This is the second part of a two-part essay that began here
You know that question that you got asked when you were a child: “what do you want to do when you grow up?” Well, I’m grown now and it’s time to start answering the question for real. I have more or less clear ideas of the roles I want to fulfil before I die. Among them include: teacher, choreographer, artistic director, circus artist, writer, nomad, documentary-maker and farm owner. In addition, in Nigeria I want to contribute to the advancement of solar energy (well, in West Africa in general – we do have the world’s largest hot desert at our disposal), build rainwater reservoirs out of recycled plastic, open a circus school, establish a trust fund that contributes to medical research in hospitals, be a board member of a hospital, and renovate at least one orphanage. I have no idea if I will actually achieve even one of the things on my list, but this uncertainty isn’t going to stop me from trying. I look at this list and I don’t see much room for raising children which is a full-time job in itself. Hypothetically speaking, if I have children, I think it would only be right to be there, physically, emotionally and every other –ally there is. So, choices have to be made. And I’ve made them.
Besides, I don’t like to gamble. Sure, sometimes it is unavoidable just because life as a whole is an uncertain business, but when I can avoid gambling, I do. I think that having children is a big gamble. You simply don’t know who you’re going to get. My first great fear in this regard is that I will give birth to a child who is severely physically or mentally handicapped. I do not say this to demean those who are born with physical or mental handicaps – in fact I honestly apologize if my use of the word “handicap” is offensive but I don’t know how else to convey this idea. What I mean is if my child is born with a condition that limits his or her ability to live an independent life and would require extensive surgeries, daily or weekly visits to the doctor, and constant (medical) supervision. I know myself. I do not have the strength of character to live like this. And I laud parents who are able to.
My second fear is that I give birth to a child who is (becomes?) a terrible person. I know that how a child turns out has a lot to do with their upbringing and environment, but I think that ultimately people decide who they want to be, consciously or not. And I don’t believe the myth about children being inherently good and later corrupted by the world. Children may not be well-informed about how the world works, but they certainly know how to be selfish and mean. While sometimes children’s meanness can be nipped in the bud by some stern parenting, it doesn’t always work. I’ve met some terrible people from families where the other children and their parents are decent and I wonder: what happened there? I also think about horrible incidents like the gang rape committed by five men at Abia State University in 2011 and after the disgust, anger and outrage, I ask myself who these men’s parents were. What did they teach them? Because I would die of guilt and disappointment if my hypothetical child ever did anything so evil.
“During an in-flight news conference on his return to Rome from the Philippines last month, [Pope] Francis was asked about his strong defense of traditional families during his visit, and he answered by again urging parents to have children and not to heed those who say that overpopulation is the source of the world’s problems”
Despite Mr Pope Francis’ best effort to deny a truth that is as easy to see as the sky, overpopulation is not only a source of problems, it is a problem in itself, and I don’t see how I’m going to solve it by bringing more people into the world. You have only to grow up in a country like Nigeria to see how too many people and inadequate resources can adversely affect everyone. Granted, Nigeria’s problems go beyond the extra-large population, but after having seen situations of people who can’t feed themselves going on to have ten children, and seeing how these children don’t make it to adulthood, get trafficked or become beggars, fraudsters, kidnappers, thieves, and prostitutes1, I begin to wonder if the pope and I live on two separate planets.In places with more arid climates, like Niger and Senegal, food production can be a struggle at times, and one that won’t be helped by indiscriminately increasing the number of mouths that need feeding.
In any case, I don’t think I would make a good parent. Firstly because parenting requires emotionally investing in another human being, and over the last few years, my ability to do that died a slow death. I have family and a few friends, but these are people who have been firmly rooted in my life since I was a child. As long as they want to still be there (and as long as they are not parasites), then I won’t shut them out. But if they change their minds, they’re free to go. Besides them, I have more or less written off human beings. I’ll still work with and learn from people, because no man is an island, and it often takes multiple people to accomplish things, and I’ll be courteous, but that’s where it ends. My purpose in life is to solve problems where I can, people be damned. The other reason why I don’t think I’ll make a good parent is because, well, I don’t know what it means to be a good parent. And I am not about to practice trial and error with another person’s life.
Moreover, I have trouble being sold on the “children are so magical” campaign, when every day babies are thrown in garbage cans, flushed down toilets, suffocated, strangled, stabbed with knitting needles, thrown off bridges, abandoned in cardboard boxes at the side of the road or just left in the bush. It’s gotten to the point that when I hear about people selling their children, I am inwardly relieved that they weren’t murdered. And if having children is so wonderful for everyone, why did these parents rush to get rid of theirs once they had the chance? This one is not a rhetorical question: It is because they were not meant to be parents. It is unfortunate that they realized this after they already had children, which is why we need to rethink the dominant ideas surrounding this topic, and de-stigmatize the choice to not have babies. Children are not cars that you can simply exchange or refund if you change your mind. So if you are going to have them, it is important that it is a well-thought through decision, not an “accident” and not something that other people said you should do because you’re supposed to. A woman who carries her pregnancy to term and gives birth to a child is not automatically a mother, just as a man who gets a woman pregnant is not automatically a father.
I look at the world and see that it is predominantly a hot mess. I do not know why it’s so messed up. I do not know which religious/philosophical theory can sufficiently explain why. I do not think any of them can. But the fact of the matter is that when people are not getting raped, then they are instead being tortured, robbed, swindled, murdered, deceived, assaulted, mutilated, poisoned, terrorized or betrayed by someone else. And when this is not the case, the US army (government?) is arbitrarily killing civilians in their own home and doing so with impunity. The whole thing overwhelms me. Yet we are not close to getting at the root of this wickedness. I simply cannot justify deliberately bringing another person into this same mess. That, Pope Francis, would be the epitome of selfish.
Respect for human life and dignity for me includes understanding that you may simply not be cut out for the task of bringing forth another life and being financially, emotionally, spiritually and physically responsible for a completely dependent human being. It is an enormous task, as is ameliorating world hunger, finding the cure for diseases, and being a caring and compassionate teacher. Every one of us has our individual calling, something that we are suited to and would gladly do without financial compensation that contributes something unique in the world. In my opinion, criticizing people who choose not to have children is akin to criticizing those who choose not to be doctors. Doctors are important, but that doesn’t mean we’d all make good doctors. Just because you can reproduce, doesn’t mean you should.
- I have nothing against prostitutes. I just know that prostitution is not at the top of most people’s lists of desirable careers. Between increased risk of STD’s, rape and physical assaults, and people generally giving you shit because you do what you do to survive, I think it takes a bunch of really pressing, even dire circumstances to get there.
I say that “I will probably have no babies”, because while I don’t think I could get pregnant and give birth to children that I would go on to raise, I haven’t ruled out adoption. First I would need to address a lot of my personal issues and figure out a balanced way to go through my bucket list above and be a parent. Still, it is not impossible. I think back again to my childhood and whenever I saw children on the street begging, or I read about abandoned and orphaned children, I always wanted to bring them to my home (well, my mother’s home) because it just seemed ridiculous to me that children could be neglected and abandoned whereas there were all these people with homes, including us.