Birth control is often condemned and/or praised for the sexual freedom it can provide, but what about the family planning opportunities? Even married women need to be able to control when they have children. Speaking from a strictly physical point of view, it is actually better to have children when in your 20s (Matthiessen, 2015), though most people feel they are more emotionally and financially capable of taking care of children later in life. It is also physically healthy to spread out pregnancies, allowing the body to come back to a more normal state before subjecting it to the strain of pregnancy a second or third time (Martindale, 2007). Most people do not appreciate how dangerous having a child actually is (Helmuth, 2013). Birth control in all its forms can help a woman space out her pregnancies and allow her to survive the pregnancies.
In the past due to ill-times pregnancies and pregnancies too early or too late in life women often did not survive being pregnant or childbirth (Helmuth, 2013). Past generations have their share of single parents, broken families and relatives raising children, but they were for different reasons. If a woman’s body has time to recover between pregnancies she is much more likely to live to raise the child. If she becomes pregnant within a 6 months of having a baby she is more likely to have complications, and to leave her husband a single parent (Helmuth, 2013). Pregnancy was not the only danger in the not-so-distant past. Many men fell to accidents in unsafe working environments or illness. If a man or woman in a past generation were left alone with a child or children because their partner died they might remarry or turn to families to help raise children, much as single parents do now. Blended families are not a new phenomenon. But if there was no one left for the children, the children could be left on their own. They would have to fend for themselves in whatever way they could.
Don’t forget before child labor laws the children could also bring home money or be of more monetary value to their parents in other ways ("Child Labor in U.S. History", 2004). It is distasteful to think about, but that is what we are coming from. Children were more numerous because there was no choice. If you had sex then you had children. But parents were not always able to care for all of them. They were too often seen as a burden, not a blessing. If the children were left on their own they lived on whatever they could scrape together alone, were put in overcrowded orphanages, sold as laborers or if they were lucky put to work on a farm ("The Orphan Trains"). There were so many children that it could not be controlled if someone, usually a relative, sold them to work in a factory or for other disturbing uses. It was not even seen as wrong, it was common practice. Accepted in society.
The patriarchal view of the family unit is something that was sold to us as wholesome and right, perhaps to combat this painful history. But it is a false image. Most families, even in “the good old days” were not one man, one woman and 2 children. They were cobbled together of surviving members strong enough to survive and loyal enough to stick together. If there were too many children, then the others did what they could to survive. Pining for the time when a person could not control when he/she wished to have a child seems a little barbaric to me considering the consequences of many, many unplanned children. Birth control is one of the things that prevents this part of our history from repeating itself. Coupled with the new foster care systems and adoption options available for unwanted children we have brought in a new era of caring for our children. We should not go back to the old way of doing things.
Child Labor in U.S. History. (2004, January 1). Retrieved January 9, 2015, from https://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/about/us_history.html
Helmuth, L. (2013, September 10). The Never-Ending Battle Between Doctors and Midwives. Which Are More Dangerous? Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science_of_longevity/2013/09/death_in_childbirth_doctors_increased_maternal_mortality_in_the_20th_century.html
Matthiessen, C. (2015, January 1). Age and fertility: Getting pregnant in your 20s | BabyCenter. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://www.babycenter.com/0_age-and-fertility-getting-pregnant-in-your-20s_1494692.bc
The Orphan Trains. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://www.childrensaidsociety.org/about/history/orphan-trains
Martindale, M. (2007, May 1). Is it dangerous to have several babies close together? Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://www.babycentre.co.uk/x560503/is-it-dangerous-to-have-several-babies-close-together