Tuesday, September 26, 2023

What childbirth during a pandemic taught me about progress

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Almost a year after the start of this pandemic, the baby’s bust is only getting worse. The psychological and economic strains of the pandemic seem to be pushing families in the other direction like young people carried the weight of a closed economy. In a survey by the company Modern Fertility, 30% of respondents said they change their family planning decisions because of covid-19. Of those, about three-quarters said they would delay having children – or reconsider having them.

The Brookings Institution predicted that the pandemic could cause 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in 2021, a decrease of 10% or more. What is less clear is whether this drop reflects the anxieties of struggling expectant parents, their worries about their potential children’s future prospects, or both.

America’s capitalist promise – that members of every generation can work hard and hope to give their children a better life than theirs – has been broken.

This worsened covid baby bust will no doubt lower America’s birth rate, already the lowest in more than three decades. And according to many traditional measures of progress, a decline in the birth rate is an indicator of failure.

Ours was one of the last babies conceived in the hopeful naivety of early 2020, before I knew of this specific devastation to come. But after years of reporting on ecosystems collapsing at human hands, I could feel the outlines of what to expect.

Year after year, I’ve watched my California neighbors burn down their homes in growing, faster-growing wildfires – and I’ve watched them rebuild themselves in the same places. Even in the face of chaos, our collective will to change seems questionable.

So many of my peers have decided not to give the legacy of this mess another young life, and I can’t say they’re wrong. Choosing to have children is an inherently optimistic act – either because one already has hope for the world, or because, having created and committed to caring for a part of a new generation, he must be found.


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