The Decline of Motherhood
Published in the Ottawa Citizen, May 12, 2007
Hiking along the northern reaches of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast last week, my sister and I passed by the home of a woman recently taken by cancer. As dignified deaths go, it was exemplary. Predeceased by her husband, her care was assumed in turns by her four grown children. She died peacefully surrounded by them and her beloved ocean views.
For the generation that’s brought Canada’s fertility rate to below replacement levels, such idylls can only become increasingly rare. With 1.5 children per couple, our best hope is a quiet death in a clean facility where the immigrant workers speak our language. And that’s only the human face of demographic decline. The economic face is hardly more appealing: unfilled labour markets, reduced GDP and no tax revenues to pay for healthcare - to name a few.
Canada isn’t the only country in this predicament. According to America Alone, Mark Steyn’s self-described and penetrating rant on “demography, Islam and civilisational exhaustion”, the developed world has gone from 30 to 20 per cent of global population. Greece has 1.3 births per couple – the “lowest low” from which no society has ever recovered; Russia, where 70% of pregnancies are terminated, has the fastest growing rate of HIV in the world and, by 2050, 60% of Italians will have no brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts or uncles. In the developed world, only the United States, with a 2.1 birth rate, is replacing itself.
How did it come to this? In Canada, one answer is infertility. This affects 1 in every 15 Canadian couples (in Britain 1 in 6 are affected), who spend some $30 million dollars a year on in vitro fertilization alone. Defined as failure to conceive after one year of trying, infertility can result from many factors affecting both males and females but according to the Government of Canada’s Biobasics website, the two biggest factors are delayed childbearing and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Today, mothers giving birth average 29.5 years of age. Since women are born with a given number of eggs which decline in quality and quantity from the age of 30, it is no surprise that for the growing proportion of 30 plus women attempting pregnancy it is much more difficult to conceive and carry a child.
Compounding the problem, earlier and increased sexual activity means a greater likelihood for contracting gonorrhea or chlamydia. In women, pelvic inflammatory disease and, in turn, blocked fallopian tubes or ectopic pregnancy may result. In men, sterility is possible. According to healthyontario.com, rates of STD infection are up 60% since 1997 with girls between the ages of 15 and 19 incurring the highest rates. In 2003, 20,000 new cases of chlamydia were reported in Canada. Since chlamydia presents no symptoms, many cases are undetected, suggesting this figure is only the tip of the iceberg. Even one rpisode can affect fertility.
Infertility problems are preventable but larger social and economic forces make it difficult. Industrialised food production and environmental degradation are taking their toll. Most recently, a Harvard School of Public Health study implicated transfats while another from the University of Rochester has raised yet more questions about hormone-treated beef. Clear connections exist between obesity and ovulatory cysts. Combined with the genetic complications already associated with delayed pregnancies, concerns about the ability of future generations to reproduce are valid. Ominously, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is calling for genetic testing of all pregnant women, not just those over 35.
Nor do infertility statistics take into account those deciding not to have children or those resigned to missing the boat. On this front, Mark Steyn blames the “progressive agenda” – abortion, gay marriage, endlessly deferred adulthood - and he’s right. He doesn’t get into many specifics but they are easily identified. In the U.S., 48.5 million abortions since Roe v. Wade only slightly exceeds the estimated 47 million civilians lost in World War II. And, as Calgary University’s Rainer Knopf predicted, gay marriage means any public distinction between procreative and non-procreative sexuality is now totally abandoned. The latest sad example? A hero’s welcome on MTV for porn king and intersexual sodomy ‘expert’, Ron Jeremy.
So we pump our young with pills, wrap them in condoms and, coming soon, jab them with vaccines hoping to prevent unwanted pregnancies, STDs and, now, cervical cancer. This in the name of denying their capacity for personal responsibility by advocates who wouldn’t shake hands with each other if they had a cold.
In other words, the infantilization continues and the price tag increases. Fertility clinics offer hope but a growing number of ethicists confirm that any rearguard action by science produces as many problems as it solves. Will Assisted Human Reproduction Canada, newly opened in Vancouver to deal with such problems, also address infertility prevention? Who will?
Universal screening may be the only solution for the STD epidemic. And if smoking can be stigmatized, so can other behaviours. Cleaning up our air, water and food and, while we are at it, the airwaves too, would also help. Those who want pornographic services should be required to fetch them elsewhere.
Parents need meaningful support from civil society as well as government. Two income housing makes starting a family untenable – a problem exacerbated by immigration policies that raise real estate prices while ostensibly compensating for the children we aren’t producing. But within one generation, immigrants adopt our reproductive habits.
Oh, and have an especially happy Mother’s Day. Soon, there may be few mothers left to celebrate.
MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.