes increasingly available in the developing world.  When birth rates fall below replacement rates, societies suffer.  The average age of the population increases, creating a top-heavy society with heavy health-care and resource needs.   Children are the answer to this problem – our future workers, innovators, and supporters.  Children are our hope and future, not our burden.

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But I’m not having kids to re-populate the earth; I’m having kids because I love them.  Yes, I will have a few more years of diapers and crying babies at night, but the rewards are many.  Here are my favorites:
 

– Children keep me young and joyful.  I have to turn my anxiety off and play pretend with my 4-year-old, I rest every few hours and breastfeed my baby, and I share my six-year-old’s delight in drawing a dream-house with fifteen stories.  They get me to eat home-made snow cones and play in the rain.  I play outside almost every day.  Do you?

– Younger kids bring joy out of my older kids, no matter how grumpy they get.  My son can have a terrible attitude, but when his baby sister wants to play with him, he always smiles and obliges her.  And then I smile, too.

– Life is never boring!  Our kids are each so unique, so different from one another.  And they keep growing and changing – we never know what to expect.

– I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.  I used to clean and polish away every nick in my wooden furniture and keep my bathroom spotless.  These days I figure a few marks in my furniture adds to their antique value.  I find fingerprints on my bathroom mirror endearing.

– Parenthood makes me work hard.  Without kids, I’m sure I’d watch more TV, drink more wine, and become a more selfish individual.  With kids, I’m forced to think of others and avoid self-absorption.

– Kids make me realize how ridiculous I can be.   One of my kids complains about dinner almost every night.  It’s really annoying.  Then I realize there are things I complain about too much, too.

– There is nothing like parenthood to keep you humble.  Just when you think you have it all figured out, they throw you another curve ball.

– I want less stuff.  I keep thinking, if we had fewer kids and more disposable income, what would I do with it?  Drive a fancier car, live in a bigger house?  I don’t want a fancier car and I certainly don’t want to clean or care for a bigger house. 

Some people worry that we won’t be able to give each of our kids the one-on-one attention that they need. But since we homeschool, our kids get plenty of individual attention every day.

A new baby is perhaps the best gift you can give to your other children.  A 14 year-old from a family of five told me, “I can’t imagine not having siblings.  That would be my worst nightmare.  It would be lonely.”

My four year-old said it best, “Can we have as many kids as the Duggars?”

Umm… maybe not that many.

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