I Am Animal, So Are You

Shannon Hayes wrote an article for Yes! recently called The Kid Question. A brave woman. Not only brave enough to endorse having kids, but brave enough to give us the real reason she did it. Because she wanted to.

A few years back a friend of mine came to the conclusion that we rarely think through the factors and make an informed decision in life. Most of us just function on instinct or desire, and then gather evidence to support our decision. I think she’s right on. That is what Shannon Hayes basically admitted in her article, which I found amazingly courageous.

But then again, why shouldn’t we follow our instinct? Why do we value an “informed” decision made by our brains over an instinctual decision informed by our pure animal selves?

About three years ago, when I was pregnant with my first, I was out walking with one of my oldest friends who also happens to be my ex-lover. We were together for 6 years, at the very budding of our Selves, and so we understand each other in ways no one else can, for better of for worse.

She asked me, point blank (I’m not paraphrasing), how I could justify having kids when the world is so fucked up.

Ouch. For so many reasons I can’t even explain here.

But, knowing her as well as I do, under my initial offense I understood the genuineness of her question. And so I thought for several minutes trying to formulate a genuine answer.

We are animals. As much as we try to pretend otherwise, here we are. Animals, every one. You can search high and low for the meaning of life, but I’ll tell you a secret. It’s no secret. Every living thing lives for one purpose. To make more living things.

There is a reason men think about sex 24 hours a day. There is a reason childless women hitting their 40s often have sudden and overwhelming panic attacks. And it’s simple. Like every other living thing, with legs or leaves, we are designed with a drive which cannot be conquered. Make babies.

Although I understand every inch of reasoning, I find it not a little ironic that back-to-the-Earth types would end up being in the No Kids camp. How can you spend your life respecting the Earth and trying to be more like the (other) animals, but deny your most basic animal instinct? How better to bow to Mother Earth than to give in to (and even be honored by!) the fundamental drive she has designed in you.

Now, bear in mind that I could as well argue the other side. How can we bring more souls into the world, to consume more and more resources, to oppress more and more of the Earth and her creatures, to live through a time I cannot rejoice and a future I have no hope for?

It’s true. I don’t have much hope for our species. In the passion of youth I used to be sometimes consumed by a debilitating depression imagining the future wreckage of the Earth. But at some point a few years back, I realized that I was looking through just human eyes. So maybe we’ll kill ourselves off. Maybe we’ll drag several thousand species down with us, leaving a wasteland of toxic sludge. But some Life will survive. The cockroaches, the molds, the swimming sea of bacteria. Why do I value these creatures less? When I step back and squint my eyes, I can have hope once more, even faith. The Earth will survive whatever we dish out. Who do we think we are that we could actually destroy her?

It’s all well and good to realize your faith in the Earth’s endurance. But how do you balance a hopelessness for your own species with bringing a baby into the impending ruin?

That one I have yet to work my head around. Except that we just have to keep on keeping on, because what the hell else are we gonna do? Ever hear that Dylan song (I know, twice in one paragraph?) “I will not go down under the ground, till somebody tells me that death’s all around. I will not lay myself down to die, when I go to my grave my head will be high. Let me die in my footsteps, before I go down under the ground.”

And I guess I just want to see more footsteps than my own.

Maybe, secretly, I really do have hope for the human race after all.

20 thoughts on “I Am Animal, So Are You

  1. Wow, what a deep earthy post. It should make people think, but, you’re right, we are all animals. And thank God for that. Maybe I was to young to worry about birth defects, the environment, where we are all going with this, our lives. Since I am older, I applaud anyone that has the courage to have children in their families. Family means the coming together of 2+kindred spirits in the form(s) of mates or kids or others. I am not much on science fiction movies but this reminds me of The Terminator, the first one where the young woman finds out she gives birth to the new “savior” of the modern age. (not savior as in God, but one who saves the human race). Andf if I had to start over, I would have kids, lots of them.; Hugs, Elaine

