The Morality of Procreation


When I announced my pregnancy last year, a number of people—mostly strangers—reacted to the news with a peculiar and somewhat rude question:

“Don’t you think bringing a child into this world is morally questionable?”

Of course, most of them didn’t state it as a direct question. They said, “Well, the world these days. You have your work cut out for you!” or “I feel like having children is a much more difficult decision than it was when I had MY kids.” These comments were made bluntly, with just a hint of provocation. They’d pause and wait for my response. Depending on my mood, I’d have one of three reactions:

  1. Internal indignation. (How dare you be so insensitive? This is not a theoretical pregnancy.)
  2. Contemplation. (That’s an interesting topic of discussion. Let’s be intellectual together.)
  3. Suffocating existential guilt. (Pondering the potential rabbit hole of disastrous fates facing the human race over the course of the next hundred years.)

One day, reaction number one bubbled up and couldn’t withhold my annoyance. “I have a RIGHT to this experience,” I shot back. “I, as a woman, deserve the chance to be a mother. It is my right as a human to procreate if I so choose.” As soon as I’d said it, though, I wondered—but is it?

There’s no question the decision to have or not have children is a deeply personal one. And for those who want to be parents, unfortunately it’s not always easy, and the path to parenthood may be paved with fertility treatments or adoption fees. (As a side note, if you’re currently struggling on a journey toward parenthood, my heart goes out to you.)

But it’s an unfortunate reality that many people who procreate are unequipped to provide an acceptable environment for the resulting offspring. Parenthood carries some baseline ethical responsibilities, such as maintaining a stable home and providing the child with love, protection, medical care and an education. My husband and I certainly meet the criteria of ethical parenthood by this definition. But just because we CAN have children, does that mean we should?

Some people view procreation as ethically abhorrent given the number of unwanted and poverty-stricken children in need of adoption by loving families. And I certainly understand their perspective. Truthfully, I think those who choose to opt out of procreation do our grossly-overpopulated planet an immense favor.

But—to get deep here—does the state of our planet and the uncertain future of humanity outweigh our inherent right to procreate?

I don’t know what the future holds for this earth.  I don’t know what awaits my baby girl in 30 or 80 years. I do know that I believe in the good in this world. And here’s the world as I see it.

I believe in a world where people help each during times of crisis, or for no reason at all.

I believe in a world of compassion and connection. Love and laughter and passion. I even believe in a world of anger and jealousy and fear and bewilderment, all the gloriously messy patches of the human experience.

I believe in a world where at this very moment, at least a dozen people would drop everything they are doing to be there for me and my daughter if I needed them.

I believe in a world where my family spent 30 hours at the hospital while I was in labor, taking turns sitting beside me to hold my hand and distract me during contractions.

My husband's family and Lyra on her birthday
My husband’s family and Lyra on her birthday

I believe in a world where my daughter is so loved, her family asks for photos of her and updates on her mood and development multiple times a day.

My parents and Lyra on the day she was born
My parents and Lyra on the day she was born

I believe the world is good–its splendid, glorious flaws and all. I’m grateful every day for the opportunity to be alive, and I’m eternally thankful for the chance to pass on the gift of life to another.

Of course, this post glosses over a glaringly obvious fact: My life is amazing, and most likely, my daughter’s will be, too. What about the vast majority of people on this earth whose lives are so much harder? Through that lens, is it moral to add yet another person to this planet, draining its resources by the day?

I’m not sure I can fully answer that question. But I do know that, for this reason, I believe we are all born with a cosmic debt. We have a moral obligation to help others, to treat this planet respectfully, to work every day toward offsetting the tremendous imbalance of human comfort and joy.

The world blessed me with this gorgeous girl. And it’s my duty to ensure she spends her life trying to bless the world back.

Lauren and Lyra at five days old