Choosing Parenthood In The 21st Century

Sep 15th, 2018 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

For most of human history the decision to have children was a given.  Unless there were infertility problems, it was natural and expected that a couple would have children.  But with the emergence of birth control options (e.g., pharmaceutical products and devices, as well as abortion) the choice to not have children is a viable one. And many women are choosing to remain child free.  Hannah Seligson writes that “In this era of declining fertility rates coupled with the rise of nontraditional families, it’s no longer so straightforward for most anyone whether as an individual or a couple looking in the mirror [to] see a parent. . . Th[e] period of adulthood usually in one’s 30s, when the childbearing decision becomes unavoidable, is a kind of existential rite of passage for many urban professionals.”  Two major thoughts:

First, what are some of the effects of this growing tension and often ambivalence over the decision to have children?

  1. There is understandably a significant amount of shame. Families, society and even friends expect that a couple will have children.  For those who chose to be child free, this shame is often deep and serious.
  2. To deal with the emotional and psychological consequences that often go with the decision to remain child free, a support network of specialist coaches and therapists has emerged within American culture. Seligson captures the essence of this struggle by quoting from Sheila Heti:  “How can we know how it will go for us, us ambivalent women of thirty-seven.  On the one hand, the joy of children.  On the other hand, the misery of them.”
  3. The term “waverers” is now used by coaches and therapists to describe those who are pregnant but not excited about becoming a parent, those who are 50% certain they want a child, and those who are 99% sure in their decision. Factors that weigh heavily on the decision to have children include age, health and the financial resources needed to raise children.  Considering all these factors exacerbates the tension and uncertainty about having children.

Since Christians are not immune to these tensions and challenges, does Scripture help in making a wise decision to have children?  Several brief thoughts:

  1. The Bible declares forthrightly that children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3; Proverbs 17:6).
  2. Procreation is an aspect of marriage, the first institution God created (see Genesis 1).
  3. Having children and raising them is obviously one of the tools God uses to cultivate humility, dependence on Him and an other-centered love that would never develop without the raising of children.
  4. It is certainly true that we have the freedom to not have children, but in choosing to be child free, couples (and individuals) are missing one of the greatest blessings sourced in our loving heavenly Father.

Second, for women who choose to have children but desire to delay conception until later in life, egg-freezing is becoming a popular technique.  Ostensibly, this procedure gives one a semblance of control over when and under what circumstances to have children.  Consider these facts:

  1. Fertility begins to decline at age 22. Therefore, a “take-charge” mentality has developed in western civilization.  “Fertility preservation,” as egg freezing is now known, has exploded across America and Western Europe.  Fertility preservation has given many women a self-defined, take-charge attitude about becoming pregnant.
  2. In an article in the New York Times, Ruth La Ferla details the growth of fertility clinics that are targeting young millennials by touting the procedure of egg-freezing as a “breezy, accessible and eminently sensible lifestyle choice . . . .” Thus, Susan Herzberg, president of Prelude Fertility, a nationwide network of fertility clinics, explains that “we are now targeting women in their 20s and 30s” through a national campaign encompassing radio, television, print and social media.  Some clinics are also hosting “Let’s Chill” egg-freezing parties, inviting guests to take in facts and figures along with Champagne and canapes.
  3. Clinics across America are dropping their prices for egg-freezing. Once as high as $19,000 for the cost of a single cycle, fees today can vary from about $4,000 to $7,000 for a procedure that entails one to two weeks of birth control pills to turn off natural hormones, nine or 10 days of hormone injections to stimulate egg production, followed, once the eggs have matured, by retrieval and freezing.  The Society for Assisted Reproductive technology predicts that 76,000 women will choose to freeze their eggs this year.
  4. Because many millennials are ambitious, focused and highly organized, some are undergoing several freezing cycles to insure that many viable eggs will be available when the decision to become pregnant is made. To pursue multiple egg-freezing cycles of course increases the overall cost significantly.  Only a few women can afford such multiple cycles.

Conclusion:  Freezing eggs does not jeopardize the life of a human being, because before fertilization there is no human being.  However, embryo freezing is problematic if, as is most likely the case, after the thawing of eggs, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is used to produce the embryo in the first place.  Normally, IVF involves multiple fertilizations and thereby multiple embryos, with those not implanted in the womb being destroyed or frozen.  What happens to the remaining embryos that are not implanted or frozen is an ethical problem. Psalm 139:16 makes it quite clear that God values even embryonic life.   As Christine Rosen of the New America Foundation has argued, egg freezing and IVF will likely increase preimplantation sex selection and genetic diagnosis.  If a woman thaws her eggs and practices IVF, why should she not also be certain she gets the kind of child she wants—in terms of gender and other quality traits?  Furthermore, there are many options available for such screening in today’s fertility clinics:  “The emphasis on parental control in egg freezing could lead to subtle shifts in our attitudes about having and raising children.  Control changes our expectations. . . The more control we have, the more we expect the end result—the child—to turn out the way we want it to, and the greater our disappointment when he does not.”  Such increasing control enables women and parents in general to indulge their personal hubris and assume that they truly are in charge.  They are not!  God in His common grace has enabled humanity to understand the science and implement the techniques that produce egg freezing and IVF.  But the fallen nature of humanity means that increasingly such technologies will be used for selfish, self-indulgent reasons that have little to do with the miracle of procreation and the privilege of rearing children.  We seek to do all of this on our terms for our self-centered reasons.  When we think we are in total control, then we often make wrong ethical choices resulting in horrific consequences.  History is littered with such examples.  Why do we believe we will be different?  The message of genuine biblical Christianity is that God is in control.  He is our creator, our Redeemer and our Lord!  May our dependence on Him and our recognition of His Lordship guide our decisions in the areas of genetic and reproductive technologies.

See Hannah Seligson, “To Be or Not To Be (a Parent),” and Ruth La Ferla, “Freeze Your Assets. Enjoy Life,” in the New York Times (30 August 2018); and Sarah Elizabeth Richards in the Wall Street Journal (4-5 May 2013).

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