  2. complicated post. my reaction:

    i guess i don’t see the irony of the “back-to-earth-folks” choosing to be childless. isn’t reasoning just as much part of our humanity, our aliveness, as hormones?* i’m definitely a “whatever floats your boat” person, and although i loved pregnancy/childbirth, love mothering, i do feel guilty (?) at times for bringing sahid into all of this. we have a friend that’s always debating whether or not to have a child and i’m happy as she debates away, that’s her way of it. when people ask me straight up about having kids i seem to end up saying two (contradictory) things: “i’m a big fan of un- or poorly-planned babies (ours was the latter)” and “you can’t think about it too much–its impact on your self, on your decisions, on your relationships, on how you spend your time”. maybe that’s my way of synthesizing the “instinctual” and the “rational” given that, in this culture at least, the boundary between the two is so vigilantly enforced.

    *i also appreciate how crazy diverse biology is–lots of behaviors that aren’t conducive to reproduction, or, behaviors that are destructive (cannibalism, infanticide, etc.)… i guess that’s the agnostic in me, believing that nature (if there is such a thing) is way beyond our capacity for understanding…

    1. very good point that reasoning is part of our humanity. definitely. the irony i was intending was not as much about the b-t-e folks who choose not to have kids, but the ones who harshly judge those of us who do choose to have kids. judgement always begets judgement, so i should be careful ;)

      1. ahhhhhhhhhh…now i get it. yeah, yucky, i didn’t realize earthy folk proselytized negative population growth to that level. that’s what i liked the article, Hayes finding enough wiggle room to get away from both sides and have her own mind. it’s interesting, how/why we do what we do.

  3. You have a lot of ideas about kids, food, environment, etc. and I enjoy reading them all. It is exciting to see you are a philosopher too. Well done!

  4. I liked Shannon Hayes article. In the end I think people, in places where they actually have a choice and have the freedom to make the decision, ultimately have children because they want to. And people chose not to have children becauase they don’t want any and have the self-knowledge to know this to be true for them. I think when people get wrapped up in arguing for either side, it may just be because they know it won’t sit well with others if they just say, “Because I wanted kids.” Or “Because I didn’t want kids,” because there is an awful lot of unnecessary judgment and righteousness floating around out there, so we feel we need to elaborate and essentially make excuses for doing whatever it was we wanted to do. And I agree with Andrea, we are both instinctual and rational and I would add that we are least dangerous to ourselves and the planet when both sides of ourselves are well developed.

  5. Wow, that’s a difficult subject! But I totally agree that Bob Dylan sums it up nicely with that song – good choice! We’ve got to keep on keeping on. I’ve been thinking these things through too myself, having just had my first child. What kind of a world have I brought her into?

    Although I know we’re really stuffing up the planet and our chances of sustaining the consumer lifestyle, I really don’t believe we’ve lost hope. We’ve got to a point where we have to face our demons and realise – however hard this lesson is – that we’ve been racing full speed in the wrong direction and need to live a simpler life that is more in harmony with nature. I feel very strongly that if we’re to learn that lesson, we have to keep going and keep trying out simpler ways of living. Having kids can be part of that – teaching them these difficult lessons and how to get through the difficult times ahead.

    Good luck to all of us hey?!

  6. Well, despite all the problems of the world, I do have hope for our species – and particularly hope in our young. not just the sappy Whitney Houston kind as in, “…the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way…” but as in, they provide us reasons, as a species, to Care. Meaning. For ourselves, our communities, our world, Humanity. Not that people who don’t have kids are not Humane, but that we as a species are dependent on children to keep us Human.

    So I think that propagation is not just physiological and/or/ versus rational, but propagation is essentially cultural as well. What is left of us without Culture? And what is Culture for without our young to raise in it?

    I am animal, you are animal, and we are having this conversation because we are social animals.

  7. Great post! Maybe the “Earthy types” who do choose to go with instinct, & respecting of natural cycles, by having offspring, are creating ‘warriors’ for Mother Nature. Sure, lots won’t, but if you’ve been raised to trust instincts, to follow nature, to respect the planet, that is enabling future generations to dedicate their lives to encouraging others to understand that the balance of the eco-systems and the protection of nature allows the human race, & many other species, the privledge of living here. If they & their children can lead by example, that’s better than no one being left to fight for the Earth, it’s communities and creatures… isn’t it?

