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Baby Talk? They Don't Like to Hear It : Orange County Couples Fend Off Friends, Relatives Who Continuously Charge They're Selfish for Not Wanting Children

September 05, 1993|CARROLL LACHNIT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Amy Buch and her husband, Chris DiTulio, could be stamped "PRIME PARENT MATERIAL." They're 30. Married two years and together for five years before that. They have a condo in El Toro and a nice dog, Sebastian.

They're stable folks, with good jobs: DiTulio is a field service technician for Minolta. Buch is a health educator with Planned Parenthood and loves her work--teaching teen-agers the dangers of AIDS.

So, family, friends and acquaintances ask, when's the baby coming?

Never. Buch and DiTulio are "child-free." By choice.

Their decision amazes, mystifies and outrages people, they said.

"Because I teach, and I do like kids to be around, people assume I want to have hordes of children," Buch said. "When I say I don't want them, they look at me like I want to bite the heads off puppies."

DiTulio and Buch, along with other couples who are childless by choice, sometimes feel like they're the only ones in America who aren't wishing they were pregnant, bearing a child or raising one.

They definitely are in the minority. Only 3.3 million women--5.7% of the 58 million women in their childbearing years--were able to have children but did not intend to, according to the 1988 National Survey of Family Growth, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. The survey did not query men on their childbearing expectations.

The vast baby-boom generation, meanwhile, is busily producing its own progeny and won't be done until the year 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The post-boomers are now bearing children too. The result: Last year, 4.1 million babies were born in the United States.

Because so many people believe it takes children to make a family, some infertile couples embark on bank-breaking in-vitro fertilizations or gamble on private adoptions or surrogate-parenting arrangements.

The media, meanwhile, reflect the norm and reinforce it. In films and on television programs and in commercials, babies and children are often portrayed as the raison d'etre of love and marriage.

So when childless couples confess that they are able to have children--but have opted not to--they sometimes get treated like traitors to the American Way.

"This whole idea of returning to family values, whatever that means, seems like it's brought with it a backlash against people who don't have kids," Buch said.

Many childless couples--some now prefer to be called "child-free"--say they are tired of being treated like selfish, pathetic second-class citizens.

Some still avoid direct answers to reproductive questions, leaving the impression that they cannot have children. Others--such as Buch and DiTulio--are more assertive.

"We tell people straight out that we're not planning on having children," Buch said. "We're not having any body parts removed, but we don't see kids in the game plan."

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And then there are the activists, who are bringing together childless couples for political and social support against "pronatalist" attitudes. At least two national organizations have been founded recently to tell the world it's OK to be child-free.

Childless by Choice, based in Leavenworth, Wash., wants to make childlessness acceptable to society, without resorting to anti-child rhetoric, said Carin Smith, a writer who founded the organization with her husband, photographer Jay Bender.

Humor is an important tool, and the organization's newsletters contain such tips as "10 Ways to Tell Your In-Laws You Don't Want Children" and "How to Be Immortal Without Having Kids."

The ChildFree Network, with 60 chapters around the country, offers support, but it also tries to point out the inequities visited upon childless couples, said its founder, Leslie Lafayette, a Sacramento-area high school teacher who is taking a leave of absence to work on a book about childless couples.

She contends that childless couples get saddled with higher taxes, fewer perks and additional responsibilities in the workplace. To add insult to those injuries, they are told over and over that they're "incomplete," she said.

"It's a myth that parenthood is the most wonderful thing for everyone," Lafayette, 48, said. "It's gone way beyond sanity in the U.S., with everyone saying, 'You must have a child or you're not a real woman or a real man.' "

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Katey Johansen, a 33-year-old nutritionist and health education instructor at UC Irvine, would appreciate more support in the decision she and her husband, Paul, have made. She said it sometimes seems the world is bent on persuading her to have children.

Friends and family understand, she said, but the pressure from outsiders is nearly constant.

She gets lectures from her female gynecologist, who has told her she has a duty, as an educated, intelligent woman, to have kids. The annual harangue so annoys Johansen that she says she's thinking of getting a new physician.

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