Five months into the life of our third child, my husband and I are thinking, “hey, maybe we should have one more!”
Actually, we only think that when the angel is sleeping or giggling or sitting calmly in our laps.
The other 12 hours of the day, when she’s screaming and slapping my face with her razor sharp finger nails, it’s like a form of torture. When she’s spitting up all over my suit jacket, I wonder if I can maintain my career. When she poops all over everything in sight seconds after I’ve given her a bath, I wonder how much laundry a woman can do before she decides to burn all the fabric in the house instead of washing it.
Despite the fact infants are a little disgusting and annoying most of the time -- yes, I believe this -- we still seriously contemplate evening out the numbers. (My husband, one of three children, always thought we should have two or four. As one of two, I never thought a single sibling was enough). One of the biggest hurdles for us, however, is cost -- not just financial, but time as well. But new reports suggest if we don’t have babies, there may be an even bigger economic cost.
Following reports in November that the birth rate in the United States fell to its lowest-ever level in 2011 -- 1.89 children per adult woman - many are wondering how developed nations will sustain aging populations without enough young people to support them. While the latest data puts the U.S. on par with the rest of the developed world -- Canada’s fertility rate crept up marginally in the four years to 2010, to 1.63 from 1.59 -- many are once-again contemplating how to get women back on the baby-rearing track.
Earlier this month in the Globe and Mail, columnist Margaret Wente summarized the national discussion taking place in the United States. Conservatives, she notes -- many of them “men who’ve probably never changed a diaper” -- have failed to convince women that a return to the domestic sphere is in the national interest. On the flip side, progressives are likely to argue for improved social programs like parental leave and daycare, but Wente notes that where these programs do exist, they haven’t made much of a difference in fertility rates either.
So what to do?
One thing that is frequently missing from this debate is the role of men. Having just spent a week cleaning up vomit and diarrhea and altogether acting as nurse Mom to my four co-habitants during a horrible stomach virus, I can safely say that if other women are like me, we have a general lack of desire to spend all our time in the home doing all the disgusting chores that go along with that.
Unfortunately, the big push for breastfeeding and attachment parenting on one end of the philosophical spectrum, and the focus on nap schedules and hardcore routine on the other, often makes childrearing out to be a lonely and predominantly female venture.
But if we really want to increase fertility rates in this country, there’s no turning back the clock on feminism. Men have to be on board, and not just as sperm donors. I have several friends each with four children and they have something in common: their husbands have taken parental leave at one time or another and the men have chosen to plateau their careers temporarily to help raise the kids and support the mothers’ careers. This is significant because while my female friends like having children, they also -- like their husbands -- enjoy having a social life, a gym membership and a career outside the home.
My husband is one of a handful of dads I know who gets up in the middle of the night more frequently than I do to rock and feed the baby. He’s one of few men I know primarily responsible for laundry and cleaning toilets. It’s because he takes equal responsibility for the children that, despite the vomit and the poo and the crying and the razor sharp nails, and the horrible nine months of being a vessel to what frequently seems like a parasite, I may just contemplate having another one. Consider it my -- or should I say our -- contribution to the nation’s economy.