Margaret Sanger, "When Should A Woman Avoid Having Children?," Nov 1918.
Source: " Birth Control Review, Nov. 1918, pp. 6-7 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections, S70:807."
If one judges by the letters and personal inquiries that come to an advocate of Birth Control the one thing that women wish to know more than any other, is how to escape the burden of too frequent child bearing. Next to that they are interested in the question of when a woman should avoid having children.
One who has examined the books bearing upon the latter subject is quickly brought to the conclusion that there has been a great amount of disagreement among so-called authorities in regard to this matter. Once it seemed that every one who discussed it, whether it was from the standpoint of medicine, morals, social welfare or individual rights disagreed with everybody else who had attempted to give an answer.
Within the past few years, however, medical and social science have made such strides in this direction that it is now comparatively easy to separate the worthwhile conclusions from those which are of doubtful value or plainly worthless. Those who have made a careful, scientific study of Birth Control are pretty well united upon the point which I shall set forth in this article. I do not give them as my own opinions so much as the result of investigation by others, which I have proved correct by my own studies.
There are many circumstances to be considered before one attempts to advise a woman who asks when she should avoid having children. When all is said and done, the answer is never the same in any two cases. There are certain things which the mother or prospective mother should know. Then she must decide for herself.
(1) Generally speaking, no woman should bear a child before she is twenty-two years old. It is better that she should wait until she is at least twenty-five. Not only is it desirable from the mother's viewpoint to postpone child bearing until she has attained a ripe physical and mental development, but it is all-important to the child. The best authorities agree that a child born when a woman is twenty-five or older has the best chance of a good physical and mental equipment, provided, of course, that the health of the mother is good.
(2) Child bearing should be avoided within two or three years after the birth of the last child.Common sense and science unite in pointing out that the mother requires at least this much time to regain her normal strength in order to give a new baby proper nourishment both before and after is birth. For the mother's sake it is sufficient to point out, as does Findley in "Diseases of Women" that "frequent child bearing . . . almost certainly results in some sort of pelvic ailment."
(3) By all means there should be no children when mother (or father) suffers from such diseases as tuberculosis, gonorrhea, syphilis, cancer, epilepsy, insanity, drunkenness or mental disorders. In the case of the mother, heart disease, kidney trouble and pelvic deformities are also a serious bar to pregnancy.
Thousands of volumes have been written by physicians upon the danger to mothers and offspring of having children when one or both parents are suffering from the diseases mentioned above. As authorities have pointed out in all these books, the jails, hospitals for the insane, poorhouses and houses of prostitution are filled with the children born of such parents, while an astounding number of their children are either still born or die in infancy.
These facts are now so well known that they would need little discussion here, even if space permitted. Miscarriages, which are particular frequent in cases of syphilis and pelvic deformities, are a great source of danger to the health and even to the life of the mother. Where either parent suffers from gonorrhea, the child is likely to be born blind. Tuberculosis in the parent leaves the child's system in such condition that it is likely to suffer from the disease. Childbearing is also a grave danger to the tubercular mother. A tendency to insanity, if not insanity itself, may be transmitted to the child, or it may be feeble-minded if one of the parents is insane or suffers from any mental disorder. Drunkenness in the parent or parents has been found to be the cause of feeble-mindedness in the offspring and to leave the child with a constitution too weak to resist disease as it should.
(4) No more children should be born when the parents, though healthy themselves, find that their children are physically or mentally defective. No matter how much they desire children, no man and woman have a right to bring into the world those who are sure to suffer from mental or physical affliction. It condemns the child to a life of misery and places upon the community the burden of caring form them, probably of their defective descendants for many generations.
(5) There should be no more children whenever the conditions of life and the uncertainty of livelihood make it improbable that the children can be given proper care, both as to their physical and mental needs.
At least one child in every seven that dies in the United States perishes from malnutrition or some disease due to poverty. It is neither just to the baby, to the mother nor to the father, to bring into the world a child that is likely to lack for proper food, medical attention and healthful home surroundings. The want of these things inevitably bring disease and disaster to the child and a crushing burden to the parents, to say nothing of the burden to society at large. If there is not accorded to the infant the mercy of an early death, the jail, the poorhouse, and the house of prostitution have a great chance of claiming it. This is another point upon which medical and social authorities are now well agreed.
This, then, is the answer of science for all women generally. But I want to impress upon the mind of the reader who belongs to the toiling masses that women who labor, who do useful things in the world, have a special and exceedingly deep interest in Birth Control. Society, for ages past has been and still in indifferent to the needs of the worker's children. Every now and then some new law is passed which attempts or pretends to give the child of the worker some protection. Usually the protection amounts to so little that we might as well have been spared the mockery of it. So I have no hesitancy in putting down the following answers to the question:
When should a woman avoid having children?
If she is a working woman she should have no more children while society remains indifferent to the needs of her offspring and forces them to toil in mills and factories.
"Industrial diseases" due to accident, overwork, lack of fresh air and lack of play, stunt both the mental and physical development of the child, which through the pressure of poverty at home, has been driven to coin its childhood into dollars.
The working woman should have no more children while the profit system exists, for it dictates where you shall live, and what you and your children shall eat and wear.
In the case of the majority of workers it dictates too little food, adulterated food, food of inferior quality, shocking living quarters, exposure to disease and inadequate medical attention.
While there is a struggle between the forces of Poverty and Plenty the working woman should have no more children. Every child is likely to have to go into the mill or the factory and compete with its father and mother for its daily bread.
The workers will win their fight for better conditions, only when they cease to produce cheap labor for the labor market, and use birth control as the most immediate weapon for their emancipation.
The mothers of workers have made human life cheap with battalions of unwanted babies. As long as life held thus cheap, society will continue to waste life prodigally in under paid toil. It will not place a higher value upon the life and the health of the worker until the women of the working class make babies scarce.
Do not be deceived. Your children are commodities--they are bought and sold in industry. And the price of infants like the price of everything else, goes up when the commodity grows scarce.
The war has brought women into industry as never before. Poverty has driven them into the factory and the mill beside their fathers and brothers. It has taken their children with them.
All of the creative energy of womanhood, the maternal energy that is looked to for the renewal of the world, goes into a sordid, dead, unfeeling machine. That is society's decision in the matter, and from it there is no appeal. But until Society permits woman to give to the bearing and rearing of children the maternal energy given her by Nature for that purpose, and so long as she must give it to a factory machine, she must for her own sake, for the sake of other workers, for the sake of the child, avoid bearing children.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project