Margaret Sanger, "Is This the Time to Have a Child?," 25 May 1942.
Source: "Margaret Sanger Papers, Sophia Smith Collection Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections, S72:360."
For another version. see Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S72:347.
Many people these days are writing on the subject of “war brides”, and “war babies”. As one who lived through the last war, studied the effect of war conditions on the infants born then, also as the mother of three children, I feel qualified to add my voice of “advice” to the others.
First of all the problem has always been and is more than ever now, a serious one. The emotional and spiritual need of many women for a child to replace the husband taken from her is great. Her abiding desire to create something in the image of the husband who may not return frequently blinds her to a consideration of other less emotional but equally important factors. to be considered
It is difficult for the young wife to make herself calmly answer these questions. Will I be able to support this child in the event that my husband does not return--or even until he returns? Will my child suffer in the event of a prolonged war and the severe rationing of food, as children are suffering in Europe? Will my anxiety for the return of my husband affect the child even before he is born? What sort of world am I bringing him into?
Is there any serious hereditary defect in my family or my husband’s family which might be passed on to a child? Is my own physical condition good enough for my body to be able to stand the strains of pregnancy? Aside from these considerations there are other things to be considered now. There is scientific evidence to back up the effect of a mother’s worry on the health of her child. Many endocrinologists agree that under such trying conditions as war, women should not bear children.
But against all these considerations of science, caution and common sense, there is that first strong emotional urge for the woman left behind by her soldier husband to bear a child in his likeness. That this urge has outweighed everything else can be seen by the rapidly increasing birth rate, the bumper crop of more than 2,500,000 babies last year, the prospects for an even larger number this year, with conditions very much more trying and uncertain than they were a year ago.
Pearl Harbor has done more than all the scolding, scorning, lecturing of the priests and prophets could ever do to raise the birth rate--even among the much maligned of college groups who have been scorned for the smallness ↑size↓ of their families.
The human answer to the question “Is this the time to have a child?” can be found among those young women of child-bearing age who are deciding this difficult question for themselves. I interviewed ten of them, with varying opinions. I bow to their judgments, present their arguments to you, and assure you from the results that the country need not fear race suicide.
The doctor son of a friend of mine announced to his startled mother a few weeks ago. “Helen and I are going to have a baby.”
It was too late for anything but congratulations, all his mother could do was inquire. “Do you think this is a good time for it?”
“Helen wants it,” he explained simply.
Nelson, the son, is a fully accredited surgeon, enlisted in the navy for the duration, and expects to be sent off at any minute. Helen is a doctor almost through her internship at Bellevue Hospital. She is a very competent young person, with obviously good reasons for anything she does. Nelson’s mother put the same question, “Do you think this is a good time to have a baby?” to her. “I’d go simply mad,” Helen said, “if anything happened to Nelson and I were left behind without some human expression of our love. It’s the only thing that reconciles me to the possible tragedies of the future.”
“How about your job?”
“Oh, I’ve figured that all out. I’ll be through my internship three months before the baby is due, and I’ll keep on with it until then.”
Helen thinks all women with medical training ought to be drafted into the army or navy. As soon as she is able after having her child, she is going to go to work again wherever she is needed and take her baby with her. She is in the fortunate position of being able to earn enough to pay for a trained nurse to care for the baby while she is away from home.
Not many women can have a baby and keep on with their work like Helen. But in the next few months thousands of girls and women will have to make the same decision about whether or not to have a baby. They must make it knowing that the husbands they love and marry may not be with them to help bring up their babies. In almost every case therefore, the woman will have to make this heroic, even tragic, decision. That many men feel the decision should be that of the woman can be seen from the many army letters that come to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. at 501 Madison Avenue, New York City. Most of the letters these days are from the young soldiers themselves who want their wives to have a knowledge of baby spacing so that the decision will be entirely theirs, not the result of emotion and accident. They write that they will be able to go off and be better soldiers if relieved of the fear they may have left a child behind for their wives to support in their absence. All of them say they want families when they return.
Sally was the next young friend with whom I talked. She is twenty-six, and a bride of three months. Her husband is a salesman subject to call at any minute into the army.
“Sally, isn’t it time you were thinking about having a baby?” I asked her the other day.
She looked at me with horror, as though she could not believe me serious. But I could tell the question had been troubling her deeply by the way the words tumbled out. “Have a baby now? In this horrible period when Joe may have to go into the war any minute? Why, I might never see him again. Why should I mess up things worse than they already are? What right have I to bring a baby into the world when I don’t even know what’s going to happen in the future. I’ve got no way of earning a living. What good is a one-finger typist? I couldn’t even earn enough to keep myself alive, much less provide for a child. That’s a crazy suggestion, M. S., to tell me to have a baby now.”
I asked my friend, Peggy, what she thought about it. Peggy already has one child. She is thrillingly in love with her husband and is obsessed by the fear that he will be taken and that she may lose him. She wants to have another baby now more than if she thought he were going to be home. Her desire to perpetuate her husband’s personality outweighs in her mind all other considerations.
Barbara, on the other hand, definitely has decided not to have another baby now. When she married at 26, she made up her mind she would have a family of four. She still has approximately fifteen years ahead of her in which to have the other three. Her first baby, now six months old, was a Caesarian delivery, which automatically limits her safety in future pregnancies.
“To have another baby now would be unfair all the way around,” she said to me. “It would be a double burden and worry for my husband as well as for myself. I’m a trained nurse. Even if I’m not drafted, I feel I ought to offer my services to my country, in its time of need. That would mean leaving my baby with some perfect stranger. There’ll be plenty of time for me to have another baby later on.”
For the woman with children who must remain and care for the home there is another argument against having a baby now. In addition to the nutritional and economic obstacles, there is the effect on the other children. Life will be hard enough for them with their father away. If their mother’s nerves are in good condition, she will perhaps be able to allay their fears. But if her nerves are always on the ragged edge, as will undoubtedly be the case if she is about to bear another child, they will be deprived of the calm and peaceful home life to which they are entitled.
One certain thing I discovered from my informal survey; the American nation is in no danger of extinction. Eight of the ten wives with whom I spoke intend to have babies right away, war or no war. This is true in spite of the troubled question so many of the sophisticated young people ask themselves, “What right have I to bring a child into a world which provides no security for it? Isn’t the country going to be snowed under with mountainous taxes which will have to be paid by generations still unborn? Why should I add an other life to help shoulder that burden?”
I agree with them that the world of tomorrow is going to be a different world, how different none of us yet knows. Of one thing all true Americans are certain. The children born today will still have the privilege of growing up in a democracy. In their hands will be the opportunity to do any remaking that may be needed.
It is up to us to leave American Civilization of the future in good hands. Whether that can best be served by women having children during the war period is a question for each woman to decide for herself, according to the factors which govern her individual case.
One democratic right which greater numbers of women are enjoying during this war and which was denied to most during the last right is the to decide for themselves whether they shall have babies or not. Today there are more than 800 birth control services in the United States. There were none during the last war. ↑The Brownsville clinic had been opened and promptly closed by the police↓ . Today, through the combined services of the USO and the YWCA, young women troubled by problems relating to war are able to seek wise council under the leadership of ↑Dr.↓ Janet Fowler Nelson. There are more than 500 marriage council groups throughout the country which aim to give young women a better understanding of themselves, of their problems. Young women who wish to postpone their babies until steadier times are given the address of the nearest birth control clinic, just as those young women who feel that they are physically and economically able to care for a child are encouraged to add a new American to the nation.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project