What child is this?

Posted: Dec 12, 2002 12:00 AM
Christmas is coming. You can hardly help noticing, what with Bing Crosby in the elevator, long lines at the mall, the crowded, insistent messages of the season: Buy this, eat that, do good, give some more, get some more, want some more, had enough?

All this because God decided to have a baby, to be a baby. Extraordinary!

I have a Christmas message for you, one that women today almost never hear: If you want to have a baby, and you are married, go ahead.

I still get letters from people who think that there is a population explosion, and maybe you hear the frowning voices, too. Bah humbug! Ignore them. America's birthrate is just barely at replacement level (thanks to large numbers of immigrants who have not yet been properly indoctrinated); Europe and Japan are dwindling away. The United Nation's Population Division is issuing urgent warnings about the economic stagnation that will result from population decline as nations industrialize. And its experts find it hard to establish any correlation at all between effective anti-baby programs and economic development.

So if you are married, and you want to have a baby, go ahead. You are not taking food from the mouths of poor people. You are contributing a loving, caring, healthy, productive human being to take care of the world in the next generation.

I am amazed, when I talk with my fellow wives, how negative we Americans have become about babies. It is not that we do not love and want them, but we seem to be terrified of having them. Is it responsible? Is it safe? Will our other children feel jealous or neglected? Can we afford an Ivy League education 20 years down the road? Nobody tells women to go ahead and have a baby these days. Even our mothers, looking fearfully at their sons-in-law, wonder about the divorce that may be down the road, and urge us to get back to work.

According to family scholar Alan Carlson, the entire baby boom of the '50s was basically a Catholic phenomenon. My church, the Roman Catholic one, used to be good at giving out this message, but no more. Now Catholic birthrates are, like other religious groups, below replacement. (According to latest reports, American anti-baby culture may ultimately prove more effective than Hitler shrinking the Jewish population.) Even Catholic orthodoxy has turned inward, with the most traditional Catholics focused narrowly on avoiding traditional Catholic sexual sins, such as contraception. But avoiding sexual sin is not the same thing as sexual virtue. If you are married and you feel like having a baby, go ahead.

In USA Today this week, Martin Seligman, an important scholar of positive psychology and author of a new book, "Authentic Happiness," says research shows that as a source of happiness, family beats money hands down. Most people, he says (including himself), are poor judges of what will make them happy. With two grown kids, Seligman did not want any more babies. But his current wife wanted four. "So we compromised at four," he says.

I wish I knew Mrs. Seligman. I would like to shake her hand. Following the contemporary American responsibility script, she should have agonized over imposing unwanted babies and burdens on her husband and been satisfied with "mebbe one." Now Martin Seligman marvels at how besotted he is with his four new children. "I just didn't know," he says.

So take heart. If you are at all tempted to have a baby, and you are happily married, go ahead. If he really doesn't want kids, tell him it's his job to figure out how not to have any.

If you do not want a baby, this message is not for you. No guilt, no hectoring, no lectures, no judgment. But if you are married and you feel like incarnating someone, go ahead. It is a good time of year.