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Perspective: The ‘Stop Having Kids’ movement is a cry for help

Anti-natalism is showing up on billboards and in streets, fueled by a doomsday mentality and the absence of hope

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The painting depicts two sons of the painter Miłosz Kotarbiński, a boy with a watering can is a six-year old Tadeusz Kotarbiński (1886-1981), future world-renowned scholar, and behind, his brother Mieczysław Kotarbiński (1890-1943)

“Children in the Garden,” (1892), by Wladyslaw Podkowiński.

Wladyslaw Podkowiński, Wikimedia Commons

The billboards and signs are showing up around the country, and they’re starting to attract notice for Stophavingkids.org. The name is self-explanatory: It’s a group of anti-natalist vegans on a mission to normalize childlessness by choice, destigmatize sterilization and abortion, and promote a world “where children are not needlessly born.”

The group’s literature reads like a cry for help, expressing discontentment with life as they know it and espousing the virtue of saving an innocent child from the misery of life. One reads, “Stop spreading intergenerational trauma.” Others ask: “Life may be worth continuing, but is it worth starting?” and “Why bring kids into a world you distract yourself from?” There’s also this: “A lot of humans wish they were never born.”

You get the idea.

It seems as though the people in this movement are just as much consumed with their dissatisfaction with life as with a sincerely held belief that they’d like to remain unmoored by parental obligation.

Recently podcaster Liz Wheeler, host of the “The Liz Wheeler Show,” composed what she told me was “the least controversial tweet I’ve ever sent” but one that received some of the most ire and attention from the left. In the tweet, she said that not having children is “the saddest thing in the world” and that married couples should have lots of children.

Of the reaction, which led to a multiday pile-on by progressives, she told me, “These anti-natalists further exposed themselves to be totally radical (and) sad people.” She went on, “They actively shame people who take joy in kids and lobby for nobody to have kids, ever.”

The goal of this pile-on was to silence Wheeler and those like her, who openly celebrate the blessings that a baby brings.

Writing on Twitter recently, Daily Mail columnist Meghan McCain called motherhood a privilege and said the “biggest and worst lie” her generation had been told was that parenthood is largely a burden.

McCain, too, was met with waves of discontented anti-natalists, rejecting her message of satisfaction with motherhood.

What is the goal of the naysayers? Ultimately, misery loves company, and if one has decided that anti-natalism is how to express one’s existential discontentment with life, it’s easier to live among other equally miserable people than to have to contend with joyful families overflowing with so much hope in the future that they brought new life into the world.

It’s exactly that image of joyful family life that can shake people out of their anti-natalist doomsday visions.

I recently heard from an Atlanta-area woman, Diana, who described herself and her husband, Andy, as “one of those cringe child-free couples.”

She told me, “Your baby advocacy works. (My husband) had a vasectomy reversal last week. We’re praying it works and we can start having babies right away.”

During a previous marriage, Diana’s husband had agreed to the sterilizing procedure out of a sense of duty to a wife determined to remain child-free. He sleepwalked into the vasectomy; it was merely a way to maintain the status quo.

Andy’s decision to reverse the sterilization was taken with far more consideration. It wasn’t just “intensely painful” but inordinately expensive as well. While insurance paid for Andy’s vasectomy 10 years prior, the cost of the reversal — more than $10,000 — was borne entirely by the couple. If the reversal fails, they’re in for expensive in vitro fertilization rounds accompanied by an uncomfortable sperm extraction procedure.

The couple’s determination to start a family is one that will come with great financial and physical costs. And yet, Andy decided to take the step because he doesn’t just want kids, but he wants kids with Diana. He wants a future for his family.

Their change of heart wasn’t just rooted in seeing positive representation of parenthood, here and elsewhere, although that helped. The decision also reflects a deeper longing for continuity that emerged after the death of Andy’s grandfather, resulting in a desire to start a family together as a couple.

The decision to have children is increasingly becoming countercultural. In rejecting the anti-natalist calls to remain child-free, these new radicals are placing a vote of confidence in the future. They are choosing joy and hope over fatalism and misery.

Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for the Deseret News and an editor of the children’s book series “Heroes of Liberty.”