    1. absolutely! but then again, with such high purpose in place for our kids, they’re likely to want to grow up into stock brokers and CEOs…. ;)

  8. I don’t have kids. Yet. But my body has made it very clear to me that I will. It is an incredible, fascinating urge. Being in the earth/resource camp (and having been my baby brother’s nanny when I was 18) I knew what a huge commitment it was and had started to think maybe I didn’t need kids. It was an identity crisis when I realized that I did. But I got over it. That was around the same time that I really started delving into domestic politics a little more, having just moved back to the United States from Switzerland and Africa. Terrifying shit. (The Bush years). It was debilitating to think about, but I found a way to face it. “And I want to bring children into this?” Yes, I do. Because the only thing worth doing is finding the things you love and working where you can. Creating love, in your life and your surroundings. We can’t fix it all. There’s no big red button to push that will just save the world. We just have to love and live well, learn and teach balance. That’s all we can do. And in my lifely observations, contrary to popular belief, it seems to me that people who go without kids end up with a skewed, mm, sort of unrealistic perspective on how to do this. Anyway, just some of my own thoughts from the same topic. It’s a juicy one, thanks for blogging about it! I look forward to joining your ranks of moms at some point when the timing and magic are rightly lined up for me, and I am grateful for the awesome path you guys have laid out for me to follow. Inspiring examples of moms you all are! (I’m including the readers here too!)

  9. I am the Mom of two adult children and one young child. I can say there is nothing more rewarding then watching every stage of there lives. And to see them as adults and to realize the amazing ways they contribute to this world. Your kids maybe the ones who make the difference. Maybe yours will be involved in saving our planet. Now aren’t you glad you had them. Having my children is one decision I will never regret!!
    Without hope there is no hope

  10. I wanted to add, children are not for everyone. This is just my experience, and I have a lot of respect for people who realize it is not for them.

  11. I thought about this a lot when I was pregnant (17 years ago) – and what I came up with was that my kid was my faith in and demand for a better world. This was hard, since I was at that time a very pessimistic person, resigned, definitely in a position of learned helplessness. I think it was sort of like my ‘yop’ from Horton Hears A Who… Or the kid Yopped, maybe, or the future did… If I hadn’t been pregnant then, I might have stayed helpless and hopeless and not ever thought that whatever drop in the bucket I might make in trying to make the world a better place was worth doing, was anything other than futile. As it was, the fact that I had a baby growing made me desperate to imagine a better future, a world worth living in. And that doesn’t have to involve any dramatic, heroic world-saving, just the creation of one more good person who does good things, the creation and distribution of that much more love… More love and joy, less fear and hate.

  12. I just discovered your blog via Homegrown and I’m really enjoying your writing ( have read a few posts now), especially about motherhood. I applaud you for showing the gritty reality along with the pretty parts.

    I’ve been thinking lately how my animal nature/ body did just decide I wanted kids. Now I have two and its been an amazing journey but I realize that I did NOT consider or could not conceive of what motherhood would really be like and all the challenges that mothering would entail. I read a book recently that you enjoy called The World Without Us. About the planet and the repercussions of humans and postulating on what it would be like if/ when we are all gone. In the end, the author makes a good case for smaller families. I have two beautiful girls and thought I would want three kids- but think maybe we should quit while we’re ahead. For selfish reasons? Maybe.

    I love Dylan but don’t recognize the lyric- what song is that?

    1. that lyric is from his very first album, self titled. my favorite of all, and i am a huge fan. i believe the song is called Let Me Die in My Footsteps, though i’ve only ever had the album on a beat up old tape (!), recorded off a friend, so never knew the real names.

      1. Hmm, thanks for the answer. I’ve got a couple of his CD’s and many pieces of vinyl, but not that one. My favorites are Blood on the tracks and Desire and Time out of Mind.
        I see I missed the word “might” as in a book that you MIGHT enjoy. reads weird without it. Alaska to New Orleans is quite the move! Off to change a stinker.

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