Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Unwanted Children

I think there is a binary being applied here that is not accurate. When the phrase "unwanted children" comes up, usually in the context of abortion but not exclusively there, the image is conjured of a child deeply unwanted, neglected or even abandoned, unloved and sad. That child is going to have a terrible life. That child is more likely to become a criminal, or unemployed...or something.  

It's just plain not true. Most people have hardships, sometimes quite bad, most kids turn out okay. We know stories in retrospect and apply our narratives with our usual confirmation bias. "Well, she was unwanted right from the start, it's no surprise that she got pregnant at fifteen so she could have someone to love."  Well yeah, or that kind of impulsivity and lack of planning could be genetic, seeing as that was loaded in at conception.  But if you have already made up your mind that it was "being unwanted," teh that's going to sound like crazy talk to you.

Are surprise babies less loved?  Do they have worse outcomes?  Maybe. There is a plausibility to it.  But it's not my observation. "Every Child a Wanted Child..." but would we say "Every Immigrant a Wanted Immigrant?" Aren't there some similarities in the arguments here? I have read viciously racist pro-choice arguments about how much better off we are with fewer black children. I don't conclude generalised racism from that, but it is toeing into the shallow end of "maybe it would be better if some children just weren't born." At a minimum people need to police themselves to be backpedaling away from that. And to notice how that is already happening with certain types of genetic information. The Netherlands has eliminated Down's Syndrome births.  It's worth wondering what's next. The "Unwanted" argument nearly always focuses on environmental factors, sure. It's what people are thinking, usually.  But the genetic part is showing up in practical outcomes.

Unless there is something else going on that is mucking up the issue.  I'll be coming back to that.

Look, I actually happen to know a great deal about unwanted children, because taking social histories or reading those of otherrs was a good part of my career.  I have seen some very grim ones, which cause you to jump to the conclusion that this is what ruined this child's life. Yet I also know plenty of people who later had terrible lives who were welcomed, adored, and well-parented their whole lives.  If you want to tell me that Unwanted=Worse Outcomes statistically, even when considering genetics, I might count that as plausible.  But statistically, most of them turn out okay anyway. Unwanted does not in any way equal Definitely Bad Outcomes. 

But perrhaps more to the point, starting with my family. My children from Romania were abandoned by their parents, dropped off at Casa de Copii* in Oradea. Son #5 came to us after his parents both refused to keep him.  Maybe they were all wanted at birth.  The last one very likely was. Yet down the line they became unwanted.

My brother and I were almost certainly wanted at birth. We were uh, less-wanted at 13 and 9. (I eventually learned I was not really a wanted in-law, either, not until I made a specific effort to step in with emotional support of a nephew. Well, that happens to lots of us. Not really germane here.) Many children start out unwanted or become unwanted in some real sense. It is hard. It likely does diminish outcomes for some. But most of us turn out okay anyway, even the ones from hellish backgrounds.

I had already started this post a week ago when a friend sent this tweet about twins who might have been aborted if Texas hadn't changed it's laws. It links to a Washington Post article about the mother and the babies - and the father, grandparents, local organisations, and a bunch else. It is a fascinating read and the WaPo clearly believes this is tragic, simply tragic, because the young woman's life is so hard (it is hard), and to their mind, the births so unnecessary. But Ian Haworth is right**. It's not tragic.  Death is tragic. Permanent injury is tragic. Starvation and neglect are tragic. If you look at it from the babies' POV, things seem to be going fine. They were unwanted, and you could define them as unwanted, but in reality, they look pretty wanted to me. Mom seems to be doing very well in a difficult situation. And we do still have the floor of "being born into a situation that is better than 99% of humanity has ever had and better than 90%+ of people even today."

Look at the article.  It has some familiar themes, about how hard life is for the young woman, and also but less emphasised, on the young man. She had plans, hopes, dreams, these are now delayed, possibly diminished, and maybe even destroyed. Her mother has rejected her. Real estate school and work have not precisely rejected her, but they became untenable.  She worries the boyfriend might reject her. It's hard for a journalist to write a human interest story focusing on the babies unless they are visibly hungry or huddled in a corner, so these stories focus on the mothers for storytelling reasons.

