Nina Steele, who runs nonparents.com, recently asked me to do a featured post on her site about The Baby Matrix. Read it here as well:
A Glimpse into The Baby Matrix
In the last 15+ years, the question, “Is it OK to not want kids?” has been discussed and studied more than ever before. Consider a more interesting question: “Why do people want children?” And even more interesting – Why don’t people ask this question?
Enter the baby matrix. In the movie The Matrix, the character Morpheus offers two pills to Neo—if he takes the blue pill, he will go on with life as he has before, believing what he has always believed. If he takes the red pill, he will find out what the “matrix” really is, and see the truth behind what he has been taught to believe. When it comes to taking a hard look at the beliefs about parenthood that have driven society for generations, my book, The Baby Matrix gives you the red pill.
In it, you learn how many assumptions we have about parenthood boil down to beliefs – and not what is necessarily true. One truth: No real evidence supports the notion that everyone has a biological instinct for the desire to bear children. So why is it so ingrained in us to think so?
Going Way Back in Time
To understand we need to go way back in time. Throughout history valuing fertility was necessary to ensure survival. Leaders encouraged, even mandated population growth to offset population losses due to infant mortality, war and disease. The larger a society’s population, the more it could expand and gain power. However, in times past, women’s valued reproductive role did not come without its downsides and risks. According to sociologist E.E. LeMasters, when a social role of motherhood and fatherhood is difficult, a romantic myth needs to surround it to keep it in its most positive light. And this is exactly what happened. Lots of myths exalting motherhood were created to persuade people to have many babies.
Early feminist Leta Hollingsworth called these myths “social devices,” as their purpose was to influence behavior. These devices created a set of beliefs called “pronatalism,” which has driven what we have believed about parenthood and reproduction for generations. Pronatalism is “pro-natal,” or “pro-baby,” exalts the role of parenthood, and includes the assumption that “normal” women will all experience a “biological urge,” or longing to have a child.
Seeing Past What We’ve Been Taught to Believe
We know that estrogen and progesterone kick in at conception and continue through pregnancy, along with the neurohormone, oxytocin, which fires at the time of delivery. Research also tells us that once the baby is born, the mother’s brain responds differently to different baby behaviors. With men, we know the longer they let their biological clocks tick the greater the risk of having a baby with a birth defect.
But what biological process creates the desire for a child in the first place? When we see past what we’ve been taught to believe, biology does not sit at the crux of the creation of the desire. What does? Powerful social and cultural pronatal influences and conditioning that started centuries ago. The assumption that we will want children has been hammered into our social and cultural hardware for so long that it feels like a truth in life. But it isn’t; just because we humans have the biological ability to conceive and bear children does not mean we have an instinctive desire to become parents or even have the ability to parent.
Other old and outmoded pronatalist assumptions dictate how we’re supposed to follow the “normal path” to adulthood. They put unwarranted pressure on us to have biological children (and the “right” number of them). They fail to foster a society in which those who are best suited to become parents are the ones who have children, and do a disservice to children who are already here in need of loving homes. The Baby Matrix challenges these assumptions, lays out why it’s time for all of us to understand why we can no longer afford to leave pronatalist assumptions unquestioned, and how, when we see and live from the truths about parenthood, more people will make the best decisions for themselves and our world.