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What's a baby worth to you?

Society prices children higher nowadays but values them less

What's a baby worth to you?

(Krieg Barrie)

Here’s a startling fact: Since 2009, adult diapers have outsold baby diapers, by as much as 28 percent in Japan. Longevity is outpacing fertility, now at a record low at about 62.9 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. The bare numbers only tell us how many women had babies and how many did not; we don’t know who couldn’t and who wouldn’t. But both demographics are rising: more women embracing the supposed joys of childlessness and more couples who would like to have a baby but can’t.

Last July a story in The Washington Post profiled a St. Louis couple who married in 2008, immediately lost their jobs, and waited a year to get back on their feet before trying to conceive—only to discover conception wouldn’t be easy. Both are approaching their mid-30s, struggling with whether they can afford the $15,000 or so it would take for medical intervention. Meanwhile she dreams of a blond, blue-eyed girl and boy who look a lot like her.

The economy has taken blame for low birthrates, especially when infertile couples need expensive help to conceive. But even a child naturally born doesn’t come cheap—or so they say.  “Average estimates” of raising a child to the age of 18 range from $200,000 to $241,000 (not including college), depending on where you live and what your expectations are. While couples watch their paychecks and calculate on the backs of envelopes whether they can afford a kid, the months slip by, little by little nibbling away their chances.

Others have the money but not the biology, and desperation takes them to extremes. Theresa Erickson, a pricey San Diego lawyer, went to jail for a scam that involved sending surrogates to Ukraine to be implanted with embryos likely to fit the high-demand blond-and-blue-eyed stereotype. She and her partners would then find adoptive parents willing to pay up to $150,000 for the babies, on the pretense that they were benefiting from a previous surrogacy agreement gone bad. After her sentencing, a tearful Erickson told reporters that the surrogacy industry was the “Wild Wild West,” desperately in need of regulation.

How did childbearing and raising get so complicated? Partly for the same reason marriage is so complicated: We’ve made it all about us.

It’s an ironic age, in so many ways, but strikingly in this: The higher we price children, the less we value them. Value them as themselves, that is. They may have high value to the parents—the sum total of music lessons, ballet costumes, personal trainers, exclusive schools, tutoring, sports camps, and the pride taken in achievement. Or they may have wildly fluctuating value to a single mom who feels a confused affection toward her toddler but can’t get out of herself enough to understand what the little one really needs from her.

How did childbearing and raising get so complicated? Partly for the same reason marriage is so complicated: We’ve made it all about us. Certainly, parents devalued their children before Roe v. Wade. The real damage from that decision was making subjective value official.

Children need very little, materially. If I estimated what it cost to raise our girl and boy to the age of eighteen, it would be well below the national average. They ate what we ate, lived where we lived, made do with a single income and a single running vehicle as we did. When they were old enough for outside activities, we limited them to one each. My husband’s decision, long before they were born, never to allow a TV in the house probably helped, because they weren’t exposed to purposeful consumerism and didn’t ask for a lot of stuff. We were not exceptional or praiseworthy in this—many of our friends followed a similar path, and the kids generally turned out OK.

By contrast, millions of unborn babies are discarded because somebody wasn’t “ready.” The lack of readiness doesn’t cancel the worth of a human life. Besides, who is fully ready? The kids we get are not the ones we dreamed of or wished for: God’s way of showing that they are not our extensions or justifications. He owns our children—and, if it comes to that, our childlessness.


Editor’s note: This column has been corrected to note that since 2009, adult diapers have outsold baby diapers, by as much as 28 percent in Japan.


  • Minivan Man's picture
    Minivan Man
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:12 pm

    Janie, you are spot on!  This is so true.  We have made marriage all about us, when it should be all about God.   We value wealth, free time, and youthfulness.  After one or two babies, what woman is willing to voluntarily endure pregnancy, weight gain, birth pains, and more years of child-rearing?  Janie notes the supposedly astronomical cost of raising children is another farse, and she's right.  We are the wealthiest culture of all time, yet I have heard Christians say with a straight face, "We can't afford another child".  The truth is, you can't keep up with the Joneses if you have more kids.  We turn away a hand-made blessing directly from God and use the "We're not ready" excuse, or "we can serve God better with fewer children".  What if the raising of the children IS serving God?  I'm repeating the writer here, but our problem is that we don't really value children.  We treat them as an accessory, or some sort of toy.  In considering my own position on children, I have arrived at 8 reasons for married couples to leave procreation to the LORD:1. God says, "Be fruitful and multiply". This is God's only command to a [married] couple before the fall. Never rescinded, but several times reconfirmed. It is his perfect design. God is a God of increase, abundance and fruitfulness. Genesis 1:28, Genesis 9:1, Genesis 35:11, Matthew 19:4-62. God opens and closes the womb. We know this is true, so when do we ever let him? Procreation is his domain, who are we to stand in his way? If you've ever prayed for a couple struggling with infertility, then you acknowledge God is in control. God can be trusted to open and close the womb.  Genesis 20:17-18, Genesis 30:2, Genesis 33:53. Children are a heritage from the LORD, a reward, a blessing. God Almighty wants offspring, in his own image. Will you turn them away? Psalm 127:3-5; The analogy is that of a warrior, shooting arrows, lots of arrows. Matthew 19:144. God created marriage primarily for the godly children. There are many secondary benefits, but his design is for marriage to be open to offspring. Malachi 2:155. The history of the church has weighed in. Trying to avoid pregnancy is nothing new. In the first 1900 years of the church, there is a clear, consistent teaching on the subject of contraception. Research for yourself the writings of Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, etc. Were they all wrong, and only recently has society arrived at the correct position?6. A marriage is intended to be a model of "one flesh". Genesis 2:24. Consider the contrast between the tenderness of God's model with the ways of the world; hormone pills, latex condoms, animal intestine condoms, a sponge, a patch, a ring, spermicides, surgically installed intrauterine devices under the skin, clamped fallopian tubes, scalpel severed vas deferens, etc. These measures are ridiculously unnatural and contrary to God's design.7. Let God decide who lives. Consider the enormity of being responsible for deciding whether children (who grow into adults and have generations beyond them) should exist or not. You and I are fallen human beings, granted life by no work of our own. Who are we to try to restrict another from entering this life? Only God is equipped to decide such things. Man has neither the right nor the responsibility of controlling procreation. It is idolatry to put yourself in the place of God.8. God is Jehovah-jireh, he provides. When you obey God, he provides. The issue is a matter of obedience, not stewardship.  God often requires action before he provides resources. God doesn't call the equipped, he equips the called.

  • wiseblooding's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:12 pm

    Thank you for a lovely piece. You ask a pertinent question:  who is fully ready? I contemplated this recently when caring temporarily for my grandchildren.