Saturday, March 20, 2010

Children of the Body and the Mind

I have many friends who are childless. This used to be difficult because I had two children, and my childless friends were often childless by choice. They didn’t want to be surrogate aunts to my children. They wanted to spend time with the independent adult me, not shared with my rambunctious demanding children. Okay, so in some ways my childless friends were children, themselves.

At this point in our lives, it doesn’t matter. My children are grown up moved out and live far away.

But yesterday, one of these women told me that she thinks her life is nothing because she never had children. This woman has started gardens all over town. She has helped many families by being a social worker. But she has never been in love and never had children. It’s the children she says she longs for.

She says that “be fruitful and multiply” is a command. She says that Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest” means that if she’s a worthwhile person, she’ll pass along her genetic material to the next generation.

She says she had a fantasy of a man who would love her as much as life itself and that a baby would be born from that love. For all I know this woman is a virgin. We’ve never talked about sex. Like me, she is long past menopause. But there are hormonal treatments to help restore fertility. There are sperm donors. If this is what she really wants.

She says she wants a child. A child of the body. She considers children of the body to be a spiritual experience, life’s highest achievement. The pinnacle of creativity. It’s clear she is dissatisfied with her life. I don’t know why she is focusing on biological offspring as her missing link.

I have both – children of the body and children of the mind. Both are valuable, frustrating, enjoyable. Both are responsibilities. But not one over the other. I’m a heretic here. Of course pregnancy is creating a new life. But it’s not a creative act – it’s biology. In fact, I noticed that my creative ability (mind creations) diminished during pregnancy. (Maybe the two functions are related – energy for the one was working on the other.)

Creativity – making something new – feels much more applicable to children of the mind. There is no set 9 month timetable. And the life of the child of the mind can be a moment or centuries. The mental exhilaration / satisfaction is the same. Just as a child is a child no matter how long the labor and delivery. And no matter how long the child lives, or how well the child is received by the world at large.

Whenever I think of my children, I think of the responsibility I had in raising them to be independent, kind, reliable adults. I never think – that’s my genepool – I m must be among the fit. I’d have had that same feeling if they were adopted, or if they were long term residents of my home without a legal tie. And in the grand scheme of things, they are responsible for their own lives, they have made choices since they were about 5 months old. But my children of the mind – those are truly mine.

Nobody can plan to become pregnant. Yes, each of us can decide to have sex without using birth control, at the right time of the month. But that will not guarantee a pregnancy. If there’s trouble, a person can go to a fertility clinic and take whatever drugs they suggest. But that will not guarantee a pregnancy. It’s possible to try, but nobody can actually decide to become pregnant.

If a woman does became pregnant, there is on guarantee that the baby will carry to term. If the baby is born, there is no guarantee that the child will live to adulthood and continue the genetic line. In my friend’s terms – the fittest give their genetic material to the future. Is she a failure if she does not have grandchildren? Or great-grandchildren?

In her terms, a man who commits rape and fathers a child has fulfilled his responsibility to reproduce, to bear fruit and multiply. But a woman who did not become pregnant, for whatever reasons, is a spiritual failure, a genetic reject, a wasted life.

In my terms, helping one person, even with something short term, like filling out a government form, is a child of the mind. It is a deed we can choose to perform. Even if it fails - even if once filled out the form does not achieve its purpose, the shared experience of helping another person is a true child of the mind. And the connection to another person is a spiritual experience.

I don’t believe many of us are like Emily Dickinson, able to create poems year after year without any readers. In fact, I don’t believe she had zero readers. My guess is that she had family and girlfriends read her babies and encourage her.

Some children are more exciting than others. Some children are more demanding. This is true of children of the body or of the mind. Writing a story is more fun than holding a door open.

All our children deserve our respect and honor. No life is childess.


  1. Few "children" live up to our expectations. We should celebrate them for what they are... an opportunity to share with others in our community.

  2. I have never thought of this in this way before. I don't now feel a life is wasted if not reproduced, but when I was younger I did feel I HAD to have children or my life would not be worthwhile. You are saying "children of the mind" are not only your creations (poems, songs) but your good deeds too -- every mitzvah. I like that idea very much. It seems a very spiritual take on good deeds, that they ripple through Creation and have effects you may never know. Thanks a lot. Alison

  3. Terry, I totally agree -- expectations can ruin a lot of life's enjoyment. Our biological children really are independent and have their own goals and desires.

    Alison, I wanted children when I was younger, too. That's why I had them. But it wasn't as if I had to follow a rule of the universe. Having a baby is a lot more iffy than having an education. It's still all iffs. And we have to live our lives with those iffs. Thanks for contributing additional thoughts to this core aspect of living our lives.

  4. I was blessed with one child. One can only hope to become pregnant if 1. It's in the Master's plan, 2. We are physically and emotionally fit to be parents.