Reviews

To Have or Have Not

Michael Hayward

In early May, as royalists everywhere awaited news of Kate Middleton’s most recent efforts to ensure the prolongation of the Windsor line, it occurred to me that Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, compiled and edited by Meghan Daum (Picador), would almost certainly not be among the books to be found on the bedside table in the royal birthing suite; Ms. Middleton’s responsibilities as “queen-in-waiting” undoubtedly precluded that particular life choice. For most non-royals, though, the question “To have or have not?” is still in play; in fact it may well be one of the most emotionally fraught decisions imaginable. The three male and thirteen female writers in Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed give a variety of reasons for their decisions to choose a “child-free” (vs. “childless”) life: a “maternal ambivalence”; a lack of “baby hunger”; depression, diminished supply of confidence. They mention the social pressures from family members, peers and friends in the child-bearing majority, made to feel that their own choice perhaps indicated “a character flaw.” As Tim Kreider points out in his essay “The End of the Line,” we are probably the only species for whom this is a choice: “All living things in this planet have a simple two-part mission: to (1) survive long enough to (2) self-replicate. It is a complex animal indeed, arguably one too highly evolved for its own good, that consciously declines to fulfill one of its few basic biological imperatives.” Just how useful are these essays for anyone now teetering on the knife-edge of indecision? Geoff Dyer indirectly points out one major (though perhaps unavoidable) flaw in the anthology: what we have here is a collection of sixteen writers addressing the question; hardly a representative cross-section of the general population.

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