May 10, 2021 - 10:44am

It’s official: thinking it’s normal to have children is now a low-status Right-wing dog-whistle. Elizabeth Bruenig, a New York Times columnist, recently wrote about how she didn’t regret becoming a mother at 25, triggering a furious reaction from the “child-free” and late mothers alike. Apparently enjoying motherhood, and wanting more support for young families, marks you out as “a Trad Wife masquerading as a progressive.

Bruenig was a lone voice in a tidal wave of East Coast anti-natalism that erupted to mark American Mother’s Day. This included a celebration of women who decided they didn’t want to be mothers, also courtesy of the NYT, a meme that sought to reclassify mothers who give birth (or even who are female) as only one in a “diversity of mothers“, and even a protracted argument about whether the word ‘mother’ is too exclusionary and should be replaced by “birthing person”. Elsewhere, writer, lawyer and anti-natalist Jill Filipovic announced that she’d love to read more articles by women who regret having had children.

But even as the status worldview continues its campaign to liberate women from being female, it hasn’t exactly given up on babies. It’s not that having children is now bad by definition, as that it’s infra dig unless you’ve spent a fortune on making it a highly conscious decision. If you haven’t spent $5,000 with a “parental clarity therapist” working out “what’s true for you” about the choice to reproduce, are you even doing it right?

But the more women are encouraged to wait, the more need help to conceive. And this in turn drives both an escalating medicalisation of reproduction, while also opening ever-growing markets for these expensive medical services. For example Julie Bindel reported recently on the April 2020 legislation in New York State, that passed into law in February this year and legalises commercial surrogacy.

And here we see the division of class, culture and status that’s opening in the domain of fertility. The Bruenig position sees children as normal and natural, and calls for society-wide interventions to scaffold that undertaking for new generations — triggering accusations of reactionary dog-whistling. The Filipovic one, in contrast, sees children as at best an opt-in flag to stick in an already-ascended summit of life achievements.

It’s this latter position that is the high status worldview, and can afford its externalities in terms of declining fertility. Circle Surrogacy, a New York based surrogacy agency, is “excited” that “compensated surrogacy” is now legal in the state, meaning ‘intended parents’ no longer need to travel overseas to procure a baby but can do so in-state — if they can afford it. Circle Surrogacy charges between $80,000 and $200,000: in a world liberated from reproduction as a social norm, children are increasingly an expensive luxury good.

Meanwhile, those further down the food chain may struggle to afford their own children, but it’s not all bad. Those with the biological resources (youth, fertility) can opt to get paid (between $30,000 and $60,000) to service the self-actualisation needs of America’s anti-nature overclass. So for 21st-century elite American women, freedom and self-actualisation are more than ever undergirded by not just the domestic labour of poorer women, but the reproductive kind too.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.