But is a lot of this actually about unwanted mothers, not unwanted children? I agree that unwanted mothers is a problem worthy of attention.  But it's not the same problem.  It may not be a full bait-and-switch from just talking about babies to just talking about mothers, but I think that the latter is getting added on to the scale. The stories may overlap and be related, but they aren't the same. The sympathy in the stories is with the mother during pregnancy. But I don't think "and those children are likely to have terrible lives because they are unwanted" is known to be true. 

There is an additional bit. I think the "unwanted children" narrative gained force when I was much younger because we also believed at that time that there were too many people and population was getting out of control. Also, we believed - even I believed - that environment was everything in child development. Couples from ethnic groups where people started expecting to see babies nine months and fifteen minutes after the wedding were saying "we want to wait until we are more settled/can afford it," and this began to be applauded. There was also increased freedom for women (and men) to say "Y'know, I just don't personally want children at all," which had been more allowed in Hajnal Line societies than elsewhere but was still considered suspect. It was therefore considered something good for Society to have fewer children, more carefully planned children, children that already had yards to play in and rooms of their own.  Less pathology. More emotional support. And have you seen how expensive college is these days? There was also a sense that it would be good if Society understood that not everyone wants children and that's okay. Well, that's a freedom issue, and a legitimate one, but it shouldn't be added as weight to measuring the outcomes for the children. How much do the many gradations of "being wanted" matter for actual development.  That's supposed to be the measure if we are talking about wanting. The other is about outcomes for the adults.

We see the world differently now.  Population replacement is the problem, not population explosion, whatever Bill McKibben thinks. We have a safety net built on people who aren't there, which is a big reason we encourage immigration, even illegal immigration. I am not at all convinced that long-delayed children have markedly better upbringings. Wealthier, sure.  One of the things that you learn from actual parenting is that  the main thing you need is simply energy. A friend at 25th (maybe 30th) highschool reunion chuckled that she had had three children, at 19, 21, and 22, and she and her husband had already started traveling, now that the youngest had moved out. Son #5, who was then a nephew, was just being born then. A few months ago I helped him move some furniture off one second floor and onto another.  So who's the smart one here? 

I tell young couples to have more children and worry about them less. They'll be fine.

As I also believe that genetic factors weigh much more heavily than the things we used to think important, I am less convinced that "unwanted" tells us as much about outcomes as we used to think.  It tells us more about mom's and dad's life. Certainly, I don't think that unwanted and less-wanted are binaries. No one does, really.  But some people talk as if they do when doing cultural and political advocacy.

*Romanian for "Mouth of Hell."

**I don't know who he is.  If he says or does terrible things, that doesn't change what he says here.  I'm not interested.


The Mad Soprano said...

As someone who is on the Autism Spectrum, just hearing about babies being aborted for having Down Syndrome makes me angry to say the least. I wonder how many people would support abortion if they knew it to be the ultimate form of prejudice.

Anamaria said...

A lot. I hang out on tumblr a bit. One autistic person was complaining about people wanting to abort autistic children. Yes, the blogger was autistic. She notably insisted that she was pro-choice but did not want children to be aborted just because they were autistic. The fact that she would have been targeted for abortion did not stop her from being pro-choice. Of course, a lot of people on Tumblr are leftists. I saw plenty of comments the pro-life people should all be killed. No wonder she insisted she was pro-choice.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Anamaria - I assume you are the same Anamaria on the spectrum who commented here before at least once. I had wondered whether you were still in the background and hoped you were in good supportive online spaces. Glad to have you holding on.

Anamaria said...

Yes, that is me. I mostly just read not comment. My writing is terrible, so I don't comment much. And if I read something that angers me, I fume over it for a long time. So, back to the topic. My dad was emotionally abusive, and he did NOT want me. He said that he would have forced my mom to abort me because I spend some time in the hospital after birth. I was too expensive. This was before my autism spectrum diagnosis. So, I wasn't wanted. I still want to live. Also, why aren't parents taught to love "unwanted children"? I want parents to learn how to be more loving not kill the kids.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I don't think your writing is terrible. I think it's vivid.

That is a truly horrible thing for a parent to say to a child. I am glad you have found at least some value in yourself despite that, and hope you find more. There is a Narnia quote that I think sums up human value quite well. From Prince Caspian
“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve," said Aslan. "And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

Korora said...

And the racial aspect. Not only is the slogan "Black lives matter" weighted with dishonestly-oversimplifying subtext that belies the objectively true face value of the slogan, but where abortion is concerned suddenly that face value is subjected to doublethink.