Life During Wartime: Making Babies in Trump’s America
On January 19th, Barack Obama spent his last day in the Oval Office. By many measures, he was our country’s most progressive president, and whether his actions always matched up to his intentions, he imbued my generation with a sense that we were building a brighter, more just, world. That same day, my son celebrated his first birthday. He wore red bell-bottom overalls that my mom had made for her first son, almost 40 years ago. He played with his cousins and gleefully shoved his tiny fist into a piece of cake. I knew I should feel joy for this little person and the limitless future that lay before him, but what I felt instead was some combination of dread and regret.
Having a child always involves some measure of uncertainty. I wanted to get pregnant, worked hard to do it (a very odd experience after years of trying not to), and I still grieved when I found out that I was actually going to have a baby. The love for your child is inseparable from the nagging reality that they are going to experience pain and loss, and ultimately, death. Parents worry about their children — where they’ll get their next meal, if they’ll get an A in AP Physics. As a special educator, I have seen parents crippled by anxiety for their children, debilitated by their babies’s suffering.
This anguish is as old as humanity. Yet, when I talk to friends who are considering having a first or second child soon, when I think about my plan to start trying for another one, I have noticed a new kind of apprehension.
For most of human existence, parents have wished and worked for their children to have better lives than they did. And by broad measures, especially since the founding of the United States, they have largely been successful. My great grandfather left his family in a Russian shtetl to raise money to bring them to America. His son walked across Europe, grew up in a New Jersey apartment with two families divided by a sheet, so his daughters could grow up in the middle-class. My mother got herself through graduate school, worked late nights so her children didn’t have to feel the constant struggle for money she’d felt. My sisters and brothers and I have more comforts than we could possibly need. We have healthcare, free birth control, steady work, homes, religious freedom, children we can afford to care for, little debt. Among us we’ve had interracial families, safe abortions, good public education. We’ve lived in places where people of different ethnicities, classes, and linguistic backgrounds, co-exist with unprecedented (though admittedly imperfect) success.
But could we be the first generation of parents whose progeny will almost certainly live in a more dangerous, more backwards, less-tolerant world than us? And if that’s true, am I crazy to bring another child into that world? I keep thinking about all of those people who‘ve made babies during hurricanes and blizzards, during war, and wonder if their fear was somehow more romantic than mine. Yes, other leaders have made terrible decisions that have deeply harmed our country, and by some measures we’ve bounced back. But we now have a White House that refuses to explicitly condemn attacks on Jewish daycares, that bullies the free press, that places people with absolutely no experience and in many cases, blatant conflicts of interest in charge of our children’s education, housing, environment, legal rights, and security.
Could this unprecedented presidency also be the first to directly lower the birth rate?
In this uncertain time, I know many people who are putting off buying a house, making a move, changing jobs. But more than that, people are having deep reservations about making more people right now. One friend told me that she feels her country needs her to fight for it, and she can’t do that with a baby in tow. Another, who has a two-year-old, told me that he keeps seeing an image of him and his wife fleeing with his daughter on his back, and he just doesn’t know if he could carry one more.
Was my child really safer six weeks ago? Maybe this machine has been grinding away at our environment, rights, and opportunities for decades and I’ve just been falsely comforted by a president who thought like I did, whose values aligned with a better world. Maybe the world has become more and more dangerous and, like some argue, Trump just made me see it. Maybe I’ve been living in a white upper-middle-class fantasy land (certainly not all US citizens have the freedoms I do, though more compared to previous generations). Maybe if I do try to make another American, my eggs will stage their own form of protest and flee back into my body. Or maybe I will do what the best of us do when we’re threatened — create; noise, art, life. Maybe I can see the storm coming, and decide to double down on living.