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August 14, 2013

PARKER: To have or have not... a baby

The media-created mommy wars haven’t just jumped the shark and entered the realm of “Sharknado.” Where women once debated ways to balance family-and-career — a hyphenated oxymoron if ever there was one — they’re now clashing over whether having babies is really all that.

To bear children or not — that is the only question left to those with first-world problems.

The scene: A tidy beach where a young couple is basking, carefree. How lovely. No little ones to intrude upon the perfect union of two selves entwined in rapturous indulgence.

This was the cover of a recent Time magazine featuring a story titled “The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children.” The story explored a startling statistic: One in five American women ends her childbearing years without maternity.

Some of that low fertility apparently is voluntary. Note that the title is childfree, not childless.

Fast on the heels of Time’s article came a story from the Guardian of Britain reporting research from the London School of Economics suggesting that smart women don’t have children. Yet another story, this one from the BBC News Magazine, plumbed the stretch marks and “breasts ... like Zeppelins” — as one reader put it — that frequently follow pregnancy and childbirth. The story featured a photographer who wanted to show women’s bodies as they really are after pregnancy.

But a young woman considering motherhood might also conclude that trading a young, fit body for that isn’t worth it. Combined, the three stories seem aimed at discouraging, or at least demystifying, motherhood.

Where to begin.

To the childless, as opposed to the voluntarily childfree, the debate about whether to have a child is no doubt painful. But even among those who can — and do or don’t — the conversation is rife with emotion. Everyone feels slightly insulted. Childless women feel that they’re viewed critically for not being mothers. Women who are mothers, whether working or stay-at-home, feel inadequate or mocked by iconic images of career women with babies in their briefcases.

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